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Mon, 24 Jun 2013 10:40
Today we welcome Emily Winslow to the blog to talk about her novel The Whole World.
Sum up The Whole World in one sentence: Two American girls come to study at Cambridge University, become best friends, fall for the same charming grad student...and then he disappears.
You live in Cambridge and chose to set your books in the city - what makes it a good backdrop for a crime novel? The city and the university have been here for more than 800 years. That makes for a lot of layers. The spectrum of architecture, the adapted but still-living traditions, and the mix of intense, high-achieving specialists give a lot to work with.
Polly and Liv are American students. As an ex-pat American yourself, how did this inform their characters? It was through them that I was able to gawk at Cambridge. The people I know who grew up here take it for granted. It's newcomers who find the city dazzling.
Before you became a writer you had the unusual job of 'Puzzle Designer' and you trained as an actress. How have those previous experiences influenced your writing? My father left law to become a game and puzzle designer when I was little. I was his assistant, helping him test his designs. I grew up to write for the wonderful Games magazine while I was in grad school, designing multi-page, story-based logic puzzles. The editors gave me a huge amount of creative freedom and space to experiment and expand. I've read the magazine since I was ten years old and still have a subscription today, though I don't write for them anymore. Writing for them, and joining in with the Friday night game nights in the New York office back in the nineties, were a very happy stage of my life.
Both puzzles and crime novels are journeys from the unknown to the known, from chaos to order. In both, that journey must be designed to be orderly, yet surprising, and to play with the reader's assumptions on the way.
Acting, which I studied as an undergrad in a very intense conservatory program, has an obvious link with first-person narration. In first-person, everything is biased; everything is filtered. I think the puzzle experience helps me to be the "director" of the whole story, while the acting experience helps me enter into the narrow point of view of each individual narrator.
In The Whole World and The Start of Everything you use a number of narrators. What inspired you to tell the story in this way? Readers tend to objectively believe whoever they're seeing the world through. I like playing with that trust, and gradually revealing the limits of each narrator's assumptions. Only when you put all the points of view together do you get the whole story.
Which point of view did you find the most difficult to write and which was the most enjoyable? I was worried at first about writing from male points of view, not because I thought I couldn't do it, but because I feared that those voices would be judged more critically. No one has minded, though, and I find the recurring character of Morris (the police detective) to be my "comfort character." I love all my narrators, but his is the voice I return to again and again.
What is your writing routine? My husband and I homeschool our children. He has them in the mornings while I write, then I take them in the afternoons while he goes to the office. His job requires interacting with offices in the States, and the time difference makes our staggered schedule possible.
Though mornings are my "work time," my time with the children helps with my work, too, in story ideas and settings. We go to interesting places, and I find that displays and activities designed for children often communicate their topics more engagingly and accessibly than those designed for adults. I get to really explore this city, and lots of fascinating subjects.
The kids know what I write, and sometimes they point out good places to commit a crime or hide a body. I also find that my parental alertness to potential dangers constantly generates plot ideas. Balancing parenting and work is always a challenge in terms of time, but, overall, sharing life with my kids has expanded my world, and the world in my books.
You can read the opening of the book by downloading a sampler.
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