About The Author
Emma Glass was born in Swansea. She studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Kent, then decided to become a nurse and studied Children's Nursing at Swansea University. She lives in North London and is a research nurse specialist at Evelina London Children's Hospital. In her debut novel, Peach, Emma articulates the unspeakable in visceral, haunting prose. One evening Peach staggers home to parents who remain blithely unaware of their daughter. Supported only by her bemused college boyfriend, Green, she finds it ever harder to come to terms with what has happened to her and the increasingly blurred lines between fantasy and reality. Below, exclusively for Foyles, Frances Gertler talked to Emma about how her novel started with a beat, being inspired by the risks taken by Gertrude Stein and James Joyce and why it's important to avoid neat endings.
Questions & Answers
What was the starting point of Peach and what came first, the language or the story or something else?
Peach started with a beat. I was frustrated, uninspired, tired and due to submit 4000 words of a novel for my creative writing class at university. I was listening to music with my eyes closed and I began to write the feeling of frustration, frustration turned to fear, fear to desperation and then an image of a girl. And suddenly I had Peach. When I read what I had written and realised how image driven it was, I knew that she was not just a girl, not in a normal world. The story came later. I had to turn in a synopsis with my 4000 words and I thought: ’this is pretty crazy to begin with, I may as well go the whole way.’
In your acknowledgements you thank some people for helping you to ‘remain creatively free’. Was this a struggle for you? Have you been worried about how the more violent elements of the story and the breaking of taboos might be received?
I feel strongly that an individual’s art should never be compromised. I wrote Peach selfishly, for the love of writing, never anticipating that it would be read by anyone other than a handful of people. I was aware that it was quite different to mainstream or commercial fiction. I am pleased that so little was changed during the editing process and that the story has retained its authenticity.
I have some anxiety around the violence in the book and how it may upset or be a barrier for some readers.
Your book takes risks on different levels. How conscious was this?
I set out to experiment with language and form; the whole novel is driven by this, but my awareness of the themes that have emerged was essentially non-existent.
You play with language in a way that is reminiscent of Ali Smith, Eimear McBride and Max Porter. How much of this is instinctive and how much created in the rewriting phase?
I began writing the novel in 2008. At the time, I was reading Gertrude Stein and James Joyce. I was inspired by the risks they took. The tone was instinctive, every line was laid down, re-read, re-written, re-read and I would not move on until I was happy with the placement of words and punctuation. I was meticulous and driven in this and I ignored everything else.
Peach says, ‘Let’s pretend this never happened’. Do you feel women are still reluctant to step forwards and report sexual assault and rape?
I think things are improving for women who are victims of sexual assault and more women are speaking up, but I think there is still fear of judgment and stigmatisation. I hope things continue to improve.
Though not violent or aggressive, Dad and Mam are horrific in their self-obsession and neglect. Why was it important for Peach to be so isolated, with only Green to support her?
It was important to me that she reached rock-bottom. I wanted to express hopelessness and helplessness as sharply as I could. But I don’t believe they are entirely neglectful. There is love and tenderness there. I wanted her to have nowhere to turn so that she could exact her revenge in a way that was instinctive to her.
Was it important to you to go against the grain by not allowing for some neat resolution, some optimistic ending?
Yes. I wanted the reader to be left with questions and sadness. I find the books and movies that stay with me the longest are the ones that have loose ends.
How does your writing sit alongside your job as a children’s nurse? Was it hard co-existing in the darkness of your story while bringing the required lightness and hope to the wards?
Fulfilment for me is about balance. I feel so lucky to have a job that I love, where I feel useful and where I can connect with children and families and make a difference to their lives, but I also feel lucky to have a creative outlet. I try to keep my work and writing as separate as possible, but I can’t help but take inspiration from my work. I meet and work alongside incredible, dedicated and inspiring people.
What made you not pursue writing as a career having studied Literature and Creative Writing, and what made you decide to write this book now?
I graduated in the midst of a recession. I’ve always loved writing but I never truly believed I had enough talent or skill to work full-time as a writer. There was a lack of opportunity for me when I finished university. I wrote the first half of Peach in the spring/summer of 2008. I didn’t go back to it fully until 2015/2016. It was always there, in the back of my mind, a planted seed. It needed to be finished, so I finished it.