13 Questions with Emily Harrison

Emily Harrison

Coffin Bell: Introduce yourself.

Emily Harrison: I’m a writer who doesn’t drink enough water. Though my full-time job is currently in the nonprofit sector, I work for a charity that helps disabled and seriously ill children in the UK. I can be found roaming the Valley of Mowbray, a curious place that lies between the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. I started writing as a way to help with my mental health and have stuck with it since. I’ve been published across different journals–in print and online–but I’m slowly coming to the realization that not everything I write has to be for another’s consumption.

CB: When you write, do you start with a plan and move from there, or do you generally go where the writing takes you?

EH: To be honest it’s a bit of both and sometimes a bit of neither. If it’s a longer piece I’ll plan out where I want the story to go, or what pivotal moments I want to keep in place, but more often than not I tend to let the writing lead me. A lot of my flash fiction has come from sitting in my room and listening to music. A recent piece I’m working on is inspired by the song ‘Shrike’ by Hozier and there was no planning involved whatsoever, I just wrote what came to me. It doesn’t even have to be the lyrics of the song, more of the mood, the tone, things like that.

When I first started writing I planned a lot, but I almost locked myself into that plan and it hampered my writing because I was being too rigid with it. Allow yourself to be led and inspired – you can always edit it later.

CB: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

EH: That everyone is different – every process is different, and you should follow your own path. And don’t be scared of writing awful drafts.

CB: What advice can you give on editing and revising?

EH: Do it! But seriously, you really should. There is not once piece of writing that I’ve had published, or at the very least being proud of, that hasn’t been edited and revised numerous times. I usually [or at least try to] complete a first draft in its entirety and then go back either a day later, maybe a few hours later, and go over it again, then again, maybe again, and then probably a few more times. For all the will in the world a first draft can never be perfect – no matter how much I want it to be.

And get someone else to edit your work. They see things you can’t.

Oh, and be brave, be cutthroat – don’t be afraid to ditch a draft. Sometimes your writing won’t work, and that’s okay.

CB: What publishing advice can you give?

EH: Honestly, not much, because I’m still learning. What I would say is – expect rejection and don’t take it personally, be persistent but submit to the right places, and always read submission guidelines.

CB: Who are your influences?

EH: Nearly everyone I read. But to pick a few big names, Zadie Smith, Daphne du Maurier, Raymond Carver, Sarah Hall. Her collection – Madame Zero: 9 Stories, is worth a read. And Robert Aickman. I can safely say that if I wasn’t introduced to his work at university I wouldn’t be writing today. It changed the way I looked at fiction and what I could write about; that it was okay to be weird with it.

CB: What’s one thing you wish every journal editor knew?

EH: How to be more transparent in rejections. I’ve had a few where they say, ‘we loved your work, but it doesn’t fit our mood’ and honestly, what am I supposed to do with that? I’d rather they just send a blank rejection [or maybe I don’t…]. I have a lot of respect for editors though, especially editors of small journals.

CB: Taphophobia is the fear of being buried alive. Tell us about your fears.

EH: Large bodies of water freak me out. The idea of being in the middle of the ocean, or flying over the ocean, just makes my skin crawl. I have to actively not think about it on a plane, and it’d take a lot to get me on a cruise. Why? I genuinely don’t know. I also have a fear of wrists – specifically the inner side of the wrist, and I can’t touch my inner-wrist without feeling sick. Why? Only the devil knows. I’m also afraid that we’re all in a computer simulation and none of this is real and it doesn’t mean anything. Just the fun stuff…

CB: What draws you to dark fiction?

EH: It allows you to explore aspects of the world and the self in curious forms. We all have darkness within us – some more extreme than others, and the world is a dark place. It’s odd because I’ve never been attracted to horror – not to the blood, guts, gore and ghosts, and yet I’m drawn to dark elements of the everyday. I enjoy weird fiction, which has elements of dark and light. An everyday setting but there’s something not quite right going on, and no explanation is offered.

I’ve actually spoken to my mum about the writing I did when I was a kid and she said it always had some strange, dark element to it. Maybe it’s a subconscious pull that I have no control over and that I return to again and again.

CB: How does the darkness in your piece enhance the work?

EH: In the piece published by you lovely lot at Coffin Bell – ‘Pericardium’ – darkness makes itself known in different forms. There’s the darkness of death that has a hold on each character, and then there’s the darkness, or perhaps, the weirdness of the unknown; the young girl who truly believes the snake that lives in the floorboards is the embodiment of her deceased mother, and the curiosity of her brother who tries to solve the puzzle of it all. It opens the reader up to different questions about what is real and what isn’t, and whether truth is as important as belief. I don’t have the answers actually, and when I wrote that piece I never came to a conclusion about the snake or its origins. It exists, just as darkness does, creeping ever closer.

CB: How important are your surroundings when you write?

EH: Not massively important, though I find I can’t write with noise from the television or from close-by conversations overheard in coffee shops because I’m easily distracted. Music works for me, but sometimes I need absolute silence. Where I write is ever changing, though a coffee shop or my room is probably the place I spend the most time doing my best work. I have a specific seat in my local coffee shop that seems to bring me inspiration and often won’t go in the coffee shop to write if someone is sat in it.

CB: Do you use any sources for your material aside from experience?

EH: All the time. Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. I’m quite visual when I write, and often pretend I’m filming the scene I’m trying to get down on paper, which can end up with me telling the reader everything rather than showing them. Art is a great source too, even just the mood of a piece can give me an idea for material.

CB: Where can we find more of your work?

EH: Here: emilyharrisonwrites.com.