This week we’re delighted to host Emma Newman: author, narrator and LARPer. Here she talks about science fiction, her writing routine and the lessons she’s learned from penning a multi-book series.
In your Planetfall series, you have gone for quite hard SF ideas alongside religion. Why did you want to explore these two potentially jarring ideologies side by side?
Because they are jarring in my mind! Years ago I heard a scientist on the radio talking about how his study of physics, and (if I recall correctly) astrophysics in particular, was all about understanding what God had done when creating the universe. I remember stopping mid stride, toast half way to my mouth as I crossed the kitchen, staring at the radio. A physicist who saw science as something totally complimentary to his religious faith was not the standard narrative (at least in my experience). It stuck in my brain and then years later, when Planetfall was coalescing in my mind, I wanted to write characters that were both scientists and deeply religious, I guess because I wanted to resolve that cognitive discomfort that existed in my mind because of that snippet of interview.
How do audiobooks deliver a different experience of a book? As a narrator, do you prefer to listen to more books than you read?
An audiobook makes what is usually a two person experience (writer connecting to the reader) into a three person experience, with the added intimacy that hearing someone’s voice can give. That third person can be, at best, an enhancement of the experience; the listener can enjoy the characterisation in voices, different accents, and, where relevant, added emotion in the delivery of the narrative. However, if the voice or delivery is not one that the listener enjoys, the narrator can be a barrier. I confess, I do not listen to audio books! I listen to podcasts, but not as much as I would like. I much prefer to read, probably because I am very fussy about voices and because I would be examining the performance of the narrator far more than if I were not a narrator myself!
Having now completed a fantasy series (Split Worlds), is there anything you wished you had done differently in the process of writing? What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned from completing a series?
I don’t wish I had done anything differently in terms of the writing; they helped me to refine my process and I learned a great deal about plotting, handling multiple POVs and telling big stories. In fact, the biggest lesson I learned was that going into a story knowing it’s going to take five novels to tell it is a form of stress I will never put myself through again (though I fully reserve the right to change my mind on that!). These days, only a small number of authors will have the sort of career in which a publisher will buy five novels from them in one contract. Not knowing whether you will be able to finish the story you have started telling – and that people have fallen in love with – is a horrible feeling. Thankfully I did manage to have the entire series published, thanks to my wonderful agent Jennifer Udden and Diversion Books, but it was rather stressful at points when it was uncertain. It’s the reason I write interlinked standalone sci-fi novels now, rather than a sequential series that needs to be read in a specific order.
You are a prolific writer. What kind of routine do you keep in order to maintain such an output?
I don’t! I juggle writing with being an audio book narrator, a podcaster, a keen LARPer, a dressmaker and having a family, not to mention occasional public events and teaching. No two days are the same. The only thing I can say is that I try my best to allocate blocks of weeks where my priority is getting a first draft written, but even that is proving to be harder and harder as my narration career has been taking off over the last couple of years. I guess that having figured out my process and the optimal conditions for me to write is a huge help, so when I can carve out that time, I put it to good use. I really miss the days when I could block out time more strictly, but I am not going to be ungrateful for the audio book work either!
Tell us a little bit about Before Mars, which is due out next month.
Before Mars is a psychological thriller set on Mars, the third science fiction novel set in the Planetfall universe, and like the previous two it is a standalone and they can be read in any order. The protagonist, Anna Kubrin, is a geologist and painter whose Martian landscapes have come to the attention of a billionaire who owns a research base on Mars. He sends her there to paint, but soon after she arrives things feel odd. The more Anna finds out about the base and the people there, the more she suspects that her assignment isn’t as simple as she was led to believe. But is she caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy, or is she actually losing her mind? It’s published by Gollancz in the UK and Ace (Penguin Random House) in the States and is available for pre-order now.
Emma Newman writes short stories, novels and novellas in multiple speculative fiction genres. She won the British Fantasy Society Best Short Story Award 2015 for “A Woman’s Place” in the 221 Baker Streets anthology. Her science-fiction novel, After Atlas, was shortlisted for the 2017 Arthur C. Clarke award.
Emma is an audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo and Alfie Award winning podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’. Her hobbies include LARP, tabletop RPGS and dressmaking. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk and can be found as @emapocalyptic on Twitter.