Author Emylia Hall's Devon childhood
PUBLISHED: 09:00 26 September 2013
Best-selling author Emylia Hall believes Devon is at the heart of her growing success discovers
Growing up amongst the thatched cottages in the Teign Valley, author Emylia Hall enjoyed all of the freedoms of a rural childhood. In the summer, she’d explore the woodlands near her home, climbing trees and imagining she was on the mast of a ship or hiding in the depth of a jungle. Her childhood curiosity caused her to be fascinated by other people’s lives, and it is here that the creativity began.
Emylia, the daughter of a Hungarian quilt maker and an English artist, grew up surrounded by art and imagination, valued above all else by her parents. “They always encouraged me to read and write, and I feel so lucky to have grown up in a home where so much importance is placed on those things,” she says.
Despite now living in Bristol with her husband, one half of the comic book creators The Etherington Brothers, it is still evident that the rolling hills and sandy beaches of South Devon remain a big part of Emylia’s life, particularly Ness Cove in Shaldon, which now holds a special importance.
“I was walking along the beach in 2011 with my husband when the news of my first book deal came. When I got the call, we both bolted along the beach and ran into the sea, cheering. My life changed forever that day.”
Emylia’s first novel, The Book of Summers, appeared in shops last July and quickly made it on to Richard and Judy’s Summer Book Club list. The story, which was translated into eight languages, was inspired by her memories of family holidays to Hungary, with Devon also a prominent setting.
Before settling as an author, Emylia tooks various career paths after her English Literature degree, including one job at a London advertising firm, which made her realise what she wanted to do.
“I looked back at the child I was and what I valued – the creativity, freedom and imagination. I knew these were the things that really mattered to me and the job I was in and the life I was living just wasn’t satisfying me anymore.”
This prompted a move to the French Alps, where she worked on a ski resort. Here she began to put pen to paper once again. “I’m happiest in open spaces and out in the mountains I felt the same freedom I had as a child,” she says.
Her emotional connection to Devon has always been a solid foundation in Emylia’s writing progress. Place and setting are really important in her writing, and she explains that using familiar places helps her to relate to the images that she invokes. Her second novel, A Heart Bent out of Shape, is set in Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva. Emylia explains that the idea wouldn’t have developed had it not been for a study year she spent living in Switzerland as a student. “I enjoy writing from a starting point and then weaving a web of fiction.”
The story follows 19-year-old Hadley, who is spending a year abroad. She craves experience and is filled with excitement for her new life, but ends up with more than she bargained for. “I knew I wanted to set a story in Lausanne. It’s a magical city and it seems too perfect to be true. Sure enough, as Hadley will find out, no one and nowhere are perfect.”
It might be mostly set outside of Devon, but Emylia’s home county still played a big part in the writing process. Emylia came here for two self-styled retreats to allow her to focus on her writing. “I’ll book into a hotel or a B&B on my own and spend the days writing and enjoying utter solitude. At crucial stages in a draft I’ve found this sort of concentrated, intense writing time works really well for me.”
In 2008, when The Book of Summers was just a partially written draft, Emylia took an Arvon Foundation writing course and spent the week in an old farmhouse in Totleigh Barton, near Sheepswash. Here she and a group of fifteen others spent the mornings in workshops with tutors Louise Dean and Patrick Neate. The afternoons were for writing, while the evenings were spent cooking together and eating at a big wooden table that, Emylia says, the likes of Ted Hughes would have once dined at. “I came home from that week knowing how much I wanted to write, to improve and, most of all, to be published!”
Five years on and Emylia’s second book launches this September, with the third already taking shape. Despite her success, she is still keeping Devon close to the heart. “I love how Devon has continued to be important to me as an adult and through my writing, as a setting for inspirational courses, life changing phone calls and essential writing retreats. I will never lose the excitement of catching the train from Bristol and hearing the announcement for Exeter St David’s.”