Hello everyone! Three years ago, I read a book called Planetfall. It was amazing. Wonderous. Superb. I still consider it to be one of the best science fiction novels I’ve ever read. And then the author, Emma Newman, released another science fiction book, After Atlas. And guess what? It was also incredible. On April 17th, Emma Newman will release a third science fiction novel, Before Mars. I am beyond excited, but in t he meanwhile, I have the honor of hosting an interview with the one and only Emma Newman!
Can you tell us some about your new book, Before Mars?
Before Mars is a psychological thriller set on Mars, the third science fiction novel set in the Planetfall universe, and like the previous two it is a standalone and they can be read in any order. The protagonist, Anna Kubrin, is a geologist and painter whose Martian landscapes have come to the attention of a billionaire who owns a research base on Mars. He sends her there to paint, but soon after she arrives things feel odd. The more Anna finds out about the base and the people there, the more she suspects that her assignment isn’t as simple as she was led to believe. But is she caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy, or is she actually losing her mind?
What was the inspiration behind Before Mars?
I’ve always loved the concept of Mars colonisation, both in the real world and in faction, and have done for many years, so perhaps it was inevitable that I would play with it. There’s a scene in After Atlas that mentions the base on Mars and I think back when I wrote that, some part of my brain started tinkering away on what that base would be like before I realised what I was doing!
Before Mars is set in the same universe as Planetfall and After Atlas. When does it take place in relation to the other two? And which do you suggest reading first?
Before Mars is set at about the same time as After Atlas, and about twenty years after Planetfall. There are a couple of characters that cross over from After Atlas into Before Mars, but neither of them are main characters, so you can read Before Mars first without any problem.
I think the experience of whichever book you read second or third could be affected by which ones you’ve read previously, but not necessarily in a bad way. Because of that, I don’t have one that I would suggest reading first. As long as it’s one of them, I am happy!
Both Planetfall and After Atlas dealt with issues of mental health. Does Before Mars also engage with this topic?
Yes. The protagonist, Anna Kubrin, is suffering from post-natal depression, and there is also… actually, I think I will leave it for the reader to discover in the book.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned while writing Before Mars?
I’ve been sitting here, thinking about all the tech, geology, and survival in adverse environments research I did, that led to the discovery of all sorts of interesting facts, but I don’t think any of them are personally speaking, the most interesting thing I learned.
Writing a protagonist who is suffering from post-natal depression was one of the hardest things I’ve done in a novel, because I drew upon my own experience of it. I guess the thing I learned is that when you tap into something that painful, it can make the entire experience of writing that book into more than just working on the novel, but also working on healing old wounds.
It was actually really tough.
In addition to being an author, you also work as an audio book narrator. What preparations do you go through before narrating a story?
The first and most important step is reading the entire manuscript through carefully, making notes on the cast of characters, any descriptions of them – in particular regional accents, age, class etc that can be reflected in the voice – and checking pronunciations. Those can be of names, places, technical terms (crime fiction often has a pathologist scene with terminology that needs to be checked) that I may have to verify with the author.
By the end of that read through I have a cast of characters with voice notes and a chapter by chapter breakdown of which characters appear in them. I also have the entire story in my head, so I can make decisions about the voice of the murderer, for example, which in crime fiction audio books can be a spoiler if not handled correctly!
Then if there is an accent I can’t currently do well enough for dialogue, I have to learn it. There are lots of resources online that help with this, but the best technique by far is finding someone with that accent and getting them to record a few lines that I can then mimic.
On the actual recording days I discuss the project with the director, do vocal warm ups and then we’re off!
Do you have any other upcoming work we should keep an eye out for?
I have the honour of being a new author for the Wild Cards universe, a superheroes series that has been running for about thirty years now, edited by George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass. My first story is going to appear in ‘Knaves Over Queens’, the first Wild Cards novel set in the UK. It’s called ‘How to Turn a Girl to Stone’ and we’re hoping that it will be published in June this year. https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008283599/knaves-over-queens/
About the Author
Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. She won the British Fantasy Society Best Short Story Award 2015 and ‘Between Two Thorns’, the first book in Emma’s Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the BFS Best Novel and Best Newcomer 2014 awards. Her first science-fiction novel, Planetfall, was published by Roc in 2015. Her second SF novel, After Atlas, was shortlisted for the 2017 Clarke Award. Emma is an audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated, Alfie Award winning podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at http://www.enewman.co.uk and can be found as @emapocalyptic on Twitter.