Meet a Member: Elena Bowes

Month after month, Elena writes wonderful author Q&As for the 26 newsletter. But this month it’s her turn in the spotlight.

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

I was born in hilly San Francisco, California in 1962, the youngest of three girls. I moved to New York City after university and then London when I was first married where I stayed for 30 years. London is my soul home, but I sound pure Yankee. After bringing up three children in London (who are all grown up now)—and getting divorced—I met and fell in love with a New Yorker who I call Stretch in my blog and moved yet again. This time back to Manhattan where we live now. We’re getting married on May 28th. Hurray! A lot of background to get you up to speed.

Where did your love of words come from?

I think I got my fascination with words from my mother who was a word snob and was always correcting me about the words I chose. If I said drapes, she insisted on curtains, stylish over elegant, couch over sofa, rich over wealthy, died over passed away, to name a few. It got me thinking about the power of words. She also was always correcting my grammar—when to use who and whom still challenges me. The spoken and the written word mattered to my mother. And whether from nature or nurture, they matter to me too.

I also adored certain books growing up – The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, Harriet the Spy, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret– too many to list. There’s nothing I enjoy more than getting lost in a good book. 

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

When my husband fell for his 22-year-old secretary and wanted out of the marriage, I signed up for an evening writing class at Central St Martin’s in London thinking writing might ease the pain. My teacher was none other than 26’s lovely and lipsticked Elise Valmorbida. Not only did I learn that writing about trauma really helped me, but I also discovered that, trauma aside, I enjoyed writing nonfiction. I went on to get a Masters in Creative Writing at Kingston University. Elise suggested I join 26 over a decade ago, and I have loved being with likeminded word lovers ever since.  

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

I helped edit 26’s monthly newsletter for many years—again at clever Elise’s suggestion. I interview authors monthly for 26 which has kept me reading books, a total joy. I also contributed to the 26 Weeks COVID project where I got to interview an always interesting friend—Mimi Partridge Hicks—about how COVID had impacted her. The project gave me an ideal excuse to catch up with Mimi and share COVID thoughts. 

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

The best place for me to write is in a little cottage that Stretch and I own in leafy Connecticut. I write best first thing in the morning with a strong cup of coffee and complete silence apart from chirping birds and the occasional barking dog. I like to hear myself think, sometimes reading aloud what I have written to my pug Josephine. The cottage looks out on lilac bushes, pink and white dogwood trees and a fluffy lawn so it’s ideal for daydreaming and brainstorming. If I get stuck, I take Josephine for a walk. That always helps clear my mind. 

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working on my memoir. As the boy my father always wanted but never got, a part of me wonders if he wanted me to take over his thriving toy company—the only purveyor of hula hoops and boogie boards worldwide. But my love of words prevailed. I write a blog about a woman of a certain age finding love second time around, watching her once glamorous, active and overbearing mother on her way out, accepting that if a man in her vicinity whistles, he’s hailing a cab, and being okay with that, the twists and turns that make up where she is right now.

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

I interview authors every month and write for interiors magazines, a mixed bag. 

I am most proud of my personal introspective writing. I have a lot of material, more than some might want. I enjoy both delving into my past and writing about my present. 

Where do you get your inspiration?

I get my inspiration from the authors I read – recently Sue Miller’s Monogamy and Lily King’s Father of the Rain have stuck with me, long after reading The End. And the late Nora Ephron will always be an inspiration—”Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Don’t be shy.

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