Edition 8: Interview with Emma Newman
Interview by Sophie Yorkston
Who were your greatest female role models?
You know, I was thinking the other day that the role models who have had the most influence on me are male (My Dad, Doc Emmett Brown from Back to the Future and Indiana Jones—though that was mostly crush I think). Then I felt a bit sad. Where were the female role models in my life?
Then I remembered Princess Leia being a big hero of mine as a child. She kicks ass, she’s one of the rare women in film who are actual leaders—and shown leading others very capably—and she is so very brave. There’s Ripley (from Alien/s) too.
As I’ve got older I’ve discovered people like Aphra Behn, thankfully.
What do you feel is your greatest achievement as a writer to date?
I’ve managed to carve out a living from it, so I can focus on writing 100%. It took many years, I took some big risks, I did something a bit crazy and we have to live very frugally, but that’s the thing I’m most satisfied by. In terms of pure career stuff, it’s definitely being published by Angry Robot Books. They have a fantastic list and fantastic reputation—deservedly so.
What are the challenges female speculative fiction writers face in today’s publishing environment?
There are universal challenges faced by all authors: visibility in a crowded marketplace, changes in the publishing industry, the influence and domination of Amazon and its long-term impact.
In terms of female writers, there’s evidence that it isn’t a level playing field; bias towards reviewing books by men rather than women for example. (http://www.strangehorizons.com/2013/20130422/2sfcount-a.shtml)
There’s a huge amount of sexism in the media, which infuriates me on a daily basis. Female writers tend to be asked different questions (drawing in motherhood, appearance and weight where all are irrelevant to that writer’s career). I think that’s something seen for all women though, not writers in particular. In the convention circuit both in the UK and US there’s been a lot of debate about panel parity and I’m seeing lots of positive changes there in all fairness.
There are attitudes in the publishing industry that can work against women. I’m still very early in my career and haven’t experienced anything personally, but I have several female author friends who have described horrible things ranging from how their books are marketed to whether their full name goes on the cover. I was recently on a panel talking about how the “dark fantasy” genre seems to have emerged by virtue of the fact that the industry—publishers and booksellers primarily—couldn’t handle the thought of women writing horror.
I try not to focus on the negatives in any aspect of life. I’m just writing as well as I can and working as hard as I can. If anything happens to me that I feel is because of my gender, rather than my work, I’ll call it out. I’m not looking forward to that day, and I think it’s sadly likely to happen.
What do you think sets women writers apart?
I’m not sure I understand the question. I don’t want anything to set women writers apart—I want the writing, the books and the worlds created within them to be considered, not gender. If there is separation, it’s part of a wider problem with society, not because of anything female writers do or don’t do—and male ones for that matter.
Several years back, you started a short story club, involving your fans in the stories by getting them to send in prompts. You interact on Twitter and attend many events. How do you find this interaction with your fans makes you feel, and how do you think it helps as an author? Is it worthwhile?
Oh blimey, there are so many different things to talk about there!
Okay, from the top…I started the short story club for two reasons: to have a natural deadline every month with accountability to encourage myself to write more stories and secondly, to effectively crowd source prompts to inspire the stories in the first place. I didn’t want to just keep putting everything I wrote on my website, so creating a closed community enabled me to share without ruining chances of future publication.
I didn’t think of the people in the club as fans. They were (and still are!) primarily people who read my blog, many of whom became good online friends.
As for Twitter, I started hanging out on there way before I was published and again, it was and still is primarily used for socialising and having fun. Writing is a lonely activity and I love having a massive virtual pub always there in the background to dip in and out of. Now people contact me to say they love my work and that is lovely but I have to confess, kind of weird. Just like if you’d been drinking in your local for years, sitting in the corner quietly with a few mates and then people started seeking you out. When the book deal with Angry Robot was announced it was just mental—it was like everyone suddenly looked in my direction.
I’ve only been attending conventions for about 18 months—and had a similar experience. For the first few I was just one of the geeks in the crowd, then I was on panels and listed as a featured guest. It’s exciting but still kind of weird. I’m no different, but the way I’m participating in the events is.
There is nothing nicer in the world than having people come up to you with your book asking for it to be signed. I’ve met so many really lovely people this way, and thanks to Twitter we can chat and become friends afterwards. For me it’s all about conversation and finding other people just as geeky as I am, who love the same stuff that I do.
As for whether it’s worthwhile, I guess that depends on your criteria. Socially I think it’s very worthwhile for the reasons I’ve already given. It’s led to opportunities I would never have been given—and an unexpected sideline in audio book narration!
That being said, I’ve met authors at events who hate social media and feel obligated to do it and are made thoroughly miserable as a result. I don’t think Twitter or Facebook or whatever is worth doing just because you’re told to do it by a publisher or publicist.
You recently finished up a series of short stories released every week (for a year and a day!) set in the Split Worlds, the scene for your new series of books that commences with Between Two Thorns. What inspired you to start such an ambitious project and what did you get out of it?
It was a natural evolution of the way the entire project started about 3 years ago; a short story that popped into my head one morning. I wrote Split Worlds stories every week for a few months before realising I was actually creating a world for a series of novels. I stopped writing them, took them offline, worked hard on the world building for a while and decided I wanted to go for it 100%. I secured investment so I could leave my day job to do just that, and geared up to self-publish the series but then got picked up by Angry Robot, which is ace.
Anyway, back when I was world building and thinking about how to make a success of self-published books, I hit upon the idea of the year and a day of stories. It tapped into that old accountability I had with the short story club, enabled me to give people a taste of the world before committing to the book, and get people excited for the launch of the first novel. Now I have people reading the book first, asking me for more, finding the stories and reading them as they wait for book 2—which makes me very happy!
The stories also enabled me to seed clues for plots for books later in the series, provide background for characters that wouldn’t fit in the novels, deepen the world for readers who, like me, love little details and geeky references and also underpin planned ARG and RPG events later this year.
You do a lot of work with audio recordings for your stories and books. Why did you start with this medium and why do you think it is important for fiction?
Back before I had a publisher for my first novel 20 Years Later, I wanted to get feedback to see whether it was actually worth fighting for after so many rejections. I didn’t want to put it on my blog, for obvious reasons, so I decided to podcast a chapter a week.
I didn’t expect people to like my voice so much. I never have! Enough people encouraged me to do more, so I built a narrating portfolio by doing stuff for free, and then started to narrate professionally.
I offered each of the Split Worlds stories in text and audio purely to give people the choice of how they wanted to consume them. I enjoy narration and find it so very useful for editing too!
I’m not sure whether I think it’s important for fiction, per se, but I do think there’s value in offering another way into fictional worlds. I think there’s an intimacy in a spoken story that’s different to that created by the printed word. We’ve been listening to stories for thousands of years after all…it’s something deep in our blood and bones.