I met independently published author, Joan Ellis, in August last year whilst doing one of my regular guest slots on That’s Solent TV’ s chat show, Talk Solent. The show was presented by Shan Robins and we were also joined by award-winning special effects designer, B Jones. It was a fascinating discussion covering a wide range of topics, everyone contributed their well-informed opinions on the topics of the day. I was honoured to share the sofa with such talented and creative women.
Before leaving the studio that day, Joan pressed into my hands a copy of her latest book, I am Ella. Buy me. (2014). Joan knew that I was retro-obsessive with a particularly fondness for the 1980s (well, it was, afterall, the decade of my ‘yoof’!). Joan wondered whether I would like to feature it on Come Step Back In Time? I was delighted to accept.
Let me first introduce you to Joan. Born in London, Joan has had a long and successful career in PR and advertising. During the 1980s, Joan was a copywriter in several top London advertising agencies (Ogilvy, Lowe Howard- Spink, Banner and Arc Worldwide amongst others).
Some of the accounts Joan worked on included The Milk Tray Man and a rather famous cat food commercial for ‘Spillers Purrfect’. Anyone remember the black and white moggie channelling his inner Humphrey Bogart? Well, here is a reminder:
Never one to let the grass grow under her feet, Joan has also set-up a comedy club where she wrote and performed, even appearing on the same bill as Jo Brand. Once. Joan’s extensive knowledge of Advertising and PR has seen her lecture at University level and she even taught comedian Noel Fielding. He learned all he knows about advertising from Joan who encouraged him to showcase his creative talents on a wider stage. The rest, as they say, is history.
Joan now lives on the Isle of Wight with her daughter and husband. She often appears on television and radio discussing her career as well as offering advice to aspiring authors. Joan also performs a one woman, semi-autobiographical, show ‘A Woman’s Wit, Wisdom and Pratfalls’.
Below are a selection of interviews Joan has given on Isle of Wight’s Vectis Radio:
- Joan discusses books, authors and the creation of writing. (13.10.2015)
- Joan discussing her book, The Killing of Mummy’s Boy. (1.12.2014)
Joan’s transition from copywriter to author was a natural progression. Joan explains:
I was writing for eight to 10 hours a day on different briefs so I’d be changing my style and tone of voice depending on the product and the audience. It was fantastic training for becoming an author because you’re getting inside the heads of different audience types as well as the discipline of meeting a deadline and that creative process of taking things in different directions and thinking of things in different ways.
…I became the rarest of beasts in Adland in the early 1980s, a woman.
(I am Ella. Buy me. p.3)
I am Ella. Buy me. will transport you back to the 1980s. Joan draws upon her own experiences working in advertising in London during this period and brings Ella’s fictional world vividly to life. A city world of Porsches, tailored clothing, big hair, inflated salaries and fine-dining.
The line between success and failure was very thin. One wrong move for a woman, (or rejected amorous advance from your boss!), would have seen you fast-tracked to the dole office, with your P45 tucked into your designer handbag. Offices had no internet or WiFi and a typewriter was still the secretary’s best friend:
Picking up his new electric typewriter, he hurled it through the window. Fortunately for her, he had forgotten it was plugged in so the wretched thing just dangled by its flex. Had it been a manual the traffic warden would be dead and Peter would be serving time for manslaughter. Progress can be a mixed blessing. (p. 77)
This is Thatcher’s Britain, where ‘greed is good’ but morals are bankrupt and sexism in the office, rife. This is the backdrop of Joan’s novel, a brilliant expose of 1980s life and Adland culture. I am Ella. Buy me.’s main protagonist is Ella David, a rare beast – a woman in a man’s world.
Ella must not lose her head as she has a mortgage to pay (at 9%!) as well as her ill mother’s rent. There is no Trust Fund to catch Ella, she is at the mercy of her sexist and predatory boss, Peter Richards. Peter, bored with his ball-clicker, demands something or someone new to play with, Ella finds herself battling more than just fat thighs.
Can love help her go from a girl in the firing line to a woman calling the shots? Fans of ‘Mad Men’ will enjoy meeting Ella. She’s Peggy meets Bridget Jones.
Bottles of champagne, a goodwill gesture from Jill’s mother, are set out on the tables and we quickly empty them. Everyone is anxious to party, our final fling on the dance floor before the bus comes to pick us up. We finish the meal as Jill announces the awards. For once, no-one really cares. Tonight, we don’t need accolades to make us happy. Only Peter looks lost without the trappings he has come to rely on in Adland. No Porsche, no hand-tailored suit and no fawning entourage. (P. 244)
Ella embodies all the qualities a 1980s career girl needed to succeed, intelligence, ambition, charm and a strong work ethic, ‘I’m programmed to work, not play’. Despite 1960s women’s lib and 1970s feminism, a 1980s office was still a male domain. Getting into the boardroom was a tough call, unless of course you were a secretary bringing in the refreshments (remember 1988 film Working Girl?)
During the 1980s, anyone, male or female, working in advertising was a precarious way to make a living. If you were a woman, then the stakes were very high indeed. Being propositioned, fired, hired, rehired and having to hustle on a regular basis were all part of its culture. The route to the boardroom was a rocky and compromising one. In I am Ella. Buy me., Joan, has drawn upon her own experiences and has created the 1980s Adland culture very well indeed.
Although I am Ella. Buy me. is not autobiographical, there are many similarities between Ella’s and Joan’s experiences in advertising. More amusingly, on one occasion Ella must pretend to be a Tom cat called Marmalade in order that she can pen letters from him. In real life, Joan once had to create an advertising campaign for pet food in which a cat vocalises his thoughts. The cat’s voice in Joan’s commercial (see above) was, of course, male!
I am Ella. Buy me. is a terrific read, the perfect accompaniment on a long train journey or curled-up by the fire in a holiday cottage. As an experienced professional writer, Joan has skilfully offered her readers an amusing slice of 1980s nostalgia whilst still managing to create three-dimensional characters that you actually care about.
To purchase copy of I am Ella. Buy me., click here.
- The Things You Missed While You Were Away (2015). Memoir. Joan’s daughter’s childhood in the 1990s was very different to hers in the 1960s. As neither of them knew what it was like to have their Dads at home, the book was written as a letter to Joan’s Father, highlighting the moments he never got to share. It is for anyone who has been a child, if only to prove when we lose someone special, love comes from unexpected places to fill the space in our heart;
- I am Ella. Buy me (2014). Humour/Contemporary women’s fiction;
- The Killing of Mummy’s Boy (2014). Psychological thriller;
- Guilt (2014). Psychological thriller;
- Five star reviews of I am Ella. Buy me, click here;
- Five star reviews of The Things You Missed While You Were Away, click here;
- Follow Joan on Twitter @JoanSusanEllis .