BROUGHT TO BOOK
British author Emma Newman tells us how she kept on going through an awful year.
Sometimes things are so bad you just have to hunker down, get through them whichever way you can. It’s not been the easiest of times for Emma Newman. “At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I had the worst year of my life in 2014,” she says. She’s not exaggerating. Not only did Newman have “major surgery” but complications followed that took her back into hospital.
“Just as I was getting back on my feet my mum was diagnosed with cancer,” she continues. A month later, her best friend died unexpectedly, aged 41. “When Kate died, I feared I’d never be able to write anything again,” she says. Then, a few months later, Newman had yet more surgery.
Somewhere in amongst all these traumas, though, there was some good news – albeit news delivered by Newman’s agent on the day she also learnt her mother had cancer. (“Mum is doing brilliantly with an excellent prognosis.”) Her new novel, Planetfall, had found a home with publishers Roc.
It’s a book that may surprise those who know Newman via her Split Worlds urban fantasy sequence. It’s an SF novel set “in a colony on a distant planet, established at the foot of an alien structure dubbed ‘God’s city’”. The book focuses on Ren, “best friend of the colony founder”, a man who disappeared 22 years previously.
“The book starts when a man bearing a striking resemblance to the founder stumbles out of the wilderness, half-starved and desperate for help,” says Newman. “His arrival threatens the fragile stability of the colony and forces Ren to confront secrets she’s hidden for many years.”
This may seem a long way from tales of the Fae, but then again, as Newman tells it, she never really intended to be a fantasy novelist anyway. “I spent all of my adolescence and significant portions of my adult life only reading sci-fi,” she says. “It’s what I gravitate toward in film too. I have read a very small amount of fantasy in comparison.”
In practice, the technical challenges of the genres aren’t so different. “I think there are far more similarities than differences,” Newman says. “For both, you have to introduce a world, and give the reader enough information at the right points for them to feel secure enough to enjoy and understand the plot and events as they unfold.”
As she’s already hinted, SF writers were formative influences in helping Newman build these skills. While she initially shies away from naming any SF novelists as heroes (“Maybe it’s because I am an author now, and I know the gulf between myself and my books…”), she unhesitatingly namechecks The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester and Prelude To Foundation by Isaac Asimov as books she “could wax lyrical about”.
And then she remembers she does have an SF writer hero, Ray Bradbury. “His book Zen In The Art Of Writing: Essays On Creativity is beautiful,” she says. “I cried for about an hour when I learned of his death [in 2012].”
None of this means Newman is somehow finished with the Split Worlds novels. Eventually, she says, there will be five novels, but that there’s been a delay between books three and four because of “circumstances beyond my control”.
Newman won’t be drawn any further here, but she is happy to talk about her fictional universe invading present-day Bath for a live-action role-playing game in May 2016. “We’ve booked the Guildhall, which is simply the most perfect venue,” she says. “The game focuses on a masked ball being held in Aquae Sulis, the secret mirror version of Bath.”
One person who you’d guess may be there, schedule and finances allowing, is the Nine Worlds convention attendee who cosplayed as Cathy, introduced to readers in Between Two Thorns. “It was the most amazing moment to see one of my characters standing there in front of me,” says Newman.
But wasn’t it also a bit weird? “Yes, it is weird but utterly delightful,” she says. “What’s weird is spending so many years struggling to be published, then working so hard to get your book out into the world, and constantly worrying about whether you’re doing the right things and working hard enough, and then suddenly having actual physical proof that someone else has fallen in love with a particular character to the extent that they have spent hours manifesting their version of that character in the real world.”
In dealing with such moments, it probably helps that Newman is one of those writers who’s a fan herself, host of the Hugo-nominated Tea And Jeopardy podcast, which finds her chatting with writers in a “secret tea lair” where the butler Latimer, aka Emma’s husband and fellow SFF novelist Peter Newman (The Vagrant), serves refreshments.
The sheer joy the podcast takes in geekery is itself a delight – and perhaps a reminder to smile. “Sometimes things are so bad you just have to hunker down, get through them whichever way you can, and focus on the hope that things will get better,” says Newman, reflecting again on hard times. “They have.”
Planetfall is out now.