Today we have a Q&A session with Emma Whitehall, a bookseller for the bound in Whitley Bay, who has her debut novel Clockwork Magpie coming out on the 10th of February, the launch of which is at the bound.
Tell us what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
I wanted to write a story where my characters’ Northern-ness was part of why we loved them – not a plot point or something to overcome. Clockwork Magpies is set in an alternate-universe England, where the industry and wealth migrated upwards towards the coal-rich North East to form the city of Loxport. Publishing is slowly but surely realising how rich and talented Northern voices can be, but when I started this story nearly a decade ago, there was virtually nothing – especially not in YA!
What came first the characters or the world?
They kind of grew out of each other – the original Clockwork Magpies was a short story collection, with stories and characters and settings that crossed paths with each other. It wasn’t until that draft was done that a certain infamous sneak thief kept strolling into other people’s stories and demanding I write about her…
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
The wonderful YA bookseller Charley from The Rabbit Hole in Brigg recently interviewed me for her channel, and she called the book ‘cosy’ – which isn’t something I ever thought my writing would be called! She also said she wanted to give Ida a big hug and a shake, which I think is exactly what my grumpy little criminal needs.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
I always write fantasy fiction, but the base for that fantasy changes from story to story. I just had a high fantasy, meta-fictional short story published with Paperbound Magazine’s Winter issue, and right now I’m working on a Solarpunk love story. Being playful and trying new things is really important for me as a writer.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I’m a bookseller! I work at the bound, Whitley Bay, where I also run a YA Book Club. Basically, if I’m not involved with something to do with books, I’m usually asleep.
Which genres do you read yourself?
I think reading a wide range of books is really important, both as a writer and as a bookseller. Think of all the amazing pieces of work you’d miss out on if you only read one genre! I love fantasy and YA fiction, but I also read a lot of Victorian period dramas (like Elizabeth Macneal’s The Doll Factory) and in 2021 I got really into romance fiction, especially Talia Hibbert’s work!
What books can you not resist buying?
Anything that promises great characters – you could have the grandest, most intricate world imaginable, but if your characters don’t ring true or make me love them in some way, I lose interest really quickly.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
My favourite way to write is while sitting in a café, really early in the morning, with a hot drink and something sweet to eat. I think this came from squeezing in writing time before I went to work, but after all these years I just love working early in the day – once I come home from work I just crash, I don’t want to start plotting or writing dialogue!
What is your current or latest read?
I’m just finishing up You And Me On Vacation, and I’m about to start either The Atlas Six or These Violent Delights – yes, I’m big into TikTok books right now!
Any events in the near future?
My launch party for Clockwork Magpies is happening at the bound, Whitley Bay on the 10th February, and then we’re organising a panel in March where readers can ask me about the world of Loxport! The tickets for the party are available now, but keep your eyes peeled for the panel in the near future. You can find out more at https://linktr.ee/pensandpizza
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
I write fantasy because we can use it as a lens. Using genre fiction allows us – both readers and writers – to explore themes like love, grief, classism and finding your own family (which are all themes in Clockwork Magpies) in ways that writing about “the real world” might not allow. Sometimes you just need a really good story to slip through a crack in your heart and open it up again.