I was faffing about on the Twitter back in January when SF author Ken MacLeod retweeted a message about 20 Years Later, the debut novel from EJ Newman. I hadn’t come across her work previously, but a quick look at her website told me I had to get in touch to find out more, as her creative output puts mine to shame! She found time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her debut novel (a mystery set in post-apocalyptic London), current projects (Split Worlds, which involves producing a new story every week for a year and a day) and supporting local bookshops.
“I’m often asked what it is about dystopian novels that grabs the YA reader’s imagination, and I always like to point out this is nothing new – every generation post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels have a surge in popularity. When I was growing up it was The Tripods and Empty World (that was the first post-apocalyptic novel I read) and there’s the perennial appeal of the books 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 for example. The only different today is that the “YA market” has been explicitly defined in a way it wasn’t the last time this sub-genre was popular.
That aside, the reason it keeps being popular is quite simple I think; dystopian fiction explores problems and threats that already exist all around us, but writ large. In most dystopian fiction the reader is given a hero who resists the system, who wants to fight despite how dangerous it is – thereby enabling us to live out our own fantasies vicariously. When I was a teen, I was constantly furious at adults who were simply ignoring terrible things going on in the world. In dystopian fiction, the heroes actually do something about it.
People can order signed copies of my book from a local independent shop in Bath called Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. It’s one of my favourite places on Earth – I am not exaggerating! I’ve been a faithful customer for several years and when 20 Years Later came out I wanted a way to get signed copies to readers who might not be able to make signings, and also to help drive some business through my favourite bookshop’s door. It has worked beautifully.
20 Years Later was available as a podcast before being picked up for publication. This enabled me to get feedback on the book from a wider audience without posting the text online, and led to a side line in professional audiobook narration – I’ve now recorded 5 audiobooks for Iambik Audio. It also built an audience waiting for the book to be published.
I can’t think of a single thing against doing the podcasts. I got the contract half way through the book (I released a chapter a week) so I asked if I could continue as I didn’t want to let people down and the publisher was cool with that. It required a lot of time, it was a vertical learning curve, but I don’t see those as bad things necessarily.
I’ve already written the second and third books of the trilogy, it’s just that the publishing machine moves much slower than my desire to write. I finished last year and already had an idea for my next series bubbling away. The release of 20 Years Later was delayed by a variety of factors so whilst it’s brand new for everyone else, it’s actually about two years since I submitted the manuscript!
The Split Worlds (current project) is very, very different to 20 Years Later; different themes, different genre and isn’t YA. I think that’s against all the advice out there, but it’s just something I had to write.
The Split Worlds is a five book urban fantasy series. It’s really hard describing a new project when you’re deep inside it but here goes:
“Dynastic families feud across the ages, furthering the agendas of their supernatural patrons. Opposing secret courts wage clandestine wars for control over humanity. Innocents are protected by monsters and the beautiful ones are not what they seem.
The Split Worlds is an urban fantasy setting with gritty noir, fantastical magic, evil faeries and people just trying to drink their tea in peace.”
It’s very quirky, and I’m about to start writing the third book. I’m currently editing the first in the series, which will be published on November 1st 2012, and for a year and a day leading up to that I’m releasing a new short story every week set in the Split Worlds. At the time of writing this, the twentieth story has just gone online.
It’s hard work coming up with 54 short stories and five novels in such a short time frame, but it’s my full-time job now as I managed to secure private funding to write and run the second phase of the project which will include live events and ARG (alternative reality gaming) elements. All the info is at www.splitworlds.com and all the stories released so far can be found there too.
Lots of people have read Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids (the latter I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet) and most have read or seen an adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos, but whenever I mention The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham there’s usually either a blank expression or vague awareness of it. I really enjoyed it, there is such an exquisitely menacing build-up in the early part of the book – actually, I won’t spoil it.
I find it impossible to choose just one favourite book; I’ve tried many times. It’s the hardest question after “tell me about yourself”! I love Shogun by James Clavell (rich and immersive, great setting, great characters), A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (funny and weird), The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (post-apocalyptic tale involving the sea), the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger (funny, great characters, great world) and Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (rich, deep, wonderfully weird and hugely imaginative) and I’m only warming up here.
So many of my favourite characters have such awful lives! I wouldn’t want to be them… Actually, I could very happily be the heroine in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, I’m reading the fifth book at the moment and enjoying it so much. She’s tough, has a fabulously interesting life, amazing friends, a hot husband and lives in a very cool steampunk universe. Yep, I’ll be Alexia please.
As for what I’d do? Well, save the day and be desperately stylish as I do so, I suppose…”