Emma Young

Emma Young: Journalist and Author of The Last Bookshop

Emma Young is an award-winning journalist at WAtoday by day and a novelist before sunrise. I met Emma, at Laurie Steed’s KSP 1st Edition fellowship in 2018 where she inspired me with her commitment to her craft. I learnt so much from her about how to ‘own it’ as a writer and my writing practice has changed because of Emma. I already a big fan of her work at the newspaper and I can’t wait to read her debut novel. 

 

 

For most of the past 3.5 years it has meant getting up earlier and sitting down for 1-2 hours before work, making sure there is an ironclad routine in place that doesn’t change. This gave me the discipline not just to get the drafts done but to keep applying for the opportunities that eventually gave me the learning and connections to get over the line.

 

Congratulations on getting your manuscript The Last Bookshop shortlisted for the Fogarty Literary Award and also the getting it published by Fremantle Press! I know that when I met you at KSP you already had a completed manuscript but when did you start writing the book. I’m really interested in your journey to getting the book from a seed of an idea to publication! 

Thanks, Emily! I started writing The Last Bookshop in early 2016, about 3.5 years ago, on weekends (I work full time as a journalist and back then couldn’t face adding more to my workday).

I plotted by writing key events on post-its and ordering the post-its, then writing those scenes, kind of jumping desperately from one scene to the next like a frog might make a desperate leap to the next faraway lily-pad: MAKE IT OR PERISH! It took just over a year to complete the first draft.

I did a couple of edits aided by feedback from friends, then in the second half of 2017 I let it rest while I wrote the first draft of a 2nd manuscript, Thunderbolt Lodge.

I began pitching The Last Bookshop to agents at the start of an often demoralising 2018. They all seemed to like the idea but not the samples I sent. One big agent was interested, but asked me to write a new beginning and other big changes. In my inexperience I didn’t quite understand what she wanted and spent months (now writing daily in mornings before work) doing what I thought she wanted, only to discover I’d missed the mark completely. She cut me loose and I started again.

In the second half of 2018 I cut all that and did more rewriting, then tried more agents, spending hours crafting pitches and submissions and waiting weeks for them to get back to me. Some liked the writing but not the story; some liked the story but not the writing. The book was obviously not ready.

No matter what, I put in 1-2 hours before work every morning doing something to further my writing career, whether it was the above work, or during waiting periods, researching, applying for residencies and other opportunities to further Thunderbolt Lodge.

October 2018 brought two big breaks: first an agent who liked The Last Bookstore enough to read the whole thing. Not enough to represent me, but enough to spend an hour on the phone talking about what was missing. She forced me to reconsider my purpose in writing the book. The conversation was tough but inspiring, and I vowed to rewrite my poor stitched-together, confused book once again. Second, an excerpt from Thunderbolt Lodge won me a spot at the KSP 1st Edition Retreat for emerging writers: three days of workshops with author Laurie Steed.

What I learned there taught me more about what was letting down The Last Bookshop: about beginning and endings and narrative structure and scene structure. I also got an introduction to another agent who said she could look at The Last Bookstore in a month’s time. I knew I needed some solid time. I booked two weeks’ annual leave and vowed to get the bulk of it done then, then continue in the mornings.

I worked harder in that two weeks than ever in my life. There was paper all over the floor and bits of paper covered in highlighter, my place was a madhouse. I came to grips with my subject matter and asked myself the hard questions I’d previously been reluctant to consider. I ironed out my characters, did proper character studies. I still remember walking down the street after I finished that rewrite. I actually felt like I was on drugs. The world seemed strange and colourful and surreal. I have never been so proud. Then I sent it to the agent.

She said no. So did the next two.

Then I heard about the Fogarty Literary Award. I thought I may as well enter The Last Bookshop, just for the hell of it. With a few weeks until the award closed I did one more edit, this time reading aloud and fine-tuning sentences.

I was shocked to be longlisted, flabbergasted to be shortlisted. And while I didn’t win, Fremantle Press announced on the night that they still wanted to publish the book and that sent my happiness into the stratosphere. Who cares about a $20,000 prize? THEY WANT TO PUBLISH MY BOOK! At the moment I am going through the structural edit process and it still feels kind of unreal.

It’s a huge relief to have an editor giving me feedback and support, because of course, there is still a lot of work to do. But there are moments of pure joy and creativity in polishing it now, as the book is finally starting to say what I wanted it to say. Publication date is 1 March 2021.

 

With my poor brain bruised from words all day and words all night I have many times thought longingly about going to work as a barista or shelf-stacker. But journalism exposes me to endless parades of fascinating people and stories and gives me an understanding of how the world works.

 

Without giving too much away, can you tell me a bit more about The Last Bookshop?

 This is the story of Cait Copper and her shop, Bookface, the last bookshop standing in what’s become a very sleek and modern Perth CBD. It’s also the last independent retailer on a street increasingly given over to high-end fashion labels. Cait’s an old soul, whose social life has for some years revolved around her mobile bookselling service, in which she handpicks titles for elderly clients, chief among them June, her best client, best friend and surrogate grandmother. Their cozy conversations over cups of tea and piles of books would be all but impenetrable to an outsider, but are lifeblood to the pair of them.

But luxury brands are circling, with their sights set on Cait’s high-profile location, and with profits dropping, the writing’s on the wall. The company holding Cait’s lease finally decides it’s time that old-fashioned bookstore made way for something more modern on the city’s most exclusive street, and jacks the rent way beyond what Cait can cover. Cait is devastated; but she has underestimated the love city folk have for Bookface, and also for her. An unlikely alliance of friends band together and decide whether Cait wants their help or not, they’re not going to let Bookface go down without a fight.

 

What inspired you to write this story?

 In my previous job as a bookseller at Boffin’s and Elizabeth’s, I heard so much weird stuff from customers that I used to think ‘this could fill a book’ (anyone who’s worked in retail will agree, and bookshop customers are the weirdest of all). Secondly, I have always felt like books are my real best friends, the ‘people’ who understand me. When I read an article in The Monthly about a librarian who does home visits to elderly people and gets to know their unique personalities through recommending and discussing books, I thought it was beautiful, and began to imagine a girl who formed friendships like this.

Finally, my experiences as a journalist have made me keenly aware of the challenges small businesses face in Perth, and I have reported on so many retail stores closing over the past few years as the city grows and changes, and researched the reasons for that, and it’s this reality that informs the major storyline.

As emerging writers, we often hear that if you want to write, you should find a day job that doesn’t require so much writing. You are, of course, a journalist by day so how do you balance and manage your writing day?

For most of the past 3.5 years it has meant getting up earlier and sitting down for 1-2 hours before work, making sure there is an ironclad routine in place that doesn’t change. This gave me the discipline not just to get the drafts done but to keep applying for the opportunities that eventually gave me the learning and connections to get over the line.

In addition, I have sacrificed most of my annual leave for the past 18 months towards this pursuit and have now started moving into unpaid leave to get this structural edit done. This state of affairs has not necessarily been great for my social life or even my health but it has been vital for my soul. I’m finally doing what I have always dreamed of.

With my poor brain bruised from words all day and words all night I have many times thought longingly about going to work as a barista or shelf-stacker. But journalism exposes me to endless parades of fascinating people and stories and gives me an understanding of how the world works. The issues I’m exposed to have fed my fiction, and the network of contacts plus the public profile I have built are now, to my great surprise, proving to be useful for this new venture too.

I will not pretend this intensity is do-able forever. So I have been thinking long term, saving and investing every spare cent to set myself up for a future in which I can work part-time but also enjoy the financial stability to sustain a career in fiction. I have to try to change from a sprinter into a marathon runner!

 

2018 KSP 1st Edition fellows with Laurie Steed.

At the KSP workshop, I learnt something from everyone who was there and from you, I learnt how to just own my writing and be more professional in my approach. What other advice would you give to other emerging writers?

 That’s lovely to hear! I guess my advice is to avoid the temptation to hideaway. I never liked the sound of writing groups or attending events, being an introvert, but the invisible doors finally opened for me when I set foot through the real doors of KSP and began to speak to other writers, learn from them and bond with them. You don’t have to join a group, but do get involved in the community even by just attending a few events – Perth’s writing community is famously warm and supportive and I have learned more from my involvement in it than I never could have toiled away on my own. Even reading books on how to write is, while fun, just not the same.

Who are your favourite writers?  Oooh….. Margaret Atwood. Agatha Christie. Stephen King. Isobelle Carmody. L. M Montgomery. Jeanette Winterson. John Marsden. Lee Child. Tim Winton. Carol Shields. Jonathan Franzen. Jonathan Safran Foer. Peter Carey. J.K. Rowling. James Ellroy. Helen Garner. OK, I’ll stop.

Who are your favourite protagonists and antagonist in literary fiction, and why?  I am going with all genres!  Protagonists: Anne Shirley, Jack Reacher Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, Poirot and Marple, Bridget Jones. Antagonists: Randall Flagg and all his incarnations from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and his other books (this villain kind of hops from book to book under various names),Tom Riddle > Voldemort, Ariel from the Obernewtyn series (there’s something about white-blonde villains that makes them extra scary), Cruella De Vil (same goes for half white half black)

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Definitely that monstrous rewrite on The Last Bookstore, last November. And maybe the structural edit that I’m doing right now…

What living person do you most admire? David Attenborough. Tim Ferriss. Stephen King. Ugh, they’re all men… Greta Thunberg. Meryl Streep. Nora Ephron.

What is your most treasured possession?  My collection of battered children’s books.

What’s next for Emma Young?  Collapse in a heap? No… I’ve been advised that my second manuscript, Thunderbolt Lodge, is ready to be contracted but that I shouldn’t sign anything until after The Last Bookstore is published. So I am gathering my strength to start my next project, but I am tossing up between two equally inspiring ideas!

 

Find Emma Twitter: @emma_j_young |  https://damagecatastrophic.com/ | instagram: emma_young_book_fiend

 

 

 

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