Interview with an Author: Emma Grey
I am excited to interview the amazing Australian author, Emma Grey. I loved her novel, THE LAST LOVE NOTE, and know you will too!
Emma is a novelist, feature writer, photographer, professional speaker and accountability coach.
She has been writing fiction since she first fell for Anne of Green Gables at fourteen and is the author of the YA novels UNREQUITED, TILLY MAQUIRE AND THE ROYAL WEDDING MESS, the non-fiction title, I DON’T HAVE TIME (co-authored with Audrey Thomas), and the parenting memoir WIT’S END BEFORE BREAKFAST! CONFESSIONS OF A WORKING MUM.
Along with her school friend, dual ARIA-winning composer, Sally Whitwell, Emma co-wrote two musicals, DEADPAN ANTI-FAN and FAIRYTALE DERAIL, based on her teen novels.
She wrote her first adult novel, THE LAST LOVE NOTE, in the wake of her husband’s death. It’s a fictional tribute to their love, an attempt to articulate the magnitude of her loss and a life-affirming commitment to hope.
Emma lives just outside Canberra, Australia, where her world centres on her two adult daughters, young son, loved step-children and step-grandchildren, writing, photography and endlessly chasing the Aurora Australis.
Here’s my interview with Emma:
1. Why do you write – and why did you decide to write a book?
I write to make sense of the world – to work out what I think, to process ‘life’ and (very much) to escape. I love carrying around a fantasy world inside my head wherever I go – driving, grocery shopping, gardening – and then putting that world on paper and sharing it with other people.
2. What genres do you enjoy reading?
I love contemporary adult and YA fiction, particularly romantic comedy. In recent years, the darker my own life has become, the lighter my reading/TV/movie interests.
3. How long did it take you to write your first book from first word to publish?
My first book began as a series of emails to friends, which I later edited into a memoir called WITS’ END BEFORE BREAKFAST! CONFESSIONS OF A WORKING MUM. It’s hard to measure how long that one took, as I wasn’t consciously writing a book when I started. My most recent book, THE LAST LOVE NOTE took three and a half years from first word to publication.
4. If you’ve written or published more than one book, how long does it take you now to write and publish a book?
I’m currently writing my sixth book, and hoping to get into a rhythm of writing and publishing a book each year. With full-time work and single parenthood it’s a challenge, but writing is also my way of escaping the demands of life, so perhaps it’s essential!
5. What’s the most challenging part of being an author for you?
It’s returning to the first draft of a new book after editing and polishing a published work, and being comfortable with the flimsiness of your writing. You can get a sense that you’ve ‘forgotten how to write’. In reality, you’re just comparing the wrong draft of the two books…
It’s also a mindset shift breaking out of the trackies (sweatpants) and Uggs and showing up at book events, writers festivals and in radio or TV interviews in ‘promo’ mode. Part of the appeal of writing is the introversion and solitude… it’s a real 180-degree shift.
6. What do you love the most about being an author?
Definitely the moments readers get in touch and tell you what your book meant to them, how it changed the way they think, or helped them articulate some aspect of their experience or feel less alone. And the moments when they talk about your characters as if they’re real people (which of course they are).
That feeling was supercharged when I saw actors on stage playing the roles I’d imagined in the musical I co-wrote with Sally Whitwell, based on one of my teen novels, UNREQUITED. It was such a buzz seeing my characters speaking and singing lines I’d dreamt up! The young actor who played the lead, Lydia Milos, was more ‘Kat’ than Kat in the book! She was remarkable in how she brought her to life.
7. If you could give an aspiring author one piece of advice, what would it be?
Just tell yourself the story at first. Write the book you want to read. Don’t worry too much about what happens after you’ve finished (that’s a whole other ball game). Relish this private time when the story is just yours.
8. What is the best line you feel you’ve written in your published work(s)?
It’s not a particularly fancy or clever sentence, but when the husband in THE LAST LOVE NOTE is losing his memory to early onset Alzheimer’s, he sticks Post-it notes all over the house to remind him what things are. One day his wife, Kate, comes home and finds a note in reference to their 3-year-old son.
It reads, “The boy’s name is Charlie.”
People have said that line broke them. (Tara’s note: It did for me!)
9. What’s the shortest time you’ve ever written a story?
I wrote the first draft of THE LAST LOVE NOTE in five weeks (about 65,000 words). It poured out of me, probably because it was influenced by my real-life experience of the loss of my husband. It was my therapy, in a way.
That book ended up 90,000 words. After 11 drafts, and the ditching of 30,000 words and re-writing of 40,000… So that first draft was really just the bare bones.
10. What was the hardest lesson you learned in the writing process, and what did you take from that?
I’ve become really good at handling rejection. It still hurts, but I bounce back a lot faster than I used to. I ‘collect’ rejections these days, on a chart on my kitchen wall. The more things I fling into the universe, the more likely it is that something may stick. Having multiple projects on the go can help disperse the risk or disappointment.
11. What is the best book you’ve found on the writing process?
I love Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD and Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC.
12. Are you self-published, traditionally, or hybrid-published, and why did you take that publishing route? Would you choose that route for your next book?
I have five traditionally published books, spanning memoir, non-fiction and fiction. I self-published the first edition of one of my teen novels, because I wrote it for my daughter who hated reading, but loved Harry Styles. She was fourteen, and I wanted to get it into her hands the fastest way possible and show her reading could be fun. That book was eventually picked up by HarperCollins in a two-book deal.
I see the potential financial appeal of self-publishing, but I’ve found having to project-manage the entire process from cover design and editing through to publishing, marketing, publicity and distribution to be a very heavy load in an already busy life. I have enormous respect for authors who choose that path, as I learnt that it takes considerable extra commitment and organisation.
Thankfully, my experience of traditional publishing has been that I still have a lot of influence over the aspects that matter to me (eg. input on cover design, auditioning the narrators for audio books) but I can let the team take care of all the aspects that aren’t my specialty (which is everything except writing and social media).
13. What drew you to the subject of your latest novel?
It’s a novel about a midlife widow falling in love again. The grief storyline is unfortunately drawn from my own life, after my husband died in 2016. Writing it was cathartic and healing, though challenging. The romantic comedy storyline, where she falls in love again was an imagined escape for me.
14. What did your discovery path look like, in choosing the genre to write in? (i.e. If you chose to write chick-lit / feel good fiction, why did you choose that genre? If you chose hero-fantasy, why?)
I knew I’d write a book about grief, but could have taken it in several directions – self-help, memoir … I chose fiction, which meant I could pour my genuine emotions into a story that was not exactly my own. Life is full of light and shade, and I wanted to write something that wasn’t all sad. I chose to include romance and comedy as well as the deeper aspects of the story – I wanted to write something that was ultimately hopeful and uplifting. It’s an attempt to capture the magnitude of my loss, but also my commitment to hope.
15. What does your typical day look like, when you are working on a book?
I don’t yet have the luxury of writing full-time, so writing tends to be squeezed around my other work (copywriting, freelance writing and accountability coaching). I’ll often leave the laptop on my bedside table overnight and smash out an hour before I get out of bed for the morning family routine. I might grab another 30 minutes at lunch time, then write in the evenings (sometimes until 2am) and on weekends. I love going to cafes to write sometimes, often with writer friends. There’s something inspiring about being surrounded by people. Usually, though, I’m on the couch in my PJs. No wonder my back is sore!
There’s also usually promotional work going on, whether it’s keeping up with social media, being interviewed for radio or podcasts, engaging with readers online, speaking at events, library talks or festivals – or writing guest blogs or responding to interviews like this.
It’s important to have some ways to unwind. For me, that’s photography and hanging out with family and friends. One of my hobbies is chasing the Aurora Australis, so some nights my son and I are out stargazing into the early hours, which makes the next day’s writing a bit more challenging!
16. Do you put yourself into your characters, or are they completely fictional?
There’s a lot of me in most of my main characters, definitely. Usually the flaws, and the chaotic stories. THE LAST LOVE NOTE features a scene in which she discovers a genuine military grenade in her house – that was unfortunately entirely based on real life! Most of the more ridiculous situations tend to be true to life. 😊
17. How much of your own life, and your own experiences, have affected your storylines?
This book was heavily inspired by reality (except for the ‘new love’ storyline, which is ‘aspirational’ at this point). I also love to take innocuous little everyday anecdotes and use them in stories – it’s easier than making something up! Write what you know!
My teen novels feature a boy band, and this came directly from my then teenage daughters’ galloping obsession with One Direction at the time. It wasn’t hard to imagine…
18. What’s the most interesting book you’ve read in the last year? Or at least, one that kept you thinking about long after?
DAUGHTERS OF EVE by Nina Campbell. It’s a fascinating feminist revenge thriller about female vigilantes rising up against domestic violence. It should be a TV series!
19. Have you ever read a book outside of your usual genre – and found it surprising? Why?
This is how I felt when I read some YA vampire fiction. I’d never really read fantasy, and had no interest in vampires, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Of course I found it a little bit un-put-downable, to my surprise!
20. Do you write what you want to write, or what you feel is sellable?
Definitely what I want to write (and read). My heart needs to be in it, even if nobody else ever reads it, or I won’t stay the distance.
21. Would you still be an author if you knew no one would read your books?Yes, definitely. I’ll tell myself stories for the rest of my life, the way I have done since I was a little girl. It’s an escape and a coping mechanism. It’s like breathing.
22. What’s the best book you feel you’ve written?
THE LAST LOVE NOTE feels like my ‘magnum opus’. Coming out of such personal experience, I feel I put more of ‘me’ into that book than any other. And it’s more than a book to me – it’s my last love note to my husband.
You can find Emma here:
Link to Emma’s latest book: THE LAST LOVE NOTE.
You can read my full review of Emma’s book on Patreon.
Link to Emma’s best book selection (Q18): DAUGHTERS OF EVE by Nina Campbell