In Conversation: Elizabeth MacNeal
Author and potter Elizabeth MacNeal chats to us about pastimes, publishing and family life.
Can you first tell us a little about yourself and what Elizabeth's world looks like at the moment?
I’m an author and potter, and live in Twickenham with my husband, baby and two extremely badly behaved cats.
My two novels, The Doll Factory and Circus of Wonders, were both bestsellers. While they are both different, they’re both literary thrillers about women finding their places in the world, whether that was Iris as an artist, or Nell as a circus performer. I am so fond of both of these characters and miss writing about them!
When you find yourself with different things you are passionate about, how do you manage these projects and aspirations and not let them slip away?
Ah - this is a good question. I get really excited about new ideas, and usually start work on them immediately, whether that’s staying up late writing a book, or throwing a new vase design during my son’s naps. I find that, if I sit on an idea for a while and let it percolate, my enthusiasm can wane.
That said, I always make a point of prioritising writing over pottery. With writing, I have the privilege of contracts and publishers and readers, whereas I’ve made pottery fit around me. When I’ve tried to give both jobs my equal focus, I’ve found myself completely swamped, and that’s no way to live. I do pottery shop updates whenever I have stock ready, and never commit to any sort of timetable.
As an entrepreneur, what are the best pieces of advice that have been given to you that you would like to share with us? Or just your own top tips!?
My Dad built an architecture business from nothing, and I’ve always seen and admired how hard he works. He’s got such a strong work ethic. I think that when you’re setting up on your own, you have to commit to it completely and make a point of overdelivering. With my ceramics, I do everything from marketing to packaging to making myself – it’s a lot of work but I love the variety.
With my writing, too, I work hard at it. Before I made any income from my novels, I got up every day at 5am to write before my office job began at 9, and I spent all my weekends and holidays writing. I was determined to make it as an author because I loved writing, but it wasn’t always easy.
With a busy lifestyle to juggle what are your go-to ways to relax and take stock?
This is a very fitting follow-up question! Before I had a baby, I’d chill out with a cup of tea and a book, and I’d feel so peaceful and content.
But things are different now, and those quiet hours aren’t easy to find. One of my favourite things about having a baby is being able to spend the day doing things I’d have called indulgences before – on weekdays when Arthur isn’t in childcare, we go for walks along the Thames and he laughs and points at the ducks, or we share an ice cream in a park. I find those moments really enjoyable.
We believe clothing can be transformative, how does this reflect your everyday life or special occasions?
I really feel the value of clothing now more than ever. My mum bought me a sewing machine a year ago, and I’ve become slightly obsessed with it. I’ve made my son an entire summer wardrobe, as well as a couple of dresses for me. It’s really made me appreciate the work that goes into clothing, as well as making me even more opposed to fast fashion.
The right clothes should last years and years and be looked after. When I find a dress I love and that I know is ethically made, or even better if I make it myself, it can completely alter how I see myself.