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Emma Burstall on why she chose to write about sibling rivalry in her latest book, The House on Rockaway Beach

Emma Burstall on why she chose to write about sibling rivalry in her latest book, The House on Rockaway Beach

My sister, Sarah, is my best friend, but it wasn’t always that way. We argued a lot as children and for a time our mother despaired of us ever seeing eye to eye.

Meanwhile, my brother and I got on like a house on fire yet now, we rarely speak.

In an ideal world, siblings would love each other unconditionally and always have each other’s backs, but the reality can be very different. Look at our royal family and the very public falling out between Princes William and Harry.

It’s no coincidence that I decided to set my new novel in Rockaway, a peninsula on the Southern edge of the New York City borough of Queen’s on Long Island. For it’s here that my sister and I really bonded, getting to know, understand and respect each other as grown women in a way we’d never quite managed as girls.

I first visited when my now adult daughter was a toddler. Sarah and her new husband had moved into a beautiful old house and I instantly fell in love with the area’s golden sandy beaches and relaxed, friendly vibe.

The fact that you could take a ferry and be amongst the bright lights and towering skyscrapers of Manhattan in under sixty minutes was an added bonus.

Sarah and I went on to have three children each, and it became a tradition to stay in Rockaway with my kids for two or three weeks most summers.

My trio adored hanging out with their cousins, building sandcastles and surfing the Atlantic waves. I adored spending hours chatting with my sister, cycling with her along the nearby boardwalk and rustling up al fresco meals for the two hungry families.

As Sarah and I laughed, shared problems and watched our children grow, old rivalries, hurts and resentments vanished and we learned we had far more in common than we’d ever realised. These days, she’s the first person I turn to for advice or a shoulder to cry on, and I believe she feels the same way.

In The House On Rockaway Beach, estranged sisters Sophie and Celia arrive in Rockaway to clear out the quirky old beach house unexpectedly left to them by their grandmother.

One wants to sell the house, the other wants to keep it and old grudges bubble up. Then a long buried family secret rises to the surface, turning their worlds upside down, and they’re forced to re-evaluate everything – including the roots of their troubled past.

Will they be able to heal their relationship, or are they destined to remain on bad terms forever?

Emma Burstall’s latest book The House On Rockaway Beach is published by Aria in hardback for £20 on 1 September 2022

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