A debut novel: Emma Brand talks creativity, revenge and hot chocolate

We caught up with alumna Emma Brand (BA (Hons) Film, Radio & Television Studies 2005) just after the publication of her debut novel Dial One for Revenge – a young adult supernatural mystery with LGBTQ themes and a clever, gripping premise – to find out more about the writing process, how FRTV studies influenced Emma’s career path and what is next for her!

Could you give us a brief career history since graduating from CCCU?

After I graduated, I worked in TV for a period of years; including co-ordinating bookings for a post-production/voice over company. I then moved into office management for a French based disability charity, and followed my interest and passion for working with people to a local authority supporting Deaf and Deafblind adults. I also qualified as a counsellor in 2018 and find supporting and working with people to explore their mental health incredibly rewarding. 

Have you always been a creative person and when did you start writing?

As a child, I would often get lost in stories and writing as a form of escape and had a vivid imagination, putting on plays and taking part in performing arts to immerse myself in different perspectives. Particularly in my teenage years, exploring my identity and sexuality I looked for representation and people I could identify and relate to in my writing. During the pandemic, my love and passion for writing re-ignited and I found spending time in lockdown writing and world-building a very comforting and therapeutic process.

Where did the ideas and concept for the book come from, and what was your interest in writing for young adults?

I have always found the concept of revenge interesting, and as a young adult I spent a lot of time and energy wanting ‘revenge’ on those I felt had wronged me. As I reflected on this further, my feelings linked to revenge and forgiveness evolved. I wanted to write a story about how revenge can be fluid; feelings can change, and that is OK. To not give your emotional time and energy to those who no longer deserve a place at your table. I feel young adults are going through a lot – discovering themselves, processing trauma or challenging times and I wanted to write a story younger me could have found reassuring and to offer a different perspective. 

What kind of response have you had from your young readers (and adults!)?

I feel incredibly honoured that people have taken time to read my story, and have had such thoughtful responses. It means more than I could put into words. A lot of people have fed back that they enjoyed the characters’ journeys; and that the queer identities in the book are just ‘part of the story’ and not the whole focus. As I have a sweet tooth I love to write about cakes/chocolate, and a few people said reading the book made them want to get hot chocolates and cake which made me smile! 

How did you find the writing process? What did you learn and what were the challenges?

I found the writing process challenging at times, but I loved all the lessons that came along the way. I learned editing can be very difficult, but seeking feedback and input from others a step removed can be refreshing and important to hone your manuscript and have that constructive insight. I also struggled at times with wanting to keep in certain characters and scenes, but they ultimately didn’t work with the journey of the story. I made sure I kept these scenes and characters somewhere else so I could weave them into another story. Some of the characters in Dial One For Revenge were from another story I had written years before!

This is your debut novel. What advice and tips would you give to a budding writer?

As a new writer, I am very much still learning – what I would say helped me is; if I am struggling to write or have a block, I am not too hard on myself. I will take a break and look for inspiration elsewhere – I love people watching, sitting in cafes and walking in nature. I can then come back afresh to the process which has definitely been helpful. I would also say to keep reading, even genres you may not usually read and network with other writers who share your passion.

Did you enjoy your time at CCCU? Do you have any fond memories of studying here?

Coming to CCCU changed my life in so many ways – from the friends I have made, the experiences I had discovering myself and the course which I adored. I stayed in Lang Hall in my first year; and loved the camaraderie with the others on the floors. From the various film shoots, being an usher at graduations, to being involved in the Cinderella pantomime with my friends, I have memories to last a lifetime. I also remember my first day arriving being terrified; but my parents told me to keep my door open and share biscuits. I never looked back! 

Did your course influence your career options or your writing, or was there a best piece of advice you got while you were here?

Doing the Film Radio and Television course kept me connected with my creative process, and was the first career I stepped into. Making television which impacted others was something that really excited me, which then transitioned into my writing as I love to connect with others through creative mediums. I thought my lecturers were all fantastic, but I particularly remember Karen Shepherdson – her tenacity and passion is something I have taken with me ever since. 

And finally, what is next for you?

I have a new idea for a story I am working on which is a rom-com, and I will continue my passions for writing and mental health. It’s been a journey I’ve loved to be on and I am so grateful and excited for what the future holds.