I was lucky enough to hear you read a scene from your new book, Wildest of All, at an event last year and I was instantly hooked. Tell us a little about what the book is about.
It's changed somewhat since then! When Peter Donnelly dies he leaves a space that the three women in his life have to learn to cross. The narrator describes his death as a bomb going off and all life after nothing more than a series of aftershocks. Every time it seems there might be a connection or understanding between the grandmother, mother and daughter, there's another tremor and they are thrown further and further from each other. It's about how grief affects us all differently, and it's also about the importance of being allowed to fulfil our potential and be who we're born to be.
Armadillos has been a huge success. Did this response take you by surprise? And can you tell us about one of your favourite responses.
I wasn't taken by surprise because I had no expectations, really. I wrote the story that demanded to be told to the best of my ability. Having said that, I've been delighted with people's response to it. Most moving have been the messages and conversations I've had with people who have been very close themselves to abuse in one way or another. Those people were who I had most in mind while writing Armadillos. It would have been awful to feel I'd let them down.
I loved the character Aggie in Armadillos and I’m curious, do you start writing with a character in mind or do you start with an idea and let the characters develop from there?
Gosh, where does it start? Where does anything start? I think I begin with the vaguest notion of something and I follow it to see where it takes me. As the story grows, it becomes clearer what is needed and then I get to a point where I can start to really think about inventing characters. Sometimes I shape them, sometimes the story does, just as in life. Anything can happen to anyone. Character isn't a fixed thing. Our story changes and by necessity so do we.
In Armadillos I felt that Texas was almost a character in itself. Can you tell us a little about the setting of your next novel and why you chose to set it here.
I was maybe a third of the way through writing Armadillos when I made a promise to myself to set the next book closer to home, so I made a very clear decision that Wildest of All would move between Glasgow and London, two places I've lived for substantial amounts of time. Of course this threw up its own set of problems. For a long time I couldn't access the imaginative freedom I'd enjoyed with Armadillos. I felt very hemmed in by my personal knowledge and what I needed to do was break it open. It wasn't my world I was creating, after all, it was Sissy's and Jude's and Anne's.
I know that you completed your masters in Creative Writing at Glasgow University. How useful did you find the course, and would you recommend a similar course to other writers?
I feel very privileged to have been in a position where I could immerse myself in a world of writing and would definitely recommend it. “But it doesn't teach you to write!” we hear people say – but it's about so much more than that. Most of us have so many pressures on our time that prevent us from dedicating ourselves to our books and writings. In my case, my whole family had to shift to allow me to study. I was mother to two young boys at the time, one of whom was still breast-feeding. It was very guilt-inducing, as well as liberating, to prioritise my creative development in that way but I really believe it saved my sanity. And of course there's the financial aspect. I self-funded using money that could have paid for a fantastic family holiday, for instance. So you have to make it worth your while – hell, everyone's while! I'm quite convinced Armadillos would be lying half-finished in a random file on my computer if I hadn't done that course.
Was writing your second novel different to writing Armadillos? Personally speaking, I found it publishing my second novel extremely nerve wracking. Can you relate to these second book nerves?
Absolutely! It's like the second album syndrome they talk about. You feel there's an expectation and you worry about letting people down. And remember Armadillos was my first book so I still feel I'm very much cutting my teeth. Wildest of All is a more ambitious novel too – it's written in third person with three main viewpoints – so altogether more complicated to wrangle. However, I was fortunate enough to chair an event recently with Maggie O'Farrell and in the lunch beforehand I was bemoaning the difficulties of the second book. She laughed and said, 'All my books are like that!' I love her writing so if Maggie feels that way, perhaps it's not all so bad.
Emma Mooney is a writer of Scottish contemporary fiction and is the author of A Beautiful Game. and Wings to Fly.