Emily Ilett’s debut novel, The Girl who Lost her Shadow is out now. It is an incredible story that focuses on mental health issues and knowing when to ask for help. With themes of bravery and friendship it is an absolute must for readers 10 +. Read my interview with Emily below.
Where did you get your inspiration from for The Girl who Lost her Shadow?
I’m trying to think backwards to remember why I was thinking about shadows in the first place. But I can’t! I find this is generally how it goes with the stories I write. They grow slowly, and almost without me noticing at first.
Around four or five years ago I wrote a short story about a girl who lost her own shadow and who gained a mountain’s shadow instead. It was a few pages long and when I’d finished it, I discovered that I hadn’t really finished it at all. The story was still growing in my mind, and The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow is what it grew into over the next few years. During this time, the question that was in my mind was: why might a shadow disappear?
I brought to this question things I care a lot about, including conservation and mental health awareness, and things I wanted to know more about – in this case, sea creatures and the underwater world. Through the research process I have discovered sea creatures I’d never dreamed of before, I’ve read about endangered species here in Scotland, I’ve learned about all kinds of different ways creatures communicate with each other and I’ve listened to a lot of beautiful whale song.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? What has been your journey to get to publication?
I’ve always loved stories and losing myself (and finding myself) in books and when I was younger I definitely wanted to be a writer – if I got a new notebook for a birthday or Christmas I’d write firmly at the beginning: This is the story that I will finish. I never did, of course. The middle always proved a little too difficult, beginnings are so much more exciting…
After school, I did a degree in Environmental Art, and while I was doing this course I rediscovered my love of writing and began to write flash fiction pieces and playful stories folded into origami shapes. Later, I took an MLitt in Creative Writing and discovered after two weeks of trying to write grown up literature that I was at heart a children’s writer. It was an exciting discovery! I was then lucky enough to be awarded the Mhairi Hedderwick Writing for Children Award to attend a course at Moniack Mhor – a writing centre in the Highlands – which introduced me to lots of talented and inspiring children’s writers.
A couple of years later, I found out that The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow had won the Kelpies Prize 2017 and from then I entered into a whirlwind of editing. And now I’m here, my first children’s book is out in the world and I can’t quite believe it!
What was your favourite subject at school?
I enjoyed English and Art at school. In English I got to study some amazing books and poetry, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and I’ve always loved to draw. I like how it can be messy, fluid, gentle, wild, or slow. I still try and draw now when I have time, especially in ink, I want to get better at it. I tend to think in images (which isn’t always the best thing for a writer!) and have a huge admiration for illustrators. More surprisingly, I’m a very big fan of algebra.
What was your favourite book/books when you were a child?
When I was a child I read anything I could get my hands on but two of my favourite writers were Tamora Pierce and Robin Jarvis. In Tamora’s The Song of the Lioness series and the Circle of Magic I fell in love with all her fierce and flawed heroines, especially Alanna and Daja, enthralled by their magic and adventures. Robin Jarvis’s Deptford Mice, Wyrd Museum trilogy and Whitby Witches books introduced me to dark mysterious worlds of mythology and fate, which terrified and intrigued me in equal measure. And finally, Lyra’s stubbornness and Iorek’s loyalty made Philip Pullman’s The Northern Lights the book of my childhood and one I continue to return and reread again and again.
What are favourite current children’s books?
There are so many fantastic children’s books at the moment! My TBR pile is so tall it is forever teetering on the edge of catastrophe… Some of my recent favourite reads have been the open-hearted, moving and funny The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf; the unusual Fish Boy by Chloe Daykin; and Little Bits of Sky by S. E. Durrant, a quiet story about two young children in care which stayed in my mind long after I finished reading it. I also want to mention The Goldfish Boy written sensitively and beautifully by Lisa Thompson, about a young boy struggling with OCD, and my current read which I am very excited about – Asha & The Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan!
Have any authors been a particular inspiration to you?
Tove Jansson has a very special place in my heart. I remember the first time I read The Summer Book, I think my eyes were all wide and my mouth hanging open the whole time. I didn’t think a book could be so quiet and beautiful and curious. I’ve since read the Moomin books and continue to be astonished by the sheer generosity of her writing. She will always be a writer I return to when I forget how much a sentence can hold and still be so simple.
I know lots of young people who have dreams of becoming a writer when they are older. Do you have any words of advice for them?
Hello young writers! I’m so excited to meet you and your stories in the future. There is a lot of helpful writing advice out there – enough to lose yourself in for days – and so what I really want to say is to be gentle with yourself. Be nice to yourself. Trust yourself, because you definitely can do it. You’re wild enough and brave enough and compassionate enough to write all the stories you want to write. I know it’s difficult to finish a story – it’s the hardest bit maybe – but keep going and you’ll get there one day. I know it.
The Girl who Lost her Shadow is out now, published by Floris Books.