Today I’m very proud to introduce EJ Newman, an author who I’ve been following online since a few months before she got her first publishing contract. A long, long time ago I discovered her blog, then I subscribed to her short story club, and now I’m subscribed to the Split Worlds stories. The short stories delivered to my inbox inspired me and made me fall in love with Newman’s writing.
A couple years later, I’m thrilled to say that she’s decided to join us for an interview.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, 20 Years Later?
20 Years Later is the first in a trilogy set in London twenty years after almost everyone was killed by something the survivors only refer to as ‘It’. The city is divided into territories run by gangs and is a very dangerous place to live. Amongst the dust and bones, an extraordinary friendship develops between Zane, Titus and Erin, three teenagers who come from very different backgrounds. Titus’ sister is kidnapped by one of the more secretive gangs. As they
search for her, they meet a girl called Eve and discover a dark secret beneath London.
2. When did you first know you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?
About two years ago I think. I’ve known that I will always be a writer for longer than that,
but it was about two years ago that I realised I really didn’t want to do anything except write
fiction and I needed to find a way to change my life to make that possible.
It’s been hard, scary and there have been sacrifices, but I have never been so happy and so
fulfilled as I am now as a full-time fiction writer.
3. What was the original inspiration for 20 Years Later?
The easy answer is that it grew organically, driven by the characters and the geography of
The complicated answer is that I was watching my boyfriend of the time (now my husband!
) starting to play a new game on the PS2 with a very cheesy opening sequence about a post-
apocalyptic world. I remembered how much I loved various post-apocalyptic books I’d
read years before and had a sudden urge to tell a story set in post-apocalyptic London. Only
problem was that I was deep in a ten year long writer’s block. It was so deep I even forgot I
used to write. So I had to tell the story a different way: running a roleplaying game for my
partner and two friends.
There wasn’t a particular plot I had in mind right at the start. The Red Lady was the first
character who popped into my head, Jay was the second. I walked around London, looking at
potential territories and the three players described the kinds of characters they wanted to be.
I built the world around the Red Lady’s Hunters, the Bloomsbury Boys and the requirements
of the players and the story grew over about two years I think. Then I stopped running the
game for logistical reasons and a few months after that I had finally got to the point when I
could start writing the book. But that’s a whole different story!
4. How did you first get the idea of your free short story club/mailing list?
I can’t honestly say there was a light bulb moment, I think it crept up on me, like a friendly
cat. I noticed that a lot of bloggers, particularly in America, particularly in the self-help
/ business entrepreneur spheres were running monthly newsletters and I liked the idea of
building a community that I could communicate with in a different space to the blog which is
open to the world. I also wanted a way to share my stories without posting all of them online
for obvious reasons. I think those wants and being inspired by people in a different online
sphere just got chucked into the melting pot of my brain and the short story club was born.
5. Can you tell us a bit about the Split Worlds stories?
The stories are being released every week for a year and a day up until the launch of the first
book in the series on November 1st 2012. At the time of writing this, the 23rd story has just
Each story is a glimpse into the world I’m creating for my novels, some of the characters that
appear in the stories will be in the novels too, and I’m seeding little snippets of information
in the stories that will make reading the novels a richer experience. For example, in the first
novel one of the characters recalls an incident in passing which is actually one of the flash
stories released – it doesn’t have a negative impact if someone reads the book without having
read that, but if the reader has, my hope is that they’ll feel a little rush of excitement – they
know what happened in depth.
It’s hard coming up with a new idea every week, but it’s also building the world, which is a
big part of my work anyway.
6. Do you think that the short story club/mailing list has helped you market your books?
That’s impossible to tell in any real sense, as I don’t know how many of the subscribers have
bought my book and not told me! I don’t think it has hurt, but I don’t use it as a hard selling
7. What advice would you give to someone just starting to write flash fiction?
As I say later on, I have a dislike of advice about writing, but if I were really, really pushed,
and that someone hadn’t written much before, I would say read a lot of flashes first to work
out what works for them. The #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter is a great way to get a weekly
sample of lots of different writing styles all within the flash discipline.
Flashes are hard to write, they need to be satisfying and tightly written. Every word counts. I
think the key is finding a relatively simple idea that doesn’t need more than one, or at a push
two scenes, and telling the story in the most simple, yet interesting way possible.
8. What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
Writers write (as opposed to just talking about it).
I see so much terrible advice it makes me want to scream – but the thing I don’t like the most
is writing advice in and of itself. I wasted a lot of time reading about how other authors wrote
books, when I just knuckled down and worked hard to discover my own process, I made a
hell of a lot more progress.
9. What do you define ‘writing success’ as?
Wow, that’s a good question! It varies I suppose. One thing’s for certain; a satisfying
definition of success constantly shifts, it differs depending on what stage of my writing career
I happen to be at. Once all I wanted was to finish a first draft. Then it was actually writing a
decent book! Then it was getting published, and now? Well, I suppose it would be getting the
second book in the trilogy picked up, getting an award or being a bestseller.
Those are external markers of success of course. On a day-to-day basis writing success is
beating anxiety and getting the words down. The key to not going mad as a writer (or at least
more mad) is to not compare yourself to other people. I’m friends with some very successful
authors, and I have to actively rein in envy (only natural) and also stop myself comparing
how well they’re doing to my perception of my own success so far. It’s not a competition, and
as a friend said to me, the only person I should compare myself to is the person I was in the
past. So maybe internal markers of success are more important.
10. What are you working on right now that readers can look forward to?
Well, from now until November 1st there will be a new Split Worlds story every week and
it seems that quite a lot of people look forward to those, which is lovely. Then there’s the
five book series for people to look forward to. I’m working very hard, have written nearly a
quarter of a million words since October last year, so there is a lot on the way!
I don’t have a date for them, but there are the remaining books in the 20 Years Later trilogy
You can purchase a copy of 20 Years Later here.
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.