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.
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.