I’m delighted to welcome Emma Baird to Virtual Book Club, my author interview series which gives authors the opportunity to pitch their books to your book club, be it virtual or real.
Emma Baird is a freelance writer and the author of The Girl Who Swapped, Artists Town, Highland Fling and Ten Little Stars, as well as a book about managing diabetes through a low-carb diet she co-authored with a doctor.
She is working on a few women’s fiction novels at the moment (she loves writing and hates rewriting and revising…) To make a living, seeing as writing books isn’t always the best way to guarantee income, Emma writes regular blogs, articles, newsletters and other e-books for a wide variety of clients, and works as a communications assistant at the University of Glasgow.
She lives close to the Bonny, Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond with an understanding husband and a very demanding cat.
Q: We’re going to be talking about your 2018 novel Artists Town today. What makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?
Artists Town is a coming of age tale and friendship, first love and the secrets we keep. I think readers would enjoy reminiscing about those awkward teenage years and what makes my main character so blind to what is going on around her.
Q: Please tell us how you came to be a writer.
I loved English at school and I grew up on a farm where empty barns, huge trees and old buildings provided a great backdrop for the imagination to flourish. I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories as a teenager and into my early 20s and then gave up. Through my life, I tried to choose careers where I could write such as journalism and later press and PR management. FYI, the latter involves very little writing… I got to the age of 41, suffered the obligatory mid-life crisis and decided to try writing as a career. Luckily for me, I have no dependents and I was in a financial position to be able to do so, but I started freelance copywriting so I would have some money coming in, and these days I also work part-time at the University of Glasgow.
Q: Who gave you your first encouragement as a writer?
Mrs Park, my Primary 3 (age seven) teacher, who loved a poem I wrote called Blue, which she entered into a competition and it won. Sadly, it has been lost in the annals of time. Mr Keenan, my Higher English teacher, also gave me plenty of encouragement and it was thanks to him, I ended up going to the University of East Anglia as he rated their M.Phil Creative Writing programme. (I didn’t do it—I’m not sure I would have been accepted, but I do have a BA Hons from that marvellous institution.)
Q: You generally write in the genre of women’s fiction. What can readers expect?
‘Women’s fiction’ is a broad church, isn’t it? There is no such thing as men’s fiction—that’s just fiction. But I call myself a women’s fiction author as my main characters are women and I like to put them through the mill—sending them on a journey of self-awareness. I like to think I write about relatable characters and situations.
Friendship, first love and the secrets we keep…
“I love, love, loved it!”
“This is mature, witty and often poignant. Teen fiction at its very best.”
Click here to look inside or buy.
Q: Did you know where this book was going to go right from the start?
Oh yes… Some years ago, my husband was researching places for us to stay in for a motorbike tour of the north of Scotland. He decided on Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands. Then, he stumbled on some information about an Englishman who’d lived there in the late 1980s/early 1990s. It was such an incredible story I felt it fire up the neurons and I decided to tell the story from the point of view of the man’s daughter. I find first chapters easy and I knew what was going to happen at the end and from there it was just taking the story from A to Z.
Q: The protagonist in Artists Town is Daisy. What five (ten if you prefer) words best describe her?
Daisy is… awkward, desperate to fit in (a phrase, I know), quizzical, sympathetic and a type 1 diabetic.
In other words, a typical teenage girl and just that little bit based on my experiences of age fifteen to eighteen. The type 1 diabetic bit is because I’m one and it presents unique challenges when you’re growing up. Again, with Daisy what I wanted to show was what it is like living with a chronic condition but that it doesn’t make our experience of the teenage years that different.
Q: Where is the book set and how did you decide on its setting?
Because Tomintoul was a tiny, out of the way village, I based Artists Town in the fictional Kirkinwall—a small town in the south-west of Scotland. Anyone who knows me or who comes from Kirkcudbright will recognise its setting—from the fish and chip shop to the castle in the middle of the town. Some years ago, I went to an Iain Banks talk when Stonemouth had just been published. He joked that he made up settings because it meant he didn’t have to do research, and that stuck with me. Originally, I’d used Kirkcudbright as my setting but if you make your town or village fictional you have more room to play around with its geography. One of my beta readers had suggested too that if I used the real place, I risked readers turning up there trying to find one of my more lurid characters…
Q: Has setting the novel in a place that is well known to you changed the way you feel about that place?
Perhaps it made me more nostalgic for the place I grew up in? And grateful too for the happy childhood my parents gave me. Most people I went to school with left the area for better jobs etc., and on the rare occasions I return there these days I’m sad that I don’t recognise a lot of the people any more.
Q: Tell us a little about the major areas you had to research.
Most of my research focussed on the Tomintoul gent—what he did, what happened and how he got caught. There is a wealth of information about him online and he even had a bottle of beer named after him at one point. (Sadly no longer available.) Then, I had to look at the law and when certain acts came into place. For my book, I brought forward when the legislation was passed and I explained this in my notes at the end just in case there were any law geeks reading it.
Q: At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?
I came up with the title right at the start. Again, anyone who knows the place I’ve based Kirkinwall will be aware that some years ago, the local council came up with the name Artists Town as a branding/tourism thing. In the late 19th/early 20th centuries, a lot of artists settled in the place because of the scenery and they were all referred to as the Glasgow Boys. And the Glasgow Girls—Jessie M. King being the most famous of them.
Q: What is the central conflict in your novel?
My tagline reads: friendship, first love and the secrets we keep. Secrecy is Artists Town’s central conflict and when the secrets are revealed, the results are explosive. The secrets aren’t the ones my main character keeps, rather those of the people around her but don’t we all wonder how we would react if we found out what people were trying to keep from us?
Q: Was your novel inspired by any real life events? And, if so, how to do deal with the responsibility that comes with this?
See above! Everything I researched about what happened in Tomintoul is in the public domain. I changed the man’s name in my book and his family are made up too. I also added the obligatory disclaimer and I explained the true story at the end, with references to the information online. I present the man as a sympathetic character in the book as that’s how I felt about the real-life man when I read up on him.
Q: Doris Lessing once said that besides the unrealised, there are also those projects that we self-censor, those which we do not dare to do. Have you every set aside an idea for a similar reason and, if so, do you dare to tell us about it now?
A few years ago, I helped someone with a letter of complaint she wanted to write following the death of her son and how this was dealt with by the police. I’ve written the first few chapters of a fictional account of that death and its consequences but it feels exploitative. I certainly wouldn’t raise it with the woman, but the story burns in me. If I can square this with my conscience perhaps I’ll make it the last book I ever write.
Want to find out more about Emma and her writing?
If your book club would like to read one of Emma’s books, she’s happy to take part in book group discussions via Skype. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there’s anything else you’d like to ask Emma please leave a comment.
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