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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Emily B. Scialom shares what inspired her to write The Watch On The Beach, about the aftermath of Clara Reynolds’ failed suicide attempt.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Emily B. Scialom about her life and career, the experiences that inspired her to write her new book, The Watch On The Beach, and her creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Emily Scialom. I am an author, poet and musician on the cusp of my 40th year living in Cambridge, England. I have seven available titles with subjects ranging from religion to romance and politics.
I grew up in Glastonbury, the land of mythology and witchcraft, and my work is imbued with a sense of spiritual exploration. I was a published poet aged eight and have continued to develop my love of words since then through songwriting and journalism as well as my novels and poetic offerings.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I first knew that I needed to write my first book in mid-2008. I was working in a pub called The Granta in central Cambridge in order to save some money to go to the U.S.A. with my partner of the time when my boss told me an outlandish story.
Having initially seemed a rather one-dimensional character his words surprised me and I went home with the first line of my debut novel ringing in my head: “He was the kind of person who has forgotten why he is here.” This led me to want to develop the themes: I needed to explain what he’d forgotten, how he’d forgotten and how he goes about remembering. This was the genesis of ‘The Religion Of Self-Enlightenment’ (‘The R.O.S.E.’), my debut novel about a rather plain and unassuming young man named Carrick Ares who has a near-death experience in a car accident and eventually writes a new religion in order to try to help save the world.
When did you take a step to start writing?
As soon as my boss, the landlord of The Granta pub in Cambridge, told me a story from his wild and misspent youth I realised many people lose that sense of wildness and exploration as they grow up. I, therefore, felt a pressing need to write a novel about such a character and connect with those who might understand. This initial need to create took place in the spring/summer of 2008. I was in an all-female band at the time and subsequently broke up the band to write my debut novel.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It took me eight years to complete ‘The R.O.S.E.’ from the first idea to its release in August 2016. It was truly a remarkable labour of love!
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
It took me two years and two months to write and release my seventh book in seven years, ‘The Watch On The Beach’. During that time I wrote about 2,000 words per month consistently.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Watch On The Beach?
As a result of the covid outbreak I had grown used to focusing on my creative output in order to spur me through difficult days. This urge to create continued after the pandemic eased and my literary outpourings had become kind of unstoppable by the point I wrote ‘The Watch On The Beach’!
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Watch On The Beach?
‘The Watch On The Beach’ was a pleasure to write, but the intense sense of honesty about the more wayward aspects of the main character were a challenge. I had to really analyse my attitudes and express them with as much heartfelt clarity as I could manage. This proved to be difficult at times because many of the mistakes I had made as a person were laid bare in my novel. It’s sometimes uncomfortable to look in the existential mirror, but I felt that in order to produce my best work it had to be done.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Clara Reynolds, the main character in ‘The Watch On The Beach’, is a struggling poet and troubled soul. The story of her descent to a failed suicide attempt is told in first person and is vaguely based on my own life in 2016. I was never hospitalised for attempting to take my life as that part is fiction, but the feelings that led to her dramatic fictional actions resonate strongly with my own sense of distress during that time.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
There is not really a strong and constant antagonist in ‘The Watch On The Beach’: the main person to feature besides the main character, Clara, is her dear friend Johnny Fox. The character of Johnny is loosely based on my own friend, Rufus Fox, who sadly passed due to covid in 2020. He tries to provide reassurance, humour and wisdom throughout the novel with all the grace of Gandalf incarnate!
What is the inciting incident of The Watch On The Beach?
‘The Watch On The Beach’ opens with the aftermath of a failed suicide attempt. I attempt to capture all of the bitterness, fury and desperation that such a scenario entails in the Prologue.
What is the main conflict of The Watch On The Beach?
Clara Reynolds, the main character in ‘The Watch On The Beach’, experiences her most intense conflicts within herself. She has some semblance of faith, but fails to practise it with any kind of devotion. She also has issues with substance abuse, madness and depression which remain horribly unaddressed by those around her. This leaves her inner world to become akin to a tornado which crushes relationships and opportunities for a better life.
Her inner turmoil ultimately renders her assessment of her future as fairly bleak. This sense of overwhelming emotional, mental and spiritual destitution features throughout the narrative and is only temporarily eased. It is, therefore, a novel which echoes the intense hopelessness of these times, I feel.
Did you plot The Watch On The Beach in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I wrote many disparate sections of the novel separately and then pieced them all together as I developed the tale. I find if I do have a clear vision of the plot it will change along the way as new ideas emerge.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Watch On The Beach need?
I have been lucky enough to have been able to count on the assistance of my incredibly erudite and literary friend, William Hartston, who has had at least 25 of his own books published and is a much more established writer than me. He suggested I change ‘The Watch On The Beach’ from third person to first person and rearrange the opening so that it begins with the impactful scene of my main character awakening from an attempt to end her precious existence. I have no doubt that the editorial advice I have received from William has completely transformed a rather disjointed and garbled work into a novel with real quality.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Write the truth, write from you heart, always stick to the subjects you’re most informed about. If you write about what you know and care about then this will resonate with readers who will recognise the passion and knowledge within you.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
My next book will be my autobiography entitled ‘Wild To The Max’. I have only written a few sentences of the introduction thus far. However, because I have lived such an eventful life I feel a pressing need to capture the essence of the journey so far.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
As discussed in ‘The Watch On The Beach’, pride is apparently my main affliction in terms of the seven deadly sins. I am intensely proud of my creative accomplishments and seeing my books on display in book shops or in the hands of new readers causes my heart to swell with jubilation!
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