A Life of Books with Emma Sloley, author of ‘Disaster’s Children’

Emma Sloley‘s short fiction has been published in various journals like Catapult and collected in an anthology edited by Rebecca Makkai. She also is a seasoned travel writer where she has traveled the world writing essays for outlets like Coastal Living and Travel + Leisure.

Her debut novel, Disaster’s Children, isn’t quite a beach read, though. It’s a chilling story about the end of the world and survivalists who have been preparing for any catastrophe imaginable. She creates a unique version of our world, set in the near future, where a group of wealthy citizens have created an idyllic world.

The author answered our ‘A Life of Books’ questionnaire. Check out her reading habits below.

Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood? 

The Chronicles of Narnia were definitely formative. Like most kids, I was really drawn to stories of escape and fantasy. I also, for some reason, loved stories set in a very particular, arcane English world, in which pale, often convalescent children were forever going on picnics on the moors and drinking lashings of ginger beer. Books like The Secret Garden; The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe; Enid Blyton’s whole oeuvre. 

Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?

Of course! There’s magic in those books. Having said that, I think kids should read widely and with as much curiosity as possible, and I do regret that I wasn’t exposed to a particularly diverse canon during those formative years. Growing up in Australia in the 80s, my reading tended to be through a very specific white lens. Thankfully, kids today have far more access to a diverse array of voices, perspectives and cultural settings. I’m also an advocate of letting kids choose what they want to read: nothing fosters a love of reading like feeling as though the whole undertaking is an adventure rather than a chore.  

Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?

Honestly, I was such a nerd in school, and a pretty omnivorous reader, and I loved every book we were assigned in high school. Most memorably, we read both 1984 and Animal Farm, which were really eye-opening in helping me see how social commentary and a riveting story could coexist. 

What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?

My sisters and I were obsessed with V.C. Andrews’ Flowers In The Attic series, which my parents forbade us from reading. (We had to sneak them into the house.) They were such wonderful trashy fun, and even though it’s obvious this isn’t exactly high-brow literature, I still defend them for their masterful use of pace and tension. 

Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?

I admire the way Margaret Atwood famously draws upon real-life situations and inventions to populate her sci-fi/speculative novels, and that was influential in how I approached writing about this world set only a few years in the future. Almost every climate crisis that occurs in my novel has a real-life analog. Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower was similarly influential in that it explored a dystopia that still resembled our own world, just with its faults and perils exaggerated, and a little closer to the brink.   

What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?

My god, so many! Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Jeanette Winterson’s Written On The Body; Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day; Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain; Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow; Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies; Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections; Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I could go on, but maybe that’s covetous enough…

What have you been reading / do you plan to read during your debut book tour?

I’ve been too distracted/exhausted to fully commit to reading, especially anything new that requires my full attention and devotion, so I’ve been dipping in and out of favorite books I love. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts; Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows; The Game of Thrones series. (I find them strangely soothing!)

And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.

Decompressing at MacDowell. 

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