Blonde woman reading a paperback book on holiday, reclining on a wooden sunlounger in front of the sea

Book Club

Book Club: The Girl in the Letter


Emily Gunnis Author Q&A

Are you looking for that perfect book to get lost into, while you relax around your private pool? Turn your attention to Emily Gunnis’ compelling novel The Girl in the Letter.  Featuring a story that takes you from 1956 to the present day, this page-turner sees journalist Samantha Harper stumble across a letter that draws her into the past of a young mother. Heart-wrenching and though-provoking it’s a novel that’s set to stay with you long after you close its final chapter.

We asked author Emily Gunnis the inspiration behind her first novel…

The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis book cover

What inspired to you write the book?

My inspiration behind The Girl in the Letter was actually twins. A few years ago, I read an article about twins separated at birth that never knew about each other’s existence until they crossed paths by accident in their fifties. Despite having very different upbringings, they were shocked by how similar they were both physically in their mannerisms, and psychologically, in their outlook on life, and what careers/husbands they had been drawn to. I began thinking of a ‘what if’ backdrop for such a scenario and having recently seen The Magdalene Sisters and Philomena, I began researching the subject of mother and baby homes. I was shocked to read that – while the homes in Ireland had been widely reported – there were hundreds of homes in England that people didn’t seem to be aware of. Hundreds of thousands of women had had their children taken against their will, and no one ever seemed to have been held accountable – and so my revenge thriller/mystery began to take shape in my mind.

What research/travel did you have in order to write the book?

I learnt a huge amount about research whilst writing this book. Obviously, I couldn’t travel back in time and visit one of the homes, so I relied on talking to people who had been there. I also learnt the best way to get the most out of chatting to someone who is helping you with research is to let them take the lead. If you try and interview someone with a list of questions and the book already plotted out in your head you get very little out of it. But if you just have a chat, and see where the conversation takes you, then usually they give you some little snippets of something and you think oooooh that’s interesting, and you’re off. You can then go and do lots of reading and research around it. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learnt when creating your book?

How cruel the writing process is! One day, you wake up, and it’s like extracting teeth. Every word is painful, where it literally hurts to write anything. And at the end of it all, you are left traumatised with two or so pages that invariably aren’t very good. But I have learned there is a point to it, often you have cleared your mind in preparation for the days when you wake up and it flies. You sit for hours, not knowing where the day has gone.  And it’s your best work.  You feel like you are under a spell, where the story and character strands are twisting like snakes above your head, presenting themselves in the front of your mind just at the right moment to be slotted neatly into the story.

The hard days are necessary, because you need to have that painful day and pull away the debris to clear the road for a clear run.

What’s your favourite book to take on holiday?

I love nothing more than browsing WH Smith at Gatwick for my holiday read. It’s a rite of passage once you’ve checked your bags in and can finally relax. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction for research purposes for my books, so I love nothing more than grabbing the latest Nicci French, or Jodi Picoult or Marian Keyes at the airport and then dropping the kids off at kids club before settling down for a good reading session.

What would be your favourite destination to write about?

Probably Llangennith, in South Wales. The Gower Peninsula is absolutely stunning and one day I shall write a mystery that takes my characters there. It will be a good excuse to go back for a week and immerse myself in all the things I love about it. I have so many happy memories of family holidays there of surfing and walks to the pub and picnics on the beach.  It’s also home to the Worm’s Head, a rocky sea serpent connected by a spectacular natural bridge which gets cut off at high tide – so a wonderful backdrop for someone getting stranded

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers and authors?

Don’t be afraid to share your ideas. I am always really taken aback when people are cagey about putting their ideas out there. It’s only by thrashing ideas out that you get a feel for whether they work or not.  When you get goosebumps talking about it to people, and they seem to be really focused on what you’re saying then you know it’s a winner.  If however you drift off and lose your train of thought and the person opposite you is looking over your shoulder out of boredom then you probably know it’s not worth spending a year of your life writing the thing. Test it out first! No one is going to nick your idea, everything has been done before, it’s how you spin it that makes it fly.

Now you’ve got your perfect book, where you do want to spend your next holiday chapter? From gorgeous Greece to sizzling Spain we’ve got villas in so many dreamy destinations, so choose the one right for you!

Alice Allwright

Alice Allwright is a Marketing Communications Executive at James Villa Holidays.

See all articles by Alice Allwright

See all articles by Alice Allwright

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