Still Emily – Seeing Rainbows in the Silence
Interview by Julie King
Emily Owen is a Trustee of The Neuro Foundation and has a condition called NF2. She is a published author and inspirational speaker. Here she talks to Julie King about her latest book: her memoir, “Still Emily.”
Julie King: Emily, you must be really pleased with the response to your memoir: Still Emily – Seeing rainbows in the silence. It has received some excellent reviews and has had a profound effect on those who have read it; including myself, I might add. Why did you decide that now was the right time to share your journey?
Emily Owen: Basically, it was because someone at an event/signing looked at the books I’d already written and asked, “where is the one about you?” And I had to say “there isn’t one”. I’d said similar before but this time my head followed up by thinking, ‘perhaps it’s time there was….’
JK: Was it difficult to come up with the title “Still Emily”?
EO: Yes. I had no idea that thinking of a title would be the hardest part of writing the book. Well, not really but almost. My publisher and I settled on the main bit, Still Emily, fairly early on but then coming up with a subtitle was very difficult. We bounced ideas back and forth but nothing seemed quite right. Then one day, I received a text from my publisher. She was sitting in an unrelated conference in Ireland when, rather than taking notes, she messaged me her ‘flash of inspiration’ subtitle. I’m guessing her mind was not wholly focussed on the conference right then but that was fine with me. ‘Seeing rainbows in the silence’ fits perfectly.
JK: How did the design on the front cover come about and are they your eyes?
EO: The first cover suggestion was to have a photo of me. This suggestion was vetoed by me very quickly. I knew I wanted a rainbow on the cover but all the images I looked at were too twee and My Little Pony. I googled ‘rainbow images’ and scrolled down. In amongst them was the eye. So no, it is not my eye – would that mine were that beautiful! But, to me, rainbow colours in an eye conveyed exactly one of the themes of the book – looking for rainbows.
JK: How long did “Still Emily” take you to write?
EO: I had a first meeting on 9th July 2015, at which the publishers said they’d like the manuscript by November. I said no way, give me more time. The written contract arrived and in it, the deadline was (you guessed it) November. Figuring that if it wasn’t done, we could extend the deadline, I decided to try and finish by November – I work better to deadlines. I was on track but then my grandfather was taken very ill, eventually passing away, and the publisher kindly gave me an extension. So I actually finished and submitted the complete (unedited) manuscript on 11th January 2016. Every day during the weeks I visited my grandfather in hospital, he grew weaker and weaker until he could hardly speak. But he always managed to ask me, “how’s your book coming along?” Always one of my biggest supporters, he never saw the completed book but, when I held a copy of it for the first time, my heart whispered to him, “well, Grandad, here’s your answer.”
JK: In “Still Emily” you write with heart breaking honesty about the effect that NF2 has had on your whole family. What does your family think of you sharing such a personal story?
EO: They actually think I should have done it years ago. I asked them to read through the final draft before Still Emily went to print, just to check they were happy. If they had not been ok with any of the content, I would have deleted it immediately. They are very proud of me and very supportive – they turned up in force at the launch of Still Emily, although the children didn’t really understand: Earlier that day, my two year old nephew told me that he was going to a book launch later and he wondered if I’d be there?!
Without my family, my story would be very different. They are my rock. They’ve lived life with me. The dedication page of Still Emily reads, ‘For my family: when I saw one set of footprints, it was then that you carried me.’
JK: The official launch of “Still Emily” in Leicester was a great success. Do you enjoy the promotional side of being an author?
EO: I love speaking, meeting people and chatting, so yes I do quite enjoy it. So long as I remember to have a blank notebook handy, just in case someone is too difficult to lip-read and I need them to write things down for me, anyway. I don’t enjoy seeing photos and watching videos of myself afterwards, though. In fact, I hate it, but it is a bit like picking at a scab – it’s awful, but I can’t not do it!
JK: What are your plans for the future? Do you already have your next project in mind?
EO: I’d like to carry on writing and speaking, I have a few potential things in the pipeline. I shall continue with my blog.
A friend and I have a saying: ‘Let’s be flexible within the plan.’ This is due to the fact that one or other of us often has to rearrange coffee or dinner or whatever but I think the sentiment applies to NF2. Certainly it does to mine, anyway. I am someone who loves to have plans but I have learned that NF2 requires me to be flexible and not set my plans inextricably in stone. Flexible metaphorically speaking, I hasten to add; if you’ve read the book you’ll know that gymnastics and I do not mix….
Reviews of Still Emily
“A beautifully written, emotional and inspirational story. Highly recommend this brilliant book.”
“ ‘Still Emily’ is one of the most heartbreakingly honest books I have ever read. Emily bears her soul as she takes us on her personal journey into silence. This book is about never giving up, no matter what life throws at you; it is about finding rainbows and it is about love! Emily’s writing is truly inspirational!”
Still Emily is available to purchase here.
With thanks to The Neuro Foundation and Julie King for permission to share this interview, which first appeared in The Neuro Foundation Summer 2016 newsletter.