Emily Koch – Q&A

Emily Koch is the author of If I Die Before I Wake and Keep Him Close. Her latest novel, What July Knew, was published by Harvill Secker on 9 February 2023.

Emily kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about What July Knew.

It’s a coming-of-age mystery set in the mid 90s about a girl who is trying to find out what happened to her mother, who died when she was very young. I had a lot of fun with the 90s nostalgia – there’s lava lamps, Flumps, and Judy Blume novels… it’s all in there! Ten-year-old July was a wonderful character to write – I fell in love with her and early readers have been very taken with her, too. She doesn’t have an easy life, but she tries to make the best of it, and if I’ve done a good job you’ll be rooting for her all the way through the book. 

2. What inspired the book?

As much as I love her, the novel didn’t actually start with July. It began with two other people – my former next door neighbour Nikki, and a man I’ve never met, called Bijan Ebrahimi.  

One day, several years ago, I heard a heavily pregnant Nikki cry out through the party wall separating our houses. I thought I was going to have to have to deliver her baby. Later, when it became clear I had overreacted, I began to wonder: what if…? I can’t tell you any more without spoilers!  

Another few years before that, in 2013, I was working as a journalist at the Bristol Post, when we broke an horrific story about the murder of a man who was beaten unconscious then set alight by a vigilante mob who wrongly believed he was a paedophile. For seven years, the victim had reported death threats, assault, harassment, criminal damage and racial abuse. His name was Bijan Ebrahimi.  

Nikki and Bijan had nothing to do with each other, but as the years passed, the ideas they had given me began to intertwine. It is their combination that forms the events at the heart of What July Knew. What happens when communities get the wrong idea about one of their own? What happens when neighbours turn on each other? What is the fallout of vigilante justice? 

3. What advice would you give to new writers?

Keep reading, keep writing. Those are the basics! That’s the only way to improve your writing. Think about joining a writing group to share your work, or going on a course – it doesn’t have to be a long one, maybe just a one off evening event somewhere. Try and find your tribe – other writers. If you can’t find any near to where you live, consider joining Twitter and explore the #writingcommunity hashtag – it’s a very friendly place.  

4. You can live in one fictional world. Which one would you choose?

The first one that came to my mind was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I thought, I can’t put that down! That’s too weird. Who would want to live in a world that had been devastated by a pandemic, which had killed most of the population?! But as it was the first one to come to mind, I’ll stick with it. I adored this novel. I am in awe at how Mandel creates this world and I am morbidly fascinated by it. As a (sane) human this is absolutely the last place I’d want to be, but as an author, I am strangely drawn to it. 

5. Is there a book you’d wish you’d written?

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It’s genius!  

6. What is it you love the most about writing?

Two things – when it is all going well and I’m in the flow with the writing, and I feel like I’m working on something brilliant (even if just for about a minute), that is the best feeling in the world. Closely followed by a reader writing to me, or speaking to me at an event, and telling me how much they’ve loved my books. Even, at times, telling me that one of my books is a favourite of theirs. It’s an incredible honour to be able to connect with people in that way. 

To find out more visit Emily’s website.

You can also be in with the chance to win a signed copy of the book if you sign up to Emily’s newsletter before 1 April 2023. Click here to sign up.

About the Book


Like number thirteen: she loved dancing on the kitchen table. And number eight: she was covered in freckles.

And then there’s number two: she died after being hit by a car when July was small.

She keeps this list hidden in a drawer away from her father. Because they’re not allowed to talk about her mother. Ever.

But an anonymous note slipped into July’s bag on her tenth birthday is about to change everything she thinks she knows about her mum.

Determined to discover what really happened to her, July begins to investigate, cycling around the neighbourhood where her family used to live. There she meets someone who might finally have the answers.

July wants her family to stop lying to her, but will the truth be harder to face?

You can buy a copy of the book here.

(This is an affiliate link so I may earn a small amount should you buy through it. You can also buy What July Knew from your local independent bookshop).

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