My dear bookish friends!
When you’ve loved a book and get in touch with the author, what could be better than getting the opportunity to ask them some questions? Emily Barr, author of my latest favourite, Things to Do Before the End of the World, was kindly giving me the chance to ask her some questions, and if you’ve read my review (you can do so here) and you’ve liked the sound of it you will find this interview super interesting! Big thanks again to Penguin and Dave at TheWriteReads for my spot on the blog tour, I might not have found out about this book otherwise!
Here we go!
Emily, welcome to my blog The Artsy Reader! I loved your book Things to Do Before the End of the World so much and am delighted that you’ll be answering some of my questions today!
Was it always your dream to become a writer?
It was! (though briefly I was going to be a ballet dancer too). I always loved writing but the reality of becoming a novelist felt quite unattainable, so I went into journalism first. I will happily admit to being a terrible journalist and am a million times happier writing novels.
Where did you get the inspiration for Things to Do Before the End of the World?
Is it a pandemic-inspired book?
The book was entirely finished before Covid happened: its original publication date was a year ago (and all the final edits were signed off in January 2020 when we were blissfully unaware of how life was about to change), but its publication was postponed because of the pandemic. So I guess if anything it’s pandemic-impeded! I started by writing about a girl with social anxiety and her long-lost confident cousin, but as I was writing that first draft I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted the story to be playing out over a dramatic global event, so I added one in. Initially the crisis was going to be a meteor heading our way, but it evolved into something that humans had done to the planet rather than a random event.
If one day you would get the same news on your phone that Libby did, what
would be your initial reaction?
I had to think really hard about this while I was writing the book. Now that I have children my reaction would be entirely about them, but when I was younger I think my impulse would have been to travel, to see and do as much as I could before the time ran out, which is probably why that’s what my characters seem to be doing!
Is Libby a character that’s inspired by somebody? Does she maybe have some
similarities to your younger self?
She is so much like my younger self! I was incredibly nervous and shy: there’s lots and lots of my young self in Libby. Writing her took me straight back into that feeling of being much too scared to speak. The way you can feel the words you want to say but can’t get them out. I also vividly remember the feeling of intense relief when those things gradually started to become easier.
The way that her story was shaped, was that something you would have wished for yourself when you were younger (without the end of the world looming over you, of course!)?
Yes — although it obviously isn’t a straightforward happy ending for Libby under the circumstances, I think her process of discovering that she’s stronger and far more capable than she had ever imagined and realising that actually she can cope under pressure and talk to people, is something incredibly positive. I guess that it’s a part of getting older (ideally) — a kind of coming of age self-discovery process.
Is Natasha inspired by a real-life character? Did you ever meet somebody like
I used to be terrified and in awe of people like her! She’s not inspired by one
particular person, but she’s a composite of lots of people, mixed in with the way I used
to imagine other, less anxious people felt!
Was there a special book in your childhood that shaped your love of books and
reading, and ultimately also writing?
There were so many of them. Reading shaped my childhood completely as I would always rather escape into a book than do anything else. I loved Noel Streatfeild, Judy Blume, Joan Aiken — The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was a total favourite and I was so pleased that when I read it to my children when they were younger they loved it too. That wasn’t the case with all my childhood favourites, and there are a lot of books that haven’t aged well, but that one really hit the target.
If you have any tips for aspiring writers, what would they be?
Write. Really, just write a word on the page, and then write another one and keep going. Even if you think it’s going badly, keep pushing it forwards every day, and before you know it you’ll have a draft. Even if a first draft is bad (and they generally are), then you can remind yourself that this is the worst it’s ever going to be and set about making it
better. If you write 1000 words a day, you’ll have a draft of a full length novel in about 80 days, and that’s no time at all.
When you write, do you plan out your story from beginning to end, or do you just
start with an idea and see where it leads you?
I do a bit of a mixture: I do make a plan but the book never ever ever follows it! My favourite part of the process is when the plot and the characters set off in a different direction from the one that I’d planned for them. I just go with it and see what happens. I love it. Also the key plot points and twists change a lot. Natasha and Libby’s relationship was originally going end in quite a different way.
Do you already have an idea for your next book, or are you maybe already
working on one?
Because this book was so delayed by the pandemic, my next book is actually finished and with a copy editor right now. I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about it yet but it’s very different from this one, and I’m really pleased with it.
Some authors take a notebook with them wherever they go in case a sudden flash of inspiration hits them. Are you one of them?
Yes — I do always have a notebook with me, but during lockdown I’ve got into the habit of going for long walks in the Cornish countryside, listening either to an audiobook or to music, and when inspiration strikes I record voice notes to myself on my phone to avoid having to stop and dig in my bag for the notebook. I have to triple check no one’s around to overhear though as it makes me feel a bit like Alan Partridge.
How do you pick your characters’ names? Are they just ones that appeal to you,
or do they have deeper meanings?
I love picking characters’ names. Sometimes a character just arrives in my head with a name already attached (Natasha did), and at other times I comb through baby naming websites to find the right one. I think Libby was originally called Rosie but it didn’t feel quite right for her. It does become harder as Things to Do Before the End of the World is my eighteenth book (and fourth YA), so I’ve used lots of names before, plus I try to avoid my children’s names and the names of their close friends etc.
Do you have a favourite literary classic?
I love Emma by Jane Austen. The writing, the character, the storyline — all of it. It’s my comfort read.
Are you a reader as well as writer? Do you have a contemporary favourite,
maybe the latest book you’ve read?
Yes I read all the time, and listen to audiobooks obsessively. I listen to them when I’m making a coffee first thing in the morning, when I’m doing stuff around the house, while I’m walking around the supermarket — anywhere I can. Meanwhile I read real books in bed, in the bath, and generally when I get the opportunity to stop doing other things. My favourite recent reads / listens have included The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward, Sweetpea by CJ Skuse, and Luster by Raven Leilani.
You have to stay on a desert island for five years. What three items are you
taking with you?
Lots of books, maybe a piano so I can polish up a long neglected skill, and an endless supply of paper and pens please!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
I’d just like to say thank you so much for reading and supporting my book! It means the world to me.
Thank you so much for your time and your answers!
That was so much fun! I hope you enjoyed this look behind the scenes of writing from the point of view of such a great author! If you haven’t yet, do check out Emily’s books! You can do so here. I certainly can’t wait to read all the others!
Thank you all so much for reading!