Emylia Hall was born in 1978 and grew up in the Devon countryside, the daughter of an English artist and a Hungarian quilt-maker. After studying at York University and in Lausanne, Switzerland, Emylia spent five years working in a London ad agency, before moving to the French Alps. It was there that she began to write. Emylia now lives in Bristol with her husband, also an author. Her first novel, The Book of Summers, was a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club pick in 2012. It’s published by Headline in the UK, MIRA in the US and Canada, and has been translated into eight languages. Her second novel, A Heart Bent Out of Shape (or The Swiss Affair, in the US) was published in February 2014. Emylia’s writing and short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, including ELLE magazine, the Book Slam anthology Too Much Too Young, and broadcast on BBC Radio 6 Music. She is currently at work on her third novel.
The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.
Emylia Hall: Love, loss, friendship, self-discovery—all in a year abroad.
TPP: What inspired you to write The Swiss Affair?
EH: When I was nineteen I spent a year studying in the beautiful and glamorous Swiss city of Lausanne. While I’d travelled fairly extensively with my family, it was my first time living in another country. I fell in love with my new lifestyle, and the extraordinary sense of freedom and possibility that came with it. I was inspired to capture that golden year abroad, but I wanted to add a darker edge, to see what happened when I took a perfect experience in a perfect setting, and then added an extremely imperfect sequence of events. While the novel has romantic love at its heart, it’s also something of a love letter to Lausanne, a city that means a lot to me.
TPP: What do you want your readers to take away from your book?
EH: I hope I’ve written characters to be intrigued by and conjured a city in such loving detail that readers will come to feel as if they know it as well as I do. I hope the novel speaks of the power of friendship and the extraordinary bonds we can develop with certain places, as much as the excitement and passion of an illicit love affair. Above all, I hope the experience of reading The Swiss Affair feels utterly transporting, in both the emotional and the physical sense.
TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve gotten while writing your novel?
EH: It’s important to write a story that you want to spend time in. The process has to be enjoyable and enriching on a personal level, particularly as when you’re starting out you’ve no guarantee that your work will ever find a wide audience. Therefore you must write with heart, passion, honesty, and commitment—and write for yourself. As to advice I wish I’d been given—there’s something delightful about writing a first novel, gently feeling your way into your story, writing without fear of review or deadline or judgement or self-consciousness. I don’t think you’ll ever sit down to write with such an unadulterated sense of possibility and fearlessness ever again. With my first novel, The Book of Summers, I feel I managed this a lot of the time because I loved the story I wanted to tell and was happy slowly finding my way with it, but I was still dogged by a sense of ‘want,’ of hoping for a publisher, of feeling a sense of urgency in getting my work out there with agents…battening down the hatches and enjoying living in the secret world of the undiscovered author is a time that, should you be lucky enough to be published, will never come again and should be treasured as a milestone in its own right. Of course as with much advice, this is far easier to say with hindsight!
TPP: If your book was being made into a movie, who would you like to be cast as Hadley Dunn?
EH: Ooh, the perfect fantasy question…there’s a terrific British actress called Felicity Jones (she starred in Chalet Girl, Like Crazy, and most recently The Invisible Woman), and she’d make an amazing Hadley. She’d be perfect at conveying that Hadley mix of youthfulness and stoicism—appearing green and a little wide-eyed, but also really grounded. And she looks the part too.