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Cara Ellison

Cara Ellison

Cara Ellison is a Scottish writer, game critic and video game narrative designer. She has written for the Guardian, VICE, Kotaku, PC Gamer, Paste Magazine and the New Statesman, wrote the best-named column in the world, S.EXE, at Rock Paper Shotgun, and had a regular opinion column at Eurogamer. She was also co-writer on Charlie Brooker’s How Videogames Changed The World for Channel Four television in the UK. Her writing and game narrative work has been featured in The New York Times and Wired, and she was one of the Guardian’s Top Ten Young People In Digital Media 2014. Currently she designs the narratives for video games.

1. What was your inspiration to write this story? / Was there a particular moment of inspiration that pushed you to write this?  I was really broke and I thought asking my readers to supplement my writing might be an answer to that problem. I also found paying rent to be difficult, so I naively thought that not having anywhere permanent to live would be a solution. So I put both of those feelings together, along with my need to write travel narratives, and I became a crowdfunded itinerant journalist who wrote profiles of people whose work I admired. That's the book! Also I was tipsy and suggestible when I proposed this silly plan to my readers and they thought it'd be funny to back me.
2. What is your favourite moment in the book? I think a standout moment for me is when I reached Japan, which used to be my home, and I realised I'd made it all around the world purely off my own hard work, and I felt so much like an adult that I listened to Nicki Minaj's 'Moment 4 Life' over and over.
3. What inspired you to become a writer? I don't know. I am consistently inspired by many writers who write about their craft in particular, but I think the need to write comes from a childhood spent reading and writing – and having it become natural to want to express yourself through the written word. In short, my inability to stop myself from writing made me a writer. It was only when I stopped being ashamed of what I wrote down that made me into a writer in public for money.
4. What keeps you motivated as a writer? The peaks and troughs of life: when I love everyone I have to write it down. When I feel despair I want to write it down. I am also motivated by rage and empathy: I find it difficult to witness the suffering of others and I try to use writing to point out that we can ease it with money and assistance.
5. What’s your favourite book, and why? It changes a lot. I tend to go back to books that have one passage in them that really makes my fingers itch to write - there's a passage in the opening of James Ellroy's Black Dahlia, for example, that describes what it is like to smell sweat and the mustard from hotdogs and blood and the testosterone in the air at a boxing match, and it makes me feel like I am participating – like I'm there – and that's what I look for in every type of media, including games.
6. Do you have a routine when you’re writing (i.e. silence, a particular genre of music, only working in the morning, only working in your underpants?) One thing I do tend to do each time is make a playlist on Spotify that encompasses pop tracks that say something about the narrative I am writing. Each track tends to symbolise a 'moment' of the part I am writing. When I was writing this book and putting each chapter up on the internet I even embedded those tracks from youtube right into the text. I should make a public playlist so that people can listen to the book too – they seemed to really enjoy that part of the experience.
7. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a writer? Try to surround yourself with people who want you to succeed at it. Who want you to be good at it. Who want to help you with it. Get a mentor. Be serious about showing your work to people and understanding their critiques. Try to read often. We all start out with excellent taste in books and feel shit about writing our own stuff. It's like you inhale good writing, and feel like you are exhaling bad writing. But the more you do it the more your work will be like inhaling good work and then exhaling good work. And if you are very lucky, that good work you exhale will be popular.
8. How easy was it for you to find a publisher? It took a bit of waiting for Hugh [Andrew, Managing Director] to get through the slush pile but I think in the end he thought I was weird enough to take a chance on.
9. What’s the best experience you’ve had while writing a book? I think being able to travel around the world for a year and see and eat things you've never heard of before was one of the best experiences I've ever had.
10. Who are you generally writing for? I like to write for someone who wants to stretch their feelings out a bit and wear someone else's life for a while. I don't imagine my writing is particularly good for young children but young adults seem to like it, and people with a mortgage just tuned in to my work to know what it was like not to have one.
11. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be? I think I'd probably be the sort of person who enables other writers. I've had many jobs in support roles in the past, until I realised that if I wanted to read a certain type of work I'd have to do it myself.
12. What one thing would improve your life? I think a mechanical keyboard is next on the list.
13. Where would you like to be right now, anywhere in the world? I would like to be in New York with my extremely hot and talented writer boyfriend.
14. What would your 'dream' occupation be? A pop star. 100%. I'd make a really good one too, if they fed me only broccoli for years and I got a nose job.
15. If your book was a film, who would you cast for the lead character? Kristen Stewart. I mean look at her. She is just as tired and couch-slept as me. And she is clearly hungover.
16. Why are books important in your opinion? Books, collectively, are just a library of the human condition and reading stories in particular, and craving to see what happens in them, is one of the best reasons to stay alive I know. If you keep reading, you keep living, and you're conscious that other people around you are doing the same.
17. What are you reading right now? I am reading Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel R. Delany. It's quite an emotional read about gentrification in New York and how it has dismantled a lot of communities and survival networks for the disenfranchised.
18. Which authors do you particularly admire? I really admire Jane Austen. A lot of men in particular talk shit about Austen, but she understood social bonds better than most writers I've ever read. And she was desperately funny. All her characters were archetypes you immediately recognise. I like how idiosyncratic William Gibson's descriptions of worlds are. I really love how Margaret Atwood constructs ethereal, magical, almost alien worlds out of our reality. I really like Ta-Nehisi Coates. Everything I've read of Coates' is sharp and emotive, his essay structure is beautiful, his craft and empathy and his ability to reach people with language is something I am very jealous of. 
19. If you had a superpower what would it be? Sexual intercourse makes me more powerful than you can ever imagine. Actually, this is already true. Who am I kidding. I have written too many words about how happy it makes me already and it's too late for people to realise they gave me money to write about it.

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