In her own words, Elizabeth Macneal’s ‘The Doll Factory’ is a novel about ‘dreaming’, ‘yearning’ and ‘ambition.’ She appeared as the first guest at the Autumn Literary Festival.

Rebecca Stott began the talk with Macneal by reading a description of her latest book and praised the originality of the storyline. Macneal then dove right in and read an early section of the book. The audience loved this as for those who hadn’t yet had a chance to read, it gave them a brilliant taster of the fantastic writing, for lovers of the story it was a chance to hear the author bring to life the much-enjoyed story.

Giving some context to the novel, Macneal explained that she chose the story to be set in the Victorian period because of her interest around the women of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. While writing, she always asked herself ‘how would Lizzie Siddal have felt?’ and it was this history that inspired the story and the character of Iris.

Stott then moved on to explain the plot structure’s ‘twists and turns’ and the fact that while reading, ‘you don’t know what’s coming next’. She asked Macneal what she did to hold such an intricate structure together. Macneal explained she is a big planner and told the audience of how she used Excel spreadsheets to record and plot everything accurately. As a writer myself, I found this method so interesting and loved how she explained the importance of planning.

Macneal had such a great relationship with the audience and made them laugh through comedic responses, such as to the fact she had two books ‘quite understandably’ turned down before finding success. As a writer, I am constantly looking at success, and I find it so important when writers talk about their difficulties before being published. What also resonated with me was when Macneal said she saw ‘every single chapter as a short story’ and I loved the way I could relate to elements of her writing style.

When discussing the portrayal of women in the time, Macneal emphasises how she wanted to avoid the previous ‘fetishizations of Victorian women’ and their ‘blank face stares’ and instead find the women underneath.

Macneal then gives another taste of her book, this time giving the audience a taste of Silas’s perspective. When discussing writing using a darker perspective, Macneal explains that she ‘heavily enjoyed writing a viewpoint that was so fractured’ and that it was ‘great fun to do’.

Stott asked Macneal if there was another book on the go and to the delight of the audience, Macneal revealed that there was. She also admitted that she needed to try and let go of ‘The Doll Factory’ and ‘break up with the reader’. Macneal teased her new book would be a historical novel, set a few years later than her previous novel and hopes it will be completed and available in a year and a half.

A fantastic Q&A session followed. When asked about the radio edit/deconstruction of her novel, Macneal said ‘I was very happy with the job they did’ and that she ‘believes very much in death of the author’. Other interesting elements from the Q&A revealed that Macneal uses ceramics as a form of therapy. Finally, she concluded that there is ‘no better time to be a woman writer’ and her best tips for authors were to ‘be bold’ and ‘write ambitiously rather defensively’.

What do you think?