Paperback Writer: Val Emmich on writing The Reminders

Val Emmich shares how his lifelong love of The Beatles found its way into his debut novel, The Reminders.

The Reminders, the debut novel by writer, actor, songwriter and musician Val Emmich, is the story of a girl with an extraordinary memory and a very famous favourite band. Here, Val shares how his own lifelong love of The Beatles found its way into his book.

The Beatles are far and away my favorite band. But that's not why I put them in my novel. I featured the Fab Four, and John Lennon in particular, in The Reminders because it's been nearly fifty years since they stopped making music and somehow they still matter. They are remembered. That's no small feat.

It's hard to make a lasting impression on human society. You can invent something revolutionary—printing or flying or Christianity—and even then your name is likely to be forgotten (see: inventor of the match). You can create a vaccine that rids mankind of a deadly disease. Erect a towering or otherwise impressive structure. Have your name adorn a street sign on a busy thoroughfare. Be granted your own national holiday. If none of these tactics earn you immortality, you can try to make transcendent art. Art that never feels stale or passé. Art that never ceases to wow.

The Beatles didn't wow me until high school. An older girl I was dating presented me with an unlabeled mixtape. When I finished absorbing all the music on the cassette, I had questions:

Me: I love that song “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Who sings that one?

Me: “Polythene Pam” is really short and cool. What band is that?

Me: Who does “Bungalow Bill?” That's pretty catchy.

Me: “Helter Skelter” is sick. Who's that?

Me: “Julia” is one of my favorites. Is that someone I know?

Her: the Beatles.

Her: the Beatles.

Her: the Beatles.

Her: the Beatles.

Her: the Beatles.

How could one band form so many different shapes—some obvious, some challenging, all compelling and wonderful—in the span of only a decade and then just break up and never make anything else ever again? And how is it that half a century later we still care?

All I know is that I keep getting older and my tastes keep evolving, but I always come back to The Beatles. I've watched the documentaries, studied the outtakes, read the unauthorized biographies, collected the memorabilia, covered the music, mimicked the style and fashion. They've influenced my songwriting and now my fiction writing, too.

At first, I used The Beatles and John Lennon in my book merely as symbols. They are legends and I thought they'd have something to teach me about how to make a lasting mark. But over the course of writing, the lessons of their songs began to influence the story. The Reminders is about trying to hold onto those we love and trying to ensure that those we love will hold onto us. What really matters? What parts of life do we most cherish? The answers, it turned out, were waiting for me in songs like “All You Need Is Love,” “Two of Us,” “God,” and “Mother.” The list goes on and on. And so, I ended up doing exactly what I did back when I was a teenager and I received that first sample of their music: I pressed play and I listened hard.

The Reminders

by Val Emmich

Book cover for The Reminders

Ten-year-old Joan was born with a rare gift: she can remember every single day of her life in perfect detail. She can tell you how many times her mother has uttered the phrase ‘it never fails’ in the last six months (twenty-seven), or what she was wearing when her grandfather took her fishing on a particular Sunday in June years ago (fox socks).

But Joan doesn’t want to be the girl who remembers everything – she wants to be the girl that no one can forget. When her father’s old bandmate Gavin comes to stay, reeling from the sudden loss of his partner Sydney, Joan is keen to enlist his help in making her name. Even if it means using her extraordinary memory to help him solve the mystery of Sydney’s final months . . .

Told in the alternating voices of two unforgettable characters, Val Emmich's The Reminders is a funny, heart-wrenching and uplifting story of friendship, grief, memory and hope.