Emily is the author of 12 novels, the latest of which is The Sleeper. You can read my review of it here.
The Sleeper is all about affairs on the night train from Cornwall to London. Did you base your book on seeing this first hand whilst on the train yourself?
I didn’t actually see anything but I certainly did hear a few stories! The staff on those night trains have seen it all. It took me a while after I moved to Cornwall to discover that the sleeper train even existed, but when I did, and when I found out that it is actually a lovely, civilised way to cover the 300 miles to a work meeting in London, I started thinking about using it as a setting. When I found out, anecdotally, that it has certainly been the setting for a few commuter affairs, I knew that that was the starting point for my book!
Travel plays a central role in all of your novels. How important is it to you in your life?If I’m not travelling, I’m dreaming of it! And actually, with three children aged from seven to twelve, I am not very often to be found packing a backpack and digging out my passport, these days. However, when I do get away I absolutely love it. I love the freedom of having everything you need in one bag, slung onto a bus or train. I love writing while on the move. I love seeking out new settings. The heat when you step off a plane in India, the utter weirdness of the glittering landscape of the Arctic - all of it makes me want to get writing. I remember very clearly sitting on the sand at Palolem in Goa and writing the beginning of my first novel.
What's the best country you have travelled to, and is there anywhere you would still like to visit?
There are so many places I would love to visit! My current dream destination would be Kerala in India - I’ve always wanted to go there. I am also nurturing the idea of writing a thriller set in the South Pacific on the islands around the International Date Line: I’m sure it would be possible to use the fact that there are islands close together and 23 hours apart in time, living different days. It’s almost time travel, and I am sure there is potential there for skulduggery with alibis. Do something heinous one day, travel back across the dateline and live that day again.
As for which is the best country I’ve travelled to, it’s so hard to say. I love India and South East Asia. The trip I made to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia, when I was writing Stranded, would be very hard to beat. And I would get on a train to Venice tomorrow very happily indeed.
Have you always wanted to be an author and how did your publishing deal come about?
Yes, I wanted to be an author from when I was about six years old. My dad is a professor of film studies, and author of many academic books on Hitchcock, Laurel and Hardy and much more. I remember lying in bed and listening to the clatter of his typewriter as he wrote his books, and so being an author felt like a real job.
However, I went into journalism before writing fiction, mainly because I loved it, and also because it seemed like a far more realistic career plan than writing novels. I worked at the Guardian for a few years and had a wonderful time. However, I knew I was not actually one of life’s journalists, and one day asked the travel editor, on a whim, whether I could travel for a year and write her a column as I went. To my amazement she said yes. I went away travelling and while I was on the road, starting writing what turned out to be my first novel, Backpack (sitting under that tree in Goa).
When I got home I went to see Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown, and was extremely lucky when he took me on as a client. He helped me get a chunk of the book edited and up to scratch, and got me a publishing deal with Headline. I’ve now written thirteen books with them as my publishers.
Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
Keep writing! If you get the book right, the rest of it will follow.
Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
I love writing more than anything else - I love waking early in the morning and sitting in bed writing while my children are sleeping. So partly my inspiration is in the fact that I’d rather write than do anything else, particularly not a proper job. Another, more practical consideration is the fact that I write full time to support my children, so I always have a cold edge of underlying financial panic, which is quite motivating. As for the inspiration for the actual stories, it comes from everywhere. As I get older I realise that everyone has a story and that things happen in everyone’s life that would be too weird or implausible to put in a piece of fiction. It’s more a case of editing ideas down than staring at a blank page.
What are you working on next?
I’m writing a thriller set in Cornwall and Berlin, provisionally called Blind Date, about what happens when a blind date goes very wrong. I’m also branching out with a YA book set in the Arctic. I’m absolutely loving writing it.
What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
It would have to be Jesus, out of curiosity. Who would turn up and what would he be like? Also Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton because I would be intrigued to meet all of them, and finally Leonard Cohen because he soundtracks much of my life and I have loved him for many years. That would be quite the dinner party - I’m not sure what I’d cook. The pressure would be on (at least Jesus could step in and help if there wasn’t enough to go round).
Miss Chapter x