Melinda Salisbury | 'Put your whole heart in when you’re writing that first draft'

Melinda Salisbury | 'Put your whole heart in when you’re writing that first draft'

Melinda Salisbury answers our questions about her paranormal horror novel with an enviromental message, Hold Back the Tide (Scholastic), which has been shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2021.


1. Can you sum up your book in one sentence?

A tale of buried secrets, a terrible legacy, and a girl with a heart-breaking choice to make. 

2. What inspired the book?

All of my books are Frankenstories, made from different things that pull at me for whatever reason. Hold Back the Tide is made up of Scottish lochs, worries about the environment, family secrets, gods and monsters, what it means to be an outsider, and what it means to be hero.

3. Which character in the book is your favourite, and why?

Alva, because she’s resourceful and brave in a way I wish I could be; she doesn’t flinch from what has to be done. 

4. What does being on this year’s YA Book Prize shortlist mean to you?

2020 was such a difficult year to have a book come out — I still haven’t seen Hold Back the Tide in a bookshop — so being on the list is proof it actually happened, and is out there. 

5. What's the best thing about writing for young adults?

For me, it’s the possibility of your book reaching that one young adult who has been feeling lost, or alone, or frightened, and them finding something in your writing that makes it OK, if only for a little while. I think we all have that book we found as a teenager that was a port in a storm for us, and that still brings us comfort, even now. I write YA in the hope that someday I’ll write something that is someone’s port in a storm. 

6. What was your favourite book as a teenager?

Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma

7. What is your top writing tip?

Put your whole heart in when you’re writing that first draft. There will come a time to pull your heart out and hand the story over, but while it’s just yours, give it everything you have. Be vulnerable. Be fearless.

8. What songs would be on a playlist for your book?

I had to crowdsource part of this answer because I don’t make playlists for my books; I tend to use visuals and textures and scents over music to build my worlds. But when I asked what music reminded other people of Hold Back the Tide, some of the answers included:

  • "The Kiss", from the soundtrack to "The Last of the Mohicans" by Trevor Jones
  • "Beneath the Brine" by The Family Crest
  • "The Marriage Contract", the Outlander OST, Bear McCreary
  • "Ribs" by The Crane Wives
  • "Daughter" by Witches
  • "Space" by Biffy Clyro

9. Who would you cast in a film version of your book?

I honestly can’t say! I never head cast my books because I don’t want actors or other characters they’ve played in my head while I’m trying to write. 

10. Which book, film or TV show would you recommend to someone who enjoyed your book?

"Les Revenants", which is a older French language TV show about the dead returning to life; it isn’t at all like it story wise, but it has the same small-town-weird-scenario vibes, and the same kind of blue/grey/green colour palette that reminds me of Hold Back the Tide. Frances Toon’s novel Pine, which is for adults, also has the same kind of feeling to it. 

You can find out more about Melinda Salisbury and Hold Back the Tide, and read the first chapter of the book for free, on the YA Book Prize website.​