When she isn’t writing, Emma Carroll teaches English part-time at a secondary school in Devon. She has also worked as a news reporter, an avocado picker and the person who punches holes into filofax paper. She recently graduated with distinction from Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing For Young People. ‘Frost Hollow Hall’ is Emma’s debut novel for Faber. Told in the distinctive voice of Tilly Higgins, it was inspired by a winter’s day from Emma’s childhood.
Currently, Emma is working on her second novel. It is set in a Victorian circus. In another life she wishes she’d written ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Emma lives in the Somerset hills with her husband and two terriers.
Why did you want to write this book?
The idea came to me one day when I was driving across the Somerset Levels. I remembered a time in my childhood when the floodwater froze very hard and we went skating on it. We were allowed to because the water wasn’t deep. This then got me thinking… what if the water was deep? What if the ice was thin? If you went under the ice what would it be like? What would you see? I then did a task on my MA course where we had to write about our character crossing over into another world. I wrote about a girl who falls through ice on a frozen lake and is saved by the spirit of a drowned boy. Very quickly this became Frost Hollow Hall.
Did you have to do a lot of research for Frost Hollow Hall?
Yes and no. Quite a bit I already knew because I teach Victorian Literature to A level students, so I’d already done a lot of reading. There was still plenty of research to do though, things like: how much would a maid earn? What would house staff eat? Which winters were cold in the 19th century? How do you conduct a séance? It was great because my research findings often threw up other potential storylines. The scarlet fever ‘incident’- spoiler alert!- came after reading about a family who lost all their eight daughters to scarlet fever within a month.
So which character is closest to you?
Definitely Tilly. It’s my grandmother’s name and what I’d have called my daughter if I’d had one. Tilly is a bit braver than me, but also she has that bolshy way with her. I was constantly told I was like this as a child- actually, I still am a bit! Tilly also gets jealous of her family’s dynamic. I think anyone with a sibling has felt that rivalry. And yet Tilly is very loyal to those she loves and is determined to do her best. Unlike Tilly, I am very close to my mum, who is absolutely lovely and nothing like Ma in the book.
I’m giving you a free platform to talk about anything – GO:
I love the smell of my dogs’ paws. They smell like biscuits. I think they do it on purpose just to make me love them more.
What do you think are the differences between UK and US YA?
I’m no expert on YA so I’d say movie adaptations. Successful US YA books seem to get the film deals, whereas UK ones don’t so much.
If you could, what would you want to ask your readers?
Should there be a sequel to Frost Hollow Hall? If so, what would you like to happen in it?
What’s the scariest thing about being a writer?
Not having enough time. I work quite slowly and like to have thinking space, so if I’m pushed for time, this can keep me awake at night. Also the reception of your book- what if no-one likes it? How will I react to bad reviews? And yes sales do matter; if no-one buys it, the chances of that second book-deal begin to wane.
And the best?
Gosh, there are so many. Working from home so I can start + finish when I want, having my dogs with me all day, getting totally lost in a story world, having a focus and purpose to my creativity, pushing myself, achieving something remarkable. But what’s absolutely best of all is when readers- children especially- tell you they’ve loved your book.
What did you do the first time you saw Frost Hollow Hall in a bookshop?
I squealed and took a picture of it, then sent it to my mum!
Can you tell us what’s next? (pretty please!)
My next book for Faber is set in a Victorian circus, and is about a girl whose hero is the tightrope walker Blondin. She dreams of being famous like him. Eventually her dream comes true. She crosses the Atlantic to perform at Niagara Falls, where her dream turns into a nightmare.
Luna: That sounds epic!
The gates to Frost Hollow Hall loomed before us. They were great tall things, the ironwork all twisted leaves and queer-looking flowers. And they were very definitely shut.
Tilly’s heart sinks. Will’s at the door of their cottage, daring her to come ice-skating up at Frost Hollow Hall. No one goes near the place these days. Rumour has it that the house is haunted… Ten years ago the young heir, Kit Barrington, drowned there in the lake. But Tilly never turns down a dare.
Then it goes horribly wrong. The ice breaks, Tilly falls through and almost drowns. At the point of death, a beautiful angel appears in the water and saves her. Kit Barrington’s ghost.
Kit needs Tilly to solve the mystery of his death, so that his spirit can rest in peace. In order to discover all she can, Tilly gets work as a maid at Frost Hollow Hall. But the place makes her flesh crawl. It’s all about the dead here, she’s told, and in the heart of the house she soon discovers all manner of dark secrets…
Tea or Coffee?
Can you recommend a book to read?
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
You can have one superpower, what would you like?
To make cups of tea appear by my bed every morning.
One thing you couldn’t write without?
What word describes you best?
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
I’m a cancer survivor.
When no one is watching do you dance?
Totally. But then I do it when people are watching too. I have no shame.
Do you ever re-arrange book displays in bookshops?
Ummm… yes. A few weeks ago in Waterstones Piccadilly we put a copy of FHH on the shelf and took a pic, just to see what it’d look like.
What’s the perfect cure to a bad day?
And finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do?
Where d’you get your hair done?