December 2014


Ellen Hawley is the author of Open Line, Trip Sheets and her latest novel, The Divorce Diet, is out this month. She has worked as an editor, talk-show host, cab driver, waitress, janitor and receptionist. She has also taught creative writing. She was born and raised in New York, lived in Minnesota for many long, cold winters, and now lives in Cornwall in England.

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  1. 1. What inspired you to write The Divorce Diet?

    I wrote it for my friend Janneen, to see if I could make her laugh when her marriage was falling apart. When I showed her the early pages, she did laugh, so I kept going. The book actually grew out of a conversation. She’d lost weight since the break-up, and one or the other of us said, “The divorce diet.” I said, “That would make a great title.” Unless she said that. Whoever it was, the book followed. Something about the triviality of losing weight when her life seemed to be falling apart made it not only possible but almost inevitable that I’d write an upbeat book about being divorced and broke and an involuntarily single mother.

  2. 2. Why will readers relate to Abigail?

    Okay, I’m biased here, but I really like Abigail. Everything that’s best about her was inspired by Janneen - her warmth, her humor, her love of her daughter and of cooking. I shouldn’t be the one to say it, but I’m the one sitting at the computer so I will: I find her irresistible, even when she’s so depressed that she can’t get her laundry into the washing machine. I know a lot of people say we need role models or heroes or she-roes or more-perfect-than-life characters we can daydream about, and maybe we do, but we also need characters like ourselves, flawed and finding their way through life as best they can but still with the strength to keep going. I hope readers will laugh with her and root for her as she puts her life back together.

  3. 3. Are you a Food Channel fanatic yourself?

    I don’t think I’ve ever watched one of their shows from beginning to end. But Janneen was addicted to it back then. She’s an amazing cook, so for her it wasn’t entirely exactly entertainment, it was more like research.

  4. 4. What were your best and worst waitressing moments?

    I was a screamingly bad waitress, so it’s hard to know where to start. I have a hard time recognizing people. They call that face blindness now, and it’s nice to have a name for it because I used to blame myself for not paying attention. As a waitress, it meant that I was always bringing the wrong food to the wrong person, since they pretty much looked alike: two eyes, one nose, all that standard-issue stuff. I did manage to recognize most of the regulars. Especially the one who liked to pull his coffee cup away while I was still pouring him a refill. I always meant to stand there and keep the coffee flowing, just to see who’d give in first, but the best I managed was some fraction of a second. It felt like a week. But I don’t remember him ever pulling his cup away again. I’m not sure which side of the best/worst ledger that belongs on.

  5. 5. How did you get into writing?

    I didn’t start writing til I was in my early thirties. I was driving cab, and sometimes, if we got stuck on a cab stand on a slow day, a driver who wrote poetry and short stories would sit in my back seat and read me something he’d been working on. He never published much, although he performed now and then, and he’s stopped writing since then, but he was wonderful, and listening to him made me understand something that should have been obvious: Every piece of literature the human race ever produced was written by a living person. The kind of living person who might sit in the back seat of a friend’s cab and read to her. It wasn’t all plucked from the air, perfect and fully formed. And hell, if they could do it so could I.

  6. 6. Which other authors have inspired you?

    Let me give you a short, incomplete, and fairly random list of writers I admire instead: Tillie Olson. Alice Munro. Tan Twan Eng. Peter Ho Davies. Lawrence Hill. Ntozake Shange. Whether they influenced me and if so how, I don’t know. I don’t write like any of them. But you can’t read without being influenced, although for me influence is a sneaky thing, not something I can spot. Incomplete. Random. Sorry - it’s an oddly terrifying question.

  7. 7. What brings you to Cornwall?

    The short version is that my partner and I fell in love with the place and when we realized we could manage to move here, we grabbed the chance. We came in under the artists and writers visa category, which was then discontinued, and we had a real battle to stay here. For a while, we had more lawyers than cats (we have two cats, and they don’t charge by the hour). The full story is (sorry—obnoxious self-promotion alert) on my blog, Notes from the U.K.

  8. 8. What has been the biggest culture shock living in England?

    Hmm. Again, I hardly know where to start. That they eat brussels sprouts at Christmas dinner and baked beans for breakfast? That they eat spaghetti on toast? That if any two people have a common interest they’ll organize a club? That they find the American pronunciation of butter hysterically funny? That a fair number of them tell me they love my accent? (As a rule, those aren’t the same ones who are laughing at the way I pronounce butter, but that’s probably because the word hasn’t come into the conversation yet. I’m sure they would if it did.) I don’t know if any of that qualifies as culture shock, exactly, but the differences are endless, and I enjoy them. Okay, I enjoy most of them. But even the ones I don’t like have become fuel for the blog.

  9. 9. What do you miss most about the US?

    Friends and family, of course. Food. I think I’ve turned most of the things I miss into food, and it’s made me a better cook. You can’t find anything I’d call a bagel within a five hour drive of where I live (I live way out in the country, and I’m making up the numbers). You can buy round bready things that claim to be bagels, but they’re not, at least by my reckoning. So I’ve learned to bake my own. But most of all, I miss being surrounded by a culture that I understand down to my bones. Every country has its own insanities, and the American insanities make sense to me. The insanities here don’t, and never will. There’s a lot to be said in favor of being an outsider - for one thing, you can recognize how insane those insanities are - but you never fully fit in. I do miss that.

  10. 10. You have written about a cabbie, radio announcer and waitress – which occupation is next?

    I’m not sure. Right now, all my writing time is pouring into my blog. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be a file clerk or a receptionist, because I only lasted four days at the one job and four hours at the other. You could, in all fairness, say that I didn’t have a gift for either one of them.

  11. 11. What are you working on now?

    See above: my blog, Notes from the U.K. I have an incomplete novel that I haven’t been able to finish and haven’t been able to walk away from. I’m hoping that if I stay away from it long enough I’ll see what the problem is. Now that you mention it, the central character, in a version, worked as a freelance editor, but it didn’t suit her.

  12. 12. Which five people – dead or alive – would you invite to a dinner party and what would you serve?

    It would have to be Janneen, who moved home to New Zealand after her breakup and who I don’t get to see often enough; her daughter, who ditto; my parents, who I would love to have at least one more conversation with; and my partner - let’s call her Wild Thing, since I often do - who I see all the time but who wouldn’t want to be left out. The menu would be a pain in the neck, because they’re all meat eaters and I’m not. Four of them could live with a vegetarian meal, but my father never did think he’d eaten unless a meal involved meat. So, a dual track meal. For me, vegetarian lasagna. (British lasagna’s made with white sauce and it’s nasty, so that’s going to be homemade.) For the meat eaters, I’d ask Wild Thing to grill steaks. She’s from Texas and she understands steak. Before I add to the menu, I should say that Janneen never saw anyone cooking without pitching in, so I’m not sure who’d make what, and all plans would be open to negotiation, but my plan would be for a big salad and either some baking powder biscuits or baguettes and a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. All home made. Then we’d stagger away from the table and drink tea (Janneen, Wild Thing, and me) or coffee (my parents). Lovely question, and I feel good just thinking about the evening. Thanks for asking it.

  13. 13. What do you hope 2015 will bring?

    World peace isn’t looking likely just now (the more we need it, the harder it is to get), so let’s set the high-minded stuff aside. I care a lot about The Divorce Diet, partly because of how it came into being, partly because I just plain like it, and partly because I believe it offers something to women who are going through a hard time, or who remember what was like when they did. I want the book to get out into the world so it can be read by people who’ll love it, or who’ll find strength in it. Or who’ll laugh. If that happens in 2015, I’ll be grateful.

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