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16 November 2021

Emily Randall: ‘Don’t write something just because you think it will sell’

by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students, Writing Tips

Emily Randall was a student on our three-month online Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course in 2019. She went on to win the Mslexia Children’s & Young Adult Novel Competition and the 2021 Times/Chicken House Award (which includes a publishing deal with Chicken House) for her children’s book The Flood Child.

Read on to find out about Emily’s time studying with us and the inspiration behind her ghostly debut middle grade novel…

You studied on our Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course in 2019. How did your time on the course impact your approach to writing?

My time on the course massively impacted my approach to writing, in every way. I’d written a million short stories before and had even started a novel — which, upon re-reading, was just a rip off of the movie The Faculty — but had no idea about story arcs or structure, character development, nothing. The idea of turning 40,000+ words into a coherent book seemed impossible.  CBC gave me a toolkit and the ability to apply a consistent method to my rambling creativity, which is what I’d been lacking.

What was the best piece of advice you received from tutor Catherine Johnson during the course?

I loved my sessions with Catherine, and her feedback was always accurate and crystal clear. She has the ability to understand what kind of writer you are very quickly. For me, the most useful advice she gave always fell under the same umbrella: it’s about the reader. Remember their age, remember their interests, remember how they speak and think and feel. Even if you are a thirty (cough)- something writer, you need to write for your target audience and not for you.

Many of our students form writing support groups. Are you still in touch with any of your course mates?

I can’t overstate how awesome my course mates are. The end of our course clashed with the beginning of lockdown, and I think the fact everyone suddenly went online anyway meant that we continued our chats on Slack, and then onto Zoom and Whatsapp and now in person. I am constantly amazed by their incredible writing — seriously, there are some great books coming your way from them — and how selfless they all are in their critique and feedback. But that aside, they’ve genuinely become some of my closest friends. One of my course mates said that CBC is like ‘NCT for writers’ which I think is just right!

Congratulations on winning the 2021 Times/Chicken House Award. How does it feel to be awarded this prize and a publishing deal with Chicken House?

Thank you so much. I still can’t believe it. I don’t think it’ll really hit until I see the book on the shelves. We all have our dream publishers and long before I even entered the competition, Chicken House was one of mine. They champion new and exciting voices and there’s nothing formulaic about their books. They’ve launched some of my favourite authors’ careers. I can’t wait to be put through my paces and learn as much as I can from them.

The Flood Child follows 13-year-old Autumn who can see dead people, but when her father dies and does not appear to her, she is determined to solve the mystery of his death. Can you tell us more about the novel and the inspiration behind it?

A clause in her dad’s will send Autumn to Imber, a strange island in the Celtic Sea. Everyone is just a little bit odd, and it’s clear they’re hiding something. But what does it have to do with Autumn’s dad? And can she uncover the secret before his past comes back to haunt her?

The book was inspired by several things. A visit to the beautiful Boscastle, with its recent flood and their amazing witchcraft museum, my love of hag stones and the sea and the fact I was friends with a ghost when I was little (or so my mum says).  Growing up my favourite books always included a bit of ghosty-ness or time wobbles, and for this story Moondial and Tom’s Midnight Garden were particular inspirations. It was my husband’s idea to give a nod to The Wicker Man!

What advice would you like to share with writers working on a novel for younger readers?

I know everyone says it, but read. Read as much as you can, especially new and recent books. Know the market and soak up all the brilliance from other children’s writers out there. I have basically lived in our local library since lockdown ended. Don’t write something just because you think it will sell. Trends change quickly, and it’s obvious if your heart isn’t in something. Even if it feels risky (and believe me, I had my fair share of rejections for this) stick to your guns and tell the story of your heart. Not only will you have the passion to see it through to the end, but the authenticity will shine through. Oh, and I couldn’t let this pass without recommending Write Mentor. If you’re a children’s writer, it’s totally invaluable in so many ways. I wouldn’t be here without it.

What does your writing routine look like?

I have a three-year-old and a ten-month-old so any kind of routine is impossible at the moment! I snatch time whenever childcare, evenings, weekends and school holidays allow (my husband is a teacher), and I’ve learned quickly to throw myself back into the world even if I don’t feel like it. I always need a soundtrack to inspire me — this book was written to Seth Lakeman and Show of Hands —a cup of tea, and some chocolate.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

I’ll soon be cracking on with editing this book with Chicken House, and I’ve started thinking about book two. I feel insanely lucky to even be thinking like that, and if you’d told me I’d be here even as recently as spring this year, I’d have laughed in your face. It’s insane how quickly things can change.

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