Emylia Hall is the author of three novels including The Book of Summers, a Richard and Judy Book Club pick in 2012. Her new novel, The Sea Between Us, is a story of boy meets girl amidst a Cornish landscape full of surf, art and love.
The book is set in Cornwall and there's a very strong, evocative sense of place: how important was that setting to the themes of the novel?
I wanted to write a love story set in a remote place, where the distant horizon would prove both a temptation and a potential threat to happiness. The story grew from a single image - that of a boy and a girl sitting on a granite rock, high up on a Cornish cliff-top. I liked the idea of two people from different worlds colliding - the local and the incomer - and whatever their attraction, however strong a bond they forge, they each have very real reasons to stay or to go. There's a conflict between the heart's desire for freedom and attachment - and I guess we go through our whole lives trying to balance that.
There are some very raw, honest depictions of motherhood in the story. I know you became a parent yourself during the course of writing the novel. How much did that affect the writing of the book?
Believe it or not I was in the midst of labour, high on gas and air, and I found myself thinking 'yep, I need to seriously rewrite some stuff'. The descriptions I had of birth and early motherhood simply didn't touch the sides. By the time my son was three months old I was back working on my novel, and being able to write from a position of such fresh personal experience felt both cathartic and a privilege.
The sea plays a very important role in the novel, and there's a sense in which Robyn and Jago's relationship ebbs and flows like the tide. Was there a strong sense when writing the novel that you wanted to create that synergy between people's relationships and nature?
Absolutely. We can study tide timetables, and affect to understand the way the sea works, but there is still so much mystery within its waters, so much potential for us to encounter both darkness and joy. Whenever you go to the coast you always notice people just... wave watching. It's mesmeric, its influence both calming and stirring. For Jago, the local boy, the sea is his back garden, and the events of his life have played out against it. When Robyn finds herself in Merrin she tries to find a way to feel at home in an alien landscape, and for her that's through learning to surf.
There's a song in the novel which I believe is actually a song your Dad wrote? How did it find its way into the novel?
One day as I was working a chorus dropped into my head - I'm always with you, wherever you travel, close to home, or in a distant place - it was from a song my dad wrote years ago. Its emergence felt quite fateful, and I ended up weaving the song into the novel, in fact it plays a part in how the story unfolds. The whole thing snowballed and we ended up recording a new version of it, with my friend Kate Haines lending her beautiful voice, together with her talented brothers, Ed and Jim Wallis of the band My Sad Captains. It's become the soundtrack to my book trailer, and is a song I'll always cherish because it has such personal associations for me.
The Sea Between Us is a love story about people finding and losing and finding one another over the course of many years. Do you think those elements of fate and circumstance are essential ingredients for creating a romantic story?
I think all good love stories need an element of missed chances, and the sense of right place/wrong time, or vice versa. I like the idea that people can be important to us at different times - that they belong to certain places or parts of our experience - and life is richer for that aspect, but when it comes to those we truly love, they transcend time and place, and however much circumstances can get in the way, some people are meant to stay with us.
Your debut novel, The Book of Summers, was a Richard and Judy book club pick, and one of the best selling debuts of 2012. To fans who read The Book of Summers, what can they expect when coming to The Sea Between Us?
If The Book of Summers succeeds in transporting readers to a corner of rural Hungary, then I hope The Sea Between Us does the same when it comes to Cornwall's far west, and that I've managed to evoke its wild beauty. Much like The Book of Summers my new novel also features an artist - several, in fact - there's a woodworker, a musician, and a painter or two. Within its pages you'll also find imperfect but well-meaning families, a sense of longing for distant places, and an occasionally complicated relationship between past and present. Now you mention it, there are several common themes! At its heart though, The Sea Between Us is a love story and, I hope, a thoroughly romantic one.
The Sea Between Us is published by Headline, £7.99