PORT AUX BASQUES — Emily Hepditch is an award-winning author from Mount Pearl who found critical acclaim right out of the gate with her first thriller, The Woman in the Attic. Her debut novel recently won the 2021 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer’s Prize for Mystery, was the winner of NL Reads 2021, and was on the Atlantic Books Today Top Five list for an impressive ten months. The book also made the short-list for the 2021 Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence, and the long-list for the BMO Winterset Award.
Hepditch returned to Port aux Basques on Saturday, July 3 for a book signing session at the Butterfly Book Boutique to promote her latest thriller, Alone on the Trail.
She says she is not exactly sure when she decided to pursue writing professionally. There was no sudden, dramatic epiphany. Writing has always been a part of her life.
“It was just like I just wrote all the time, in my journals, stories in my own head, and it was something I was doing anyway. There came a point where I was just like, this is the thing that makes me the happiest. I do it all the time, and I’m just going to try and actually pursue this professionally,” shared the author.
Her first crack at writing a long piece was in Grade 7 or 8 and produced a 120-page fantasy novel. Her first typed novel came in Grade 9.
“Then I wrote a couple of other ones that will never see the light of day while I was in high school, and university as well,” offered Hepditch.
The Woman in the Attic was written near the end of her undergraduate degree. She was not sure what she wanted to do afterwards, but with two weeks left before graduation at the summer’s end, Hepditch knew if she did not make the leap into professional writing then she likely never would. With speed in mind, she remembered hearing that author Ian Fleming had written James Bond in only a matter of weeks using a strict writing method.
“I said, ‘OK, well it’s been done before, so I can do it myself.’ I had two weeks at the end of the summer, and I was like, ‘I can go out of town, be away from all distractions, and I can try and crank out as much as possible in these two weeks.’ I ended up being able to do it in eight and a half days,” recalled Hepditch.
The book was largely completed by the time she finished. After that came editing, with some scenes cut entirely, but nothing much added to the first draft afterwards.
Hepditch’s education likely helped. Her undergraduate honours degree was in Linguistics, Psychology, and Criminology at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. She had started university thinking she wanted to be a speech pathologist, but she naturally gravitated to psychology and criminology, which provided an excellent resource for an author of thrillers.
“It definitely makes it a little bit easier to create these characters in a way that is more representative of who they are. But I always try to keep a fictional thinking cap on, because I don’t want it to be too tethered in reality, because that’s a little less fun,” said Hepditch.
Both of her novels touch on a theme of isolation. The Woman in the Attic is set on the coast of rural Newfoundland, in a saltbox house in near total isolation by the sea. Alone on the Trail tells the story of a group of friends on a remote hiking trail in the Long Range Mountains.
“I just think that in isolation we really find out who we are, because when we’re around other people, we play different roles,” said Hepditch. “But when you’re in a place where you’re alone, with your own thoughts, that’s where you find out who you really are.”
Hepditch believes Newfoundland’s geography and history provides a perfect backdrop for suspenseful stories.
“We have such a beautiful, haunting landscape. So much of our historical architecture, like the saltbox homes, are so convenient for a thriller because they do have that spooky, old-time feel.”
Hepditch did not use the Fleming method for writing her second novel, instead choosing to take her time, as is her usual fashion. However, she is naturally a fast writer, and her new novel only took two and a half months to complete.
“I was less prone to overthinking with The Woman in the Attic, because I had such a deadline decided for myself. Whereas with Alone on the Trail, because I was taking my time, I had more time to overthink, and I had more time to add things and change things, you know, fret about all the details. So, there was benefits to both, but there were also challenges to both.”
The inspiration for her second book came when Heditch and some friends hiked Gros Morne Mountain.
“I had an idea to write a book about hiking, and once I went there and experienced the mountain, and how beautiful everything was, and how scary it kind of is. I knew what I wanted to write my next book about, and I knew wanted to set it there.”
With the first book proving to be an award-winning success, Hepditch felt some pressure while crafting her second novel.
“I was way more nervous for Alone on the Trail than I was for The Woman in the Attic,” admitted Hepditch. “It was a lot of fun, but very nerve-wracking.”
Beyond her future as a published author, Hepditch also has plans to attend law school in New Brunswick starting in September. She is not sure what area of law she will want to practice, though she is leaning towards intellectual property. In that field she will have the opportunity to help other artists protect their own works. Naturally, her future plans include writing more books, but not exclusively thrillers.
“I’ve always wanted to write an illustrated children’s book, so I’m working on one of those now, and I’m also working on another mystery. I’m not sure when it will be released. I plan to take my time with this one to see if a different type of writing style may make a difference, but there’s definitely a couple in the woodworks,” shared Hepditch.
For those thinking about writing their own books, Hepditch’s primary advice is to never give up.
“There are days that you’re going to want to pull out your hair, and say that this is never going to happen, but it will happen, but you got to have faith and keep trying.”