Spotlight on Alumnus: Ellie Pilcher

At 25, Eleanor “Ellie” Pilcher is the Marketing Manager of Avon HarperCollins Publishing and her debut novel What planet can I blame this on? is coming out on June 3rd this year. Her romance with writing began ever since she could “hold a pen".

“Initially, I would just practice my autograph on the wall with a felt tip and later at the age of six, I started writing short stories and novellas,” the freelance journalist confessed. “I didn’t realise my writing could become a career until I was thirteen which was when I realised, I wanted others to read and enjoy my stories one day.”

She pursued her love for storytelling by studying History, Creative Writing, and Acting and Screen Performance at the University at Hertfordshire. “I particularly enjoyed social history and learning about the lives of people during different periods, such as the Slave Trade and the First World War and at the same time, I was able to use my History studies to fuel my Creative Writing,” the 2016 graduate said.

Though she dropped Acting after her first year, she filled that “gap” by joining the Drama Society at the University. She directed and acted in multiple plays, pantos, and musicals and became an Usher at UHArts where she supported and watched the Hertfordshire Philharmonic, Timothy West, and various other independents performers. In 2016, her efforts were rewarded when she won the Oscar for Best Play at the Drama Society Awards.

“It was for a selection of short comedies called the Chronicles of University,” Pilcher said. “One focused on a first-year student losing her virginity and calling her friend for help over her wireless earphones, another was about a group of mates at the end of a house party discussing life after university ends.”

She was 19 when she first got her work published. It was a short story in the anthology University A-Z compiled by Loughborough University which was about the different experiences one can face at university.

According to Ellie, her time at the University enabled her to learn more about herself, to self-promote and ask questions. “In history lectures with over thirty people and creative writing seminars where you are verbally critiqued and critiquing each week, I was able to learn how to stand-out and make the most of each type of work,” the 25-year-old emphasised.

She carried these skills to the six-month internship at a literary agency in her final year and a two-week work placement at Transworld Penguin Random House shortly after her graduation. Through the years, she amassed experience and knowledge to become one of the youngest Marketing Managers in UK publishing.

Aside from her main career, Eleanor “fell” into freelance journalism by writing blog pieces for Huffington Post. One of her posts on Mental Health Awareness Week got featured on the main Huffington Post and had massive reach. This led her to write more articles on mental health, social media and zero-waste lifestyles not only for Huffington Post but also various other publications like Glamour and Telegraph.

She created the #MarketYourMarketing workshops in 2020 for publishing hopefuls to network and get guidance. “Working in the publishing industry, I was very aware of the lack of opportunities to get work experience and internships during the pandemic,” Pilcher observed. “Many events and workshops are paid for from £5 to £500 and that’s not feasible for students or unemployed hopefuls.”

Though she initially hosted three free workshops which were available to watch back on YouTube, seeing their popularity, with over 300 people in just the first workshop, made her want to expand them into a series of monthly workshops, panels, and seminars. She has run nine workshops to date, the latest one being on ‘Producing and Publishing Audiobooks’.

After writing historical fiction at university, she became passionate about contemporary women’s fiction when she moved from Kent to London to pursue her publishing career. In 2020, she began working closely with an editor at Hodder Studio to develop the idea of her debut novel.

“I have a particular niche that focuses on the quarter-life crisis experience of 25- to 29-year-old women in particular, and the editor had read some of my previous unpublished work that was sent by my agent,” the writer expressed. It led to the creation of What planet can I blame this on? which is about a woman having a quarter-life crisis and turning to astrology to fix her problems rather than dealing with them.

Though Pilcher is on a one-book contract with Hodder Studio, she is currently working on a second book which she is planning to publish with the same or another publisher. “It is about two friends, one is pansexual and the other demisexual, and the demisexual friend, Beth, has decided at 25 that she wants to see what all the fuss about sex is,” she said.

Calling it a “hilarious sexual and emotional odyssey”, Ellie revealed that one of the things that inspired the story was her relationship with her best friend. “On a drunken night out, she pulled me to one side and said, 'When I look for a man, I look for you with a penis',” she recalled. “That summarises our friendship in one amazingly comical sentence.”

She also pointed out that the other inspiration was a disastrous smear test she had, and the lack of knowledge women have about their bodies and the lack of understanding within the health service about body confidence and sexuality. “I don't believe in taboos and I feel like all conversations can be had easily through fiction, so this story is my attempt at addressing as many taboos as I can in a comedic and accessible way,” the author asserted.

Reflecting on her writing journey, she insisted on how important it was for an aspiring writer to “write what you want to read” and getting critiqued for it. “My creative writing degree was imperative to my writing journey as that was the first time that anyone had ever given me genuinely useful critiques,” Picher admitted.

She also emphasised the importance of networking throughout university life. “With regards to publishing, get an agent,” she said, “They are the gatekeepers to good book publishing.”

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