Saturday, 19 May 2012

Interview with Oxford author Rebecca Emin

Last week I caught up with fellow writer Rebecca Emin, described by many as “the nicest author on the internet.” She’s already had two books published this year and is about to release a third.

Where are you sitting right now? Is it your usual place for writing?
I usually sit at our table so I have a view of the garden. I always look out to the garden when I am thinking. My other writing spot is a coffee shop with ceiling to floor windows and a view of fields.

In your new book, When Dreams Come True, you use dream sequences to reflect the changing emotions of your teenage protagonist. This can be quite an exciting way to move the plot along. Were you inspired by other authors’ use of this literary device, or did it come from your own personal experience?
I’ve always had incredibly vivid dreams myself so really that was where this book came from. I was talking to a Twitter friend one day about the dreams I had and she said, “I’m sure there’s a story in that,” and that got me thinking.

Do you believe that dreams reveal our subconscious thoughts?
I think it’s possible that some of them do, or at least they can stem from thoughts. It’s almost like writing fiction in fact; you can have one little idea and it sends you off on a tangent.

Is the character of Charlie based on yourself at a younger age or on your own children?
There are definitely similarities between Charlie and myself, but only because when I write fiction for the 10-14 age group, I try to get in the mindset of a child of that age again. I was a tomboy as a child so I think that is the characteristic I could say was based on me.

Imagine When Dreams Come True on a 13 year old girl’s bookshelf between two other books. What are those books?
Well hopefully my debut novel, New Beginnings would be one of them! I’d like it to be next to one of Tamsyn Murray’s Afterlife books as they are fantastic.

You grew up in the early 80s. How does the life of a thirteen year old now compare with life back then?
It’s like a whole new world, with the Internet and all the games consoles that are around now. But I think, fundamentally, in the eyes of a thirteen year old the most important things will remain the same – friends, films, music, and the fact that it’s hugely important to get a boyfriend/girlfriend before all of your friends do so you’re not the last one who’s “single”!

Do you worry about kids reading less; is internet junk food for the mind; and is kindle going to kill the bookshop?
I don’t worry about my own children reading less because thankfully the three of them are absolutely fascinated by books. I think the Internet is a fantastic thing, used in the right way. It’s like everything though; if you over-use it or use it for the wrong reasons it’s not going to be a good thing. However if it wasn’t for the Internet I wouldn’t be here on your blog, so I have to think it’s good from a writer’s point of view.
I sincerely hope the Kindle doesn’t kill bookshops. I do own a Kindle but I have to say I much prefer paperbacks. Having said that my four year old comments on me “plugging my book in to charge”. Goodness knows what will happen by the time he is my age.

This is the second book you’ve self-published. How do you maintain discipline with regards to your writing quality? Isn’t it tempting to just put it out there as soon as possible?
For me it is exactly the opposite. I have got a massive loathing of typos in my own work for a start, so I would never ever publish a book without having both an editor and at least one proof reader go through it. But before I even get to that stage I ask my beta readers to have a read and tell me what they think. Further down the line for my novels, I have a team of ‘test readers’ who are in the target age group, and I ask them questions and they give me feedback which is essential. For example I mentioned ‘Space Dust’ in an early draft of When Dreams Come True and three of my test readers had no idea what that was, so that had to go.

It is my aim to deliver a product I can be proud of, that is of at least equal quality to that of a book published by a publisher. It’s actually quite a lengthy and consuming process, but I do think it is worth it.

Charlie is happiest when biking with Max and Toby, or watching films with Allie. But when Charlie reaches year nine (age 13), everything begins to change. As her friends develop new interests, Charlie's dreams become more frequent and vivid, and a family crisis tears her away from her friends. How will Charlie react when old family secrets are revealed? Will her life change completely when some of her dreams start to come true?

A few cheeky questions to finish…

Your favourite childhood snack compared with your favourite snack now?
I can’t actually remember my favourite childhood snack – but I do remember sneaking to the village shop for a bag of penny sweets when I shouldn’t have been doing so – just before school!
Even now I don’t have one favourite snack… I am more of a savoury person than sweet though.

Your blog is about trying to write as well as being the mother of three. Any parenting tips?
Hmm. Well, I have three children and it is definitely a learning process when you have three. The dynamics are complicated and there is always something to keep you on your toes. My main tip would be to look after, and make time for, yourself as well as everyone else. That is the hardest thing to learn, but it is essential in the long term.

You can only take one book to a desert island. Choose between your favourite novel, one of your books, or a novel you’ve yet to read.
Well you said I could take one book so I’m going to be very crafty and take the biggest notebook I could find – which of course comes with one of those multi-leaded pencils in the binding. Actually that sounds wonderful… an Island, a notebook and unlimited thinking time. When do I leave?

Thanks Rebecca. Some great answers there.

Rebecca’s first novel for older children, ‘New Beginnings,’ was published by Grimoire Books in January 2012. When Dreams Come True is officially launching on 28th May 2012.

Catch up with her on facebook, twitter and goodreads

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Story 13 - Space Capsule

So you’re in this space capsule and you’ve been travelling for a while now.

Your journey started a couple of months ago in fact and it’s… well, what do you reckon? Is it big with loads of facilities, maybe a kitchen, a gym, a cinema and…?

Nah, it’s small; tiny in fact: About the size of your bedroom. And you’re with all these other people in space pods, something like from on the Alien movie kinda thing, all squashed together, packed in like sardines in a can.

Except there was some sort of malfunction with the one you’ve been in and you’ve just got out and you’re squeezed up against a window looking out at all the stars, wondering how to restart the pod to go into stasis again because the journey is for like a year. Nah, two years…ten years and… No, ten months and like there aren’t any other pods, it’s just you and this robot that isn’t turned on and you’re gonna turn it on in a minute ‘cause you wanna know what the hell you’re supposed to do.

The robot is like this really sexy robot girl… or guy, depending on whatever you want the robot to be… but meanwhile you’re staring out the window going through in your brain what your mission is and what the hell you’re doing in this space capsule in the middle of all this nothingness.


You are sitting on a ledge by the window. The robot is slumped next to you and you bend down to turn it on, searching a switch behind its head, under the hair at the top of the neck. You press against the skin feeling around for a hard lump. You’re in two minds suddenly whether you want company now or not. It might be better to get yourself together a bit more, feel comfortable with being here alone because you are a human and this is a robot and you need to be the one in charge here after all.

You find the lump, pausing again for a second. It seems like you have all the time in the world when you listen to the distant sound of humming from what you guess to be the engines of the capsule. How many months or years are you really going to be out here, in here? What are you going to do with your time if the pod cannot be turned back on?

Your hand moves to switch on the robot in an uncontrollable reaction to your thoughts. Immediately it springs into life, sitting up next to you. Suddenly it is no longer a piece of metal, not just an object but a living humanoid.

It is apparent how attracted you are to the robot as soon as its eyes meet yours. Its standard dark brown uniform of shorts and a t-shirt is clinging tightly to its smooth olive skin; dark hair full and thick, enveloping an innocently attractive face.

Now filled with life the robot comes out with a generic greeting of, “Hello superior,” before moving its head around to take in the surroundings.

“We are not at our destination,” it continues in a voice which somehow seems to complement its appearance perfectly.

“Why have you woken me? Where are the others?”

“There aren’t any others.” you say. “I changed my mind.”

Although your words come across as sounding confident, almost arrogant, you have most definitely found yourself in a situation you were not expecting. Like, how could you have predicted this unexplained, increasing desire you’ve now found yourself having for what is, essentially a piece of metal.

“Changed your mind?” replies the robot, with an expression of perplexity – its face after all has almost all the features any human face would have. Its eyebrows briefly rise with what you take for a second to be giving off a hint of amusement.

“Yeah, it’s my fantasy. I can do what the hell I want can’t I?”

Again you are aware of this show of false confidence. But while you’re silently congratulating yourself on maintaining your position as a superior human, the robot’s expression has taken a noticeable change to that of sadness. So much so that at once you find yourself with feelings of empathy towards this object. It meets your eyes again, opening its mouth as if to speak, stops, then begins again with, “But what should we do in this space pod, just the two of us? Wouldn’t it be more interesting if more people were involved?”

It looks around, almost childlike, quiet and seemingly deep in contemplation. You imagine the mechanics working away inside its robot brain; mathematical equations being formed and calculated. I’m alone in a space capsule with a human being. What is the optimum solution for dealing with current situation?

Finally it rises to a standing posture and begins to move around the room, stumbling awkwardly at first; then quickly becoming more graceful in its movement.

The walls of the capsule are covered with flashing control panels. Your open pod is in the centre of the space. The floor is made up of square black tiles; the ceiling is mirrored.

You are still sitting on the ledge by the window, half gazing at the stars, half following the robots actions as it circles your pod and is then inspecting the various features of each control panel.

A sudden thought comes to mind and you reach down to your space boots to open up a secret compartment in the heel. A bank card, laser pistol, and packet of space cigarettes appear.

You notice a box of matches in your left pocket and run one of them along the floor to produce a flame, light one of the cigarettes, and begin to inspect the pistol, unsure as to why you are carrying such a weapon.

The robot immediately turns around.

“Smoking is not permitted in here superior. I assume you know that.”

You do not know this; although smoking not being permitted inside a space capsule does make sense in a funny sort of way. You disregard the warning however, continuing to drag on the cigarette.

“How do you know I’m not allowed to smoke?” you ask.

“I have accessed the data on space travel regulations.”

“But surely it’s up to me,” you say, almost to yourself.

“Of course superior,” replies the robot with a slight gesture of its hand. “Everything is determined by your own thoughts. All of this, the capsule, the pod malfunction, our surroundings; even me: It is controlled by your personal desires. You certainly know this already?”

You finish the cigarette, stubbing out the remains on the tiled floor. Look up to the mirror, at yourself, and then to your robot again, which seems to have suddenly become ever more attractive. At the same time it appears to be looking at you with an impression of fascination.

“I was thinking,” you tell the robot. “…I could always introduce some alien invasion or something, if we get bored.”

“What makes you think we’ll get bored superior?”

“… or like, if we can’t find something to do just the two of us, or if…”

The robot has unexpectedly interrupted your speech by walking directly towards you; its eyes seem to be scanning your body. The sentence feels unfinished as you let it hang in the air… “You know, like I’m sure we will eventually,” you continue, stumbling all of a sudden over your words. “Get bored that is.”

“I am programmed with over three thousand forms of entertainment,” it says, now almost upon you.

You look out of the window again, wondering where the number three thousand came from, if at all it’s possible to have a robot capable of entertaining you in so many different ways.

Turning to see the robot above, you submit to going along with whatever it has decided to do first. Your companion sits next to you on the ledge and you can feel its warm robot thighs pressed up against your own.