A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Hi Emma. Happy book birthday! Can you tell us a little about Better Left Buried?
Hi Kendra, and thank you! Well, it’s another standalone psychological thriller for teens (and adults who like reading YA). I think the Usborne back cover blurb says it all: ‘Brother dead. Best friend missing. House ransacked. Stalked by a stranger. Attacked in the street… and Sarah has no idea why.’
Your first novel, Now You See Me, was inspired by a true story. Where did the idea for Better Left Buried come from?
It started off in a couple of ways. I’d often had a picture of a girl who realised she was being followed, so much of the ensuing story was me working out why and what it all meant.
But very early on whole chunks of the central relationship between the two main characters showed up in my head while I was travelling to Sweden. I jotted down pages of their conversation and how they would interact, which I ended up using almost verbatim in the book. Astonishing how it just arrived, out of nowhere. I remember Stephanie Meyer talking about how Bella and Edward came to her in a dream, and this felt similar. It’s like these people were always there, and I somehow tuned into them and their relationship.
Your debut was published exactly a year ago today. What’s your first year as a published author been like?
An eye-opener! I always looked up to published authors and thought they must lead a charmed life – after all, they’d fulfilled what was probably a lifelong ambition. Of course, the reality is that publication brings a new set of insecurities – will shops stock my books? will they sell? will it get any decent reviews? On the whole, though, I’ve enjoyed it very much. One of the best things is being given permission to take my writing seriously, rather than feeling it’s something I’m merely playing at. The very best bit, however, has been the appreciative comments from readers who loved the book, and who really ‘got’ what I was trying to do.
Oh, and I finally got to use this notebook, which I’d been saving for when I was a ‘proper writer’.
*pauses interview to break into Emma’s house and steal notebook*
You’re making quite a name for yourself as a YA thriller writer. What draws you to thrillers? Have you ever dabbled in other genres?
Well, thank you! I’m very flattered you think so. I don’t think I’m drawn to thrillers per se, so much as a good story. I spent much of my life reading very literary novels, but I’ve always had a soft spot for anything with lots of drama and emotion and intrigue. The sort of story that keeps you wondering what’s going on, and how it’s all going to be resolved, yet makes you care deeply about the characters and what happens to them.
Yes, I wrote a picture book, published some time ago, and a middle grade book which I’m hoping to unleash on the world in the next year. I love writing for a slightly younger age group, as you can use a lot of humour, which is always fun.
I loved Better Left Buried’s main character, Sarah. Though she’s faced with some scary situations, she’s also a very ‘real’ teen who worries about normal things like friends and exam results. Which comes easiest for you when writing — the characters or plot?
Hmmm… probably the plot, though sometimes the characters or their relationship to one another is among the first things I grasp, as happened with this book. Generally though, I have an idea of the main events, and only the vaguest sense of the people in the story. The first draft is very much a journey of discovering what those characters are really like, then the second draft focuses on feeding that back into the story.
In both your novels, the tension builds skilfully and there are lots of twists and turns. Do you know every detail of the plot before starting to write, or do you work it out as you go along?
I have an overarching sense of the plot in very broad terms, but much of it develops as I go along, though I often have a strong sense of how I want it all to end. I use a variety of tools to help me make progress – mindmaps, character sheets, story prompts, anything really. I’m not a pantser though. I like to know what I’m trying to achieve in a scene before I set out. If I get stuck in the actual writing, it’s always because I don’t know enough about where I’m heading or what’s really going on.
Having read Better Left Buried, I imagine parts of it must have needed quite a bit of research. What did that research look like? (I’m imagining singing lessons and ferry journeys!)
I used to be a travel writer, so that bit was easy – I’ve been on plenty of ferries. Yes, I looked into the singing side quite a bit, and some of the other stuff that comes up in the course of the story. I’m a very lazy researcher though. I usually stick to Google and my own instincts. If something looks like it’s going to require very detailed background work, I tend to avoid it. Being an ex-journalist, I’m always scared of making factual errors.
One of the advantages of writing about younger characters is they don’t generally have to be experts in anything, or require a detailed knowledge of some area or occupation.
Parts of the story are set in rural Sweden. Was there a reason you chose that setting?
I ended up there while doing a travel piece for The Times some years ago and just fell in love with it. We stayed in a summer house on the edge of a huge lake, and I was over the moon when we discovered we could take out the nearby rowing boat. There was an idyllic island about a fifteen minute row away, and I was absolutely smitten. I’ve always had a thing about islands, and this one was perfect. I’ve been back a number of times and it always kills me to leave. It’s simply my favourite place on earth.
Below is one of the many photographs I’ve taken of ‘Lingonberry island’ as we dubbed it. There’s a load more on the Pinterest page I’ve made for Better Left Buried:
I hear you’re currently working on a third thriller for Usborne. Are you allowed to share anything about it yet? *hopeful face*
Well, I’ve just finished the first, horribly rough, draft, so I can tell you it’s another psychological thriller, but with more emphasis on the psychological this time. Although I am basing it on another true life incident that happened in France, I’m bringing in a lot of other elements to flesh out the story, and also attempting to up my game in terms of style and emotional impact, having been massively impressed with Emily Lockhart’s We Were Liars last year. Time will tell if it works or not. *prays*
Good luck, it sounds amazing! Thanks for the chat, Emma, and a very happy book birthday to you!
Emma was a journalist working for national newspapers and magazines before settling down to write young adult fiction. Her first book, YA thriller NOW YOU SEE ME, was published by Usborne in May 2014. Her second, BETTER LEFT BURIED, comes out in May. Discover more at www.emmahaughton.com or Facebook.
Kendra Leighton is a YA author represented by Lutyens & Rubinstein Literary Agency. Glimpse, her debut novel, is a modern ghost story inspired by Alfred Noyes’ poem ‘The Highwayman’. She makes chocolate for her day job.