David Almond’s new novel, A Song for Ella Grey, released earlier this week. It’s a vivid and enchanting story based on the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Despite being a modern re-telling, there is a timeless feel in the way Almond writes the story of the doomed star-crossed lovers. In Ella Grey, we follow Claire and Ella, two very close friends. The strength of their friendship is tested when the strange and handsome Orpheus strolls onto the beach, and he sings them all into an astonishing new understanding of themselves. Ella is caught hardest, fastest, deepest—and Claire, whose own heart is breaking, must watch, helpless, as her best friend falls head over heels with this virtual stranger.
David Almond kindly answered some questions we had about A Song for Ella Grey. Please read our Q&A below.
What about the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice do you find most fascinating and that inspired you to write a modern retelling?
I’ve always loved this great tale. It is ancient, but has continued to resonate through the centuries. There have been many many retellings, in music, poetry, film, stage, dance and fiction. It explores all the great mysteries – love, death, darkness, light – and asks the unanswerable questions – where do we come from, what is love, why do we die, is death the end, why do music and art have such a powerful effect on us? I have touched on the story several times before, in Skellig and My Name is Mina, for instance. Now seemed the time to create my own full version. And it was clear to me that it must be set among modern teenagers, with their hopes and joys, their loves and yearnings, in the north of England, the place in which I live.
Why did you choose for readers experience the doomed relationship through Claire?
It couldn’t be told by Ella or Orpheus. They are destined to live out the story, and in many ways they have no choices to make. Once they fall in love, they must follow the trajectory of the story. It had to be told by an outsider who is close to the pair, who sees what is happening, who is deeply excited, troubled and inspired by what is going on. When I began to write through Claire’s eyes, I felt very close to her. She is of course in love with Ella herself, and her telling of the tale is filled with her own feelings of love and loss.
You’ve called this story “a tragedy that is filled with joy.” Was it hard writing a natural, modern balance between hope and despair, joy and sadness?
Writing is always hard! But when it is going well, it is also a kind of release, a song of freedom. At times I felt that Orpheus was somehow singing through me, and I tried to give myself up to it and let the words run through me.
If you could spend one day with any of the characters in A Song for Ella Grey, who would it be and why?
Oh, it would have to be Orpheus! I’d love to see him, to hear singing and music that brings the birds from the sky, the seals from the sea, and which reaches down to the deepest parts of the soul.
What is the best writing advice you have ever been given and would like to impart on young aspiring writers?
Just do it. Don’t worry or vacillate. Get a blank sheet of paper and begin to scribble. Accept that you are imperfect and that imperfection is the heart of all creativity. Be messy. Then put your story/poem/song together word by word, sentence by sentence. Try to make the words sing. Make them (no matter how dark they might be) lovely.
Thank you to David for kindly answering our questions!
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A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond is now available wherever books are sold.