This time we’re off to the north of England to talk with space opera writer E.M. Swift-Hook.
Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?
I am E.M. Swift-Hook, I live in the North East of England and I write books and stories which are woven around the characters who live in them.
Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.
The last book I released was a collaborative project in alternate history called Dying to be Roman . It is a murder mystery whodunit, set in modern day Britain, but in a world where the Romans never left.
In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?
Primarily, I write space opera. I am not sure that I so much chose it as it chose me. Like most space opera (Star Wars and so forth), it is set in a science fantasy universe, and that allows wonderful scope to explore new and interesting possible settings for stories. I think it is probably the most liberating and extensive genre there is.
What makes space opera stand apart from other science fiction (especially space based)?
Space opera is focused on the people and how they live with the technology around them, rather than on a clever concept of intriguing physics or technology in its own right. I write character driven stories so my science-fiction is always pulled towards space opera and it human (or alien) interest.
How does someone who writes space opera get involved in a mystery involving a still extant Roman Empire?
Well, that was more a ‘who’ than a ‘how’. Jane Jago is a fabulous author and she and I began collaborating on a couple of ideas and Dying to be Roman came out of that. We both wanted to go for something in a genre we had not written before and alternate history was one we found held interest for us both and which neither of us had tried before.
Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.
I usually get an idea in the form of a scene – a conversation between two characters, an event happening, an intriguing opening or climactic conclusion. This provides me with the impetus to think more about the characters involved and what they are up to. If the story is still seeming like a good one after a few weeks of hanging around at the back of my mind, I will sit down and record what I have for it and shape up a rough timeline of what I think will happen. Sometimes the events on the timeline will be very vague like ‘big scene here’ and sometimes quite detailed.
Then comes the writing, during which the original timeline events may be changed many times. Once the first draft is down I try to wait a week or so before ploughing into editing. I will run checks for my ‘bad’ words, for typos, for excessive descriptors, punctuation etc. When I have the book as clean as I can get it I will ask a people to read it and use their helpful feedback to do the final polishing and shaping. Then, as I am technically challenged, I send the whole lot off to my son who does the magic to put it on Amazon.
Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?
This is incredibly hard to answer as whichever character I am writing as tends to claim the crown for the duration. I think it is a bit like being a parent, they are all my favourites. That said the ones I spend most time with in the nine volumes that is Fortune’s Fools, probably win out. Avilon, for being the most intriguing to write through several incarnations; Jaz, for completely pulling me out of my usual style and approach and Durban – well, for being Durban, intense, puckish, fallible and contradictory,
What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?
I was not science trained and have had to delve deep into the world of quantum physics and relativity for the background to Fortune’s Fools and believe you me there is nothing weirder!
Since you mentioned not having a background in science – as a writer of science fiction, do you ever worry about not getting it “right?” Or do you trust the reader to suspend disbelief enough to overlook any minor flaws?
I do a heck of a lot of research and I have a local friend who is a mathematical physicist who is usually able to help when I hit issues. Thanks to him I have a Kaon Gravity Generator and a BEC based gravity shield for ships to take off from a planet without needing massive amounts of fuel. I also post questions on the SciFi Roundtable Facebook group where the people are always very happy to offer insights.
What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?
I’m going to cheat and go for two – one I learned myself and one I learned vicariously. Firstly, if you want to make money use your time and energy to get the qualifications you need to get a highly paid job instead of spending that time writing. If you write, do it because you love it and you want to – do not expect to ever sell a single copy of your books. If you do, bonus. But to begin with get anyone who is willing to read your work and tell you what they think. Give it away to beta readers, join review groups and give it away to garner reviews.
Secondly, I have seen other authors convinced their work is the best writing ever and become offended if anyone suggests something to improve it. Don’t be so precious. You are never as good as you think you are as a writer and the criticism others give you should be very carefully considered. If you don’t listen to those who well-wish you enough to take the time to read your books when you are an unknown, if you argue with your readers, if you continually reject advice from others, you will never improve.
If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?
I would be able to afford top-flight editing for my books and pay for a well-known cover artist to package them. I would also have the money to hire a marketing team to advertise them. All that would probably improve the number of people who read my books.
What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?
That is tough. there are some stunning indie authors out there who may never get the recognition they deserve. If you have the time check out Chrys Cymri – I wish I could write as well as she does.
What do you think you’re next project will be?
I still have two books to finish writing in the Fortune’s Fools series and more Dai and Julia books planned with my co-author of Dying to be Roman, Jane Jago. After that my next big project will probably be an historical one set in Seventeenth Century England at the time of the Civil War. I am toying with how much fantasy will sneak in and a twist, maybe, of alternate history. The first book will be called The Cat’s Head and I have written some scenes already. You will be able to read one on the Working Title Blogspot in a couple of weeks time.