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Emma Viskic: Words and Music

Posted 24th Aug 2017

‘An Australian thriller at its finest. A captivating read from first page to last’ – Jane Harper, author of The Dry

Resurrection Bay, Emmma Viskic’s startlingly original debut is out now. We couldn’t be more excited to share this outstanding thriller with you all, and to whet your appetite, read on for Emma’s musings on how her training as a classical musician has informed her fiction writing.

Writing and music have always been the twin pillars of my life. As a teenager, I wrote the usual bad poetry, read the usual good books, and listened to the not-quite-so-usual good music. I wasn’t into punk, or grunge, or even jazz and blues – I loved classical music. My understaffed and over-populated high school didn’t run to a music program, but my parents eventually found a nearby music school that offered tuition in a handful of instruments. I tried the clarinet and fell in love.

I may have been smitten by the clarinet, but it was an unrequited love for a long time. I couldn’t read music, or coordinate my fingers. Worst of all, instead of the warm chocolate tone that I’d heard in recordings, I made sounds like a dying cow. But I persevered, and eventually went on to study music and become a professional musician. It took a lot of work to get from those first, terrible sounds to being a proficient player. Thousands of hours of scales and exercises. But all those hours taught me more than just how to play the clarinet, they taught me about the wonders of practice. Practice is a simple equation: you begin by being bad at something, and get better when you work at it. Which was a huge relief to remember when, at age thirty, I tried to write a book.

I had a long history of childhood stories and half-finished novellas, but that manuscript was my first attempt at writing a novel. It was terrible. The finished manuscript was written equivalent of those tortured sounds I’d first made on the clarinet. I didn’t know how to fix the writing, but I did know how to practise. I kept going, writing short stories and another full-length manuscript, and slowly came to realise that words were just a different kind of music.

In my years as a musician, I’ve played everything from Mozart, to wild and wonderful contemporary pieces, and every one of them taught me about the importance of rhythm. Rhythm is everything in music. An extra note, or a too-long phrase, makes the listener stumble, like someone tripping on a bump in the pavement. My early attempts at writing hadn’t worked because I hadn’t found the right rhythm. I began reading my work out loud, adding a word here, an entire chapter there, until the words flowed smoothly. Eventually, I felt confident enough to begin what was to become my debut novel, Resurrection Bay. Writing Resurrection Bay was a hard slog at times, but I could feel where the beats were meant to land. I knew when to increase the tempo, and when to slow it down, when to cut characters and words and entire chapters.

I’m currently in the early stages of writing my third novel. And it’s terrible. The prose is awkward and uneven, and the chapters misshapen. But I know that if I keep going, I’ll eventually find the music in the words.

Want more from Emma? Get your hands on Resurrection Bay with free UK postage on the Pushkin shop now >