BROUGHT TO BOOK

Bri­tish author Emma New­man tells us how she kept on go­ing through an aw­ful year.

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Words by Jonathan Wright /// Pho­tog­ra­phy by Joby Ses­sions

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.”

branch­ing out

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.

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