Author Q&A: Emily Organ
Last week Emily very kindly offered a signed copy of her novel "Runaway Girl" as a prize to celebrate me reaching 500 followers on Twitter. I chose Emily's book as my review of "Runaway Girl" is my most visited post ever in the last 6 months! It is Emily's third novel, but the first part in a new historical trilogy.
As a follow up, I am very pleased to welcome Emily to the blog today for a Q&A! Thank you so much Emily for letting me interview you!
People talk about "second book syndrome” and the pressure to match the success of previous novels. Have you felt any increasing pressure now you are on book 4 and book 2 of your trilogy?
This is the first time I’ve written a sequel and I’ve definitely felt under pressure to continue the characters’ stories in a way that will keep readers happy. Readers have told me who their favourite characters are (Millicent is popular!) and what they want to see happen next with Alice and Jon. So I’ve felt torn between coming up with a story they’ll be happy with and also not making it too predictable. I really hope readers enjoy it.
Your first novels, “The Outsider” and “The Last Day” are set in modern day and very contemporary. Can you tell me a bit about your decision to then travel back to the 1350s for “Runaway Girl”?
The Last Day is set in the 1980s so although it’s effectively a modern day story I enjoyed writing about the 80s period and including its cultural references. I think the official requirement for historic fiction is a story set sixty years or more in the past. Although I enjoyed writing The Outsider, I’m becoming increasingly drawn to creating worlds which readers can immerse themselves in. Historic fiction provides that opportunity because it describes a different world to the one we inhabit and has links with the fantasy and sci-fi genres in that respect. It also provides the benefit of imparting some historical fact to the reader. I’ve always been a bit of a history geek and have felt aggrieved at perceptions of medieval times being limited to the ‘dark ages’ with brutal violence, stupid peasants and sadistic medical treatments. Those things existed of course and they make good stories! But life was as rich and varied then as it is now and things happened then which happen now too. I wanted to explore the idea of how a girl’s abduction would have been handled back then. I like to draw parallels between then and now because although it seems a different world in some respects, there are remarkable similarities too. For many things which happen today we can point to a similar event in the past.
How would you sum up “Runaway Girl" in two sentences?
How about one long sentence? It’s about the predicament of two women who face a dual battle against evil and the prejudices of the time.
What can you reveal about Part 2, “The Forgotten Child”? Does it follow on directly or feature the same characters?
Forgotten Child is set in the year after Runaway Girl and features most of the same characters. Anyone who has read Runaway Girl will know that a storyline wasn’t completely tied up at the end of it so you will see that story continued as well as the introduction of a new pot of angst for Alice to deal with!
Have you already mapped out Part 3?
Yes I have and I’m on the second draft of it, it will be published this autumn.
How did your idea to write a trilogy come about? Did you always plan “Runaway Girl” to be Part 1 of 3?
I’ve always wanted to write a series and I thought it would be a good idea to start with a trilogy and see how readers find it. I have ideas for continuing it into book four. Runaway Girl was always intended to be the first book of the series.
How does writing a trilogy differ to writing stand alone novels?
The second and third books in a trilogy are easier to write because the characters and the settings are already established. There’s less set up to do than in the first book or a stand alone book. Writing the trilogy has felt like writing a long book which is divided into three parts so, in that sense, it isn’t too different to writing a stand alone book – it is just more words! I’ve really enjoyed working on the sequels because I like revisiting the characters and their stories.
You have clearly had to do a lot of research for this historical trilogy. How did you find this? How did it compare to the preparation for your previous novels? Was there anything you had to change plot wise or character wise after researching?
I spent about four months researching before I wrote anything for Runaway Girl, I really enjoy the research because I read about history anyway so it was a good excuse to apply another interest of mine to my writing. It was certainly much more research than was needed for my previous two books and a lot of the research involved checking and double checking facts to make sure I had created an authentic situation. I found the restrictions on women’s lives hard to work around when writing Runaway Girl, I wanted strong independent minded women in the book and women weren’t encouraged to be like that in the middle ages. I’m certain they existed though so I had to find believable ways of making the characters work. I’m sure some critics might say the women don’t feel ‘historic enough’ for that reason.
What’s been the highlight of your writing career so far?
The highlight is always feedback from readers. At the weekend I received an email from a reader in Canada who told me that my writing had transported her from the wilds of Labrador to medieval London. It was wonderful to hear and I told her that the wilds of Labrador sounded pretty appealing, I think I have somewhere to stay now if I ever visit! The relationship with readers is the most rewarding part of my work.
Tell me about your writing routine. Do you write by hand or by computer?!
I like to scribble out early ideas on a bit of paper because anything I write on a screen has a linear progression to it and I can’t get my head around stories working in that way. Often my ideas start in the middle of a story or at the end. But as soon as I have my idea and a rough outline I start on my laptop. My notebooks and scraps of paper get lost very easily!
Which authors have influenced and shaped your writing?
I went through a Brontë phase in my teens which has never left me and Wuthering Heights will always be one of my favourite books. It’s no secret that Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca influenced my book The Outsider. I like Charles Dickens for his character and setting descriptions and Agatha Christie for her clever plots and succinct style. These writers are a big influence because I read them when I was younger. In recent years I’ve come to admire James Patterson for his page turning style of writing and I like Stephen King because his characters and warped imagination are enchanting. I love Donna Tartt’s writing too. My influences are many and varied and not confined to a single genre either.
If you could travel back to a particular period in history which would it be and why?
Probably to a market in the middle ages because I would love to see what people bought and sold, hear how they spoke, see what they wore and even smell those stinks! The weather and the hours of daylight made a huge difference to people’s everyday existence back then and their belief system fascinates me too: a mix of superstition and the teachings of the church. I’d love to find out how inquiring people’s minds were back then, many of them were uneducated but they would still have been intelligent and questioning. Did they accept everything the church and the authorities told them? To what extent did women and girls accept the misogyny of the time? There are lots of unknowns in that period of history which is why it fascinates me. We have a lot more knowledge of the Tudor times onwards. Some of our ideas of everyday life in the middle ages are still based on guesswork.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished Revelation, one of the books in the brilliant Shardlake series by C J Sansom and I’ve just started House of Silk which is a Sherlock Holmes novel by Anthony Horowitz. I love the Sherolck Holmes stories so it’s interesting to read how he’s tackling the story within the confines of the Sherlock Holmes brand.
What are your plans / hopes / ambitions for the future?
To always have ideas for books and to write lots of books which lots of people enjoy reading. I would like to complete a few series (which means a lot of books!) which readers can work their way through and enjoy. I love writing and I love chatting with readers and that is what makes me happy. I have no interest in literary awards, book launch parties and signings and public speaking. That is not me at all! I’m a terrible introvert so just putting words on the page for the enjoyment for others is the most rewarding thing I can ask for. If pushed I have to admit I’d love to see a series of mine adapted for television on day in the future – into one of those binge watching box sets. I think a lot of writers would like to see their work televised so I’m certainly not alone in that!
Thank you so much Emily - it's been a real pleasure to chat about your novels and your writing. Thank you for taking part! I wish you good luck with the release of "Forgotten Child" in July.
If you are interested in finding out more about Emily please look her up on Twitter @EmilySOrgan or Facebook as Emily Organ Writer or her website emilyorgan.co.uk
See below for my review of "Runaway Girl" and don't forget to look up Emily's other books "The Outsider " and "The Last Day" as well - I can highly recommend them all!
My Review of "Runaway Girl"
"Runaway Girl" is set in London, 1352. Following family tragedy, Alice has built a quiet, modest life in a monastery working with the foundling children. Then one of girls there, 14 yr old Constance, disappears suddenly in the night, leaving a murdered body behind her. The Prior insists she has fled with a young man but to Alice there seem too many inconsistencies and she is convinced something more sinister has befallen Constance. At the same time, a dead girl is pulled from the Thames and another is on the run. Are the girls linked? As Alice tries to uncover the truth she puts herself further and further in danger as someone is working desperately hard to make sure she doesn't succeed.
This is quite a departure from her previous novels and I was intrigued with the choice of historical setting but before I had time to really consider it further, I found I was thrown straight into the action in the very opening lines of the prologue. An unknown girl is witness to a murder and trying to escape. The murky world of London and the Thames are brilliantly evoked through smell, touch, sound, taste and sight. Details, such as their clothing, immediately transports the reader to 1352 and everything feels very real and alive.
There is a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter so you can't help but keep turning the pages to try and solve the mystery. The chapters alternate between the three different plot threads creating more tension and adding complexity to the story as they weave in and out of each other, building towards an exciting ending.
The characters are all highly convincing and believable. Emily has a real gift for capturing dialogue and her conversations really add colour to the characters and feel authentic. Alice, the protagonist, is strong, bold, independent and outspoken. She is a widow so has a little more freedom although she is later robbed of her home and financial independence as this is too much of a threat to those in authority. It's really interesting to have such a strong female lead in a time when women had so few rights and were deemed so lowly. Alice is a dynamic presence and adds real vitality to the plot. She fights against convention and all the obstacles she meets. Her voice is so often dismissed as that of an "hysterical woman" it is even harder for her to make people believe in the crimes she knows to have taken place. I loved the detail about the way she plaited her hair, or tied an embroidered belt; it captured the historical era with subtly and conviction. The author has clearly spent a great deal of time researching this novel to ensure it reads so easily and well.
My favourite character was actually one of the relatively small cast members, Millicent, a wise old midwife who nurses with ancient charms and herbs. The imagery which described her home and her livelihood was very effective. Her use of "the old language" gave a fascinating insight about people at this time. She is full of wise words: "Evil will always be among us and take the place of some people's hearts whether they're bandits on the road or the King's own knights."
I don't want to give too much away but Sir Walter is a deeply unpleasant creation who will make your skin crawl! Each character is well crafted. Each voice distinct.
In many ways this novel fits the modern genre of "grip lit" and the "psychological thriller" just set hundreds of years ago. It has secrets, murder, abduction and corruption. It has a strong female protagonist who won't be quietened and shows determination and resilience as she overcomes social barriers. There are duplicitous men, romantic interests and a sense of never quite knowing who to trust.
The last section of the novel is full of pace and dramatic tension. The way the novel finishes by coming back on itself to one of the scenes from the beginning gives a beautifully satisfying and circular ending to the narrative.
Emily's writing is well crafted and beautifully executed. She pays immense attention to detail in order to capture scenes and characters with vitality and strength. I am impressed with how she can produce such different types of stories in each of her novels so effectively. It may be set in the 1350's but is extremely readable and fluent. If you don't usually read historical dramas, I would suggest you make an exception here. I would highly recommend this novel!