Emylia Hall was born in 1978 and grew up in the Devon countryside, the daughter of an English artist and a Hungarian quilt-maker. After studying at York University and in Lausanne, Switzerland, Emylia spent five years working in a London ad agency, before moving to the French Alps. It was there that she began to write. Emylia now lives in Bristol with her husband, the writer and comic book creator Robin Etherington, and her young son. Her first novel, THE BOOK OF SUMMERS, was a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club pick in 2012. It’s published by Headline in the UK, MIRA in the US & Canada, and has been translated into eight languages. Her second novel, A HEART BENT OUT OF SHAPE (or THE SWISS AFFAIR, in the US) was published in 2013 and was the Novelicious Book of the Year, and THE SEA BETWEEN US was published in 2015. Emylia’s latest novel, THE THOUSAND LIGHTS HOTEL, will be out in July 2017. Her writing and short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, including ELLE magazine, the Book Slam anthology Too Much Too Young, and broadcast on BBC Radio 6 Music. She is currently at work on her fifth book.
Q & A
Did you always know you
wanted to be a writer?
I grew up deep in the Devon countryside, and books were my way of exploring other worlds. I read voraciously and this led naturally to writing. I remember the day at primary school where we learned about adjectives. We had to write a descriptive piece about the dead crow that someone had brought in for the nature table. I distinctly recall delighting in the close observation and the delicious hunt for the right words. That was the first piece I wrote where I remember consciously reveling in the act of writing. After studying Literature at university I began working in an ad agency in London. I got swept up in a different kind of life and for five years I forgot about my love of writing. But it was always there, waiting to be rekindled.
What inspires you to write?
I’m basically curious. The lives of others have always fascinated me and so to write imaginatively is to live more lives than one; I love that feeling of slipping my skin. I also have the kind of mind that holds on to odd details, and novels have given me a place to put them. And I like the indelibility of writing; the world moves, but words on
a page remain. When I’m feeling my way into a new story, it is always a sense of place that comes to me first. The Book of Summers was inspired by childhood holidays spent in rural Hungary, and my second novel is set in Lausanne, a city I lived in for a year as a student, and have thoroughly enjoyed conjuring. Throughout the writing of my new book, The Sea Between Us, I spent over a month in Cornwall’s far west, and fell utterly in love with it. Travelling is one of my greatest pleasures, and I never go anywhere without a notebook for scribbling.
How much of your work do
you base on your own experiences?
So far, I’ve enjoyed using my personal experience as a starting point for fiction. Both The Book of Summers and A Heart Bent Out of Shape/ The Swiss Affair draw on my memories of place, and bringing lost days to life again were part of the joy of their writing. But a handful of images don’t make a story, so the fiction begins, and the real fun starts. With The Book of Summers I constantly asked myself ‘what if’ in order to find the narrative thread. What if the act of recollection wasn’t a pleasant one? What if the adults in your life had secrets, and were pulled by forces too strong to resist? What if you, as an adult, were burdened with regrets? Finding emotional truths to match the fluency of the familiar setting presented the greatest challenge throughout the writing of my first novel.
Have any particular books proved
inspirational in your writing life so far?
I love coming of age stories, and treasure I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud, The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden. I think Susan Fletcher has a beautiful way with words and a sensibility I admire and identify with. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood is a masterpiece in writing about the relationship between our adult selves and childhood memories, while Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas is my favourite poem for the same reason. Any story that delights in language and is written from a good and honest place appeals to me, but it’s reading poetry that most inspires me to sit down and write. Perhaps it’s the intensity of feeling, and the lyrical expression. Lately I’ve taken to keeping my poetry books in the kitchen, in amongst my recipe books, and I find I dip into them a lot more as a result. I recommend it!
Where do you write?
I have my own writing hut at the end of the garden, and it’s the perfect hideaway. I sit at a 50s style table that has a Formica top and slightly splayed legs, beneath the glow of an orange Anglepoise lamp. While the aspect is limited – next door’s bird table, a wooden shed – and as much as I long for a view of the sea, a mountain range or rolling fields, I revel in the fact that I have a job that takes me anywhere. So I sit at my desk and transport myself. When I want a different view I just look to the page.
My new novel, The Sea Between Us, will be out in August 2015. It’s full of the things I love – landscape, art, surf, music, and… love. Meanwhile I’m working on my fourth book, and for that I’m voyaging to Italy.