In conversation with... Emily Barr

Hi Emily! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you so much! It’s about a girl who has grown up in a tiny remote community in India, who knows nothing of the modern world at all. When disaster strikes her village she has to step out into a life she’s never experienced before, and to try to navigate her way around it. It’s set in India and Britain. 

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: I thought I had the plot worked out, but it turned out that I didn’t at all! It changed a lot as I was writing it. In fact, near the end I was writing a scene in which Arty walks into a room and is surprised to discover who is waiting for her (if you’ve read the book you’ll know the one). I was as surprised as she was — I had expected someone different to be in there. It took on a life of its own as it went on. 

What kind of research, if any, did you have to carry out while you were writing this novel? In general, is research something you enjoy or a means to an end?

A: I enjoyed the research for this one enormously, as it involved a trip to India and talking to lots of people. Then there are always many many details to check, and that is quite fun too. Essentially I think research is great as it fills in the background to your story and characters, and it’s an amazing opportunity to be very nosy and to look deeper and deeper into things you might never have really thought about before. 

Why did you choose to place the clearing in India?

A: I love India and was desperate to write a novel set there. Still, for a while, when I was first thinking about the clearing, I was wondering whether it could be in the UK, for example, or France, but I realised it just wasn’t practical for a place to stay undisturbed for that long in those countries. The contrast between the quiet of the clearing and the pace of a huge city like Mumbai was also something I really wanted to bring out, too. 

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the role of Arty?

A: It would need to be someone young: I think it would be great as a breakthrough role for someone who’s starting out. A young British Asian actor.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: So many things! I did two massive edits of it. There was a whole chapter near the end where she makes friends with a homeless man and goes to ask the library staff whether he can come and sit in there. I really loved the chapter, but it was just slowing down the pace and in the end it had to go (my editor prefaced that request by saying ‘you’re going to hate me for this but…’)

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I’m writing another YA novel about a girl who’s very shy, whose world is shaken up when a confident cousin comes to stay from America. There’s lots of sunshine and European cafés and rail trips. It should be out in 2020. 

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. It’s set in Svalbard, the setting for my first YA novel, The One Memory of Flora Banks, and I am loving every single word of it. I’m trying to read slowly so that it doesn’t end. 

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: It’s wonderful to be able to interact with readers like this, and it’s something you just have to make time for in your schedule. I’m not on social media every day because it would easily take over my whole working life: you do have to compartmentalise and work out your time as it can feel it’s so much easier and more appealing to go online and chat to people than it is to shut out the world and write a book.  

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Write! And keep writing, even when you feel it’s going badly. If you write 500 words a day, for example, then in 100 days you’ll have a 50,000 word draft. It adds up, and as soon as you’ve got a draft, however rough it is, you’ve got something to work on, and you’re well on the way to having written a novel. 

Thank you for your time! 

A: It’s been a pleasure!

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