We chatted to Emma Healey, winner of the Costa First Book Award for Elizabeth Is Missing, about her top tips on how to become a successful author and what inspired her to write.
Did you write stories when you were a child?
Yes, from a very early age. And before I could write them myself I dictated them to my mother – she recently found a story I made up when I was four, about a cat and a snake who go to the dentist. Riveting stuff!
What books and authors did you read when you were young?
I loved Ann Radcliffe’s books when I was a teenager; Eighteenth Century gothic stories with just the right balance of horror and mystery. And I was hugely influenced by I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. It made me want to be a writer – both in the style of Cassandra Mortmain, ‘sitting in the kitchen sink’, and her father, the tortured genius who hides himself away in the castle gatehouse.
What helps you come up with plot lines? (eg, hot bath, long walks)
Walking definitely helps, and I used to find my daily commute through London especially good for inspiration (perhaps it was the knowledge that I had a whole day’s proper work ahead of me), the problem was that by the time I’d reached my destination I wouldn’t be able to do any writing.
What is your writing routine?
My ideal working day starts very early – if I get up and to my desk by 6.30 am I can pretty much guarantee I will write something useful, if I don’t get up early things are much more hit and miss.
What tips would you give to aspiring writers?
Something I always tell people to do is to save their will power. It is a finite resource and you need your will power to keep writing, so don’t use it up on starting a new diet, giving up drinking or forcing yourself into an intense exercise regime at the gym. You can do those things when you’ve finished your book.
Do you have an idea for your next novel?
At the moment I’m working on a book about a man in his 30s who feels responsible for the sexual attack on his 16 year old neighbour – he was the first person she met after the attack and yet she said nothing to him instead pretended nothing had happened, and this makes him uneasy. It’s about misplaced guilt, how and why that occurs.
What novels are you reading at the moment?
I’ve been travelling a lot in the last month and the book that made the time go most quickly was Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe. It was so funny that I annoyed my boyfriend (and everyone on the planes and trains I was using) by laughing out loud all the time. Appropriately I’ve just started Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, I’m only a few pages in, but I’m hooked already and have had to drag myself away from it to answer these questions!