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Travel makes bestselling author's heart grow fonder for Falmouth home

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 10, 2011

Bestselling author Emily Barr relaxes beside Falmouth harbour, where she has set scenes in her latest novel The First Wife PICTURE: Emily Whitfield-Wicks

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It is hard to imagine Emily Barr having writer's block. She has written a novel a year for the past ten years, ever since she splashed onto the bestseller lists with Backpack, inspired by her round-the-world trip as a twenty-something.

Yet here she is, revealing over coffee and cake in a Falmouth tea shop, that even she falls prey to that great procrastination demon, the internet.

"My whole life has been revolutionised by this software that stops you going online," she says. "I set it for how long I want to write for, two hours say, and I sit there with lots of coffee and just keep writing."

Emily, who lives in Falmouth with her husband and three children, Gabe, nine, Seb, seven and Lottie, five, has found keeping on schedule even more of a battle during the summer holidays as she works to meet an end of September deadline for her next book.

"It has been really hard," she admits. "I have been getting up before them at six and getting in a couple of hours writing, and I give myself a word count. Six weeks is a really long time, but if I do 1,000 words a day that is 42,000 words which makes a massive difference."

All this comes as a bit of a surprise, because Emily's novels, described as "sleep-sabotagingly moreish" by Cosmopolitan magazine, read like they flow onto the keyboard.

Her tenth novel The First Wife, out in paperback this week, is true to form, a tensely plotted thriller set in Falmouth and, more exotically Barcelona, where Emily spent longer than expected on a research trip after the volcanic ash cloud halted flights.

It tells the story of Lily, a young woman left to fend for herself after the death of her grandparents, who falls under the spell of dazzling celebrity couple Harry and Sarah Summers.

When Sarah kills herself while the couple are away in Barcelona, Lily comforts the distraught Harry, and the pair fall in love. But as their wedding day approaches, Lily starts to suspect that there is more to Sarah's death than meets the eye, and flies out to Barcelona to seek out the truth.

Without giving too much away, I'll just say that Harry turns out not to be such a charmer after all.

"Before I got the software blocking me on the internet I spent a bit too much time on the mumsnet website reading about people's terrible relationships and that set me off on that route of the idea of someone very charming who isn't really like that underneath," says Emily.

Her heroine, Lily, was originally "much tougher" and was living on the streets.

"But that didn't work, and then the idea of somebody who had led a completely sheltered life came to me in the bath. I had to write every single word, but it just felt right."

Emily's career in "chick lit" took off when she gave up a job as a columnist on the sports pages of The Guardian newspaper to go travelling and write about it for the paper. She met husband-to-be James in Tibet – the Chinese authorities inadvertently helped their relationship along by insisting travellers stayed together.

The novel inspired by the trip, Backpack, which won the WH Smith "new talent" competition, was published in the year her first child was born.

Emily and her family took off to live in south west France for a few years, and she wove the experiences into books Plan B and Out of My Depth. But with son Gabe unhappy with the rigid teaching in his French school, the family were desperate to return to England.

They chose Falmouth after falling in love with the town when visiting friends. Emily's husband teaches in the town and the family have just bought their own home overlooking the docks. Now approaching her landmark 40th birthday, Emily still has wanderlust, although she says she'll always come back home to Falmouth.

A recent trip to a Malaysian island, inspired for her work-in-progress, "a bit of a desert island thriller". And she plans to take her husband and children with her on her next trip, a summer of backpacking around Thailand. She's just sure there's a book in it.

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