Author Interview: Emma Newman – ‘Between Two Thorns’

BetweenTwoThorns-300dpiBetween Two Thorns is the first in the Split Worlds trilogy of urban fantasy novels written by Emma Newman. The author, who resides in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, spoke with The Fix ahead of the book’s launch in March to tell us more about the trilogy opener, its high profile fans, the formation of the story and why listening to no advice is good advice for aspiring writers. How would you describe Between Two Thorns to a potential new reader? There’s two versions. If I had to describe it in 140 characters, for obvious reasons, it’s urban fantasy with a dash of noir with feuding dynastic families, supernatural patrons, mad sorcerers, evil fairies and nice cups of tea. For people who have no idea what Urban Fantasy is, it’s a sub genre in which you have the normal modern world with bits of weirdness in it. In a sentence it’s like the aristocratic side of Downton Abbey with mad sorcerers and evil fairies. How did you come up with the idea for Between Two Thorns and the Split Worlds trilogy? It snuck up on me. About three years ago I woke up with the story in my head. That rarely happens I have to say, usually they don’t come to me as I wake up but it was there fully formed. It was a Friday and I needed to write a story because I was part of the Friday Flash Community online where people post a story of a thousand words or less and share links to them. The story was about a shopkeeper who had a very strange shop called The Emporium Of Things In Between And Besides. It starts when a woman comes in with a very ornate box and inside is a bell jar with a fairy inside. The woman thinks it’s a hologram and that it’s something special sent from Japan where her husband has been working. She claimed that she couldn’t find the instructions but then finds out that it’s actually a real fairy and the shopkeeper realises that his delivery boy has delivered it to the wrong address. He’s left with an unknowing innocent who’s been delivered an incredibly powerful, magical artefact and he has to decide whether he’s just going to turn her into dust or if he is going to be kind to her. Because she’s polite he decides to just wipe her recent memory and give her a fruitcake recipe and direct her out of the door. That was the story. I posted it up and later that day there were loads of comments. The people who read my work seemed to really like it so I started to write a serial. I wrote a follow up and then another story came and another and before I knew it I wrote a story set in that world every week for a good six months. I realised I was actually building the world for my next set of novels, so I started developing the ideas. Angry Robot Books will be releasing the trilogy. They have a cult following on an international scale; have you had any interaction with their fans yet? Yeah, what’s been really wonderful is that just getting a contract with Angry Robot made people and blogs I’ve been following for years suddenly notice me, which was kind of weird… and nice. When I went to the States and I was at World-Com they introduced me as one of the latest authors to be signed to Angry Robot and people were so excited because they had so much faith that they will bring out good books that they really enjoy. So that’s fantastic that they really do have a fabulous reader base who get very excited and are very supportive of everything they bring out. You had a big endorsement from a big name in the United States. Can you tell us about that? Yeah! Bill Willingham who writes a comic series called Fables, which has been running since 2002 and is hugely popular. If anyone watches Once Upon A Time or that kind of series that shows fairy tales in the real world then they’d know that he was the first person to do that in comics. He’s got a huge following and when the book was sent to him I was really nervous because he’s one of the genre authorities on urban fantasy with fairies, but he really loved it. He wrote a really beautiful letter and apologised for writing more of a fan letter, which was heavenly to read. He said, “Emma Newman has built a modern fantasy world with such élan and authority, her ideas of why and how the seemingly irrational world of fairy works should be stolen by every other writer in the field”. That was quite cute. He also said, “her characters are complex and troubled, courageous at times and foolhardy. This book of wonders is first rate.” That was fabulous. Mary Robinette, who is very popular within genre circles for writing a series which is like Jane Eyre with magic, and another Angry Robot author, Adam Christopher, who has been successful with superhero and noir mash ups have also been kind with their praise. There have been some wonderful reviews so I’m very pleased about that. What have you been doing to promote the series? Is it true that you’ve been releasing short stories as audio podcasts in the run up to the release? Yes. For a year and a day leading up to the release of Between Two Thorns I’ve been releasing a story set in the Split Worlds every week with a text and audio version. The text version is hosted on a different blog every week with 54 stories in total. That was really hard work! They were between a thousand and thirteen hundred words in length, but by the time you think of the idea and then write, edit, record, edit the recording, arrange for hosts and write the other novels alongside it it’s a lot of work. We also had some really fun launch events in Bristol and London on 7th and 8th March. Over the year we’re looking to run some live events with games, puzzles and all kind of things so people can experience it more immersively if that’s what they want. I’ve started to seed some things in the short stories that have gone out which will be picked up and run with in games. But I have to finish the novels first! What were you working on before Between Two Thorns and how did you get into writing in the first place? I started when I was four. My grandmother’s favourite story about me was when I was that age and working really hard on something at her kitchen table and when she asked what I was doing I said, “I’m writing a story, Nanna”. It probably sucked, but that’s when I started to fall in love with writing. I wrote all through my childhood and then I wrote a short story that got me into University. After that I didn’t write for ten years, it was such a massive mental block and even forgot I used to write all the time. I eventually worked myself out of the block and started writing properly when I was a teacher in London and I wrote a novel, made loads of mistakes both in the novel itself and trying to get it published, and started to write short stories again. Somebody triple dared me to enter a short story competition, so I did and I won it receiving a website design, which has since been replaced. Between Two Thorns is the 4th novel I’ve written. You mentioned that Between Two Thorns was different to what you usually write, so were these other novels of a different genre? Yeah. They were still speculative fiction but the series of novels I wrote before the Split Worlds were post apocalyptic dystopian and to be honest I feel like I’ve done that now; I wouldn’t want to write another dystopian novel. If someone was to say to me three years ago, “what are you gonna write after your current trilogy?” I wouldn’t have said it would be about fairies and the comedy of manners with massive cross-world politics and supernatural prisons, I would not have predicted it. I’m always going to write genre pieces and I had a short story collection published, again speculative fiction, which was very dark like everything I write. I think that’s always going to be the case. Which writers influence you and is it just books? I know you’re heavily into television sci-fi? I always think there’s a danger of focussing on one medium. Everything I’ve read, watched, consumed and experienced all goes into the books. I’ve been writing for so long now and so much that I would like to say I’ve got my own voice now. In terms of the writers who I have enjoyed the most – Ray Bradbury was a big influence on my short stories, then there’s Shōgun by James Clavell, which really made me fall in love with politicking between rival factions and how exciting that could be in a novel. I love John Windom as well. I wouldn’t point at any of them and say they are the reason I became a writer or the ones I most wanted to emulate. When every writer writes a novel they have bits of themselves in it, other people they know, things they’ve experienced and none of that has got anything to do with anything they’ve read. Outside of writing what else interests you? I’m a gamer, so I like playing computer games, but also role-playing games as well. I’m a real geek. I like sewing as well; I used to be a designer dressmaker. One thing I do to cope with the stress of these big events is to make clothes to wear at the event and then I get stressed about whether I’m going to finish it in time rather than the event itself. It’s a good distraction technique. Finally, what advice would you give to any aspiring writers? Not to listen to any advice. There’s loads of advice online telling you how many words you should write every day, whether you should write every day or not, you name it – people give advice. The only person who can figure out the most productive way to write and the most satisfying way is you. It took me about three years to figure out how to work at my optimum level, how to be as productive as I am, and how to find the way that I like to write. Some people like to plot a novel before they write and some people just like to write anything that just pops into their head. There’s no right or wrong way, so my advice is find your own way. Between Two Thorns is now available from book retailers both online and on the High Street with the other two titles in the trilogy being released in June and October 2013. You can find out more about Emma Newman and sign up to receive free short stories by email at