If you read my review of Emma Flint’s debut novel, Little Deaths, last month, you’ll know how much I rate this author. Her book is a blistering crime thriller that will shock, entertain and enthrall you.
So, when Forum Books announced they were going to host an evening with Emma Flint, I was first in the queue for a ticket. The event was last night and Emma was just as wonderful as her book.
Meet the author
I was lucky enough to get the chance to talk to Emma before the event started, and I had a fascinating chat with her about what it’s like to be an author on the road.
Travelling for work – whether it’s abroad, to meetings in this country or involves any kind of rail transport – is always less glamorous than it sounds, and it’s just the same for writers. Emma, as is the case with most writers, is an introvert (the best of us are!) and is quite comfortable writing books in solitude, peace and quiet. Being thrown into the spotlight to answer questions from friendly bookworm interrogators on a regular basis is a challenging change of pace.
But, Emma need not have worried – she handled the spotlight beautifully.
“I’ve been interested in death since I was 12”
Little Deaths is based on a true crime that took place in 1960s New York. Emma has kept the essential facts in place but used her vivid imagination to flesh out the relationships, motives and affairs of the characters.
She candidly spoke about her love of true crime – something she’s been obsessed with since the age of 12. She contemplated becoming a pathologist (until she realised three science A Levels were required) but found her passion lay in projecting her imagination between the facts of the court reports, pathology results and media coverage of the real-life cases that intrigued her.
Adamant she didn’t want to become a non-fiction writer, she spent 20 years devouring true crime stories and harbouring a desire to one day fictionalise them.
Her first writing exercise was a character study of a woman putting on her make-up. That later became the first chapter of Little Deaths.
Six years with Ruth
Hearing about the process of writing Little Deaths was fascinating and inspiring. Emma spent six years writing the book – working in a full-time IT job while she did it.
Emma’s commitment to her craft is astounding. She didn’t gloss over the effort required to produce a novel of this calibre – “You have to get by with a lot less sleep than most people” – and plainly said you need to find time in your life to write if it’s really what you want to do. Stop procrastinating, essentially, and use those wasted hours watching Strictly Come Dancing to crack on with your first draft!
Getting inside a story like this one and into the psyche of a character like Ruth became an obsession for Emma. She would talk to Ruth, think about what she would wear on particular days and consider how she would react to specific situations.
Research was key to the authenticity of the novel. Emma listened to audio from the time to nail the Queens accent, had a map on her wall to see where the streets lay in the New York borough where the action takes place, and she investigated clothing materials, styles and fashions. Her relief at her copy-editor’s fact-checking thoroughness (she uncovered a brand of coffee in the first draft that wasn’t around at the time of the story) was hilarious.
Early on in the writing process, Emma was told by a well-meaning friend that she shouldn’t set the book in 1960s New York as she didn’t know anything about the place and it would come off as disingenuous. Set it somewhere you know, they advised. So, she tried. She rewrote Little Deaths in her native Newcastle – complete with 1960s headscarves and shopping outings to Binns department store. Suffice to say, it didn’t work (“it was crap!”) and Emma quickly returned to New York. She said “it’s a good achievement to create a past most of us haven’t lived through”, and she certainly does that in Little Deaths.
Learning to write…and edit
Emma is very humble about her talents and seems to be the one person shocked by her success. “People like me don’t become writers”, she said, “I had no idea how to do it.”
Well, she soon found out after getting nine offers from literary agents on the back of a six-month creative writing course (which she carried out two years into writing Little Deaths). She was 39 at the time and still in that full-time job. A few more years past when she worked with her agent on the draft, before sending it out to publishers. It was snapped up in under three months and released six months later – a journey that still shocks Emma.
All I ever wanted was to see Little Deaths in a bookshop. I don’t know what I want now.
Emma’s biggest discovery was the value of editing – “a good book is about 30% writing and 70% editing” – and of having a solid editor to “take things up a notch”. Having Francesca Main, editorial director of Picador, in your corner is going to do that.
It took six years to bring Little Deaths to print so you’ll have to wait patiently for the follow up. It’s in hand, though, don’t worry.
Emma’s second novel is another story inspired by true crime but this time it’s set in 1920s England. It involves a love triangle and “shame, obsession and fantasy”. It’s going to be a corker!
I skipped away from the event (I always do when authors are as lovely in real life as I hoped they would be) feeling really uplifted.
Emma Flint has shown that hard work, thorough research, dedication and discipline can get you to where you want to be. And, that introverts can fair well under the spotlight.