Q&A: Emma Healey

ELLE: What inspired you to write from the point of view of a woman with dementia?

Emma Healey: One day my father’s mother, who has multi-infarct dementia, told us she didn’t know where one of her friends was – she’d tried calling, but got no answer. Luckily, a mutual friend told us that the ‘missing’ woman was staying with her daughter, and my grandmother was still in the early stages of dementia so she could retain the answer. That was the end of the mystery in real life, but it got me thinking about how that might translate into fiction.

ELLE: Was Maud, the protagonist of your debut, an easy character to write?

EH: Yes, surprisingly. Knowing that readers couldn’t assume I was writing an autobiography, I felt I could make observations and express opinions without shyness. The biggest challenge was right at the beginning, when I was trying to convince myself I could write a novel entirely from the point of view of an elderly dementia sufferer – I thought I was too young and inexperienced to do it. 

ELLE: While plotting a mystery, does it help to begin with an ending?

EH: I wrote the epilogue when I had only five thousand words, but the solution to the mystery changed several times over the years. I think it helps to have a direction, but it shouldn’t be too strict as it’s natural to change your mind about the story as you get to know your characters better.

ELLE: Have you identified a genre you prefer?

EH: I think so. My favourite part of the process is weaving the ‘clues’ or resonances through the actions and thoughts of the characters. I can’t imagine writing a book without a mystery element.

Elizabeth is Missing (Penguin) is out this month

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