Emylia Hall, a bestselling author of four novels and a Richard and Judy Book Club favourite is joining The Novelry as a tutor. She's a wonderful teacher, a mother, a fellow of The Royal Literary Fund, and she's currently at work on a murder mystery. Read more about Emylia here. Our writers are invited to come and meet Emylia via Zoom on Thursday at 6pm BST.
From the Desk of Emylia Hall.
When I was 27 I left my job in a London advertising agency and went to work in the French Alps as a chalet chef. At the time I called it a career break, but it turned out to be the start of something much more. I’d wanted to shake off some responsibility and go snowboarding, but I also had the ambition to try to write a book. I had a few abandoned paragraphs on a floppy disk (this was 2005) but I’d got no further with it. Perhaps if I’d found the right inspiration or intervention, I might very well have applied myself to writing in London but, as it was, the move gave me the freedom and confidence to make a proper start. I was simultaneously finding my feet and stretching my wings.
I spent two winters playing in the snow – living in chalet staff digs, living on tips – my soul soaring amidst all that beauty. I was surrounded by people who, while not writers, had taken leaps to do the thing they love, and I was undoubtedly influenced by this spirit. Over the course of two seasons, and a freewheeling summer in between, I wrote the first draft of a novel. I sent it out to agents without delay – and with very little in the way of rewriting. (Looking back, I had a lot to learn). I received a hatful of knock-backs, but a couple of agents were encouraging enough in their response to keep me keeping on. Moving to Bristol that summer I became committed to my quest. I now understood that I had to believe heart and soul in the story I was telling if I was going to embrace the substantial work (hello rewriting!) that is all part of producing a novel. So, I decided to start on something new, something that was a closer reflection of the things that really mattered to me: a coming-of-age story inspired by childhood holidays in Hungary.
In 2008 I went on an Arvon course, with 40,000 words of what would eventually become The Book of Summers in my bag. This was when I met Louise Dean for the first time – I was lucky enough to have her as a tutor. That week of writing and learning intensified my commitment, and I came home aglow.
I spent the next year and a half working on my novel in a joyful but somewhat meandering fashion. I thought briefly of doing an MA, but I knew I couldn’t really afford it. Had The Novelry existed back then, I’d have signed up in a flash.
As it was, I went it alone, and in 2010 I decided to take a self-styled sabbatical and give myself the gift of uninterrupted time to write. I’d done the maths and I had enough savings to live on – shoestring budget-wise – for six months. I had no safety net, no high-earning partner to bail me out, but I just felt sure that it was the right thing to do. This step self-signalled my intent, and I became more tenacious. I interrogated my manuscript from top to bottom, emboldened to make significant changes to it because I felt freer and time-rich, even if, some days, as I fumbled for direction or stared into space, I felt like I was squandering this precious time. I know now that I was learning a lot about how creativity works, and about my own rhythms – and how different it can be once you take away elements like external expectation, client deadlines, the boss’s glare.
If only I’d known The Novelry’s method back then: write for just one hour a day and make it count.
Six months turned to a year and, thanks to a Christmas job in Waterstones which kept the wolf from the door, finally my manuscript was ready to send to agents. I remember how I felt the moment I sent those emails and posted out those hard copies… an overwhelming sense of how important this was to me, and the worry that the cold appraising eye of an agent wouldn’t be able to see that. I needed the work to be enough, and the work was now out of my hands. What more could I do? Have a good cry, as it turns out. And check my inbox a hundred times a day. I ended up doing two rounds of agent submissions, with a rewrite in between, thanks to a kindly-shared reader’s report.
In the spring of 2011, I signed with the brilliant Rowan Lawton (then at PF+D, now at The Soho Agency) and it was a huge moment, one marked by pizza and prosecco the minute I was off the train from London. Another edit later, one day, the 8th July 2011 to be exact, Rowan called to say we’d had an offer. A pre-empt from Headline. I was on a beach in Devon at the time and I ran straight into the sea in my jeans, kicking around the waves in total glee. The Book of Summers was published the next summer, translated into eight languages, and became a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club pick.
2005 to 2012: that’s the timeline for my debut novel, because the abandoned first book was absolutely a part of that process. I reckon it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get somewhere if you find the journey fulfilling. I believe in making my writing a pleasure; take on the hard work, dig deep, but do it with good coffee, the right tunes, and whenever you can swing it, a room with a view. When my son was born in 2014, writing became even more of a treasured place for me; it represented restoration and the desirable opposites of freedom and control. Because of this gratitude, I set up Mothership Writers, running workshops for new mums in Bristol.
I’ve published four novels now, and I recently completed my fifth. The latest is a murder mystery – something I’ve had enormous fun writing, and my first time consciously writing within a genre. I’ve been inhaling Agatha Christie! In my reading, I look for lyricism and a beautifully turned sentence. I love an evocative sense of place. But above all, I seek heart: characters to care about, and the tenderness of an author’s sensibility. Susan Fletcher’s Eve Green, Tim Winton’s Breath, Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins, Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go – these are a few of my favourite novels. Recently I adored Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Perhaps outside of my usual reading habits, I have a weakness for Jack Reacher books – I’ve read every one!
To write is to embark upon a lifelong apprenticeship, and, for me, teaching is an enlightening and valuable part of the process. I’m thrilled to be a part of The Novelry family.
It’s a privilege to be let inside the world of someone’s work-in-progress – all that possibility, and the fizz of new ideas. Writing a novel is not only an act of faith but one of resilience – it gives a lot, sure, but it asks for a lot too. I know what a difference a supportive and encouraging voice can make along the way, and I take any opportunity I can to pay that positivity forward.
Twelve years ago, I asked Louise Dean to sign a copy of The Idea of Love for me and she wrote inside - ‘Keep on writing and one day (& soon) you can sign a copy of your own for me!’
I say the same to you all now. And if I can play a small part in helping you get there? Even better.
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