On Making Things Up For A Living today I’m delighted to welcome Emma Newman, one of my favourite authors and also one of the loveliest people in SFF. I can provide tea, but the jeopardy has to stay outside in the rain…
Emma, in case you didn’t know, is the author of the urban fantasy-ish Split Worlds trilogy which was published by Angry Robot. Her latest SF novel, Planetfall, comes out this week and, from the extracts I’ve heard, promises to be very special indeed.
Handing over to Emma now *sits back, sips tea, watches out for singing chickens and priapic unicorns…*
1. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m an author, audio book narrator and podcaster. I’m also a dressmaker, avid role player and I wrestle with anxiety. I fangirl about a lot of things, I get angry about a lot of things and I care passionately about a lot of things. I’m just a geek, you know?*
2. Your latest novel, Planetfall, is due to be released on November 3rd (today!) in Kindle and Nov 5th in paperback. Could you please tell us a little bit about it (no spoilers, as I know you’re allergic!)
I am allergic to them! Planetfall is a stand-alone science fiction novel set in a colony established on a distant planet. Ren, the protagonist, is the colony’s 3-D printer engineer and best friend of the extraordinary woman who led everyone to the planet but hasn’t been seen since they arrived. When a stranger walks out of the wilderness one day, he disturbs the fragile balance of the colony and uncovers various secrets that threaten to destroy all they’ve built.
3. Your previous Split Worlds Trilogy, published by Angry Robot, were urban fantasy novels, but I understand SF is your first love? How does it feel to write an SF novel after a number of years writing in other genres? What drew you back to writing SF?
It is my first love and it felt wonderful to write in the genre. It also felt a bit scary because when I wrote urban fantasy I was writing blind – I had hardly read anything in that genre and didn’t even appreciate that the Split Worlds would be categorised as UF until after it was picked up! It meant I wrote without putting any additional pressure on myself, I think. In contrast, I felt more embedded in science-fiction and after falling in love with it as a child, I wanted to make my contribution to that genre something I could be proud of.
4. And what was it that made you fall in love with SF in the first place? What made you want to become a writer?
The endless potential and the sense that it could almost be true – or could come true one day. There’s something about going into space that fascinates, thrills and terrifies me. Whether it’s books or films, I naturally gravitate towards science-fiction before any other genre.
As for what made me want to become a writer… well, it simply seems to be the best sum of my parts. I started writing stories when I was 4, so I think it’s something that’s always been in me. Later in life, after forgetting that I used to write (long story) I realised that so much of my constant tension was the unsatisfied need to create worlds and tell stories in them. I was a role player and GM but it wasn’t enough. I discovered that when I sorted out my head enough to be able to get over fear and actually write, I felt about 1000% better.
5. What is your favourite part of writing? Which parts do you find easy? Is there any particular aspect of writing that you struggle with, and how have you overcome it?
Just before I start – when the idea is bright and perfect and like a brilliant film in my head with a limitless SFX budget and perfect actors and set designers, I like that bit. But my favourite part is the first draft. I love deep immersion into the world and story, I love the sense of daily progression as the word count ticks upwards and I love seeing what happens in the bits I’m not sure about in the planning. And that feeling when the first draft is done is so sweet.
I have struggled a lot with fear and found strategies to overcome it but there’s far too much for me to be able to sum up without writing a small book! However, I will say that giving myself permission to write total rubbish before I start each writing session is a great help! I’m not fond of editing, as the story has been told and the exciting part is over for me, but I appreciate how important it is so I just suck it up and get on with it.
6. As well as writing, you also host a hugely-popular (and Hugo nominated) podcast, Tea and Jeopardy – could you please tell us how that came about and share some of your favourite T&J moments?
I read a post somewhere a few years ago that talked about the relatively small number of female voices in podcasting. I got angry about the fact that the same thing I see in so many aspects of the world was playing out in a relatively new medium too. Women are woefully under-represented in all aspects of the film industry, for example, right through to the number of female authors you see on table displays in Waterstones.
So that post niggled at me and I thought, well, the only way to stop being uselessly pissed off about it was to get out there and add a female voice. My own was the most convenient. I listened to a lot of SFF podcasts after making my decision and realised there were so many intelligent and serious conversations already happening that adding my own wasn’t really going to add anything new. Something I felt a lack of, however, was something lighter, something to entertain in a different way. I knew I wanted something centred around tea and chatting with someone, but I wanted something slightly fantastical and different too. I went for coffee with my husband, told him my plan and we brainstormed ideas together. Pete and I talked about alternatives to ‘tea and sympathy’ and it snowballed from there.
As for favourite moments…. that’s tricky. Pete and I co-write the scripts and he voices the butler, Latimer. I host the show, do the interview with the guest and then do all of the sound engineering, from editing the interview to sourcing sound effects to putting it all together. It’s a hell of a lot of work per show, and as a result, my favourite moments are hard to recall as I am always elbow deep in the engine, rather than enjoying the ride in the car, so to speak!
Having the singing chickens do the Star Wars Imperial March for Myke Cole was a highlight. As was being able to talk in depth with Pat Rothfuss and also having Joe Abercrombie face off a unicorn. Actually, one of my favourite moments was when a listener asked if we’d really recorded Joe defiling a horse and I nearly spit tea over my keyboard! Putting together the sound effects for that episode was certainly a challenge – I’m glad it worked for that listener!
7. Can you share some of your favourite books and movies of the last few years?
I don’t know why, but every time someone asks me for my favourite anything, I forget everything I have consumed in that area…**
Okay, in terms of books. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky stand out for me. The Sparrow ripped me open and Guns kept me gripped right up to the last page. Both are superb in very different ways.
In terms of films… well, the Marvel universe has made me deeply happy for several years now. I think Winter Soldier is my favourite, as it’s such a tight, superlative script and deeper and darker than most. Flawed as it was, I enjoyed Interstellar, because I am a total sucker for sprawling space films and people going to other planets.
You know, it’s television that’s thrilled me the most of late – something I never thought I would say – but it seems like TV is more willing to take risks and there is some amazing writing happening there now. I am deeply in love (and slightly obsessed) with Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries which is so amazing and everyone needs to watch it so they can experience TV without the male gaze (a revelation!). Oooh, and Rome! That has the best bromance I have ever seen on screen. Daredevil was fantastic too (Fisk was the object of my obsession in that show – so many feels!) and of course, Agent Carter. Because Agent Carter.
8. What are your plans for your next book?
Top secret! I never talk about what I am working on, for several reasons. One is that if I talk about a book, it steals that need to work through the story – I need to save that need for myself and the page to propel me through the first draft. Another is that if I write about it or talk about it a lot, I can easily get bored with the idea. I live with it running in my head all the time, but if I spoke and wrote about it too, it would change into a dull reporting of the exciting stuff. The other reason, in this particular case, is that it’s something that hasn’t yet been announced.
I have, however, just submitted my second novel to my editor at Roc, which should be landing in bookshops in November next year, all being well.
*All the best people are…
**Me too 🙂