Jaffa and I are delighted to introduce you to Emylia Hall.
|Picture by kind permission of the author
Emylia is the author of the stunning debut book The Book of Summers. We are so pleased that she could take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of our questions.
Published 1 March 2012
Emylia - welcome to jaffareadstoo.
Where did you get the inspiration for your debut book, The Book of Summers?
My mother’s Hungarian, and when I was eleven we started going on holiday to Hungary. My dad was an art teacher so he had the luxury of long holidays too - we’d pack up the car and disappear for four or five weeks at a time, winding our way through France, Germany, Austria and on into Hungary. Those sun-kissed summers shaped my year, so to draw inspiration from them throughout the writing of my novel felt like a real treat; a kind of time travel. The drama, though, I’m thankful to report, is fiction.
Where did your characters come from, and did they surprise you?
Marika and David are much exaggerated versions of my parents, I suppose. My mum’s a fiery Hungarian and my dad’s a mild-mannered Englishman, but there the similarities end. Zoltán grew very naturally out of the bohemian idyll that is Villa Serena, as did Tamás. It was important to me to let Erzsi mix with uncomplicated and easily lovable people like them – I felt she deserved that. And, yes, they continually surprised me! While I write quite freely, without too much advance plotting and planning, I do spend a lot of time getting to know my characters away from the page. This lovely quote from Katherine Anne Porter became my ambition: "Get so well acquainted with your characters that they live and grow in your imagination exactly as if you saw them in the flesh; and finally tell their story with all the truth and tenderness and severity you are capable of..."
Who is your favourite character in the book?
I have soft spots for them all but I’ve probably got the most affection for Erzsi. It breaks my heart to think of her rattling around in her cottage, not quite knowing how to navigate her father, living on the bottled scent of her summers with Marika… But one of the lovely things about hearing reader responses is that so far everyone seems to have different favourite characters. I didn’t foresee that and it’s really satisfying. Hopefully it means that they all feel real.
The cover of The Book of Summers is stunning – how much influence did you have on the cover design?
I was shown the design when I first met my editor, Leah Woodburn, and I loved it straight away. If you’re any way creative it’s easy to let your mind run on and picture different covers, but I was very happy to trust Headline. It’s beautiful, and makes the book feel like a desirable object – especially important for a hardback, these days. I equally love the paperback cover that’s planned for this summer…
You have used WB Yeats as your epigraph in The Book of Summers – are you inspired by poetry?
I love reading poetry in snatches, while I’m cooking, before bed, on the bus. I find inspiration in its brevity and intensity. I recently bought the Bloodaxe anthology Staying Alive and it’s a real treasure trove. And I’ve always loved ‘When You Are Old’ - it felt so right for The Book of Summers. It sets the mood perfectly.
Your writing is very lyrical – which authors have inspired you?
I find myself drawn to authors with a vivid, lyrical style, as such I’m a great fan of Susan Fletcher’s books – Eve Green, Oystercatchers and Witch Light, and recently I read Love Child by Allegra Huston, which is bursting with imagery and poetry. I also really like Daphne du Maurier for similar reasons – Rebecca is an all-time favourite. But I enjoy spare prose too, particularly the staccato rhythms of Hemingway and Carver.
This is your debut novel – how did it feel when you were signed by your publisher?
It’s a story that sounds too good to be true. It was just after 5pm on a Friday, last July. I was down in Devon with my husband, on one of my favourite childhood beaches, when my agent Rowan called. As soon as she said the magic words ‘offer’ and ‘Headline’, we ran into the sea in our jeans, capering ecstatically. Later we drank champagne and ate fish and chips in an old pub down by the water. I didn’t tell anyone else my news that night – not family, not friends – I wanted it to be this glorious little secret all of our own and it was.
Do you write books for yourself, or other people?
Everyone writes with different motivations and ambitions, but for me it’s important to enjoy the process and to draw personal satisfaction from it. At that point I’m always writing for myself – if I didn’t like what I was doing then the whole act would feel very cynical and remote. That said, The Book of Summers is my first novel and I hope that I will only improve as a writer. Therefore I’m interested in what people think of the book and as I write my second novel I think I’ll probably be more aware of the audience ‘out there.’ I’ll make sure I turn that awareness into an inspiration rather than a strait-jacket.
What is your favourite classic novel?
I was introduced to Pride and Prejudice at A-Level and have loved it ever since. I like to think Elizabeth Bennet and I would get on like a house on fire – although I suppose everyone does and that’s the whole point.
Can you tell us about any future writing projects?
I’m writing my second novel at the moment. It’s set in Switzerland, on the shores of glamorous Lake Léman, among a crowd of ex-pats and foreign students. It’s basically a love story, and ambitiously, I’m imagining it as something like a cross between The Secret History and Hotel du Lac… All I really know is that I’m enjoying having a secret sideways world, away from all the excitements and distractions surrounding the publication of The Book of Summers.
Emylia, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions,
and for sharing your experience of writing The Book of Summers
Jaffa and I wish you great success with the US launch of The Book of Summers in June 2012
and continued success with your writing career.