I’m thrilled to welcome Emma Young to the attic this week. Emma’s novel, The Last Bookshop, was recently published by Fremantle Press. Having worked in a bookshop and as an avid reader herself, it’s only fitting her post is about books.
I remember chatting to a nervous Emma over the phone a few years ago, just before she started submitting her book to publishers. Then I followed her Facebook updates as she edited her novel before deadline and wrote a second book to a more urgent deadline – the arrival of her baby. It’s been wonderful to follow her trajectory and it’s especially nice to share her post in the attic today.
After turning thirty, Emma burst with belated urgency into novel-writing. She has been selected for the 2018 Katharine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre 1st Edition Retreat and the 2018-19 Four Centres Emerging Writers’ Program. Her first manuscript, The Last Bookshop, was shortlisted for the inaugural $20,000 Fogarty Literary Award and was published by Fremantle Press in March 2021.
She is currently writing two more fiction manuscripts. Emma is a reporter for WAtoday and her work regularly appears in sister publications, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. She has won eight WA Media Awards.
Confessions of a Hopeless Book Nerd
Book-talk was my first language. When I was little, I read in bed. And in the bath. And in the pool. Even in the shower (until returning the books caused an unpleasant scene with the librarian). And through school recess and lunch (until my lack of Socialising caused an unpleasant scene with my teacher).
I guess it’s inevitable that I studied English at uni, then became a bookseller, then a journalist, then an author. And that my début novel is The Last Bookshop, about the owner of a bookshop whose relationships are formed and fed on a steady diet of book talk.
My novel mentions 78 specific titles (my editor counted). At 3am, wide awake, I sometimes worried all this book-talk would bore people, so imagine my delight when after the book’s launch readers began to tell me they were inspired to seek out these titles.
Recently when I polled Instagram followers to see what I should cover in this blog post, What I read polled higher than Why I write or My biggest disappointments. I thought they’d want to hear about my disappointments given all my smug famous-lady posts lately. But they surprised me again! So without further ado:
What I Read
As a child I read embarrassingly non-diverse but boundlessly enjoyable series: every single thing by Enid Blyton, children’s classics like Black Beauty, The Little Princess, The Secret Garden; Little Women and sequels; Narnia; Roald Dahl and Nina Bawden; the Anne of Green Gables series, Robin Klein and Isobelle Carmody. Possibly my happiest ever birthday was when I upended an entire sackful of Famous Five and Secret Seven books from my parents.
Getting older, as befitted a teenage girl, I read about Girl Problems: periods, diabetes, sexual abuse, girls too fat, girls too thin, girls with eating disorders, drug problems, loneliness, friendship problems, etc. I thoroughly plundered the YA section of the library, which now I think back, sure did put the adult in young adult.
I read everything by John Marsden, the Tomorrow series and all his dark yet compelling stand-alones; Tim Winton’s Lockie Leonard series; the obligatory Judy Blume’s. (Did you know Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret is being made into a movie?)
As I got older, my parents’ bookshelves provided fodder. Our whole family devoured crime fiction: Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, Michael Connolly, Carl Hiaasen and Lee Child. Mum owned a lot of classics and I, a pretentious youth, tackled and loved Jane Austen, George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, the Brontes, Dickens and Capote.
Mum also read a lot of contemporary literary fiction and together we obtained and appraised new releases and award winners, as Cait and June do in The Last Bookshop: all the Oprah’s Book Clubs, Jodi Picoult, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison.
Things you connect with deeply at that age tend to haunt you, and some of my appreciation of true literary fiction came from that reading with my Mum, and the close analysis done at uni. I will still never forget the feeling of reading Tim Winton’s The Riders, or Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion.
Surviving successive bouts of ruthless minimising, authors I loved then remain on the one permanent bookshelf I permit myself: Carol Shields, Peter Carey, Virginia Woolf; Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s entire list.
Following uni, selling books at Elizabeth’s, my taste broadened. Worn out by the heavy literary studies, I just wanted fun: sci-fi, horror and fantasy like John Wyndham, H.G. Wells, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville and of course my hero Stephen King. (Stu and I chose our son’s middle name, Roland, for the main character in King’s Dark Tower series). I am, obviously, an enormous Harry Potter fan. (Try the audiobooks read by Jim Dale!)
My crime addiction flowered: English armchair mysteries like Agatha Christie and Colin Dexter, hardboiled American like James Ellroy and James Lee Burke, modern police procedurals like Val McDermid and Ian Rankin.
Later, working at Boffins, I became interested in non-fiction. I read travel narratives, personal finance and personal development, biographies and in recent years as I began to write myself, writers’ how-tos (some favourites: Stephen King’s On Writing, Annie Dillard’s Bird By Bird, John McPhee’s Draft No. 4), biographies (try Mary Henley Rubio’s Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, an astounding work of devastating, compelling scholarship; Peter Ackroyd’s Dickens) and memoirs (Tim Winton’s Boy Behind the Curtain, Joan Lindsay’s Time Without Clocks). I recently secured Agatha Christie’s Come, Tell Me How You Live, about her years on archaeological expeditions in the Middle East. I can’t wait!
During my own publication journey, I began to read many more Western Australian and début authors, finding incredibly rich and varied voices, benchmarks and inspiration I can relate to, and also an incredibly warm and welcoming community. In fact the first début novel by a Perth author I read was The Sisters’ Song by none other than my host on this blog, Louise Allan!
I fall down rabbit holes with reading, and my novel’s thread about the works of C.S. Lewis was my attempt to communicate the joy of indulging these journeys of discovery.
The point: anything goes. All reading is good. Just read it. Surrounding my main character, Cait, with a cast of characters all with wildly varying tastes enabled me to indulge my love of book-talk about every genre.
Author Natasha Lester recently described The Last Bookshop as ‘bibliotherapy’ and this is my favourite review. Books are company when I am lonely, comfort when I am sad, calm when I am anxious, inspiration or knowledge when I need it. Nothing makes me happier than when friends ask me for a ‘prescription’. And nothing would make me happier than if you found in this post something ‘good for what ails ya’. So if you did, let me know how you go!
Emma has kindly donated a copy of The Last Bookshop to giveaway.
To enter, simply comment on this blog or any of the social media posts about Emma’s book.
The winner will be drawn 12pm (WST) this Thursday, 13th May, and will be chosen randomly.
International entries are welcome, but we can only post to an Australian address.