Sunday, 25 August 2019

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Emma Fraser

A few weeks ago I watched a live author event in the fantastic Facebook Group The Fiction Cafe. The author who was braving the camera and everyone's questions was Emma Fraser. Emma writes historical fiction, which is a genre that I love, but she's not an author that I'd heard of so I was eager to find out more about her and her books.

When the event was over I decided to reach out to Emma and invite her to come and hang out with me here on The Hippo and I was delighted when she accepted.

So let's start things off by introducing you all to the lovely lady herself and telling you about her latest book Greyfriars House which is now available in paperback.

Photo courtesy of Emma Fraser

One of six children, Emma's Gaelic speaking parents emigrated to Africa when she was nine years old. She remembers lying in bed, listening to her father playing the bagpipes in the garden, the sound carrying for miles across the veld.

When she was a teenager Emma returned to the Western Isles of Scotland and worked in a variety of jobs from putting up signposts on archeological sites in mid winter, to being a waitress in Skye. She qualified as a nurse and worked in Edinburgh and Glasgow before going on to study English literature at Aberdeen University.

Emma began writing when her daughters started school and has published four historical novels two of which were shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Her latest book Greyfriars House was inspired both by events in Singapore during WW2 and a real house on a remote island.

Emma loves to immerse herself in research. As she says "In these times of celebrity culture, it's ordinary women doing extraordinary things that inspire my writing."

On a remote Scottish island sits Greyfriars House

Nine-year-old Olivia Friel is delighted to be spending the summer at Greyfriars House, a place where her parents, their family and friends are always happy. But this year there's an underlying tension that Olivia doesn't understand. Then one night she sees something she's not meant to, and accidentally lets slip a devastating betrayal. 

Charlotte Friel gets a call from her ailing mother, asking something she's never asked before: for Charlotte to come home. There are things Olivia needs to tell her daughter before it's too late, secrets to be shared about forgotten relatives and a mysterious house.
Left reeling by recent events, Charlotte is unsure what path to follow. But eventually her curiosity, and a desire to escape her own life, lead her to Greyfriars House. 

Will she find the answers she needs to make peace with the past?

                                            *    *    *    *

What book/ books made you cry and why?
I remember howling over Little Women when I was a child. How could Beth die? It was such a blow I still remember the shock. I suspect I would cry again if I re- read it. Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes also made me cry as did Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. There will have been others I can’t name just at this minute. 

 I remember needing a few tissues when I read Me Before You as well!

What other authors are you friendly with and how do they help you become a better writer?
Authors and writers are very supportive of one another. I wrote medical romances under the pseudonym Anne Fraser and became very friendly with an incredibly supportive group of romance writers. Lynne Marshall, Marguerite Kaye and Annie Claydon are the ones who come most readily to mind. 

Before I was published I went on a writing course where crime writer Alex Gray was the tutor. I was at the point where I wondered whether I would ever have a writing career and I’d decided that I would most likely give up after the course. However Alex was so amazingly encouraging I decided to stick with it - and the rest, as they say, is history. Alex remains a friend as she does to many of her proteges. 

Another great writing friend is Lisa Clifford the author of The Promise and Death in the Mountains (amongst others). I often go and stay with Lisa in Florence and from there we go up to her house in the mountains in Tuscany and write. We also critique each other’s work (Lisa was a journalist in her home country of Australia), so she has a great eye for detail. 

I go away with Lisa and other writer friends, published and unpublished at least once a year.  We spend the day writing or walking and chatting about our current work - in- progress (WIPs). Then in the evening we cook together before sitting down and critiquing each other’s work. I love those weeks. 

As a published author I like to give back to those aspiring authors just starting their writing journey or who are bringing out their debuts. Orna O’Reilly was actually on a writing course where I was the tutor and has always taken the time to read and review my books. If you love books set in Italy - Orna lived in Venice for several years - do check out the wonderfully evocative Blonde in the Gondola. 

I’ve recently joined a writing group where I met Veronica Clark who is the ghost writer of several books, two of which - The Hospital and The Baby Snatchers were Sunday Times bestsellers. I’m think of writing a non-fiction book and she’s been giving me pointers. Like Lisa she started off as a journalist and journalists have to know how to make the best use of each and every word. She also makes me laugh. 

Perhaps most importantly, as well as being a support, a great source of information about the industry, writers know how to party!

This isn't the first time I've heard about authors partying. I'm beginning to think maybe I should start writing!  😂

What advice would you give your younger self?
Have more confidence and trust your instincts. 

What did you edit out of your last book?
I am a terrible over writer. I always spend too much time on my secondary characters. In Greyfriars House I already had three intervening characters, all with their own story so I couldn’t afford to spend too long on secondary characters who essentially disappeared from the story. The character I’m thinking of was a Miss Blackstock, a feisty and eccentric, pipe-smoking, retired barrister, who was one of the first women to be called to the bar. I loved her and was devastated when I had to cut her. Similarly I have had to cut other characters in other books - a chain knitting granny, elderly twins, a Falklands veteran - actually there appears to be a pattern developing. I have often considered giving my cut characters a book of their own. Plonking them together and giving them a mystery to work on. Watch this space! 

I love the sound of the chain knitting granny and I think the cut characters need their own book. 😉

Where did your love of books/ storytelling/ reading etc come from?
My childhood home was always filled with books and I didn’t have access to a TV until I was almost eighteen. (And then only BBC 1 in black and white. It’s not that I’m that ancient it was just circumstances!) So I have always read voraciously. From Enid Blyton, through the Just William books (anyone else read those?) Coral Island and was fortunate enough to spend four years at university basically just reading the classics. Currently I read almost anything with the exception of Science Fiction and always have at least one book on the go. 

I wrote my first book aged eight (in a tiny notebook that I still have) which smacks suspiciously of Enid Blyton. I was first published around the same time in my school magazine. An article about Dunvegan Castle’s dungeon. (Said dungeon re-appears many years later in my debut historical/ saga When the Dawn Breaks.) But I didn’t write any non-fiction between the age of eight and when I was first published when I was in my forties. I didn’t think I could write. Hence the advice to my younger self above. 

I love the fact that you still have the notebook containing your very first story Emma, that's so lovely! I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree as a child. I'd love to pick it up and read it again but I worry that it won't live up to my memories of it.

Thanks Neats for inviting me to your blog. We authors need people like you!

Aww thank you for your kind words Emma. I've really enjoyed getting to know more about you.

You can find out more about Emma, her books and connect with her using the links below:

I'd like to say a big thank you to Emma for taking the time to stop by and chat with me today, it's been a real pleasure having you here. 😉


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