Today on Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books we have Emily Critchley. The debut author of Notes on My Family which was published by Everything with Words back in October 2017. It's a moving account with an inside look on life featuring a dysfunctional family told through the perspective of a 13-year-old girl with lots of irony and humour.
Welcome Emily and thank you for taking part in this interview for Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books. I hope you enjoyed answering the below questions.
Tell us about your first book for Young Adults - Notes on My Family?
Notes on My Family is a first-person present-tense account of contemporary life told through the observations of my protagonist, Louise Coulson (Lou). Lou’s parents announce they are separating. Her dad is a teacher at her secondary school and is having an affair with a sixth form student. Lou is an outsider who isn’t fitting in. She is also having problems at school and her dad’s affair isn’t helping her quest for invisibility. Lou is asked to be a ‘buddy’ to the new girl in her class, Faith, and the two girls form an unlikely friendship amidst the chaos of their ordinary lives.
Does your book have a lesson or a moral behind it?
No. I think books should present issues but ever instruct. I do think, though, when writing young adult fiction, it’s important to leave the reader with a sense of hope. I think we often read to feel less isolated and I would like teens who have read Notes on My Family to come away feeling that they are not alone, that other teenagers also experience problems at home or at school and have difficulty fitting into a world that doesn’t understand them. I would like to think that teenagers, or indeed anyone, reading the book will feel that it’s okay to be different and that life, despite all its absurdities, can be enjoyed.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
Write more, read more, and finish what I’d started. It’s really important to practise your craft and, of course, to read widely. I wrote some very bad poetry
as a teenager and I started several pieces of fiction but rarely finished anything. It’s vitally important to finish. My advice to any young writer would be to keep reading, keep writing and try to finish things.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often?
My characters tend to be wholly fictional. Lou, in, Notes on My Family isn’t me, although she is having a problematic time at school as I did. Writing Notes on My Family was difficult for me because it was the first time I’d re-visited being a teenager and it wasn’t a happy time for me. I also write short stories. I tend, in my short stories, to focus more on the mess that was my twenties, alt-hough I also enjoy writing from the perspective of older characters looking back on certain periods in their lives. I am interested in the unreliability of memory and why certain experiences in our lives surface at certain times.
Do you use your own experiences?
Occasionally, although I try to disguise them as fiction!
My family were worried when they saw the title Notes on My Family and very relieved when they read the book and discovered Lou’s family bear no resemblance to my own.
While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
No. I felt very close to Lou when writing her. I was inside her head but she was definitely a separate person to me.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Oh, gosh. I might go for Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square, or Barbara Comyns Our Spoons came from Woolworths. If I am allowed two!
In children’s literature, Peter Dickinson’s Eva is greatly under-appreciated.
What's your favorite part of Christmas in a literary sense?
Having the time to read. I am always hopeful for that. This year I will be spending a week at my parent’s house in North Lincolnshire. I hope they are aware that I plan to do nothing except sit by the fire and read. Perhaps a little antisocial but they should be used to me by now!
You’re hosting a Christmas literary dinner party, which particular authors/illustrators would you invite and why?
I’d really like to invite some literary authors from the past round to dinner. We’d eat at my flat then go walking in London. I’d love, for example, to see what Charles Dickens or Virginia Woolf, or Graham Greene would think of London now.
Last question, what five things would you take on a desert Island on Christmas Day and why?
If I was just there for the day I’d take:
A book (obviously)
A beach towel to lie on
An umbrella so I didn’t get sunburn
Christmas pudding so I’d feel I wasn’t missing out on Christmas.
My laptop, so I that I could write!