It is our great pleasure to share with you our interview with Emma Glass the fabulous mind to one of this years greatest debuts ‘Peach’ – we also had the honour of reviewing this before publication for Bloomsbury Circus and our review can be read here.
Renews one’s faith in the power of literature
– George Saunders –
Could you tell us a little bit about Emma Glass?
I’m a welsh paediatric nurse living in London. I’m very surprised to find out that I’m also a published author. I love words, beer, music and Tom. I like tea, running (sometimes), Lego. I tolerate the cold and rain, butternut squash, riding in cars. I dislike custard, spiders, YouTube.
What was your earliest interaction with literature?
I remember my Nanny buying my sister and I Wordsworth Classic editions of Lewis Caroll and Hans Christian Anderson when we were very little, but I don’t remember reading them until I was much older. I loved Jill Murphy – Peace at Last and Whatever Next! As a teenager I read every Point Horror book I could lay my hands on, but was always too afraid to read Stephen King.
We understand that you are a nurse, and now an author, how difficult is it juggling these two very different and time consuming roles and do you have any advice for other authors who are balancing a day job with an interest in writing?
It’s difficult because I try to keep them both entirely separate. As a healthcare professional, my work is bound by policies, rules and protocols. I become more my ‘creative self’ when engaging children and young people, but it’s important for me to maintain a professional profile that enables me to do my job to the best of my ability and progress my career. As a writer, I want total creative freedom, I want to break rules and tilt convention. Finding time to write is my biggest challenge at the moment; the most helpful thing is a quiet, private physical space where I can spread notes out and eat snacks. My advice to anyone who wants to write is to have a back-up plan.
Could you describe Peach to us in one sentence?
A dark, surrealist celebration of language.
When writing Peach were you clear with the direction you wanted to take the novel or was this something that developed over time?
Peach’s voice was the first thing that came to me. Once I visualised her, I knew how the story would end. I knew very little about what happened to her and the other characters came much later.
There is quite a rhythmic bubble, staccato voice in Peach, was this rhythm something you set out to do from the off or was it a gradual realisation?
I was obsessed with rhythm, everything started with this. For me, it was less about the story and more about how it was told.
We understand that when you began writing Peach you listened to music is this something you like to do when writing; could you share with us your writing practices or rituals?
I can’t write in silence. Writing is hugely inspirational (all kinds). I write on a laptop but will always have a notebook to hand, I like to write in pencil and when I’m struggling, I will hand write words or phrases that come to mind, sometimes from the music I’m listening to and try to work them into my writing. I like to have coffee, water and snacks.
I think the joy of Peach is that it affects readers in many different ways, how difficult was it not to spell out the story to the reader and leave it somewhat ambiguous?
Strangely, I didn’t understand what I’d written until a friend of mine read it and highlighted the themes of rape, revenge and violence. When I think back to writing, it feels like some strange, out of body experience. I knew that what I was writing was odd, I had an awareness of the ambiguity and I wanted that, but it came instinctively.
Peach is a very visual piece of storytelling, some may also say quite experimental in its structure and themes; were there any authors or books that served as inspiration when you were writing it?
Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein was particularly inspiring, I love the idea of a story in a single line or phrase and bringing to life everyday objects.
We also read that you stopped writing the manuscript half way through and went into nursing, then returned to it at a later date to finish; how did this break from writing help with the final push, what were the reasons for leaving it so long and how easy was it to pick up where you left off?
I had very little self-belief. It’s hard to continue with something that you see no worth in. I wanted to finish it because the story was already set out, the narrative voice had taken root and I wanted to finish it so that I could move on. I fell back into the rhythm easily, but the habit of writing was hard to cultivate and still is.
We’ve read that you were attending a creative writing class when you came up with Peach; would you recommend these classes to other aspiring writers, if so why?
I loved my writing class. I learned a lot about writing and I think you need to know the rules in order to break them. I think craft can be taught, but imagination can’t.
What were people’s first reactions to Peach? Kudos on the George Saunders quote, that must have been something very special to have received?
The reactions have been surprisingly and overwhelmingly positive. The most common thing people tell me is that they’ve never read anything like it before and that feels good. I still can’t get over the response from George Saunders, I can’t believe he is talking about me and something I have written. It’s the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.
Image from the New Statesman
If you could be one piece of fruit what would it be and why?
Two fruits for different reasons: a banana because they are useful. They last forever, you can eat them when they are old and beyond. They can be made into banana bread when they are extremely old and dying. And a strawberry for the exact opposite reason. They are vibrant and delicious and have true beauty for just a moment. They expire before your very eyes, they don’t hang around, there’s no real way to make them last, you just have to enjoy them whilst they are there.
If you could offer one piece of guidance to aspiring writers what would it be?
Don’t write to be a writer. And read.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished Patrick DeWitt’s new novel French Exit and it is just the best.
Do you have any book or author recommendations?
Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth was subtle and beautiful. I also love Magnus Mills.
What is your favourite children’s book and why?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is essential reading. Reading it as an older child, it terrified me and delighted me. It made me think anything was possible.
What is your favourite fiction book and why?
The Handmaid’s Tale is the only book I’ve read twice. It’s stunning. It was my first experience of dystopian literature. Atwood is a true master of creating a rich, vivid world, without using superfluous description. It’s sparse, ambiguous, but you still feel like you’re in on the secret.
What is your favourite short story book or collection and why?
Tenth of December by George Saunders is unparalleled. Brutal, funny, vibrant, devastating, perfection.
What’s next for you, are you currently working on anything?
I’m working on my second novel, quietly and slowly. It’s got ghosts!
Peach is published by Bloomsbury Circus and is available here.
Interviewed by Ross Jeffery
Emma Glass was born in Swansea. She studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Kent, then decided to become a nurse and went back to study Children’s Nursing at Swansea University. She lives in north London and is a research nurse specialist at Evelina London Children’s Hospital. Peach is her first book.
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