KATHERINE’S BOOK UNIVERSE questions
A Cornish Secret by Emma Burstall
1. What inspired the book's plot?
About two years ago I went on a memorable walking holiday with some girlfriends. We trudged for miles in the footsteps of the ancient pilgrims along the famous Camino in Northern Spain towards the shrine of the apostle St James, ending up at the grand Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The symbol of the scallop shell can be seen all along the road and has come to represent many things, including the numerous paths leading from all over the world to this one destination.
The trek was hard work but also great fun. Of course we talked as we walked, and learned things about each other that we hadn’t known before. To our surprise, we also found the walking curiously meditative. Our brains seemed to clear of day-to-day worries as we focused on putting one foot in front of another while listening to each other’s stories.
When I got home and found that a section of the Camino crosses from one side of Cornwall to another, I was incredibly excited. I did the walk myself, looking out for the scallop symbols along the way, and decided that I wanted two of my Cornish characters to set out on a journey of discovery that would change their lives. Lots of things happen in A Cornish Secret, butthis is where the plot really began.
2. Which was the easiest character to write?
Esme. She appears in all my previous Tremarnock books but only as a minor character. However, from Day One I had a very clear idea of her in my mind and she interested me a lot. She’s clever, artistic, creative, kind, self-contained and a bit quirky. She embraces community life but also stands slightly apart with an unexplained sadness at her core that she does her best to disguise. It was this that I set out to explore in A Cornish Secret. I loved turning her from the slightly shadowy figure of the previous novels into an intricate, rounded human being.
3. Which was the most difficult character to write? Why?
Liz. I love her dearly but without giving too much away, she goes through a tricky time and sometimes behaves quite badly. In real life, I don’t think people always act in the way you expect them to. We all go through difficult experiences that can make us unpredictable, and Liz is no exception. Writing about her in this book felt a bit like trying to raise a wayward child. I wanted her to do one thing but she kept having other ideas!
4. What's the best thing about being an author and how and when did you become one?
I love being able to create imaginary worlds inhabited by people I find interesting and whom I’d like to meet. The great thing is that I also get to determine ultimately what happens to them. Novelists are in the unique position of being able to settle issues and problems that might seem unsolvable in the real world and to bring together people who might never normally be reconciled. I’m also in the business of entertaining, of course, and when a reader tells me that my story has made then laugh, cry or touched them in some other way, well, that’s really something!
I started my career as a cub reporter on a local newspaper then moved to national newspapers and women’s magazines. I always wanted to write novels and about ten years ago, I finally took the plunge and wrote my first, Gym and Slimline.I was lucky enough to find an agent straight away and a book deal soon followed.
5. How do you take a break from writing?
I find exercise a brilliant way to unwind. I go on long walks, jog and do a bit of Pilates and yoga. I also love watching films and going to the theatre as well as socialising with my friends.
6. What is your favourite book?
This is so difficult! The truth is, I have lots of favourite books, including George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Jane Austen’s Emma, Charles Dickens’s Bleak House and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. As for contemporary fiction, I’m a big fan of Jojo Moyes, especially Me Before You, Adele Parks, Harriet Evans and Jill Mansell. Oh, and I love Liz Fenwick too. If I had to pick just one book, I’d probably say Bleak House, because it’s so full of humour and compassion, but I’d really rather not have to choose at all!
7. How do I start out if I want to write a bookshop into my work in progress to make it realistic?
My advice is to begin by creating a picture in your mind of what your bookshop looks like – its corners, carpets and colour schemes, the way the light falls, the feel of the fabric on the chairs, the smell of the books on the shelves. You need to bring all your senses into play to make a place come alive. Next, spend some time in a few proper bookshops, looking at what the staff do and asking questions about the ups and downs of their jobs. That way, your descriptions will seem more real. You should probably drop them an email first, though. I find that most people are happy to help with research if you approach them in the right way.
8. What are your tips to creating believable plot and characters?
About the author
Emma Burstall was a newspaper journalist in Devon and Cornwall before becoming a full time author. Tremarnock, the first novel in her series set in a delightful Cornish village, was published in 2015 and became a top-10 bestseller.
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