Emily Barr on her scorching new YA thriller, This Summer’s Secrets
"It started to look like one of those murder noticeboards they have in crime dramas."
If you’re in the market for a gripping new thriller read (and aren’t we all?) look no further than Emily Barr’s new YA thriller, This Summer’s Secrets. With murder, lies, love, loss and plenty of dangerous secrets, This Summer’s Secrets is the ideal read for a sunny afternoon spent within the pages of a book and to celebrate its release, we had the chance to chat to Emily all about it.
Hi Emily! We’re so happy to have the chance to talk to you today about your new YA thriller, This Summer’s Secrets. For readers just hearing about it, how would you best entice them to pick up a copy in just five words?
Hello! Thank you for talking to me.
Five words! Right: Heatwave, love, murder, secrets, Cornwall.
Or if you want five words that work as a sentence: What’s the dog dug up?
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind This Summer’s Secrets?
I’ve lived in Cornwall for the past 15 years, and my teen children have grown up here. I love thrillers, and one day idly thought that it would be fun to write something Agatha Christie inspired, but with teens, and set round here. Then the idea stuck in my head and I found myself expanding on it mentally as I wandered around and did other things. As soon as I mentioned it to my editor she said ‘yes, do that’, and I was away. I was particularly inspired by the way teens round here often meet up by getting the bus to the beach (or walking, depending where they live), and just hanging out there with their friends all day, in summer and particularly post-exams. There’s a lot of that going on in the book.
This Summer’s Secrets is the latest in your (luckily for us) long list of YA thriller novels. What is it about the genre that keeps pulling you back to write more?
I love reading thrillers, and I think that’s why I enjoy writing them so much. My favourite thing as a reader is being surprised by a twist: I think writers often see twists coming and when I don’t it makes my day. My aim is to surprise readers, and to write a book I’d like to read. As for the YA part of it, I love writing for teens and with teen protagonists. Although I am long past that age myself, I can vividly remember my teenage life, and have lots of young people in my life who are happy to consult.
Filled with secrets, lies and mystery, your thrillers have so many layers to them. Can you share a little about your process and approach to writing a thriller?
I love the intricacies of plotting thrillers. I often change the ending of a story from one draft to the next: for example, with Ghosted, the culprit changed from the first draft my editor read to the second, because I realised that since I’d known the killer’s identity all along I’d been subconsciously signposting it. Then I switched it to another character, reworked things a bit, and left the original one in there as a red herring (sorry if this sounds mysterious: I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve read it you’ll know what I mean).
With This Summer’s Secrets, I had to work really hard with the layers of plot as there are things happening across three different time periods and from four different viewpoints, so I had a huge chart with colour-coded highlights all over it, and lists who was what age when. It started to look like one of those murder noticeboards they have in crime dramas.
The novel weaves together narrations from three different time frames. Which was your favourite to write?
I enjoyed writing all of them: I loved switching between them, as moving to a different time strand invariably brought a whole new writing energy. However, I think the one I had most fun with was the 1940s. I’ve never written anything set historically before — at least, not in a time before I was alive — and it was a brilliant new experience. I read up a lot on the experiences of children who were evacuated to Cornwall, and specifically the seventeen who went to Lanhydrock House, now a National Trust property. There’s a part of me that’s now wondering about writing a Victorian YA story set there . . . but anyway! I also loved revisiting the 80s, because who doesn’t love a bit of 80s?
We’re always on the hunt for our next thrilling read. Are there any recent or upcoming YA thriller releases – besides your own! – that you think need to be on everyone’s TBR’s?
There are so many amazing YA thrillers out there! Off the top of my head I’ve loved: everything by Karen McManus, Win Lose Kill Die by Cynthia Murphy, Afterlove by Tanya Byrne, Someone is Watching You by Tess James-Mackey, The King is Dead by Benjamin Dean, and everything by Patrice Lawrence. There are so many more on my TBR pile too!
Finally, are you currently working on anything new and if so, is there anything you can share with us?
There is! I’m currently writing a slightly supernatural YA thriller set partly in Venice, and luckily for me am about to head off there for a very quick research trip. This one doesn’t currently have a title, but will be published in 2024.
I’m also co-writing a TV series of my YA novel Ghosted, which is a new fun thing — watch this space.
Get your copy of This Summer’s Secrets by Emily Barr here.