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Saturday, 4 September 2010

Emma Darwin & The Mathematics of Love

My debut novel, The Mathematics of Love, was born on Skyros. I’d been writing fiction for a while, and got some mildly encouraging rejections, but I’d gone as far as I could on my own. I also badly needed a holiday. Someone said, ‘Skyros’ to me, and I discovered heaven.

It wasn’t just glorious Greece, or sitting writing under the trees on the Skyros Centre terrace, or the sea, sun, sand, or the gorgeous food. The course that Mary Flanagan ran gave my writing a bigger step up than almost anything else has. It gave me ways and words to think about writing. It gave me confidence that I could write a story that critical readers liked reading. It taught me how to dip into the world, and into myself, to find what I wanted to say. No writer ever stops needing more inspiration, technique or confidence, but they’re the keys to good writing which I was first handed on Skyros.

So what about my novel? At the time it was just one of many exercises; Mary asked us to spend twenty minutes writing a story entitled ‘Watch’. As she spoke I looked out across the terracotta and dark-green of the valley and saw a soldier in a red coat, on a watch-tower. It was Wellington’s Spain, I knew, but the soldier wasn’t watching the road from Extremadura, he was watching a local girl bathing in the river. I revised it, then put it away with all the others.

I went home, and wrote the first novel I wouldn’t be ashamed to show you. But my soldier wouldn’t go away; I embarked on an MPhil in Writing, and Stephen Fairhurst could tell his own story at last. That novel became The Mathematics of Love, and it got me the degree and an agent. I signed a two-book deal with Headline Review, then Harper Collins in the US, and translations followed. When I came back to Atsitsa with my teenage children I had the copy-edited manuscript in my bag to work on, under the trees of a different terrace.

The Mathematics of Love was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ and Goss First Novel awards, among others. My second novel, A Secret Alchemy, hit the bestseller lists before it got me a PhD in Creative Writing. My third is nearly finished. Since then I’ve appeared at literary festivals from Hay to New Zealand, I teach for the Open University and elsewhere, I judge competitions and write editorial reports, and I blog about writing at This Itch of Writing. And it all started on Skyros.

Emma Darwin

Emma Darwin attended a holiday at the acclaimed Writers' Lab at the Skyros Centre, named by The Guardian as No 1 of the 5 Best Writing Holidays.
To find out more about Skyros Writers' Lab holidays, see or call 01983 865566.

Read more about Emma and her new literary career at and read Emma's blog 'This Itch of Writing'.

1 comment:

  1. What an evocative essay. Having read both books, it was interesting seeing the origins of MoL, I would've never guessed an island in Greece to have provided the spark of a very British novel. I'm continually amazed at how authors work & think.
    Thanks for sharing!