Asking Authors Awkward Questions, with Emma Whitehall

On today’s Awkward Author Questions we have steampunk author and doyen of the north Emma Whitehall, creator of Clockwork Magpies, the subject of my most recent review.

What was the first novel you ever sat down to write? How old were you at the time?

Oh gosh! Not a novel, but I’ve basically been telling stories since I was six. I remember making up bedtime stories for my brother about a dragon who lived in the cliffs near our house! Then, I started writing creatively in school, then took a break for five ill-advised years to try acting, then went back to writing flash fiction to read aloud at open mics I was about twenty. Clockwork Magpies began as a series of shorts – but Ida just kept pushing herself to the front, and I knew she needed her own novel!

How old were you when you finally got published? How many novels had you written by then? Which one got published first?

The first time I ever got published was in an online zine when I was about twenty. It was about two women in love, but when one of them died, she haunted their piano and played it for her lost love. Very melodramatic, very gay, very sad. I basically churned out short stories every month for years and years until Clockwork Magpies finally emerged.

What are your crutch words? Which words do you most overuse?

Not a word, but I use ellipses A LOT. My poor editor reined me in a little, but they’re still all over Clockwork Magpies…

Which character of yours is your favourite, and why? (And why is it never the main character?)

My absolute favourite hasn’t even been in Book 1 very much! Professor Odessa Malko, Edith’s crush, has my entire heart. She was one of the first characters who ever made it into Clockwork Magpies, back when it was a short story collection. I think it’s because she’s just allowed to be cool and have badass moments and make the girls swoon, rather than being fleshed out and complicated to write like Ida is…

How’s your grammar, spelling, and punctuation? What mistakes do you make most often?

I make a lot of mistakes when I’m tired, or trying to get the words out quickly – which is a lot right now, working on Book 2! I always mix up I and E – ironically in words like Keith…

How disciplined are you as an author? Do you have set goals? How often do you fail to meet those goals?

With Book 1, I was really quite disciplined; one chapter a day, nearly every day, for months. Now we’re out of lockdown, and I’m trying to juggle a full-time job, writing, and my Writer in Residence position, I’m happy if I just move the plot along a little bit each time I sit down to write.

What’s something you hate in other people’s writing that you try to avoid doing in your own but often end up doing anyway because words are hard?

Having a self-insert. She wasn’t written to be that way, but Edith is basically me if I was a little more confident and had had better luck with girls at eighteen. She feels her emotions very strongly, and that’s something I do all the time.

If you could go back and change any of your already published work, would you? What would you change, and why?

I can’t give myself that temptation! Loxport as a city has been tweaked, revisited, added to, edited and polished for nearly a decade now. I could go on and on with little slice of life stories with Ida, Edith, Clem and the crew for the rest of my life. All I can hope for is that I have the chance to show my readers ever nook and cranny in future books!

Which part of the writing/publishing process do you like the least?

Editing. In the words of a famous writer of dragon books, I’m a gardener, not an architect. I like the flow of writing more than the picking apart of plot holes; and with Loxport, I could fall down a rabbit hole and keep going forever, since there’s so much of it in my brain.

Aside from book sales and big piles of cash, what does literary success look like to you?

This sentence: “Oh. My. God. Did you see that Emma Whitehall is writing a YA retelling of The Beast of Gevaudan?! That’s going to be AMAZING.”
(I actually have an idea for a Beast of Gevaudan novel, but it’s waaaay off in the future!)

Finish this sentence: Reviews are…?

Not for authors; reviews are for readers. It sucks, but it’s true.

What aspects of steampunk are you not a fan of?

The London-centric idea that the only place worth telling stories in or about is the capital – and the implication that I’m familiar with the city at all! I poke fun at this a lot in Clockwork Magpies; Loxport is an unapologetically Northern city that also happens to be a hub of innovation and imagination – and my hope is that my characters talking about ‘the Grim South’ ruffles the feathers of at least one Southerner…

Which of your books should a new reader start on? Pitch it to us.

Clockwork Magpies; Ida is a maid by day, and an infamous sneak thief by night. She works alone, and that’s how she likes it. But when she gets involved in a battle of the egos between her mistress’ fiancé and a charming, overly cocky jeweller, bringing together a band of unlikely criminals may be the only thing that saves her hide…

Clockwork Magpies is available on Amazon, and you can follow Emma over on Twitter and Instagram.

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