Surprise! We’re doing another author interview!
In March we interviewed the lovely Maya Snow (read it here). Today, for the month of May, we’re joined by Emily Owen, author of The Mechanical Maestro.
The Mechanical Maestro is a steam punk book set in Victorian London where we follow the Abernathy family who are a family of clockmakers and inventors.
My review of Emily’s book will be coming soon so make sure you look out for it!
LeafPages: Hi there, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. My first question is how did the idea for The Mechanical Maestro come about?
Emily: I suppose the genesis of the book was my interest in the ‘steampunk’ sub-culture, combined with my love of certain genres of fiction. The steampunk aesthetic has always appealed to me, even before I knew what it really was. I remember seeing the Clockwork Droids on an episode of Doctor Who when I was young and thinking how cool they looked!
When I got older I lapped up classic Victorian novels, like the works of Dickens, the Brontës, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. I saw ‘The War of the Worlds’ stage show in my teens and absolutely loved it. However, I also loved the works of authors like Neil Gaiman, Robert Rankin, and Terry Pratchett. I enjoy placing modern inventions and ideas in anachronistic contexts to bring them into relief.
Another crucial ingredient was, unsurprisingly, music. I drew inspiration from bands that might be considered ‘steampunk’, including Abney Park, Steam Powered Giraffe, and The Clockwork Quartet, as well as other genres – classical music included. It was while listening to music that I had a vision of a certain android. My family are very musical so I’ve always been immersed in different tunes.
I also wrote my undergraduate dissertation about representations of androids in eighteenth and nineteenth-century literature. I pulled a lot of ideas from my research which fed into the book, like the link between voice and subjectivity.
Leafpages: What was the main message of this book?
Emily: Whatever you think it is! I can’t say that I set out to write the book with a particular message in mind, although I always find it interesting to hear what particular aspects of the story different readers tease out and find significant. For me, it was more about introducing my characters and sharing their story.
Leafpages: The Mechanical Maestro is set in Victorian London. Why Victorian London?
Emily: I suppose it’s a bit of an obvious setting for a historical fiction/ steampunk novel set in the nineteenth century, but there were a couple of reasons for setting the story in London.
First of all, London has a history of innovation in the field of watch and clockmaking. Amongst the French Protestant refugees who settled in Soho in the seventeenth century where a number of individuals who crafted a reputation as makers of exquisite timepieces, such as the Debaufre family. That said, my native Yorkshire also has a heritage linked to the clockmaking industry. John Harrison, inventor of the marine chronometer, was born in Foulby, near Wakefield.
London was also a good choice in terms of plot. It was a place where you could disappear in a crowd, it was a congregating place for Britain’s wealthy and powerful, and a place where fortunes could be made (or lost).
Leafpages: The Mechanical Maestro is your first novel. What has been the best feedback you’ve got about this book so far?
Emily: I have seen one or two points for improvement in the feedback I’ve received from the SilverWood team and reviewers, which I will take on board going forward. I’ve realized that your journey to become a better writer doesn’t stop with publication, it’s just the beginning.
The best feedback that I’ve gotten from a reader was from my colleague who I first showed my completed manuscript to. It was her positive comments that made me believe the story had merit, and gave me the confidence to take it further. One point that she and other readers have made is that they have a fondness for my character Molly, who seems to be the general favorite out of the three Abernathy siblings. I’m glad they’re as fond of my girl as I am (although I love my book children equally).
Leafpages: Two of the characters in this book, George and Douglas, are clockmakers. Do you have any experience or interest in clockmaking?
Emily: Expertise, nope, but I’ve had a go at building a wooden pendulum clock. I suppose my interest is more from an aesthetic point of view. I simply love the look of analogue clocks! I’m someone who loves analogue technology and antiques (I much prefer a mechanical typewriter to a laptop). I suppose it’s the simplicity and also the intricacy of clockwork that I’m fascinated by. I did a lot of research on watches when writing the book, as I unfortunately don’t have a mind for mechanics like G and D do!
Leafpages: What was the most difficult thing about writing The Mechanical Maestro?
Emily: Getting the historical details right. The challenge, but also the fun, of writing historical fiction is that you’re basically transporting yourself and your reader to an alien world. I soon learnt to take absolutely nothing for granted. You have to think about food, fashion, transportation, money etc. When writing dialogue, you have to constantly question whether they had this word or turn of phrase, without making your characters’ speech too ‘old-fashioned’. It was a learning curve, but it’s definitely honed my research skills.
Leafpages: Who or what inspired you to write the main characters in the way that you did? What was your vision for these characters and their personas?
Emily: I find that when coming up with characters, some pop into your head fully formed, while others need coaxing out. In this case, they were just there in my head and I knew exactly who they were. I’d never invented any characters who were so vivid before. I tend to start with my main characters and build the story around them, rather than inserting a lead into a promising plot idea.
I constantly pinch things from people I encounter, like a certain gesture or habit, that I think fits a particular character.
Leafpages: When did you start writing books? Where did your writing journey begin?
Emily: Well, my first foray into fiction was a story about a boy with a magic backpack that I filled an A5 notebook with when I was nine. I struggled to actually finish a full-length novel, and like many aspiring writers ran out steam halfway through a story. But when I had the idea for TMM, I thought “Right, I’m going to finish this one no matter what” and I finally managed it.
Leafpages: What inspired you to become an author?
Emily: I’ve always been a big reader and a bit day-dreamy, so I suppose it stemmed from that. Writing has always been something I enjoy doing. I’ve been filling notebooks from being in primary school.
Leafpages: As a child, did you want to become an author when you grew up?
Emily: Yep. I had ideas of becoming an archeologist, Egyptologist, or forensic anthropologist, but I always knew being an author was my dream job.
Leafpages: Are you looking to branch out and write books in other genres?
Emily: I have recently been trying to write more conventional historical fiction, without any airships or androids. I try to keep my stories light-hearted and a bit daft. I don’t ever want to write a ‘serious’ story! I do like the idea of writing something in a more supernatural vein too.
Leafpages: Can you tell us 3 random facts about yourself?
• One of my hobbies is collecting vinyl records
• Since completing TMM, I have been learning to play the violin
• I’m a big fan of Japanese culture, including food and the Studio Ghibli films
Leafpages: Where do you envision yourself in 10 years time?
Emily: I don’t tend to look that far ahead into the future, since you never know what’s round the corner and your plans can change. My immediate writing goal is to complete and publish the remaining three books in the series, plus a standalone fifth book that ties into that timeline. How long will that take? Well, I’m working on book two, so that’s a start!
I don’t know if I’ll be writing full-time in the future, although that’s the dream! I have a day job that I enjoy at the minute, and I see every new experience as a chance for writing inspiration.
Leafpages: Finally, do you have any shoutouts? (people you’d like to thank or acknowledge)
Emily: I think I’ve already given a shout out to everyone I wanted to thank in the acknowledgements page of the book (that page near the start that everybody skips past). But I would like to thank my family and friends once again for their support and encouragement.
That was a great way to end the interview. I loved reading about Emily’s book life. Did you? Let me know in the comments.
Once again, thank you so much to Emily Owen, Helen Hart and Silverwood Books for making this interview possible!
Until next time,
About the author
Emily Owen studied English language and literature at the University of Leeds. Since completing her Masters by Research, she has worked as an Archives Assistant at the University of Huddersfield. She lives in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The Mechanical Maestro is her first novel, and is the first book in an upcoming series following the adventures of the Abernathy family and their clockwork creations.