Altfiction New Writers | Emma Newman

The final instalment in the New Writers series for this years Altfiction is Emma Newman. The other writers in this series and on the panel are Tom H Pollock, Lou Morgan and Vincent Holland-Keen. If you want to hear more from these new writers and lots of other fantastic guests including our guests of honour Sci Fi writer Ken McLeod and author and games writer Jim Swallow.

Let’s start with the obvious, you are all on the new writers panel,
what is the book, who is it published by, when will it/did it become
available and what’s it about?

It’s called 20 Years Later and was published in hardback by Dystopia Press, a new small press in America and came out a few weeks ago in the US and the UK.

An ultra-short summary for the Twitter age is: YA set in post-apocalyptic London about friendship, loyalty and gangs, without romance.

It’s set in London twenty years after almost everyone was called by something the survivors only refer to as ‘It’. The city is divided into territories run by gangs and is a very dangerous and unpleasant place to live. An extraordinary friendship develops between Zane, Titus and Erin, three teenagers who come from very different backgrounds. Titus’s sister is kidnapped by one of the more secretive gangs and as they search for her, they discover a dark secret beneath London.

Actually, my publisher’s blurb says it much better than I can!

” LONDON, 2012: It arrives and with that the world is changed into an unending graveyard littered with the bones, wreckage, and memories of a dead past, gone forever.

LONDON, 2032: Twenty years later, out of the ashes, a new world begins to rise, a place ruled by both loyalty and fear, and where the quest to be the first to regain lost knowledge is an ongoing battle for power. A place where laws are made and enforced by roving gangs—the Bloomsbury Boys, the Gardners, the Red Lady’s Gang—who rule the streets and will do anything to protect their own.

THE FOUR: Zane, Titus, Erin, Eve. Living in this new world, they discover that they have abilities never before seen.  And little do they know that as they search post-apocalyptic London for Titus’ kidnapped sister that they’ll uncover the secret of It, and bring about a reckoning with the forces that almost destroyed all of humanity.”

It seems that few people actually take the supposed ‘usual’ route to publishing, can you tell us a little about your experience of how it actually works?

Funnily enough, the first publisher I submitted it to almost picked it up, and it took a year for it to rise higher and higher in the approval chain, only for the head guy to reject it. That was pretty devastating, as the second-in-command had been speaking to me on the phone and was practically convinced they would take it on. The head guy’s rejection was four lines long, but nailed the problems with the draft so brilliantly that when I re-wrote it to address the problems, I ended up with a much better book.

Ultimately, I think mine was one of those “quite unusual at the time but becoming more common” routes in that Twitter played a huge part. I’d been trying to find a home for it for some time, when someone tweeted about a new press being set up in America specialising in dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. I followed the publisher before they’d even started taking submissions. We chatted a bit, which helped break the ice, and when they opened their door to submissions my sample was one of the first to arrive. Two months later I had a contract. It only took several years and thirty or so rejections to get to that point, and a hell of a lot of tea. I think people call that character building, right?

What’s the hardest/worst/most soul destroying part of getting a book finished for you personally and how do you get yourself through it?

By getting a book finished do you mean the first draft? The re-drafts? The edits? I got tearful when I wrote the end of the 20 Years Later trilogy, as I knew I wouldn’t be spending time with the characters any more (now I sound like a lunatic) but I don’t find the end of books any harder or easier to write than any other part.

When it does get tough, I remember all the other times it’s felt tough and that I somehow muddled through. I’m finishing my fifth novel now and all the hard bits, all the points where I panic about the same things are becoming familiar now. That’s why writing the first ever book is so hard, you’re not only figuring out how to get the story down, you’re figuring out how to be a writer. For me, it was the obsessive need to get the story out of my head and onto the page that got me through the hardest bits.

And anyway, it’s only soul-destroying when you start to try and get published, right?

There is lots of advice on how to write and getting published and things like Nanowrimo out there. Was there one bit of advice/book/event/inspiration that made a difference to you that you would like to pass on to other aspiring writers?

It was more the realisation that reading all of the conflicting advice out there was actually doing more harm than good. All of the time I wasted trying to find the perfect way to write from other people was taking time away from discovering the best way for me to write. We all have to find our own path, and I think the only way to do that is to sit and write. A lot. And not only churn out words, but analyse how it feels to write different amounts in each sitting, which times of day work best, what kind of things are harder to write than others. Experimentation and refinement can unlock your own best process better than anything else.

Has writing changed how you read?

Absolutely. I constantly analyse, and it’s only a very small percentage of the books that I read that can completely take me away into the story now. Even then I study how they managed to do that afterwards. It’s made me much more critical and much more fussy about what I read.

Sometimes I feel a little sad that it isn’t the pure escape and relaxing exercise it used to be, but then I remember that reading great books is part of my job, part of my professional development and I realise just how lucky I am.

Ok from the other side, as a fan, can you each tell us one recent
book that’s really caught your imagination as a fan/reader and one old
favourite that still has a place in your heart and on your shelves?

I recently read “American Gods”, seemingly after everyone else in the world had, and my goodness it’s good. Now I see why so many people love it. Neil Gaiman doesn’t really need any more fans, but I can’t help myself.

As for an old favourite… well I have a short story collection by Ray Bradbury, who is one of my writing heroes, called “Golden Apples of the Sun” which I go back to every year, in particular the story “A Sound of Thunder”. As for a novel, “Shogun” will always have a special place in my heart, and I think every house should have a copy of “1984″ in it. And Fahrenheit 451. Oh dear, I am absolutely terrible at questions like this, I can never name one book. Sorry.

Author bio:

Emma lives in Somerset, England and drinks far too much tea. She writes dark short stories, post-apocalyptic novels and records audiobooks in all genres. Her debut short-story collection From Dark Places was published in 2011 and she’s celebrating the recent publication of 20 Years Later, her debut post-apocalyptic novel for young adults. Emma recently secured funding to write a new five book urban fantasy series called the Split Worlds and is releasing a short story every week set there. Her hobbies include making Steampunk costumes and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk, rarely gets enough sleep and refuses to eat mushrooms.

Altfiction New Writers | Vincent Holland Keen

not an official author pic.

It’s altfiction in April and the participants of the New Writers panel have agreed to take time out to talk to us on unbound first.  First up we had Tom H Pollock, then  Lou Morgan next up is Vincent Holland Keen, on Sunday check back for Emma Newman.

What is the book, who is it published by, when will it/did it become available and what’s it about?

‘The Office of Lost and Found’, published by Anarchy Books in July, 2011. It’s about a detective agency of sorts. Thomas Locke finds things, his partner, Lafarge, loses things. One day a femme fatale called Veronica Drysdale turns up at the Office and… well, that’s where the familiar tropes end. There’s humour and horror, drama and adventure, and also a toaster called Leonard (though as you’d expect, he’s not very important to the grand scheme of things).

It seems that few people actually take the supposed ‘usual’ route to publishing, can you tell us a little about your experience of how it actually works?

My experience is absolutely with the majority who avoid the usual route into publishing, though I doubt anyone else shared my particular experience. I didn’t formally submit ‘The Office of Lost and Found’ to the publisher who accepted it. I’d been commissioned to do some cover artwork for Anarchy Books and the publisher, Andy Remic, asked if I’d be interested in contributing a short story to an anthology. I wanted to make sure he knew what he was letting himself in for, so sent on the book as a sample of my writing. He duly wrote back asking if he could publish it. This suited me particularly well, because I hate submitting stuff, but suspect it’s a pretty unhelpful example for anyone else.

What’s the hardest/worst/most soul destroying part of getting a book finished for you personally and how do you get yourself through it?

Umm, paragon of positive thinking that I am, I don’t find any of it soul-destroying, though some might argue that’s because I don’t have a soul to begin with (I sold it to buy a waffle-iron years ago). Finding the right way to start a scene is often challenging, but challenging is part of the fun of writing a book. Editing a scene and trying to find just the right words to effectively and concisely engineer a piece of prose can involve lots of huffing and pacing about, but I can live with that kind of hard because if I didn’t do it I’d get this horrible itching sensation in my brain.

There is lots of advice on how to write and getting published and things like Nanowrimo out there. Was there one bit of advice/book/event/inspiration that made a difference to you that you would like to pass on to other aspiring writers?

Take the time to practice and learn your craft. No one would expect to be a virtuoso violinist the first time they picked up a violin. Equally, everyone should expect the tuition of an expert teacher to deliver results quicker than struggling on your own or getting lessons from someone who thinks a violin should be played like a tuba.

Has writing changed how you read?

Yes, unfortunately. I’m far pickier now about what books I read. I also read far less, because I spend more of my spare time writing. I also feel compelled to read books while hanging upside from the ceiling, but I’m not sure if I can blame that on writing.

Ok from the other side, as a fan, can you each tell us one recent book that’s really caught your imagination as a fan/reader and one old favourite that still has a place in your heart and on your shelves?

I bought Terry Pratchett’s ‘Unseen Academicals’ while killing time in Milan (see, even hobbyist writers lead a jet-set lifestyle and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) and was reminded of why his inventiveness and storytelling is still head and shoulders above most writers out there. As for an old favourite, crumbs. That’s tricky. There are some great and much-read books that aren’t on my shelves – ‘Cars, Trucks and Things that Go’ by Richard Scarry immediately springs to mind – but of those I have got, I think I’ll go with ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke, because it’s great. Unless I read it again and find it less enjoyable, in which case go back to Richard Scarry.

AltFiction New Writers | Lou Morgan

In the run up to altfiction 2012 this years new writers have kindly agree to talk about themselves and their books here. 

Let’s start with the obvious, you are all on the new writers panel,
what is the book, who is it published by, when will it/did it become
available and what’s it about?

New writers. I like that. It makes me feel all shiny and exciting! And young!

My book is called Blood and Feathers, and it’ll be published by Solaris at the beginning of August. As for what it’s about… it’s about heaven and hell, and grief and hope and war; Archangels, Fallen angels and angels with guns – and a young woman called Alice wondering how she got herself mixed up in all of this, and why she’s being hauled around by an angel with a hip-flask and a heavy trigger finger.

It seems that few people actually take the supposed ‘usual’ route to
publishing, can you tell us a little about your experience of how it
actually works?

I feel like I was very lucky. I met Jon Oliver, my editor, at World Horror in Brighton in 2010 and we got talking. Later, he asked me if I wanted to submit a pitch for an Abaddon shared-world novel, which I did, and even though it wasn’t quite right for them at the time, we kept in touch and regularly ran into each other at conventions.

Then I was at World Horror 2011 in Texas, and there were a few of us who had flown over from the UK, sitting together in the hotel bar (if and when it was open… long story) and chatting. Jon asked me what I was working on. I told him, and he asked to see it… and it went from there!

The lovely thing about Solaris is that it feels like a family. They’re a great team to work with and everyone is incredibly approachable. It’s made the whole process (about which I hold up my hands and say I knew less than zero!) really interesting and a lot of fun.

What’s the hardest/worst/most soul destroying part of getting a bookfinished for you personally and how do you get yourself through it?

I suffer massively from “I can’t move on until I get this bit right!”-itis, which can make me an utter misery to live with until I’ve fixed whatever it is I happen to hate. The logical thing, of course, would be to move on and then go back to whatever-it-is-I-hate and fix it later, but I think I’m a bit too linear for that.Or too much of a pedant. Or both.

This is, of course, not to be confused with recurring bouts of “It’s all utter dross and it’s the worst thing ever written and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing even trying to finish it I should just give up now”-itis, which is a whole other thing, and for which the only treatment is a sit down with a cup of tea and a large serving of perspective. And a biscuit.

There is lots of advice on how to write and getting published andthings like Nanowrimo out there. Was there one bit ofadvice/book/event/inspiration that made a difference to you that youwould like to pass on to other aspiring writers?

When it comes to writing, I can’t even begin to pretend I’m qualified to give advice! However, a more general tip would be to go to conventions.

Events like World Horror (which was my first convention) and FantasyCon are incredibly important: not for “networking”, but because you’re spending time with people who care about the same things you do. At FantasyCon, everyone is there because they like genre fiction – whether they’re writing it, publishing it, illustrating it, representing it, reviewing it… they’re all reading it too.

Find the events which match up to your specific interests and make the effort to go to them and interact with people. Find out which societies people involved in those areas belong to: places like the British Fantasy Society are a great starting point because they’re full of people who are interested in the same things you are, and that means you’ve already got something in common. Everyone is very welcoming – so while you may not come away with a book deal, you will come away with some very good friends.

Has writing changed how you read?

It’s made me more envious, certainly: I’ve been known to covet an elegant turn of phrase in someone else’s book so much that steam comes out of my ears. Putting it(and me) in a more positive light, I think it makes me more appreciative of other people’s work.

Other than that, I don’t think writing itself has done much to change how I read: a good story’s a good story, no matter who the reader is. I’ll still read pretty much anything you put in front of me – I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to the kind of book that interests me.

Ok from the other side, as a fan, can you each tell us one recent
book that’s really caught your imagination as a fan/reader and one oldfavourite that still has a place in your heart and on your shelves?

One of my favourite books of last year was Will Hill’s Department 19, and I’ve just read the sequel, The Rising. I’ve got a real weakness for vampires, and Will writes them very well indeed. I love the world that he’s created, taking Stoker’s story and spinning off in a completely fresh direction to come up with something complex and clever and brutal. Also, he has lots of guns in his books… What? Like that’s a bad thing?

As for an old favourite, there’s probably too many to list. But one which is always going to have a space is Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. I can’t remember when I first read it, but I know that I grew up wishing I could be part of the world in that book. The midwinter setting is incredibly evocative, and being an only child, there was something really appealing about the combination of the large family at the heart of the story, and the slightly distant role – both inside and outside it at once – that Will, the young protagonist has to grow into. There’s probably a terribly elegant metaphor for growing up in there if you want to look for it – I think I was always too carried away by the story, though. It’s a rare book that can swallow you whole. Metaphorically speaking, obviously. Because nobody wants a man-eating library… do they?

Altfiction New Writers | Tom Pollock

In the run up to AltFiction 2012 I am joined by the four authors making up the new writers panel (moderated by the wonderous Jon Weir) to answer a few questions. 

First up Tom H Pollock

Let’s start with the obvious, you are all on the new writers panel,
what is the book, who is it published by, when will it/did it become
available and what’s it about?:

The book’s called ‘The City’s Son’ It’s published by Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus and it’s out in the second week of June. It’s a YA fantasy set in modern London, heavy on urban monsters and frantic rooftop chases: A teenaged graffiti artist gets kicked out of school, meets a homeless boy who claims to be the prince of London and together they try and save the city from a marauding crane-fingered demolition god. Fun, huh?

It seems that few people actually take the supposed ‘usual’ route to
publishing, can you tell us a little about your experience of how it
actually works?

Mine was actually pretty normal. I wrote a the first book in a trilogy about angels, ghosts and a clockwork heaven and did the agent search: got interest from a couple of folks and went with the delightful Amy Boggs at the Donald Maass agency. By then though, I’d started work on The City’s Son, and would have been loathe to stop writing it to work on the second angel book if and when we sold the first one. So, with much forbearance, my delightful agents waited while I finished TCS, edited it and re-edited it. Finally I handed it over to them and they pitched and sold it. Easy huh? (Tom keels over slowly forwards), sickly grin still plastered to his face.) I remain to this day embarrassed and grateful for trojan horsing my way into my agency with a nice, recgonizable Angel book and then asking them to actually sell a much stranger concoction of Street Lamp Spirits and Runaway Train Ghosts.

What’s the hardest/worst/most soul destroying part of getting a book
finished for you personally and how do you get yourself through it?

I’m now working on the sequel to The City’s Son, and I really need to stop comparing first draft of current work with the finished article of the last one. It gives me the unnerving impression that I’ve forgotten how to write. I get through that basically by ignoring it. I keep writing and promise myself that I’ll fix it as I go.

There is lots of advice on how to write and getting published and
things like Nanowrimo out there. Was there one bit of
advice/book/event/inspiration that made a difference to you that you
would like to pass on to other aspiring writers?

Just to read widely, and write often. The former helps you work out exactly what you want to write, and when you know that it’s much easier to sustain the latter. Which is handy, because it’s going to take a bit of practice and trial and error before you find a way of writing that works for you. I mean, I can tell you how I do it, (In a public place with headphones in, in 1k bursts 4-5 times a week) but realistically you aren’t going to use my way, you’re going to use yours. And the only way you’ll find it is practice.

Has writing changed how you read?

I try not to let it. Reading too critically rather dehydrates books for me. No doubt much worth knowing could be learned from doing so, but the fun and joy of uncritical reading are just too awesome to give up. In other words, no. I’m dead easy to impress with books, and I like it that way.

Ok from the other side, as a fan, can you eeach tell us one recent
book that’s really caught your imagination as a fan/reader and one old
favourite that still has a place in your heart and on your shelves?

Recent(ish) The Gone Away World by Nick Harkway : It’s just. So. Much. Fun. But more than that, the fun is had by the good guys, which in a fictional environment apparently governed by the maxim ‘bad guys have more fun’ is important. Also it’s moving, and compelling and satirical and… wonderful. (Ignore what I said earlier about being easy to impress btw. I could be a sour faced supergrouch and still love this book)

Old favourite: there are many, but I’m going to go with The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. It was the first fantasy I ever read that had character who were kids, like me, but didn’t feel like it was coddling me. It felt dangerous, and alive. The magic was wild and unpredictable and so were the fates of Colin and Susan, the boy and girl who got enmeshed in it. Every page whispered a thrilling, frightening subtext: ‘Reader beware: a happy ending here is not guaranteed’.