Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Interview with author Emma Newman

I've known Emma Newman for years through the Friday Flash group. Meeting her in person was one of my highlights of 2012's WorldCon. A busy lady, she's not only written copious flash fiction in her world, but thrust into a deep series of novels called The Split Worlds. The first, Between Two Thorns, is already out through Angry Robot Books. I'm very happy to have her over today.

John: What is the premise of Between Two Thorns? And where is the series headed?

Emma: I've previously described the book as "Urban fantasy - and a dash of noir - with feuding dynastic families, supernatural patrons, mad sorcerers, evil faeries and nice cups of tea." As the author, I feel like I'm the worst person to be asked what it's about – I just want to wave my arms and describe all of it.

Where is the series headed? I would tell you, but then I'd have to kill you, and that seems rather rude. I hate giving things away about future books, as I'm one of those people who wants to experience stories as the storyteller intended – it's why I avoid film trailers these days. I like to find out in the world, rather than hearing snippets out of context.

Oh dear, I'm not doing very well here, am I? Let's move on!

John: Okay! You’ve already done amazing work in the universe through flash fiction. Are there any anthology plans?

Emma: Thank you! Yes, there are, but I want to wait until all the novels have been released before gathering the stories into one volume. The reason is that I'd like to write notes to accompany the stories about where they fit into the novels and how they all tie up together. I'd be too paranoid about spoilers if it came out before the series was finished. There I go again…

John: Do you know where this universe goes after this Split Worlds series? Are there other nooks you’re itching to explore on the page?

Emma: Yes, and yes.

*looks down at twiddling thumbs* Oh, did you want me to tell you what they are? Well… no, I can't do it! I know where the major plot arcs end for the series, but that doesn't mean it's the end of *all* of the stories to be told.

John: What has been the most exciting thing that’s happened since your book release?

Emma: Oh blimey! That's a hard one – it's been wall-to-wall excitement, a veritable fitted carpet woven of the stuff. I think being in SFX Magazine wins though. I've been reading it for years. To be a featured author was just… weird and brilliant!

John: You’re the only writer I’ve ever met who sought out private investors to back her work. That destroys Kickstarter. Can you tell us that story?

Emma: Well, I knew that venture capitalists invest in technology businesses with no guarantee of anything coming of it (obviously they only invest in those likely to succeed, but there is still risk), so I thought I would see if I could do the same with a creative product, rather than a tech product. A friend of mine helped me translate my ideas into something business-like and I managed to convince someone to invest in the project. It enabled me to give up my day-job and focus on the Split Worlds full-time, and I was gearing up to effectively set up my own micro-publishing business to produce the books. I wanted to do it as well as I could, so I hired a cover designer who has worked for Vintage books and lined up an editor and proof readers. It turns out I didn't need any of them.

John: How did you hook up with Angry Robot? I’ve heard it involved swanky parties.

Emma: Hehe, well it involved a critical conversation at a book launch party – one that never would have happened if Lee Harris (senior editor at Angry Robot) hadn't missed his train.

I went to Adam Christopher's book launch for Empire State and was chatting to Paul Cornell, who was the only person I knew there apart from Adam. I told him about what I'd done and he said I should tell Lee and, well, Lee thought I was crazy. But he was intrigued enough to ask to see it, just out of curiosity. We became friends and a few weeks later he said I could pitch what I plan to write after the Split Worlds to him at a convention. I did, he loved the idea but then said something like "But what about the Split Worlds. I love it and I want to take it into acquisitions for Angry Robot."

I was so shocked! I was aspiring to be published by them a couple of years later, not with the Split Worlds! I went home, talked to my investor who was very cool about it (evil people don't invest in crazy authors) and we changed our arrangement, freeing me to take it to Angry Robot.

John: What was work like with Brilliance in recording your own audiobook?

Emma: Pure joy! It was the first time I've recorded in a proper studio (the audio books I did before were for a small audio book company, so I recorded them in my home office booth and edited them myself) and the first time I've had the opportunity to work with a sound engineer and director.

It's hard work and surprisingly exhausting. We record for about 5 hours a day, sometimes 6. It doesn't sound much but you're on your feet and concentrating intensely. You hear your own voice piped through to your headphones as you record, so attention is split between reading the page, enunciating and acting to the best of your ability and analysing what you've just heard to see if it came across well enough. So you're split between producing demanding output and analysing input. On top of that, as I was recording novels I'd written, I was also battling my own demons about whether it's good enough, whether a word was right – all the usual madness that plague us creative types!

John: For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been recording fiction and podcasting. What made you get started down that path?

Emma: Back when I was trying to get an agent / publisher for my first novel 20 Years Later I was getting despondent. I couldn't work out if it was "good enough" or not, so I decided I needed more feedback. For obvious reasons I didn't want to just paste it into blog posts, so I decided to record and release a chapter a week.

I didn't expect to get any feedback relating to my narration or voice, but I did! (And the feedback I got on the book kept me trying to get published too). Enough people encouraged me to try narration for me to build a portfolio, leading me to approach Adam Christopher on Twitter to ask whether he'd be happy for me to record a novella of his that I'd really enjoyed. He agreed, we became friends as a result and the audio version of the story was nominated for a Parsec Award. Which is nice. That's why I was at his launch which led to meeting Lee, so a lot of great stuff came from sending that nervous request to record his novella!

John: At WorldCon you spoke of starting a new podcast about fiction. Are plans in motion? What will it cover?

Emma: Plans are indeed in motion. It will involve tea, geekery and bookishness and will be a bit different in format to the podcasts I listen to regularly.

John: Before you go, I have to ask you: how good a bowler is Chuck Wendig?

Emma: Chuck bowls like he blogs; straight at the goal as hard and fast as he can. His advice to me as a novice bowler was to line up with the middle and then just throw it as hard as I could. Then he threw his bowling ball about six feet in the air and it landed with such a bang I was worried it had cracked the wood! We had a great laugh. He is a top bloke.


  1. Fascinating interview. And Emma sounds like a dynamo. A talented dynamo. Thank you both.

  2. I will have to listen to some of her podcasts. She got my curiosity going. Great interview!
    KaTy Did at: Life's Ride As I See It


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