Holland House Books
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For years, readers, journalists and Darwin enthusiasts have asked Emma, ‘When are you going to write a novel about your family?’ Even with two historical novels published, Emma had her doubts. But the idea gnawed at her and she eventually gave in, only to find that writing the novel became a fierce struggle between her heritage and her identity as a writer – and ultimately a struggle that nearly killed her.

Books about Charles Darwin and his wife and cousin Emma Wedgwood are legion, but Emma had wanted to take the road less travelled: there were the fascinating real lives of Erasmus Darwin and the Lunar Society; Tom Wedgwood, the first photographer; Julia Wedgwood, who as a writer and intellectual was ranked with George Eliot; Ralph Vaughan Williams and his extraordinary love story; and poet and Communist John Cornford, first Briton to be killed in the Spanish Civil War.

Emma wanted to grow a novel out of the science and the art – the creativity – that runs through 250 years of her family like a seam of Potteries clay. But even when she invented a fictional character and slid her into the complex lives of Charles Darwin’s grandchildren, she struggled with the factual and emotional truths that seemed to dictate what fiction she ‘could’ and ‘couldn’t’ write. How, among these riches, could she ever find space to write a novel that would be truly hers?

This Is Not A Book About Charles Darwin tells the story of those riches through the lens of Emma’s struggle. It is a wry, witty and honest account of her journey through her family as she sought to write the novel. Part memoir, part biography, part book about writing and what really makes a novel, and actually a brave book about failing, This Is Not A Book About Charles Darwin is a memorable piece of creative life writing that should appeal to fans of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, Charlotte Moore’s Hancox: a house and a family and Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage. Much of the source material was drawn from Emma’s great-aunt Gwen Raverat’s much loved classic memoir Period Piece, which has not been out of print since it was first published in 1952.