Emily Gale On Her Writing Ritual And Working With Book Illustrators

egcroppedName: Emily Gale
Author’s Website Link, Readings
Hometown: London
Current Residence: Melbourne
Education: English Lit BA
Briefly: First YA novel, Girl Aloud, published by Chicken House (2009). Second YA novel, Steal My Sunshine, published by Random House (2013). New junior novel series, Eliza Boom, due to be published in 2014. Several picture books. I’ve been a children’s book editor, a reader for a literary agency and I’m now a buyer for an independent bookshop.
Favorite Read: I don’t believe in favorites. The last book I got excited about was Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith.
Pet Peeves: Assumptions about what children want to read based on their gender.
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…I have a day-job, in a bookshop, but if I couldn’t write again I’d want to do something unrelated to books because my heart would be broken. It would still be in a creative industry though.
What You Have Lined Up Next: I’ve started a new novel but I never talk about stories when I’m writing the first draft. I’ll just say that it’s about female friendship and hope. I’m also making some last-minute tweaks to the two Eliza Boom junior novels that come out after Christmas.

If you could pinpoint one moment in your life as the pivotal moment in which you decided that writing was going to be a huge part of your life….

I didn’t have an epiphany about wanting to be a writer, it was always there. But I didn’t do much about it until I had my first child – I think that first moment of realizing that time was not my own any more kick-started my motivation, and I’ve been writing ever since.

Do you think that the fact that you’ve worked in a bookstore has helped you get a feel for what readers want?

It can help me to identify gaps in the market as well as trends, which makes me a useful cog in the publishing wheel, but that doesn’t necessarily feed into what I write. I don’t want to approach my writing that way – if I’m not writing out of passion but out of a kind of dry marketing research, that will show on the page.

The issue of mental illness is explored in your novel Girl, Aloud. Did you hesitate at all, considering this is an issue that is rather sensitive.

Not at all. I think YA novels are the ideal space to explore issues like mental illness. There are several that do it very well: Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught is excellent, as is Everybody Sees The Ants by A. S. King. Obviously it’s really important to do proper research and make sure the issue belongs in your story for the right reasons.

Are there some topics you would never touch?

I never think of it like that – I write about whatever I’m interested in, and I can’t think of anything I’m interested in that I’m too scared to write about.

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You wrote the Eliza Boom series for readers age 5 and up. What are some challenges that come with writing books intended for that age group.

The challenge with this series was to write an exciting story in very few words. I wanted newly independent readers to be able to snuggle up with a copy of Eliza Boom on their own, to have very few struggles with the language but find it an absorbing, fun story, so I had to get that balance right. There are illustrations on every page to extend the story, so the words and illustrations have to work together.

For that series, you teamed up with the illustrator Joelle Dreidemy. For those who may be curious about the illustrator and author-collaborative process, how does it work?

It works differently depending on the circumstances. I’m in Melbourne and Joelle is in the UK, so we’ve never met. When I write the first draft, I also include illustration notes for every page – sometimes with stick-people drawings if explaining in words is becoming too convoluted. Then Joelle interprets my notes, and it is always so wonderful to see her work. I can see exactly how I want things to be in my head but I can’t draw for toffee so I always find it a bit emotional when Joelle’s drawings come through.

What advice would you like to authors who want to write for the young adult market?

I’d advise against writing to trends, only write about what you’re passionate about. And read widely, but that goes for all writers.

Do you have a writing ritual that you stick to?

I have a full-time job and two children so I write whenever I can get the chance. I have to be flexible. If I’m on a deadline I get up early – 5am – and write for a couple of hours before going to work.

What inspired Steal My Sunshine?

The story grew from a tiny piece that I wrote during a writing marathon in which about 100 writers submitted flash fiction pieces on the hour for 24-hours. It was called I Heart Pottery and was about a son observing his mother’s breakdown after the separation of her marriage. From there I introduced my main character, 15 year old Hannah, who is also observing but – she feels – from a more distance vantage point. And this distance drives her towards her eccentric and manipulative grandmother, Essie. It’s Essie’s story that is the heart of the book – the story of what happened to her when she was the same age as Hannah. The way girls were treated if they were considered “fallen” (in Essie’s case, she was pregnant but “fallen” could be interpreted loosely as per the standards of the day) and the fact that those girls never had a proper voice, is something I feel very strongly about. So it was very important to give Essie a voice, and to make her a complex character.

What are you most proud of as an author?

My persistence! You need it to keep your bum on the seat for long enough to write, rewrite and finely tune, and you also need it to pick yourself up after a rejection or a bad review.

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