I was also given the opportunity to interview the amazing Emily Murdoch, and after I enjoyed 'If You Find Me' so much, it was something I was really excited about. Read on to find out about how Emily was inspired to write the novel, how she started writing so long, and why she writes a shopping list when she has writer's block!
If you haven't yet read 'If You Find Me', it is avaliable in all good book stores and online. Also, check out my review of the book.
When did you first begin to write?
I first started writing when I was five, in kindergarten, and I used to write little short stories and poems, and sometimes a mixture of the two, and then I would draw illustrations to go with them. I’ve always loved writing, and there are some people who pick it up later but I feel like I was born to write- I have no doubt about that’s why I’m here, and I use my writing to help other people.
How old were you when you submitted your first manuscript?
I was eleven years old, and in the US that’s elementary school, and I used to spend my lunches in the library putting the books away for my librarian, and at that time I was always writing. I had written my first manuscript in a notebook, and one day after putting the books back I forgot it in the library and I remember going home and I was so upset because I thought I had left it there. So I came back to look for it the next day in a panic, and my librarian had found it and she said, “I love this! Did you write it?” and I said that I had. So she sent it off for me to three US publishers- I was so thrilled! I got straight rejections from Penguin and Random House; I was devastated. However Random House wrote back saying, “The kid’s got something, tell her to try again in ten or twenty years.” The librarian told me that was a great thing that I got a personal rejection at eleven!
What advice would you give to young writers when they are rejected, so they don’t lose confidence?
It happens to everybody. I know of authors that you would know, who couldn’t sell a second book, or sell their first and second books and can’t sell a third. I’m sensitive and rejections hurt me, but you have to realise that it is subjective and one editor might say that it’s horrible and one might say that it’s a genius gem, so you never know. The only way is to get through it, but it’s tough because you want to give up and you lose confidence and go through rough patches, but you can’t give up. What I find is that as long as you keep writing, the more you learn and it will always get better. Don’t let the rejection be the end- it’s just one person’s opinion. You might not be ready yet- you will hit it eventually.
Where did you find inspiration for ‘If You Find Me’?
A story in the news of someone losing their child was something I couldn’t get out of my mind. I normally don’t tell people this, but in my first version I wrote that Carey killed a man, then I took it out, and wrote around it where she goes back to show her father where she killed the man, but he’s not there, sort of like she thought she killed him but he got away, because that would open it up for a sequel. What Carey does is something that I wouldn’t have done. By the time I had got to the end of the book she was such a full character that she was doing what she was doing- she became almost real. But then I took it out, and gave the manuscript to Mandy (edit: Emily Murdoch’s agent) and told her that I had put something in there that I wasn’t sure whether to keep in or not, and she told me that Carey had to kill the man. Mandy gave me the courage to do what the story really needed, that I was a little unsure about. Carey would do anything for Jenessa.
When writing a novel, do you normally have a fully formed protagonist first, or an outline of the plot?
I open up the page, start writing, and it just comes. I write in ‘flow’ and it just comes through me and I don’t know how to explain it. Sometimes I go back to read my first draft and I don’t even remember what I wrote. If you can do that and let go, let your imagination and your creativity flow through you, it’s wonderful because you don’t have to plan. I never write an outline, I just sit down and start and see what I come up with. I have a general idea about where it’s going to go. If I have one of those days where I can’t think of something to write, I start writing a shopping list. If you can find a way to get into it, it will take you on it’s own path. I would say to do whatever works for you, but that force of creativity is in there, and if you try not to think about it too much, it’s better. An open hand is waiting to be filled, but an open hand is empty. You have to let go in order to get.
When reading the novel, I realised how much I take for granted, like when Carey and Jenessa first have a shower. Do you think that we take a lot for granted, and was that something you wanted to put across to the reader?
Yes and no, because when you’re writing for teens you don’t want to be ‘preachy’ and ‘messagey’, but I did want to show the world through the eyes of someone who doesn’t see it the way we do. I think that in the world in general we are very lucky. I think that taking things for granted or being used to things is just human, but it’s good once in a while to shake that up a little bit, and just get a different perspective because that leads to compassion.
Was Carey’s confession difficult to write?
Yes, I cried my way through it. None of that got changed, and I’ve heard that is highly unusual. It went to you from straight out of my head- that never happens! Part of that is because I’m a perfectionist, but it went from me straight to copy edit.
Will there be a sequel to ‘If You Find Me’?
I want to write a sequel definitely, I think there has to be! There are certain parts of Carey’s life, certain threads, that haven’t been tied yet. To me, she’s so real at this point and she is a great example: she is a girl who has been through hard times and now has triumphed. I think that Carey needs to have her mother come back in the picture and go through and deal with that. I’d like to take Carey and Ryan a little bit further and how she feels about what she’s been through, because I’ve barely touched on that. If her mother comes back we get the opposites again; Carey has a loving family and then we have the mother. It’s very important in life to have closure, and I don’t think that Carey has closure yet, because there’s more to her story. It won’t be the next book and I don’t think it will be the book after that, but it might be the book afterwards. I’ll probably write it in between when I’m writing a book I’m contracted to write, when I have some spare time, or to get away from the book that I have to do. When you’re writing for yourself it’s a little different from writing what you’re contracted to do. Sometimes it’s more fun to free yourself up a little because there’s no pressure there: no one else wants to see it and you don’t have a deadline.
How do you think books can change the world?
I think books can change the world, I’ve always been very outspoken about my childhood, I was an abused child, I turned to books to get what I wasn’t getting from my own life. I loved books that had very strong girls, one of my favourite books was The Diary of Anne Frank, I thought it was amazing that she went through what she did and was treated horribly, but still had such a love for people and humanity. I love that. I think books are a window into a different world, with different perspectives. I can’t imagine a world without books.