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Here Lie the Secrets

Emma Young

Mia believes in ghosts. After all, she keeps seeing the ghost of her best friend, Holly, who died aged 13. But is it really Holly's ghost that she sees, or something else?

Author EMMA YOUNG tells us more about HERE LIE THE SECRETS:

Q: What kinds of stories do you like to write?

A: I'm a science journalist, and I do like to bring science (and medicine) into my fiction. I also like to write about times of important change in a person's life - about events or encounters that go a long way towards making them who they are.

Q: What is your latest novel, Here Lie the Secrets (Little Tiger Books), about?

A: It's about an 18-year-old British girl, Mia, whose best friend died when they were 13. Mia is still haunted by Holly's death. But she's not sure if Holly's ghost is literally haunting her, or if her brain just can't let Holly go.

During a visit to her aunt in New York, Mia meets Rav, a parapsychology student who specialises in the study of ghost hauntings. Mia becomes increasingly caught up in his world. When Rav's professor asks her to join an investigation of a remote house reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a little girl, she agrees, fearing but also hoping that she'll make discoveries relevant to her own experiences - which indeed she does.

Q: Why did you decide to explore grief and hauntings in Here Lie the Secrets?

A: When I was still quite a young child, a schoolfriend and a cousin died, separately, in very difficult circumstances. As an adult, I studied psychology at university. I became a science journalist, and I write often about psychology - about our thoughts and behaviour. Loss can have such very long-lasting impacts on both.

Q: And why did you decide to set it in the US?

A: For several reasons.

One: I wanted Mia to be out of the UK, physically separated from her past.

Two: I wanted to still have the story set in an English-speaking country with a thriving parapsychological research community.

Three: I had friends in New York who'd done very helpful things, from the point of view of the plot - such as exploring an abandoned psychiatric hospital. Their first-hand descriptions added authenticity (always important for the journalist in me).

Four: over the years, I've interviewed a lot of American researchers. I knew I could use this experience in creating some of the characters.

Q: The story follows Mia, who is still affected by the death of her friend Holly when they were 13. How did Mia and her back story develop?

A: I was a little younger than Mia when one of my first friends from primary school died. I didn't ever feel literally haunted by her, but the snatching away of a person has a lasting effect. In Mia, I wanted someone who wasn't sure what was happening to her.

Right now, I'm very interested in new research on our experiences of 'reality' - how what we perceive as being real is not simply down to sensory stimulation from the outside world but also our brains' expectations. For various reasons, some people's brains are more likely to conjure up aspects of their 'reality' than others.

I really wanted to bring some of these ideas into the story. So I gave Mia a mother whose brain is more like this - not radically different from anyone else's (or not as radically different as some people might assume) - just a little more prone to making errors in terms of what is external to their own brain and body, and what is not.

Q: Have you ever seen a ghost or thought you might have done?

A: Both my parents were convinced that my childhood home was haunted - they reported feeling a strong sense of presence and seeing a glowing light on an upstairs landing. I'd never experienced anything like this. But when they told me about it, when I was 12, I immediately became afraid of the house.

Also, there's a story in the book that is lifted straight out of my own childhood. It's the part where Rav talks about his dead pet. This happened to me, exactly. At the time, I was scared. It was only many years later that I realised that it told me something very important about memory - something that would not be accepted by memory researchers today, and yet I know it can happen, because it happened to me.

Q: There's a lot of information about how hauntings might be scientifically tested - how much research did you do into this and where did you go to find out?

A: Over the years, I've written various bits and pieces about parapsychological research. A few years ago, I was commissioned to write a feature for New Scientist magazine about work into ghost sightings. In the course of research for the feature, I interviewed various experts and visited the labs of former Most Haunted presenter and parapsychologist Ciaran O'Keeffe, at Buckinghamshire New University. I learned a lot about academic ghost research from this. I also spent a very enlightening day at a conference dedicated to ghost sightings at the Institute for Parapsychological Research in London.

Q: There are some fabulous supporting characters, who is your favourite and why?

A: I have a soft spot for scientists who can't prevent their passion for their subject breaking through a careful academic exterior. So the parapsychologist professor is a favourite of mine.

Q: Where is your favourite place to write, and do you have specific writing times? What are you writing now?

A: I've just finished writing an adult popular science title. It's about how many senses we actually have - it's far more than five - and the remarkable ways in which they affect our thoughts and behaviour.

I wrote that book at my desk in my attic office, but I always write fiction on my bed, with the curtains closed. Very recently, I've gone back to 'bed' to work through a new novel idea. For me, it's pointless to even try writing fiction between about 1pm and 3.30pm, and my best writing time is from the late afternoon onwards. There is some evidence that we find it easier to be creative when our brains are tired. I can certainly vouch for that.

Q: Can you describe your ideal 'writer's shed'?

A: It would have a bed or very easy chair, thick curtains, candle and lamp, fan/fan heater (for climate control and white noise), coffee machine and, most importantly, my dog.

Q: What are your favourite escapes from writing?

A: I'm not sure I ever really escape from writing - or would want to. But when I'm with my two sons, who are nine and ten, I'm certainly totally distracted from it, in a lovely way.

Q: What one thing about you are our readers unlikely to know?

A: All sorts, I imagine. Every morning, my dog and both kids pile into bed with us. It's the perfect start to the day.

Q: How would you encourage a young person to use lockdown to do their own writing?

A: I would say: as you can't go out and see your friends, while it's certainly vital to stay in regular contact with them, can you set aside a weekend morning or afternoon, or a few evenings to write? Turn off your phone, if you have to. Switch off alerts on your computer/laptop, if that's what you're using. Give yourself that time.

When I was 15, 16, 17, I would often write for friends. I'd write poems, usually, with a specific person in mind. That helped me to focus.

I sold my first novel when I was 32. Before that, I must have written at least a few hundred thousand words of fiction that were not accepted for publication. Since then, as well as the works that have sold, I've written two full novels that were not published. (They didn't even make it past my agent's desk.) But I do believe that if you really love something, you have to learn to welcome any chance to get better at it, even if the lesson is really tough.

If you do find something you truly love, though, then no matter what it is, you're one of the lucky ones. Because there is nothing more fulfilling than doing what you feel, deep down, you're 'meant' to do. I'm a far more successful non-fiction writer than I am a writer of fiction. But I will never feel about non-fiction the way I feel about fiction. And so, no matter what the setbacks, I will never allow myself to give up on it.

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