Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Ella McLeod

Ella McLeod’s debut novel Rapunzella, Or, Don't Touch My Hair started life as a poem written during her studies at Warwick. We asked Ella (BA English and Theatre Studies, 2017) how she was inspired to evolve the idea from its beginnings to her dissertation and now, her first book.


What inspired you to start writing your new book?

The book started as a narrative poem and essay, then after performing it to tutors and fellow students, I was encouraged to develop it further for my dissertation.

On graduating, I didn’t know what to do. It was scary! Having gained experience in audio and theatre production on student radio and within drama societies, I worked as a freelance in podcast production, but I was developing other people’s work and I still wanted to create my own.

Professor Carol Rutter said: “Read, write, act and change the world.” Keeping to this mantra, I decided to keep writing.

During lockdown, I had time to develop my dissertation theme into a book. I was signed to a literary agent and eventually secured a three-book deal with Scholastic, starting with Rapunzella, Or, Don't Touch My Hair.


Did you feel supported as a writer at Warwick?

Yes, the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies was supportive. My tutors were always ready to meet and talk – Professor Carol Rutter, who was my university mother, Dr Wallace McDowell and Professor Tony Howard.


What did you learn on your course?

We would study the work of incredible writers – from Shakespeare to Lorraine Hansberry. Performance and writing aren’t afraid of looking at the uncomfortable. I was inspired by writers who challenge and question perceptions in their books, such as Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Langston Hughes’s poem, A Dream Deferred, which asks "what happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?"

It made me want to address the uncomfortable too. My book centres around Rapunzella, a young black woman, tackling society’s perceptions of beauty standards, understanding about Afro hair, and fearlessness.


What writing techniques did you learn at Warwick?

Discipline. The need to draft, redraft, redraft …. The first draft won’t be perfect and don’t be impatient with yourself.

To be an independent thinker, learn what is true to you and be brave enough to articulate your voice. Don’t be scared to ask questions and think outside the box, to have uniqueness of thought and idea. To primarily be true to yourself.


Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? What would you have told your first-year self?

You have some of the best academics in the world at your fingertips, use them!

If you’re creative, join one or more of the many societies at Warwick through which you can act, produce, direct and write. I was a member of Warwick University Drama Society (WUDS), University of Warwick Shakespeare Society, Freshblood New Writing, Codpiece Theatre, Musical Theatre Warwick and Warwick Literature Society.

Be prepared to write letters to lots of publishers, and make sure you’re open and being yourself. I think that’s what my publisher responded to.


What fond memories do you have of Warwick?

I remember standing outside rehearsals for a production of Troilus and Cressida by the University of Warwick Shakespeare Society. It was fab and a great opportunity to meet people from other years. I also loved the many visits to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in nearby Stratford-upon-Avon.


What book do you wish you’d written?

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, for the dream-like magical quality, the realism in fantasy. If I’m allowed another…or three. I’ve enjoyed Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials since I was a child. I read them at different ages and each time, I have a new perspective or understanding of the stories. They set a standard in fantasy and in writing for children in an adult way.


Who would you want to read your book?

This is an ongoing discussion with my publisher, but probably ages 13+. It’s the kind of book that can be read from teen to adult and I think each age will get something different from it. I also hope adults will read it to younger children.