Please welcome Emma Chapman to the blog! She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her new book, HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE!
Your debut novel, HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE, will be out this month in the US! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
Marta has spent much of her adult life trying to be the perfect wife and mother, with an archaic guide, How To Be A Good Wife, as her guide. She has been married to Hector for so long she doesn’t remember much about her life before her marriage. As the book progresses, she begins to see strange things, or perhaps to remember them. These visions, or memories, start to make her question her husband Hector. It is up to the reader to decide whether the things she sees are real, or imagined.
I was inspired to write the book by a documentary I saw about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I was absolutely fascinated by severe cases of trauma where you can repress memories over twenty years, only to have them resurface later. When they do, you might not even be aware they relate to something you experienced. I wanted to explore the mind of a character who was experiencing this.
Your main character, Marta, is a wife whose structured world begins to come apart at the seams. Why do you think readers might connect and sympathize with Marta?
Marta is a very difficult character and she is not always likeable, but she is in a pretty difficult situation, whichever way you interpret the book. I wanted the sympathy the readers felt for her to be challenged throughout the novel. The reader’s doubts become more important as the book goes on.
I have to ask…how did you celebrate when you found out that How to be a Good Wife would be published?
I sometimes feel like I’m still celebrating. It took me a long time to get used to the idea that the book would actually be published, and I hope that feeling never ceases.
What is your writing process like?
When I was writing How To Be A Good Wife, I was working full-time, so I worked on the book before and after work and at the weekends. I didn’t plan the novel, and the momentum was driven by Marta’s voice. It required a lot of editing: plotting is what I find most difficult and what took up the most time.
What, or who, are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
In terms of writing style, How To Be A Good Wife was influenced by many books and things I had seen, including Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. In terms of subject matter, some influences were The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and The Feminine Mystique, a sociological text by Betty Friedan. In terms of writing role models, any one who works hard at their writing and takes it seriously inspires me.
What are you reading now?
I just started Richard Ford’s Canada, which I am already enjoying. Any book that makes me stop nitpicking and just enjoy the story is a triumph in my opinion.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Such a great question! I think maybe The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because it changed so much about the way I think about writing and women.
When you’re not working on your next project, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
I love going to restaurants, doing Yoga, spending time with friends and family, trying new things. We just moved to Jakarta, so I am currently enjoying getting to know the city, trying new foods, and learning the language.
You were raised in the UK, but now live in Indonesia. If someone were to visit you there for the first time, where would you take them?
We’ve only been there so two months, but the best place we’ve visited in and around Jakarta is Taman Safari Park. It’s an open plan safari park with pretty much no rules. The animals come up to the car windows and eat bananas out of your hands. Fun when it’s a monkey, not so fun when it’s a lion.
What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
This year and next, I hope to keep enjoying living in Jakarta. I would love to travel more in Asia, and also finish my second novel, which is about a war photographer during the Vietnam War.
About HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE:
Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending him off to life after university. So long, in fact, that Marta finds it difficult to remember her life before Hector. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife—as advised by a dog-eared manual given to her by Hector’s aloof mother on their wedding day.
But now, something is changing. Small things seem off. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye, elapsed moments that she can’t recall. Visions of a blonde girl in the darkness that only Marta can see. Perhaps she is starting to remember—or perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her. As Marta’s visions persist and her reality grows more disjointed, it’s unclear if the danger lies in the world around her, or in Marta herself. The girl is growing more real every day, and she wants something.