The House on Rockaway Beach by Emma Burstall was published by Aria on 13 April 2023.
Emma kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The House on Rockaway Beach.
Sisters Sophie and Celia haven’t been on speaking terms for years. So it’s a huge shock when they discover their grandmother has left them her quirky old house on Rockaway Beach, New York. Together they travel to Rockaway, and they can’t agree on anything. Sophie wants to keep the house, Celia wants to sell. It seems they’ll never see eye to eye until Sophie makes a shattering discovery that forces her to question everything.
My book is primarily the tale of these two, warring sisters, but it’s not just about sibling rivalry. It’s also about love, forgiveness, family secrets and faith versus fanaticism.
2. What inspired the book?
My older sister, Sarah, and her husband have a beautiful beach house on the Rockaway peninsula, which is surrounded by miles of golden sand, yet just a stone’s throw from the bright lights of Manhattan. I’ve spent many long, happy summers there with my three children, hanging out on the beach, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and taking ferry trips to Brooklyn and Manhattan.
I’m glad to say Sarah and I are very good friends, unlike the sisters in my book. But I wanted to write about a family with a complex history and loved the idea of setting my story in this fabulous place.
3. What advice would you give to new writers?
Just write! I know this sounds a bit trite, but while I was procrastinating over my first novel, someone pointed out that I’d never know if it was any good unless I put some words on the page!
You can spend hours agonising over one paragraph but in my view, it’s better to crack on with the story, then go back and polish later on.
4. You can live in one fictional world. Which one would you choose?
Ooh, I think I’d like to live in Mary’s world in The Secret Garden, a book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of discovering a hidden door, which leads to the most beautiful, secluded garden filled with roses. Here, spoiled, disagreeable Mary learns to love nature and wildlife and slowly begins to heal.
I’d like to be friends with the gentle Dickon, who has a way with animals. And I’d like to chat by the fireside with motherly Martha, while eating porridge with ‘A bit o’ treacle on it or a bit o’ sugar.’
5. Is there a book you’d wish you’d written?
Me Before You, by Jo Jo Moyes. I was blown away by the story. It tackles an incredibly difficult subject – assisted dying – with such a light touch. The author somehow manages to make the book funny, romantic and heart-wrenching all at the same time. I wept so much at the end that I could hardly see the page!
6. What is it you love the most about writing?
I love creating my own, imaginary worlds and dreaming up characters I’d like to meet in real life, plus some I’d definitely avoid! When my writing is going well and the words are flowing, I become so absorbed, someone could be shouting in my ear and I probably wouldn’t hear. Finding just the right word or set of words to describe what I want is also immensely satisfying. I try to make my prose sound normal, smooth and rolling, though I’ll occasionally throw in an unusual word or phrase to make the reader sit up!
About the Book
Sisters Sophie and Celia haven’t been on speaking terms for years. So it’s a huge shock when they discover their grandmother has left them her quirky old house on Rockaway Beach, New York.
Just a stone’s throw from the bright lights of Manhattan, they spent many idyllic summers there as children, swimming in the Atlantic ocean, playing in the sand and watching day trippers come and go. Then suddenly, the visits stopped. Sophie knows her mother and grandmother fell out, but has never found out why.
Together, the sisters return to Rockaway, and can’t agree on anything. Sophie wants to keep the house, Celia’s determined to sell. It seems they’ll never see eye to eye, until Sophie makes a shattering discovery that forces her to question everything…
You can buy a copy of the book here.
(This is an affiliate link so I may make a small amount should you purchase through it. You can also buy The House on Rockaway Beach from your local independent bookshop.)