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Looking for Emily by Fiona Longmuir

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Looking for Emily

By Fiona Longmuir

Just like the book itself, the story of Looking for Emily starts with the discovery of a strange little museum. When my partner and I go on holiday, we like to look for the most obscure local museum we can find. In Bratislava, we visited the clock museum. It was a weird little dream of a building, all strange angles and spindly staircases, scattered ticking bouncing off elaborately wallpapered walls. I snapped a photo of the building, narrow and yellow as a pat of butter, and I thought that looks like something straight out of a storybook.

I started to turn over the idea of a story set around a museum in my mind. I could picture a glossy green door, a stamped brass sign, a spiral staircase. The entire fictional seaside town of Edge grew out of that door. At first, I was playing with the idea of a museum of lost things and that became the museum of a lost person – an ordinary little girl called Emily. When I started writing, I didn’t have much more than that. I walked directly in the footsteps of my main character, twelve-year-old Lily, discovering alongside her who Emily was, why she disappeared and who created the secret museum filled with her things.

This, I should stress, is not a sensible way to go about writing a mystery novel. Ideally, the writer should know exactly what is going on in their story, as this makes it significantly easier to arrange all the people and plot points where you need them. Unfortunately, this has never been how I draft. I love the excitement of uncovering the story, of racing to the next chapter to find out what happens. And if the price for that is a first draft with plotholes you could drive a truck through, I can live with that for the sake of the fun.

I was on submission with a young adult book the first time someone suggested I try writing for a younger age group. So I tried it. And it worked. Someone much cleverer than me once talked about feeling the snick in their writing. You know, the sound of a key slotting into a lock, or a magnetic case snapping shut. Something clicking exactly into place. That’s how I felt when I started drafting Looking for Emily. I was a voracious reader when I was ten. Lots of us were. In fact, most of us never read again the way we did when we were ten. The books we read at that time shape us and change us in ways we don’t even notice at the time, but more important than that: they’re just fun. Reading is a total joy, yet to be dimmed by competitive reading challenges or stacks of academic books or the vague notion that reading is “productive”. So when I sat down to write Looking for Emily, that was my focus. To write something I would have loved to read. To write something fun.

I finished the first draft of Looking for Emily as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge in 2018. I’d love to be one of those solid, sensible writers who writes a thoughtful paragraph every day and slowly builds themselves a book. But the truth is, I’m essentially a large toddler, who is motivated by community, badges and charts, so splurging out 50,000 words in a single month works for me. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo six times in total, racking up more than a quarter of a million words. That blows my mind a little, even when taking into account that many of them are not very good words and some are probably not words at all. By the end of the month, I’m usually so sick of looking at the thing that there’s only one thing to do: stick it in a drawer to ripen for a couple of months. I close my laptop, I put up my Christmas tree and busy myself with drinking cider and ransacking selection boxes until the new year. Then I dig the book back out and see if I still like it.

I liked Looking for Emily. I polished it up, darned my potholes as best I could and started querying it with agents. It must have passed across fifty desks without success. I was shortlisted in the Joan Aiken Future Classics prize and for that, I won a precious hour of agent Julia Churchill’s time. She liked the book but she didn’t have the capacity to take it on. But she gave me an astonishingly brilliant piece of feedback.

“It’s weird,” she told me, “It won’t be for everyone. But it’ll be for someone.”

I kept looking for my someone.

Then in May 2020, two months into a global pandemic, stuck far away from my entire family, too afraid to open the windows of our tiny London flat, my someone slid into my Twitter DMs. I’d posted a single tweet synopsis of the book, to support WriteMentor’s WMPitch event. And that tweet somehow landed in the eyeline of Tom Bonnick, Senior Commissioning Editor at Nosy Crow. He liked the tweet. He wanted to read the book. He liked that too.

I crossed the Kingsland Road in my pandemic tracksuit and dazedly stumbled into the little Turkish newsagents across the road. I went to the counter and pointed to a gleaming bottle, nestled high in the corner.

“Can I have that bottle of Moet, please?”

I’m sure the woman thought I had lost my mind. God only know how long that bottle had been gathering dust up there, waiting for someone to have urgent champagne-worthy news that couldn’t withstand the walk along the road to Sainsbury’s.

There have been many champagne-worthy moments since. And writing this, one week out from my publication date, I hope there will be many more.

(c) Fiona Longmuir

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About Looking for Emily:

Looking for Emily

A hugely gripping, fast-paced mystery adventure, with brilliant twists and turns, from a fresh and exciting new voice in children’s books.

When twelve-year-old Lily moves to the sleepy seaside town of Edge, she’s sure that nothing exciting is ever going to happen to her again. But when she stumbles upon a secret museum hidden in the middle of town, she realises that there might be more to her new home than meets the eye.

The Museum of Emily is filled with the belongings of one seemingly ordinary girl – a girl who, many years ago, disappeared from the town without a trace. With the help of her new friends Sam and Jay, Lily is determined to solve the mystery and find out who Emily was, why she disappeared and who has created the strange, hidden museum.

With a one-of-a-kind mystery, a brilliant trio of protagonists, and an action-filled story, Looking for Emily is the unmissable middle grade debut of 2022.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Fiona Longmuir was born in Paisley, Scotland. Shortly after, she picked up a pencil and never really put it back down. She writes stories about stubborn, oddball kids, having had a lot of personal experience in this area. Her novels have been shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award and the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize. Fiona now lives in the Irish countryside with her brilliant partner and their very surly rabbit.

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