Author Emma Healey’s visit to the Wigtown Book Festival last week had the air of a family pilgrimage about it.
The 29-year-old from London was in the town to speak about her sensational debut novel ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ in the shadow of the County Buildings, where her grandfather Irvine McDavid served as town clerk from 1948 to 1962.
In front of a packed audience in the McNeillie marquee, this engaging and composed young woman spoke of her feelings of disbelief through bemusment then delight when a bidding war erupted among publishers vying to publish her book. A TV drama based on the critically acclaimed novel is now in the pipeline. A slightly gobsmacked Emma let slip she was in the surreal position of being consulted about which acting titan she would prefer to play the book’s main character Maud - Judi Dench or Stephanie Cole?
Emma’s starting point for Maud was her paternal grandmother who suffered from dementia, and as the book is written in the first person, she somehow had to get inside the head of a dementia sufferer and think and act as they did. Copious reading on the subject lit her path when writing but as the book goes back and forth between two timelines she also had to cross reference both strands of her novel till the competed book dovetailed seamlessly. That was done with the attention to detail of a perfectionist.
During the writing phase, she told her audience that she knew she was on the right track when her grandmother read an excerpt from the book and, after an awkward silence, turned to her grand-daughter to admit: “I don’t want to read anymore, it’s too real.”
Surrounded by many members of the McDavid clan, her father’s family from Creetown, Emma said she was thrilled to be back in the area where she spent many family holidays and to Wigtown in particular.
After such a stunning success with her first book, the world of literature will now be waiting with bated breath to see what Emma does next.