Emma Hooper’s much lauded debut novel, “Etta and Otto and Russell and James” started out a very different book than it turned out to be. The book follows a woman in her 80s, Etta, who rises one morning to walk across Canada’s prairie land all the way until she sees the ocean. As way of an explanation, she leaves a note to her husband Otto and some recipes, so he can cook for himself.
“Originally, I had Otto going on the journey,” Hooper tells us. “Then I had a feminist realization that I was doing that as a socially imposed automatic reaction where the man does [his] thing and the woman waits. I thought it would be much more interested if I swapped it around.”
Hooper had her own Etta-like journey, albeit on a smaller scale. The author, who is also the solo musician known as Waitress for the Bees, participated in the Land’s End to O’Groats bike ride in England, an 875-mile trek that takes almost three months to complete.
“I loved spending all day just moving forward,” Hooper says. “It was very meditative … I just like that goal, to always move forward.” That said, Hooper was not a fan of camping at night and trying to find a semi-dry place to lay her head. She says she spent the tour perpetually cold and wet. “That’s why I gave Etta a summer journey in Canada,” she says.
Music, writing, repeat
Despite the journey, Hooper says she doesn’t necessarily feel more connected to Etta than the book’s other three primary characters. The novel is told through multiple narratives, which Hooper says helped give her momentum as a writer. “I think I’m just a distractible human,” she says. “I liked jumping between them because if I ran out of something to say from one character’s point of view I could just be one of the other characters for a while.”
Likewise, she jumps between writing music and long-form on a regular basis. “You always hit a wall, so it’s nice to be able to jump to another creative outlet when that happens,” she says.
Ever the busy bee, pardon the pun, Hooper just released another Waitress for the Bees album, teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University in England and is already working on book number two. “It’s about mermaids,” she reveals. It looks like she isn’t slowing down any time soon: always moving forward, one project at a time.
Emma Hooper New York City book event:
June 4, 7 p.m.
Brooklyn's Community Bookstore
143 7th Ave., Brookyln
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence