I’ve been a fan of Emylia’s since her debut novel, The Book of Summers was released in 2012. You may have seen my recent 5* review of The Sea Between Us on JJ … so I’m delighted to be hosting Emylia today!
Emylia 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 September 2013 and was the Novelicious Book of the Year. Emylia’s latest novel, THE SEA BETWEEN US, was published in August 2015.
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 fourth book.
Welcome to JJ!
Please summarise The Sea Between Us in 20 words or less.
A love story set in Cornwall’s far west, full of surf, art, music and the sound of the sea.
Please tell us about the characters in your book
Jago is the local boy, who’s lived in the cliff-top hamlet of Merrin all of his life. He’s a carpenter, working with his dad in the barn beside their house. He’s quiet and self-contained – as stolid as the wood he crafts, as still as the line he fishes with at the cove. He’s seen the twists and turns that life can take – a family tragedy is still ever-present in his memory – and so he does his best to avoid them by lying low, and losing himself in familiar rhythms.
Robyn is the incomer, moving to Merrin with her family when she’s nineteen years old. For her, Cornwall is a temporary home, just for the holidays. Her eyes are ever on the horizon, hungry for adventure and new experience – she’s impetuous and fearless. Thinking that there’s little else to do on their isolated stretch of coast, she learns to surf, and this is how she meets Jago, as one day the power of the sea takes her by surprise, and she’s hurled beneath the waves. It’s a dramatic first encounter, and one that forges a bond between them.
Robyn’s parents, Marilyn and Simon, resplendent in their beautiful house White Sands, seem perfect from the outside but have problems like anyone else. Their neighbour Denny, Jago’s dad, drinks and seduces and is a little bit lost. Robyn’s much older brother Ben holds all the glamour of a footloose London lifestyle – as does Eliot, a musician, full of ambition, creative drive, and easy proclamations.
Over the course of seven years Robyn and Jago move between these other people, their lives ebbing and flowing, taking them apart, bringing them back together, everything changing all of the time. Except, perhaps, their attachment to one another.
If you could choose to be one of your characters Emylia, which would you be?
I feel very close to Robyn, and worked aspects of myself into her character. I turned my love of snowboarding into surf, and gave her that. The same for writing, I made it art, and placed a paintbrush in her hand. She’s a person who very much follows her heart, but is also conscious of trying to do right by other people. And of course she’s imperfect, she wouldn’t be interesting if she wasn’t – she overly romanticises people and places, and makes decisions too hastily – but she’s a generous person, who gives herself fully to whatever situation she finds herself in.
What scene did you enjoy writing the most?
I loved writing the surfing scenes. I enjoyed thinking about my own relationship with a similar thing – snowboarding – and defining what makes it so addictive, how it’s less something ‘to do’, more part of ‘who you are’. It’s the dynamic between you and the natural world – appreciating its power and beauty as a participant, not a spectator – feeling the charge of adrenalin, the nip of fear, and the moments of ecstasy when you channel these things to thrilling effect. A friend of mine is a keen surfer and he became my Surf Consultant (great title!) – he talked to me at length about his love of surfing, and read the passages where a board goes into the water, making sure I wasn’t getting anything wrong. I love bodyboarding, so I know how it feels to be pounded by saltwater, and how it feels when you just about cling on, riding the face of a wave – but I’ve never surfed, so his input was vital. I spent about five weeks in West Penwith as I was writing the novel, and came to love its beaches and wild landscape – I hope I captured something of this beauty in The Sea Between Us. (I can assure you, yes, you did Emylia!)
… and was there a scene that was the hardest?
Motherhood is an important part of the novel, and I became a mum myself just as I was finishing the first draft. When my son was three months old I was back working on the book, and I found myself going over the scenes I’d written, changing a lot. In fact I was making a mental note to do this while in the midst of labour…! It was both cathartic, and a privilege, to write from such nascent personal experience. And some of the really difficult aspects of motherhood – the hard times in pregnancy, the sheer relentlessness and intensity of those early weeks and months – it was a comfort to write them up and put them somewhere. The joy of being a writer is that no experience is ever wasted, and the act of writing is a way of processing and understanding. The book’s been described as being ‘full of love’ and I enjoy thinking of it that way, because it was born at a time when I was feeling utterly love-struck.
What inspired you to write The Sea Between Us?
The idea for The Sea Between Us sprang from a couple of images – one imaginary, one real. I pictured a young man and woman atop a granite rock, looking out over the endless ocean, the distant horizon, the Atlantic tearing far below. I thought of that far horizon being both a temptation and a threat to their happiness. The story was always going to be set in Cornwall’s far west, right from the beginning. A few years earlier though, I was walking the South West Coast Path in Devon and came across a boy and his surf board. He was sitting on the edge of the cliff, his feet dangling. He said he’d just been surfing the cove below, a place that only appeared at low tide. It was his secret spot. This stayed with me – the boy, the board, the hidden cove – and, several years later, it became Robyn and Jago and Rockabilly Cove.
Do you have a most creative time of day Emylia?
If I was answering this question a couple of years ago I’d have said ‘the morning’, but now that I have a son (Calvin Jack, he’ll be two in February) my time to write is the afternoon. My husband and I share the care of him 50/50, so Calvin and I hang out together in the mornings and in the afternoon I disappear into my writing hut at the bottom of the garden. But where possible I make use of the
mornings (my formerly creatively rich time!) too. CJ and I go for long walks all over Bristol, and I use the time on my feet, with him in his pram, as useful thinking time. And the minute he falls asleep? We whip into the nearest café (or park bench!) and I get my laptop out and squeeze in an extra hour of writing. This ‘sleep slot’ is definitely a bonus, and makes up for the slow afternoon session… especially as more often that not I write accompanied by a large slice of cake!
Finally, have you done any creative writing/writing courses that you would recommend to others?
Back in 2008 I took an Arvon course, and I recommend it above all else. I had the privilege of returning to Arvon as a tutor last month, and I found it just as inspiring, all over again. Arvon gives people ‘the time and space to write’ but for me as a tutor, it gave me the time and space to remember why I write – something I think we all need to remind ourselves of sometimes. I wrote about it here: http://emyliahall.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/arvon.html
Thank you for sharing Emylia.
No pressure … but can’t wait for book four 🙂
Publisher: Headline Review (27 Aug. 2015)
In a remote Cornish cove, on one of the last days of summer, Robyn Swinton is drowning. She is saved – just – by local boy Jago Winters, and it is a moment that will change both of them forever.
Over the next seven years, Robyn and Jago’s paths lead them in different directions, to city streets and foreign shores. Will the bond forged that day Jago dragged Robyn in from the sea be strong enough to bring them back to one another, or has life already pulled them too far apart?