To coincide with the 30th anniversary of Fire Child’s first publication, Quartet Books is publishing all six of award-winning author Sally Emerson’s novels as Rediscovered Classics in a newly designed series for 2017 and I’m delighted to be hosting the author on tour.
Fire Child was published alongside Heat on 23 March 2017, bringing these two dark love stories to a new generation of readers. Second Sight and Separation will follow in June, with Listeners and Broken Bodies published in October.
The Washington Post called Sally Emerson’s Fire Child ‘an ambitious exploration of morality in its modern forms.’
Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: Quartet Books; New edition edition (23 Mar. 2017)
Fire Child’s dark heroine is the young Tessa who from the age of 12 uses the power of her smile to seduce men, with damaging and dramatic consequences. The novel alternates her cool and shocking diaries with those of Martin Sherman, a dangerous young man who likes to play with fire. We know they will meet and all hell (possibly literally) will break loose. Both are hiding, leading deliberately dull lives in north London, afraid of what they have already done – and what they are capable of. But when they meet, everything changes. This is Lolita from the point of view of Lolita and this Lolita has bigger ambitions.
Unfurling in a series of compelling diary entries, Fire Child masterfully examines the nature of evil and what it means to be human.
Hypnotic, vivid and unputdownable, Sally Emerson’s blazing love story throbs with lust and black humour.
What do you think the different covers throughout Fire Child’s 30 years say about life at that time?
Over to you Sally …
Hello. Thank you so much for inviting me on your blog! I’m very excited about the publication of Fire Child this month, which the Mail on Sunday described as a ‘terrific thriller featuring two morally twisted but darkly fascinating protagonists. Tessa is a cold-hearted seductress who uses her sexual allure to toy with men, while Martin is an equally destructive pyromaniac. When the two met, sparks fly.’ A blogger wrote last week about Fire Child ‘I have probably thought more about this book since finishing it than I have any other book I have ever read!’ I think that’s because the diary form gets under the skin.
Fire Child is written in diaries alternating between my hero and heroine because the diary form usually makes the reader more sympathetic to the characters, we see things from their point of view.
In this case I need all the help I can get because these characters are dark. From a young age, Tessa can make any man love her. The first man she seduces is the father of her best friend but when he loses weight and is not so attractive, she drops him and he has a nervous breakdown. This is Lolita from the point of view of Lolita and Lolita is in total control. I was fed up with being patronised and preyed upon by older men; I get my own back with Fire Child. That’s the power of writing novels; you play God, though in the case of Fire Child, playing the devil might be the more appropriate phrase. This is a blazing love story with a dark twist.
I like the diary form because it is mischievous and cheats the reader of the guidance of an omnipotent narrator (in ‘Gone Girl’ for instance you don’t know whether to trust or not to trust Amy Dunne’s diary items). It makes the reader think more and have to judge the character of the diarist from the diary entries rather than from a dispassionate description by the novelist. It’s more fun and more demanding, though not always demanding. ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and The Diaries of Adrian Mole are examples of this. A diary can take you directly into another way of thinking and feeling. It’s intimate and sneakily pleasurable to read someone’s most private thoughts. I love ‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood, Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, and Russell Hoban’s brilliant classic ‘Turtle Diary’.
When you’re writing a novel, it’s interesting to play about with the form. There are few better ways of presenting a very particular point of view than a diary. You wouldn’t want my characters Tessa and Martin as your best friends but you would, I hope, want to peep over their shoulders and read the ‘darkly fascinating’ things they write.
‘Heat’ also published this month is less disturbing than ‘Fire Child’ at first, setting the heroine in her rambling house in sweltering Washington DC, with her beloved child and American husband. Like most of my books, it’s a love story that has wandered into another territory, in this case a thriller.
Fire Child reviews
‘A taut, beautifully constructed story moving simply but inexorably towards its cataclysmic ending.’ The Sunday Times
‘With the narrative grip of Stephen King, Emerson’s skill is in charging this novel with compulsiveness and foreboding.’ The Independent
‘Permeated with eroticism and danger…A really gripping book that captures perfectly the seesawing state of mind of its heroine.’ The Daily Telegraph
‘Quivering with subtle erotic tension and sparkling with observation….hypnotically menacing.’ The Mail on Sunday
About the Author
Daughter of a doctor and English teacher (who had worked in Hut 6 at Bletchley Park) who met at Cambridge, Sally Emerson is married and has two children, a journalist and a novelist. She spent three years in Washington DC 1989-1992, the inspiration for Heat and now lives mostly in London.
Since 2003, Sally Emerson has been travelling all over the world for The Sunday Times, writing about the adventures of travel – to the Galapagos, to the gorillas of Rwanda, to the dead craters of Tanzania, and has won various awards for her work.
Sally Emerson’s three recent anthologies of great poetry and some prose are about the three great subjects, birth, love and death: New Life, Be Mine and In Loving Memory. She has also compiled the hugely successful collection of poetry and rhymes for young children, The Nursery Treasury, and it is the dark wit and danger of so many of these rhymes which draws her attention. Jack and Jill may go happily up the hill but as in Emerson novels –note the theme of nursery rhymes in Separation – something bad can be about to happen at any moment. There is nothing bland about nursery rhymes.
Editor and journalist
Sally Emerson was editor of the literary magazine Books and Bookmen. She began her career there as an editorial assistant in a rat-infested basement in London’s Victoria Street. At Oxford she edited Isis and continued her reviewing work and wrote for The Times. She won prizes including a Catherine Pakenham Award, the Vogue Talent Contest and the Radio Times Young Journalist of the Year. After university she was assistant editor of Plays and Players then editor of Books and Bookmen publishing early journalism by such future greats as Ian Hislop and Sebastian Faulks, while writing her first novel Second Sight.
After the success of Second Sight she mostly concentrated on novels and screenplays. She has also written poetry which have appeared in various anthologies, including Richard Adams’s Occasional Poets and Daisy Goodwin’s Poems to keep you Sane.
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