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  • Celia Jenkins

BaBs: Interview with Emma Hooper - Author, Musician and Academic

I met Emma Hooper during my time at Bath Spa University. She was one of my favourite tutors, and has since become one of my favourite writers and musicians too. From her brilliant first book Etta and Otto and Russell and James to her awesome solo musical project Waitress for the Bees, not to mention her string quartet, there are just so many things to be a fan of. I got the chance to ask Emma a few questions about her latest projects, and can't wait for her future releases.

I'm a huge fan of Waitress for the Bees, your solo music project. How would you describe your other musical project, The Stringbeans Quartet?

I've always had a soft-spot for chamber music, especially string quartets. I've played with this one for more than ten years now, but we've only recently decided we've had enough of playing other people's music and wanted to write our own. It's wonderful to compose with people you've played with for so long. The good thing about WFTB was/is having complete creative control, similar to novel-writing, I get to make a bunch of crazy choices myself and see what nutty end product results. Writing with the quartet, on the other hand, I have to let go of that control and let other people lead and have ideas, which means going in directions I never otherwise would... which is very much a good, healthy, thing, I think.

What were your major musical influences when you were growing up, and what do you like to listen to nowadays?

Growing up I listened to a lot of Graceland by Paul Simon and a lot of musicals! ...and a whole lot of other stuff. I did the Suzuki method of viola-learning, which means, among other things, having music on in the house a whole lot when growing up, so it was quite the melting pot mixed bag soundtrack, from South Pacific to Sly and the Family Stone to Prokofiev, etc. Nowadays I listen to a lot of my friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends' music, as happens when you spend a while in the music business. Someone's always got a new album out, or knows someone who does. The music scene in the South-West (of England) is really innovative and thriving. I'll often hear of some other big American, or what have you, act and go check them out only to think, hm, I know a band down the road who do that better...

Will you be encouraging your little one to follow in your music footsteps? What instruments are you keen for him to try out?

I think it's fairly inevitable, he's constantly being dragged to gigs and concerts and rehearsals (don't worry, we have some nice ear-protectors for him...). Of course, if he chooses not to go the music route that's fine too, but we'll definitely put him in lessons. I'm keen for him to learn cello so that I can eavesdrop on the lessons and learn too...

How has life changed for you since the publication of your debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James?

I suppose the nicest thing about having a 'successful' book is that, other people's opinions aside, it lets you take yourself seriously as a writer...

You're currently working on your second novel. What will fans of your first book love about your upcoming title?

Well, the tone and attention to rhythm and precision of language will be familiar, as will the little bits of magic/whimsy here and there. There are no coyotes in this one, but there are mermaids.

Tell us about your writing habits – do you have a particular time of the day when you prefer to write, a favourite cafe to hide away in or any unusual writing rituals?

Much to my own shock-horror, I write best in the morning. I'd love to be a night-writer, and kind of thought I was for a while, but when I'm up against a deadline or really need to get words down for one reason or another, it becomes obvious: mornings provide the clearest head, the quickest ideas. The good thing about this is that I can go out in the evenings and not feel guilty... Rituals-wise, unless I'm writing in a cafe or at the library (which I like to do with other writer friends; we go together and then both sit there and write, ignoring each other...) then I almost always write with earphones on. I'll have a specific soundtrack for each project I work on, and get pretty addicted to it. Sometimes I'm really, really sick of that music but the right words don't come without it.

Which writers are you keeping your eye on at the moment? Are there any particular titles you're looking forward to in the year ahead?

I love Karen Russell, who wrote Swamplandia and can't wait to see what she comes up with next... and Ali Smith too (who wrote 'How to Be Both'). I love how they both play with reality and form.

If you could live a day in the life of any character from any book, who would you be?

Wow! So many good options. I guess I'd probably go with Peter Pan. I've always wanted to fly, and I like the outfit...

To find out more about Emma Hooper, check out her website.

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