It’s ironic that authors can write entire books — but sometimes stumble in a short explanation of what’s going on in those books. Emma Newman knows this, particularly in reference to her newest novel, Between Two Thorns. Does she find a way to persevere regardless? Let’s find out, shall we?
I have a confession to make; I’ve been struggling to write this post for over a week. I wrote and abandoned three drafts because they sounded like academic lectures on the subject of the Split Worlds. I experimented with having characters from the book describing Aquae Sulis, the secret magical reflection of modern day Bath, and whilst it was fun it didn’t feel right.
It’s always been difficult for me to talk about my own work – something I think many fellow authors experience. That awful moment in any project when I have to come up with the pithy one-sentence summary always sends me into a fit of hand flapping and a sudden inability to describe anything about my book. It’s always too big to fit into one sentence. I get there in the end, but it’s hard.
I looked over previous Big Idea posts and realised why I was finding my own so difficult: Between Two Thorns – and the entire Split Worlds series – did not spring from one spark of inspiration. There was no light bulb moment or conversation or thought that popped into my head that launched me into writing this book.
It sneaked up on me instead. At first it disguised itself as a short story about a shopkeeper and a woman returning one of his products; a faerie trapped in a bell jar. The woman thinks it’s a frivolous gadget sent by her husband abroad, with no idea that she’s in possession of a real faerie which could destroy her life. The shopkeeper, feeling merciful, sends her away with a fruit cake recipe after casting a memory loss charm on her.
The idea took root and before long it was a weekly flash-fiction serial. I wrote for several months until it dawned upon me that what I was really doing was building a world for a series of novels. I developed a role-playing game and chucked my husband into it so I could explore it with a GM’s brain. It enabled me to flesh out the world, figure out the metaphysics and get a feel for the characters and the social mechanics of Nether society.
Thinking about it, a particularly big idea did hit at that point, but if I told you, it would spoil the entire series. Brilliant. So I’m keeping quiet about that one.
When I look back on the three books I’ve written set in the Split Worlds – and the fifty short stories set there too – I can happily say there are several big ideas. There are the Split Worlds themselves and how people deal with strict social systems kept isolated from the usual forces of change. There’s the pressure to conform to family expectations and the dubious privilege of being favoured by immortal beings. There’s the Fae and faeries as frightening forces of nature rather than cute. There are beautiful prisons – constructed by others and those of our own making.
Saying that any one of those was the starting point would be a lie. These themes emerged from the characters and the worlds they live in. So even though there wasn’t one that kicked it all off, I’m happy to say there are a plenty of big ideas in Between Two Thorns. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I did.