Eleanor Gwyn-Jones is an independent Mary Kay director, author and the proprietor of the Lion’s Den, Clarks Summit. Having grown up in London, she says her British accent may fool some people, but she considers Northeast Pennsylvania to be home. She has published two novels, “Theatricks” and “Jazz Hands,” and has two additional novels that will be published soon. While she has worked her way through the ranks of Mary Kay, there is more to her story than “lotion and lipstick.” She attended secondary school at Parsons Mead and earned a degree in biology from University of Southampton, both in England. She lives in Scranton’s Green Ridge section with her partner, Matt Mang, and their rescue dog, Beanie.
Meet Eleanor Gwyn-Jones…
Tell me a little about yourself.
I came 14 years ago on a fiance visa. I met this handsome, dashing American hunk. The visa process is so complicated. I was surprised it would be so difficult for me to get a visa. We really had to go through flaming hoops. I lived in West Pittston for a wee while. It was sort of the beginning and the breaking of the fairy tale. I had the opportunity to go back to England when that relationship ended. I had just started my business here, and I had just gotten an agent for my first novel. It seemed foolhardy to go back home with a tail between my legs, so I started a new chapter. I moved to Clarks Summit, and I really went gung-ho with my Mary Kay business and really dived deep into writing.
Of the cities you’ve lived in, what sticks out most about NEPA?
I have made such wonderful friendships here. Ride-or-die kind of relationships with girlfriends who I know would champion me to the end of the earth, and I them. I feel very fortunate at finding them. When you vibrate at a certain energy level, you find these fabulous people who similarly want to change the world and want to make an impact. People who are joyful and who are passionate and love what they do, and are on a mission, and that’s what I love and was able to find here.
What was your pre-U.S. life like?
I always wanted to be an actress. When I was 17, I got selected for the National Youth Theater. This was a summer camp in London. It was this glorious summer. All the school counselors said “acting is very well and good, but you really need to get an education, because 99 percent of actresses are out of work.” I got myself a BSc honors degree in biology. It wasn’t easy, because when you don’t love a subject, it’s all work. After three years, I got through it, and I was ready to pursue my passion to be an actress. I started to audition for drama schools, but I had no idea how expensive it would be to go to drama school. I got through a couple rounds of auditions, and I went to this weekend workshop, and it was just a nightmare. I really disliked the whole experience. Then I auditioned for a children’s company. They needed someone who was going to be an actress and could do some administration things. They selected me. I started promoting the shows and worked as an agent for the company. I took the company from being a few shows here and there to three or four shows a week.
Can you talk about your novels?
The first two focus on Enna and her journey. She’s the original Brit out of water. She’s a director and in “Theatricks”; she goes through the visa process. … I took nuggets of things I knew, so she meets an American, she’s trying to fight for her theater, which is being threatened to be overtaken by the property developers, but she’s failing. I really dearly wanted to write about the visa process because it was quite hysterical (for me). … It’s finding where home is, finding what’s important to you, what women prioritize and value, and sometimes what we need is not actually what we want, or what we want, it’s not what we need. So in the second book, she leaves the theater and she actually becomes very involved in yoga, which is something that is important to me. I want my characters to feel, and I want my readers to feel. I try to use a lot of symbolism and imagery.
Does your acting background influence you as a writer?
All of my novels thus far are written in first person. We really see in the first two Enna’s perspective, and in the third, Evie’s, and I put myself in that position. I’ll often be writing and tears will be pouring down my face because I’m feeling it. I often find that times in my life when I’ve been dreadfully unhappy, I’ve been super creative. I guess that means you get to live your life vicariously through all these different versions of you.
Do you have a favorite topic to write about?
Obviously my background is in theater, so there’s something very lovely about writing scenes that are set in a theater, because that feels like home to me. I guess I like to create it artificially. Although I do feel at home in this area, I feel sad that there’s not a big theater.
Has your perspective of the U.S. changed since arriving and living here?
I have come to notice that in Northeast PA there is that community that is welcoming. As a small business owner, the support that I have had has been, both for the writing and having my Mary Kay business, has been really heart warming. It’s that relationship-building, and people have time for you here, whereas I believe when I was in New York, and not to speak badly about New York, people didn’t have time to talk to you or find out about you. Whether you’re writing stories and you’re learning about people or whether you’re trying to help you or your small business thrive, it’s all about the people you meet along the way and how you can help them. I think we’re better together. When we support each other, if my customer base hears about your business, then you might have more potential customers than if you tell your customers about me.
You own the Lion’s Den in Clarks Summit. What is the concept behind it?
When I became a Mary Kay director, you have what’s called your unit, but your unit and a number after it sounds very utilitarian. Most Mary Kay directors give their unit a unit name, and I wanted something that symbolized more. I was named after Eleanor of Aquitaine, and she was the mother of Richard the Lionheart, and Richard the Lionheart fought in the crusades. It just fit, so my units are called the Lionhearts. So I was looking for a space that was local and that I could invite my girls, that I could praise them to success and I could teach them and I could meet my own customers and have great interactions with them and really have a base. … This isn’t a shop. I don’t sell products from shelves. What it is is it’s an experience, and it’s a training center, it’s a success center, it’s where, whether you’ve had a good day, you bring your energy to the table, you lift people up, and if you’ve had a rubbish day, we build you up. It’s really so much more than just lotion and lipstick.