Emma (she also writes as EL Norry) has a BA (Hons) in Film and an MA in Screenwriting and has written a number of short stories for adults.
Her first YA manuscript, Bury the Things You Cannot Hide, draws on her personal experiences as a mixed-race child and teenager growing up in the care system in Cardiff, Wales.
Emma was shortlisted for the Diverse Book Awards (Children's), for her book Son of the Circus (Scholastic, 2019), a middle grade novel based on the son of Pablo Fanque, the first black circus proprietor in Victorian Britain. She has also written about Nelson Mandela for Penguin's Extraordinary Lives series. Emma’s middle grade fiction title about a teenage spy, Amber Undercover (OUP), publishes April 2021.
She now lives in Bournemouth where she works as an academic support assistant at Bournemouth and Poole college by day, and writing by night, inspired by her two young children.
Amber Undercover (OUP)
Amber Undercover is a fast-paced adventure story about a young spy, trying to juggle her exciting new life as a spy with her everyday life as an ordinary teenager. EM Norry tells us more:
Q&A with Em Norry
1. What brought you into writing for children?
I wrote a novel that ended up being YA - although it didn't start off that way - and it was that novel which got me an agent. Ultimately, that novel has yet to find a home, but I was approached by Scholastic, who asked if I'd consider a commission.
They were looking for BAME writers to be part of their VOICES series. I had never written for the 8-12 age group before, nor written historical fiction, but I've been writing for over twenty years and found the project enjoyable. The idea of the series - showing that BAME people have always been part of British history - is an important one, too.
2. Why did you decide to write about young spies? Were those the kind of books you enjoyed?
I do love a good spy / detective story. I've only read one or two Agatha Christie books, but I was quite the Dorothy L. Sayers fan when I was younger, thanks to a TV series which was on when I was about 12 that really captured my imagination. And we all love a bit of Jessica Fletcher and Scooby-Do too, right? I've always enjoyed a Bond and Mission Impossible film, too.
What was interesting to me, writing this, was balancing real life elements and teen concerns with heightened action, adventure and humour. Much like Geek Girl did for the modelling world, I'm hoping Amber readdresses the balance of action, being 'just for boys'!
3. Can you tell us a little about Amber Undercover and her first adventure?
Amber is 14 and very much an ordinary teenager. She is above average in height and often feels self-conscious about this. Her best friend Vi is developing different interests and gravitating towards girls at school who Amber remembers weren't too nice during primary.
Her Mum and Dad also reveal some pretty big news early on in the book... I don't want to give spoilers but suddenly she does have to rethink who she is and what is her place in the world.
Her first big adventure involves her being paired up with a rather confident boy called Luca and together they need to infiltrate an elite group of hackers at an international boarding school in Oslo...
4. Where did you go to research being a spy, and the kinds of gadgets Amber might need?
Research was a pleasure! I watched lots of Mission Impossible and Bourne Identity films and re-read Alex Rider. I kept up to date with new technologies in the news and also used brilliant websites like the MI5 website, the Verge, and Technology Review
5. Amber is vaguely disappointed by some of the gadgets she is given - are there any that you'd like to have to hand?
I was on the verge of including a lipstick tazer before remembering that the Minions film already used that idea!
There are only a few gadgets in the book... I like the idea that instead of relying on too many gadgets, the skills Amber has within her are good enough for the job... but, the ones I'd be really into would be things that probably stray more into the arena of sci fi! Invisibility could always come in handy, right?
6. While the life of the spy is exciting, Amber often feels like the odd one out. Why did you decide to explore this theme of the outsider in the novel?
I think we can so easily forget how difficult and bewildering being a teenager can be. Everyone wants something from you, everyone has expectations and ideas about who you are, who you should be, how you should spend your time and what to do for the 'best' future - but really, you're only just beginning to truly discover who you are and what makes you tick.
You're also learning how to be different with different groups of people and developing a life outside of your family or immediate environment. I really wanted Amber to have an opportunity to mix with lots of people: Clara, her boss, her awesome martial arts instructor, her spy colleague, and the hackers she's been sent to spy on...
I think the theme of an outsider might well creep in somehow to anything that I write because I can remember those feelings well. Also, my own children are 11 and 13 and negotiating friendships and ideas of how you are are definitely things they're going through.
Sometimes we can be far too busy focusing on what makes us different - we can easily forget what makes us human. We're far more alike than we might realise. The chances are, any feelings or thoughts you may have had - someone else has had them too.
7. Were there any moments or events in Amber's story that were drawn from your own life?
Well, if I told you that, I'd have to kill you.... no, no, just kidding! I lived in children's homes, and aged 13 was sent to boarding school so I absolutely know what it's like to be thrown into unfamiliar situations, and needing to adapt quickly to new people, expectations and surroundings.
I'm also often out of my comfort zone, but appreciate how that can provide me with a chance to grow, develop and learn. Quite often we can be afraid to admit how little we know, or say we don't understand something, but I believe there's great freedom in being able to admit this!
8. Other than a great story, what would you like your readers to take from Amber's adventure?
That even if sometimes you think you might have little to offer, or if you worry you aren't as 'special' as others - realise and try to appreciate that you are fully unique. There is no one else who is exactly like you. You will have gifts and abilities that even you might not be aware of.
Just remain willing to give new things 'a go', even if they seem strange, and give people a chance, and who knows how the world can open up for you!
9. Do you have more adventures planned for Amber?
I can totally imagine her and Luca getting into heaps more trouble and having more epic globe-trotting adventures, but right now, I'm hoping that Amber stands loud and proud on her own.
10. Where and when are your favourites places and times to write?
I'm a morning person, although don't have the luxury of getting up early to write in any peace and quiet. My favourite place to write is anywhere except at home really - it's too small and too noisy.
These days though, lockdown has proved that I can pretty much write and edit anywhere: including with a living room full of people, someone playing guitar and the others yelling at the PlayStation. I just tune them all out.
I really do also enjoy a long train ride, and a café and a library.
11. What - other than your computer - do you always have to hand when you're writing?
I usually write by hand at first... otherwise my computer becomes too distracting! I like to have a pint of water and a fresh black coffee to hand and then I'm good to go. I prefer a nice long stretch of time to get stuck in and prefer working in silence.
12. What would be your dream writer's shed?
Oh! Now you're asking. I'd probably have it quite empty actually. I don't use post its or plan, but I'm convinced one day I'll learn how - so let's set it up with whiteboards or corkboards. The most important thing would be heating, maybe a loo, and a fridge and kettle for snacks.
I'd love one entire wall to be a huge window. We've no garden so my dream would be A View... maybe of heaps of trees, with a large open space I could gaze out onto - maybe a field of wildflowers just in eyesight.
13. What do you enjoy doing to relax when you're not writing / working?
I wish I was as creative as many other writers that I know, but I'm not practical - I'm all fingers and thumbs, so I can't draw or paint, play an instrument or make anything.... but I enjoy baking.
This will sound so boring but writing and researching is how I relax. I never count what I do as work - maybe I might in 10 years, who knows! I'm a massive Film fan, and often treat myself to a film at the end of a writing session... usually something that the people I live with have absolutely no interest in watching!