Lewes Author Emily Edwards On Her Latest Novel, The Herd


Lewes-based author Emily Edwards chats to Denise Tyler about writing during a pandemic, tackling ethical issues and returning to Sussex

The Herd describes the devastating fallout between friends after a white lie about childhood vaccination proves catastrophic. As a new parent yourself, how difficult was it to write the very challenging scenes in The Herd affecting small children?

I go into a bit of a weird space when I’m in an intense writing zone and I was also writing The Herd during the first lockdown while I was pregnant with our second son. I often find it emotional and can be quite difficult to be around. I feel a lot of emotion for the characters, but I’m also aware that there’s another chapter coming so there’s a very practical mindset as well that needs to make sure the pace of the book is maintained and that my characters are going where I need them to go in order for the story to develop.

The Herd

You started writing The Herd before the pandemic and finished writing it in lockdown; how much did talk of Covid vaccines and herd immunity influence its progress?  

Originally, I set the book in 2020, but I realised I couldn’t set my book then and not mention Covid so my agent suggested I set it in 2019, which I did. It ends just before Christmas in 2019 and I remember having this sense of doom for my characters thinking ‘they’ve got Covid just round the corner!’ I remember whilst I was writing it we were all so desperate for a Covid vaccine and because I didn’t have a publishing contract in place – I was writing it speculatively – I was very much wondering ‘who is going to want to read about vaccination whilst we’re all going through all of this?’ It was either going to be on point or a bit like ‘let’s talk about something else now’ so I’m glad now that it’s about childhood vaccination rather than Covid.

Your books tackle big ethical issues – how important is it that you promote discussion in your books?

This is definitely a niche that I’m going to continue writing in; I recently signed to write two further books with my publisher Transworld and I’m going to continue in this vein. If I’m going to spend however many years writing a book, I want to make sure I’m interested in the subject and that I’m going to learn something from it. I’m sure all writers learn from their subjects in different ways, but it’s also the stuff we find hardest to talk about that we find so fascinating. Vaccination is one of those subjects, so what I’m trying to do with my writing is have those conversations with myself and my characters but also with the reader.

Did writing the book help you work through your own thoughts and feelings about vaccination?

We did have a big question mark when we had our first son about whether or not to vaccinate. My husband was clearer on it than me, but he knew it was important for me to make that decision for myself so yes, it helped to do the research. We decided very early on to vaccinate and will continue to do so for both our sons.

Lewes is home

Where do you like to go as a family in Sussex?

We take the boys to Drusilla’s and Washbrooks Farm and recently we got a battery-operated cargo bike so we can put both the boys on the back and go up into the Downs for picnics. It’s a gamechanger as the boys are too big at two and four to be carried long distances, but they’re too small to go for a long walk so this way we can go as far as we like. When James and I do get to go out we like a trip to The Depot every now and then to see a film. I like to sea swim on my own whenever I can and I run on the Downs, which is often where I find I have good ideas for writing; I’ll often go specifically to work through a problem I have with a scene.

Why did Lewes appeal to you when you were looking to move out of London?

I was actually born in Rodmell, but we moved away when I was five due to my parents’ work. They’ve always had a great fondness for Sussex and some of my earliest memories are of things like the feel of a flint wall and the malty smell from the Harveys brewery and that came back to me really strongly when we visited Lewes again 30 years later! It was just supposed to be for a year, but it’s nearly six years now.

The Herd is out in paperback now and is a Richard and Judy pick. See more at emilyelgaredwards.co.uk

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