Emilia Hart was a student on our three-month Writing Your Novel course in 2020. After the course she gained representation from Curtis Brown’s Felicity Blunt. Felicity sold Emilia’s debut Weyward to Borough Press in an exciting 48-hour pre-empt deal, it will be published in spring 2023. We’re thrilled to say that Emilia is now our 125th former student with a book deal!
We caught up with Emilia to find out about the inspiration behind her debut, her time studying with us and how she stayed motivated to write throughout lockdown…
You studied on our three-month online Writing Your Novel course in 2020. How did this impact your approach to writing?
Every aspect of the course – the brilliant materials, my wonderful tutor Suzannah and my fellow course mates – had a huge impact on my writing.
The process of giving feedback to course mates was especially invaluable: it was like looking for the ‘seams’ in the writing, if that makes sense. It really helped me to apply that critical eye to my own work when editing and re-drafting.
Also, I can’t emphasise enough the joy of connecting with other aspiring writers. It was a privilege both to read their work and receive their feedback on my novel.
What’s one piece of advice from tutor Suzannah Dunn that has stuck with you?
It’s hard to pick one example because Suzannah was such a fabulous tutor! There are so many things she said that I have turned to again and again. But if I had to choose one, it would be her advice about keeping all of the senses in mind when writing a scene. I think sometimes we forget to focus on sound, touch and smell when writing – but all of these are crucial for holding the reader in a moment, for making them believe in what you are trying to tell them.
After the course you went on to gain representation from Curtis Brown agent Felicity Blunt. How did you know Felicity was the right agent for you?
Part of the course involved writing a practice query letter to a Curtis Brown agent, and it was through this process that I became familiar with Felicity’s work. As I read about her, I was struck by the fact that we share very similar taste in books – for example, we both love Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Also I was so hugely impressed by her list: she represents Abi Dare, Rosamund Lupton and the Estate of Daphne Du Maurier to name just a few!
It was an absolute dream when she read Weyward and offered me representation. She was so lovely to chat to and, most importantly, really ‘got’ what I was trying to achieve with my book. Also, her editorial suggestions were absolutely spot on – I knew she could help me make Weyward the best it could be.
Your debut Weyward sold to Borough Press in an exciting 48-hour pre-empt deal. How did it feel when Felicity delivered the news that you were going to be a published novelist?
It was utterly surreal – I cried after she told me! I can’t express how incredible it feels to achieve a childhood dream. I still feel like I’m floating!
Weyward follows three women across five centuries, it is a story of female identity and empowerment told through the lens of witchcraft. Can you tell us more about your novel and the inspiration behind it?
When England first went into lockdown last year, I was struck in particular by the media reports of increasing calls to domestic violence helplines. I was haunted by thoughts of women in that situation – locked down with their abusers. I was living in north-west England at the time and my partner told me about the Pendle witch trials – so called because they involved women from Pendle Hill in Lancashire – which took place at Lancaster Castle in 1612. I couldn’t stop thinking about the long shadow of patriarchy. Misogyny may have taken many forms throughout history, but it’s been a constant presence. And – sadly – it lingers still.
Weyward was written from a place of anger, but also hope. In my novel, Kate, the modern protagonist, draws strength from the experiences of her forebears, Altha and Violet. I wanted to show that when women work together, we can be truly formidable.
Do you have any tips for writers working on novels that span multiple time periods?
The thing that worked for me was writing each ‘strand’ separately – so I wrote the earliest time period first, then worked my way into the present day. I felt I really had to stay with a character a while to feel properly immersed in their story.
I suppose my other tip would be to think about what level of research is appropriate for your novel. I think it’s hard to get the balance right. Too much research can become procrastination – at some point, you do have to just get the words on the page. Equally, not enough research will make your story feel thin and inauthentic. You don’t want your reader distracted by jarring anachronisms. If it doesn’t convince you as the writer, it won’t convince the reader.
What does your typical writing day look like, and how did you stay motivated during lockdown?
I wrote Weyward while working full time, so my writing day varied depending upon the day of the week! On a weekday, I’d get up really early and write for an hour or so before work. I literally wrote from my bed – before I had even had coffee – and I think being in that sort of foggy, half-awake state was actually very helpful!
Writing, for me, was an escape from lockdown. I had this other world I could escape into when reality felt too grim and monotonous.
What advice would you like to share with the aspiring authors reading this?
Stop putting it off! But seriously, just write. Write anything. And keep doing it. Get into a routine. I wrote every day for about three months when I was writing the first draft of Weyward – sometimes only for an hour each day, but it all builds up.
Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?
I’m very excited to get started on editing Weyward with my wonderful editor Carla at Borough Press. And, of course, to get cracking on book number two!
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