Emma Healey Interview, author of Elisabeth is missing.
Ritual question to start my interviews, can you define you in three words, just three?
Shy, impatient, curious.
Thank you. The trigger for the book came from my father’s mother, Nancy. I was in the car with her and my father one day when she told us that her friend was missing.
Nancy was showing the first signs of multi-infarct dementia – forgetting things that had just happened and finding herself in a muddle. It didn’t take very long to discover where the friend was (staying with her daughter in another town), but the idea stuck in my mind.
Was the idea behind this story bothering your mind for long?
I thought about it for a year before writing anything at all. I kept thinking ‘What if the friend really had been missing? Or if Nancy’s dementia had been more severe, and she hadn’t been able to hold onto the answer?’
The episode brought my grandmother’s situation into sharper focus for me, and as her dementia got worse I began to wonder what that was like from the inside. And so I started to write a story from the point of view of someone in a similar position. It took me another five years to complete.
Did the scenes set in the forties require much research work?
Yes, lots! I read many diaries written in 1946 which have been published recently, I also looked at lots of history books written about that time to find out about rationing and the political and social situation, etc.
I had also written down a lot of the stories my mother’s mother, Vera, used to tell me about her early life and some of those stories made it (in one form or another) into the book too, for instance Vera really was chased by a madwoman with an umbrella who hit at her as she ran across a road.
At first I was more interested in the present day story and the 1946 narrative suffered a bit because of that, but I soon began to realize that the past story was in a way more important to my character and that helped me.
I had to show Maud as a teenager in order to explain her as an older woman, I also needed to make the more straightforward detective element stronger in order to satisfy the reader. I really enjoyed pulling the two together.
Will your next story be like this one, in terms of structure?
I do like the resonance that two narrative strands create and I am very interested in memory. I’m not quite sure what structure the next book will take, but I do like to play around with structure – it’s one of the things that excites me most about writing.
The publishing rights of your story have provoked quite a struggle between publishers. It’s quite unusual for a first book…
Yes, I have been shocked at the response from publishers and the public. And very very grateful too. I realize how lucky I have been to be picked up so quickly, it’s not the experience that many writers get.
Your book has been translated very quickly in French. It’s also unusual…
Again I’m amazed. I never thought I’d be published in English, let alone in French! It’s really wonderful and makes me more determined to try and relearn French again – I used to be fairly fluent when I was 17 or 18.
Do you think this story will one day be turned into a movie?
The TV rights have been sold and the production company is hoping to make a miniseries, so we’ll see how that goes.
I can’t imagine how they will make it as so much of the book is inside Maud’s head, but luckily I’m won’t have to work that part out – there will be a screen writer who will make the project her own.
This blog is made of words and sounds. Is music involved in your creative process?
Not at all. I find music really unhelpful when I’m writing as it influences the rhythm of my writing too much. I begin to write furiously with fast, dramatic music and languidly with slow, relaxing music.
You have the choice between give us your final word or talk about your favorite dessert …
Oh. My favourite dessert is sticky toffee pudding. I’ve never had a bad one. I find it very difficult to resist on a menu and it’s on a lot of menus.
Catégories :Interviews littéraires