Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with feminist historical novelist Emma Rose Millar. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Emma. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Emma: I’m a single mom and I live in the Midlands, England, with my son. I used to love creative writing as a child – I was always writing and my ambition was to one day become a published author, but as I got older I became more and more inhibited about it and finally stopped writing altogether. Around the time I had my son I had a lot of personal problems, and I started doing a piece of creative writing to help me get my feelings out, and it somehow turned into a novel. Since then I haven’t looked back and have rediscovered my passion for writing. I can’t imagine ever giving it up now.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Emma: I write mostly feminist historical fiction, but sometimes I have included other elements like romance, fantasy and horror. I like to try and put my own spin on a genre.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Emma: My first novel, ‘Strains from an Aeolian Harp’ was published on November 2nd 2012. It’s set in the 1920s and 30s and is about a woman who falls in love with the wrong type of man. It’s a dark tale of domestic violence and opium addiction and of a man who can’t let go of his past, but also a story of courage and hope which I hope people will identify with. I have also had two short stories published in an anthology called Sunkissed by Freya Publications; ‘Five Guns Blazing’ which is a story of piracy full of lots of exciting twists and turns and ‘The Ballad of Iska and Marikit’, based on an ancient legend from the Philippines.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Emma: My novel and the anthology are both available on kindle and in paperback. I don’t know much about e-books; I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to technology. I like to be able to hold a paper book, and my bookshelves at home are heaving.
Morgen: Mine too, and I have both formats. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Emma: I really enjoyed writing ‘Five Gun’s Blazing’. The story is based on real-life pirates Anne Bonny, Mary Read and John Rackham. I loved doing all the research into 18th century pirates, a subject which I had never really been interested before. John Rackham was a fascinating character. In the story I have portrayed him as a romantic hero, a kind of gentleman-highwayman of the seas. I’d love to go to the Caribbean and visit all his hideouts. Writing the story gave me a much-needed break; it was much more upbeat than ‘Strains from an Aeolian Harp’, which is very murky in places. If any of my stories were made into films I would have to cast Johnny Depp – I’m completely in love with him.
Morgen: He’s brilliant in anything he does, although Stephen King’s Secret Window was disappointing but not because of his acting. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Emma: I chose the title for ‘Strains from an Aeolian Harp’. It was difficult to come up with a fitting title because there are so many themes in the book. When I write, I can visualise the characters and settings very clearly; it’s like watching a film to me so I wanted to include a sound-effect to add to the cinematic feel. I chose the Aeolian harp because it’s an eerie, disturbing sound, in-keeping with the story. As Charlie loses his grip on reality he hears the harp all the time and can’t shut it out.
The picture from the cover is from a painting called ‘Hope’ by George Frederic Watts. It shows a woman desperately trying to listen to the sound from the one remaining string of her lyre, so the theme is more one of ‘hoping against hope’ which is also pertinent to the novel.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Emma: I am working on turning ‘Five Guns Blazing’ into either a novella or a novel. I enjoyed writing it so much and I thought that it would be interesting to explore the characters and their stories further. I have added some more characters, some real and some fictional, my favourite being Pierre Bouspet, a real pirate who some people think was John Rackham’s lover.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Emma: While writing my novel, I wrote every day, almost obsessively sometimes, but I am a single mother with a young son and am having a break for a while so that I can focus on him. I also work part-time so it can be difficult sometimes to juggle all my different commitments.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Emma: I never used to plot anything and that’s why I was never able to finish a full-length novel; I always gave up after a few chapters. With ‘Strains From an Aeolian Harp’ I had the whole story in my head and made a plan. Sometimes I deviated from the plan but the bare bones of the story were always there. I’ll carry on using that technique as it works really well for me.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Emma: Sometimes it’s easier when you write historical fiction. For example in ‘Five Guns Blazing’ three out of the four main characters are real people. There are lots of websites with lists of popular names in various countries throughout history, and I try to use names of friends and family too. I think as you get older and you get more life experience characterisation becomes easier, because you have known more people and had more intimate relationships and friendships.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Emma: That’s the thing with historical fiction, there’s always lots of research to do and probably you will never do enough. I read one review where the writer was being criticised for giving one of her characters the wrong type of handbag! It is difficult to get all the detail right but it makes the story more credible if you can. Saying that though, there has to be a balance, otherwise it can become more like a textbook than a novel.
Morgen: It’s worth the effort because there’ll always be readers who know more about a subject than the author. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Emma: It depends on the story. If there are lots of complex characters then third person is probably easier because you can really explore each one in depth. First person can be quite limiting in that respect but it can also be very powerful and is especially good for short stories I think. It’s important to consider why you are using a particular point of view in any piece of writing.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Emma: Yes, a few. I had almost given up hope when Freya Publications finally accepted my work. I was a bit down-hearted, but I knew that it is extremely difficult to get published. I hadn’t allowed friends or family to read my work and I really had no perspective on it – I had no idea if anyone else would ever like it.
Morgen: Not given up hope completely, I… er, hope. 🙂 Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Emma: Yes – when I finished a draft of ‘Strains from an Aeolian Harp’ I entered it for a few competitions because I couldn’t pay agent’s fees and didn’t know how else to get my book published. It wasn’t short-listed for anything. Then one day I was sent a newsletter with details of an independent women’s publisher and I thought my work might meet their criteria. I sent it off and they liked it and the editor worked with me for almost a year to bring it up to scratch. I consider myself very lucky.
Morgen: Fortunate, certainly. It’s often about being in the right place at the right time (with the write story!). Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Emma: Yes – I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to get my work noticed. I’ve joined a few Yahoo reader and writer groups and some Facebook groups which allow you to promote your work. There are also sites which will do free book promotions, author spotlights etc. I have trawled the internet over the last few weeks looking for opportunities to raise the profile of my novel.
Morgen: There are plenty of opportunities out there, and authors with the same goal. I’ve interviewed over 700 of them! What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Emma: Two of the main themes in ‘Strains from an Aeolian Harp’ are domestic violence and infertility, and I found them sometimes very painful to write about. Writing the book was cathartic for me but some of the emotions that went into it were extremely personal. It feels strange in a way that people will be reading it, especially family and friends – that’s a scary thought.
Morgen: We write to be read though, don’t we? What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Emma: There will always be things that stop you from writing; the oven needs cleaning, the lawn needs mowing, but I really believe in following your dream and making time to do so. Otherwise you will never know what might have been. Also you have to be prepared to take criticism and rejection, but there are more opportunities now for writers than ever, especially with all the independent publishers which are establishing themselves at the moment.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Emma: The day my son was born. It was quite traumatic in many ways but having a child is the one thing that has made me truly happy. I can’t imagine any day that would be more important than that.
Morgen: Writers often refer to their characters as their ‘children’ but not like the real thing, I’m sure (although I only have fictional ‘children’… unless you count my dog who often thinks he is. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Emma: The publisher has asked me to do some editing work and I have recently read a submission that I am very excited about.
Morgen: That’s great. I love editing and critique other writers’ work. It’s so much easier than doing your own. You’re always too close to your own writing, and know what you mean by something that someone else may not understand. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Emma: I like keeping fit – yoga, swimming and running, and I love live music, live comedy, theatre and cinema, but it’s very rare I get the time to do any of that now!
Morgen: Like me with my drawing and piano playing (on the ‘to do’ list). You mentioned being on forums and networking sites, how useful have they been?
email@example.com and on Facebook: Lesfic Reader, Historical Romance Addicts and British Historical Fiction and Drama.
Lots of the above have an American fan-base and my novel is doing much better in America since I joined these groups. Also it’s lovely to be involved with a community of readers and writers.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Emma: Have you got any hints and tips about other ways to publicise my work?
Morgen: I know I’m biased but I do think appearing as a guest on websites and blogs is tremendously valuable, not necessarily monetarily, although that would be good, but it’s the exposure, getting your name (your brand) known. Also if you can get as many book reviewers to review your book… I have some listed on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/reviews. It’s all about word of mouth, or word of online. 🙂 Thank you, Emma.
I then invited Emma to include an extract of her writing…
“There is nothing whatsoever to worry about; this is a well-established psychiatric treatment for people with disorders like yours.” Doctor Ballantyne’s voice was calm, rhythmic—hypnotic even.
Rose lay flat on the stretcher with her muscles bracing against the restraints. ‘Psychiatric’, ‘disorder’, whatever was he talking about? None of it made any sense to Rose. Her eyes flitted around the treatment room. What struck her was the whiteness: the wall tiles, linoleum, the spotlights, all glaringly white and clinical. The staff, too many of them milling around, talking in muffled voices which became a sea of noise, also were dressed in white, their outlines blurred, merging with the piles of pillows and white linen. Rose had no idea who they all were, so heavily staffed was the asylum. Matron, ward sisters, registered nurses, cleaners, laundry staff, they were all indistinguishable, doctors, the orderly who delivered her like a parcel to the treatment room, Rose simply could not tell the difference between them. The whole experience was really most disorientating.
“Just relax, Mrs Ashcroft, this is all for your own good. Take away all those nasty thoughts: a few hours from now you’ll be right as rain.”
Rose felt the sharp prick of a needle in her forearm and a hotness coursing through her veins.
“Listen to me now, Mrs Ashcroft—we’ve given you an injection and you will have a convulsion; it will all be over very quickly. Don’t fight it; you won’t feel a thing.”
Rose was caught in a spasm of sheer panic. Her fingers grappled frantically with the buckled straps which were pulled tight against her body, digging deeper into the flesh with every protest. She kicked out but could only raise her shins an inch or so off the stretcher.
“Nurse! Hold on to Mrs Ashcroft please. Mrs Ashcroft, bite onto this.”
A well-worn leather strap was shoved between Rose’s bared teeth. Everything suddenly went black.
And a synopsis…
1922: Charlie is a chancer, with a taste for gin, ragtime and women. Underneath his veneer of assurance however, is a man with a terrible burden of guilt. Fuelled by his fatal addiction to opium, Charlie’s violent temper soon inflicts devastating consequences on the three women who love him, dragging each of them into a world they could never have imagined. In the face of his abject cruelty, one of them will find love in a place where she least expects it; the arms of another woman. Strains from an Aeolian Harp is the story of one woman’s enduring strength and of the fragile bond between women in a society filled with prejudice and misogyny.
Emma Rose Millar is a single mother who lives with her young son in the Midlands, UK and works part-time as a sign language interpreter. She enjoys reading nineteenth-century literature and historical fiction, particularly Sarah Waters and Philippa Gregory. Her debut novel, ‘Strains from an Aeolian Harp’ was published on November 2nd 2012 and she has also had two short stories published in an anthology called SunKissed by Freya Publications.
Her website is http://emmarosemillar.wordpress.com, you can find her on http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Emma-Rose-Millar/194693967322489 and her books on http://www.amazon.co.uk/Strains-From-Aeolian-Harp-ebook/dp/B00A1633LQ.
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