Science fiction author E. R. Harding claims she is the “dictionary definition of an ordinary housewife.” I’m not sure where she found that dictionary but it seems to have a different definition of the word ordinary than what you’re likely to find in Webster’s.
In addition to her writing endeavours, Harding has been a motorcycle instructor, a charity worker, an insolvency specialist, a care giver for the elderly and an international entrepreneur. She’s likewise the owner of a couple rescue dogs that, based on her descriptions, must have been rescued from the Island of Misfit Toys. She describes herself as catastrophically, agonizingly shy,” but also admits she looks pretty good in leather. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the cat photo, that represents her terror of publicity… at least so far as I can tell. Ordinary? I really don’t think so.
Manumission, Harding’s debut novel, is a sci-fi thriller and is described as follows:
In a not-too-distant future, where wealth is measured by credits and almost all people are surveyed and tracked with barcodes, the Metaform Corporation is one of the wealthiest, most talked about and controversial companies in existence. To save the vulnerable from death and preserve the human race, the Metaform mainframe can store a person’s consciousness for an infinite amount of time and download it into a new, upgraded bio-frame – potentially meaning that that oh-so-illusive human ambition, immortality, has been reached once and for all.
Harding seamlessly presents ethical paradoxes and queries within a gripping narrative that explores the moral ambiguity of the treatment of advanced artificial intelligence, the dangers of becoming obsessed with ambition, the two-sidedness of terrorism and the ever-desired, double-edged sword of immortality.
I don’t know about you but I think that sounds pretty darn compelling. I’ve already added Manumission to my must read list and I’m typically not a big fan of sci-fi. I like a good story, though, and I can’t wait to read this one. E. R. Harding was kind enough to talk to me about her new novel and a few other things too. Let’s get right to it. Shall we?
Q: How would you describe your writing style? Are you more of a planner or a discovery writer?
A: I generally start with an outline or idea of where I want to go, then I start writing, and it turns out to be completely different. Quite often I think I have a hero, then he gets killed or does something stupid and I have to get rid of him. I like that aspect of writing. The characters develop on their own, and sometimes I stop writing to go and make a cup of tea, and marvel that the storyline’s developing better than the one I originally thought of. The end result really does get away from the plan every time.
Q: What was the most difficult aspect of completing your first novel?
A: Trying to design the bad guys is hard for me. If it were up to me, everyone would be reasonable, intelligent, and have the best intentions towards humanity and each other, which would make for a short and exceedingly dull book. I really have to go back over my life, and even look at film characters, to find someone I hate, otherwise the anti-heroes are two-dimensional and deeply unconvincing. I think readers can spot the characters who are based on real people, mostly because they generally end up very dead, and the length and unpleasantness of their termination is in proportion to how much I disliked them in real life. Funny how that happens!
Q: With the release of your novel I expect you will be devoting a lot of your time and energy to publicity, marketing, promotion, and the business side of being an author. What are your thoughts on that?
A: I didn’t realise how important publicity was going to be. Now I have to Prostitute Myself For My Art, and my soul is curling up with mortification. I have accounts with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads and Instagram, and I still have to do Google+, because apparently an author platform is incredibly important, and if no-one knows my book is here, no-one will buy it, and I’ll have to stop this writing nonsense and get a real job, which I can’t because I have dogs.
Q: What would you say is your greatest strength as an author?
A: I love words; long, short, complex or funny, they are why I write. I was very young when I learned to read. My little brother and I used to hide under his bed and play quietly, or read. I can still remember the way our faces tickled from our hair which got caught in the springs. I used to read everything; from the age of about four or five, I read several books a week, and sometimes several books a day. My parents used to shout at me for ignoring them, but it was never intentional. I was dreadfully timid, and books provided a safe place from the noise and anger. I’m grateful because that early grounding in punctuation, spelling and use of tenses was crucial, and it gave me a reasonably generous vocabulary too.
Q: What’s your biggest weakness?
A: I don’t make enough time for writing. I know this. I keep thinking, for example, that tomorrow should be a good, clear day, and I’ll get lots of writing done, but then important things come up and I don’t write at all. The trick is simple enough: make time to write a little bit every day, perhaps between chores. There’s no rule that says you must write 3,000 words a day, and 100 is better than nothing. Even if you do manage to push out an impressive number of words, you should probably delete most of it later anyway. But it’s an individual thing, and everyone has their own way of working.
Q: What is the best science fiction novel you’ve read and why do you think it’s so good?
A: That’s an impossible question, but I think, in the end, I have to go back to the greatest of them all, I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov. It’s beautifully thought out and beautifully written. Asimov was extraordinarily intelligent, but unusually for a scientist, he was lucid and clear in his explanations without assuming his readership was dumb. To me, the concept of genuine machine consciousness isn’t really science fiction. It will happen, and how we deal with it is the only part of the process that’s still speculation. Because when it happens, we organics will abuse them, I can practically guarantee it. If we don’t start working together, soon, to design our own laws of robotics and sort out humane, (not human), rights for AIs, we’ll find ourselves in serious trouble.
Another reason I like Asimov so much is that he was, as I am, a claustrophile. He liked to be in small spaces, and I do too. It’s not agoraphobia, or a fear of open spaces, it’s just an attraction to the security of small places. In my case it probably goes back to my under-the-bed days, but I wonder what made him claustrophilic.
Q: What is the biggest misconception when it comes to sci-fi?
A: It gets confused with Fantasy. Fantasy, in my opinion, is a separate though often delightful genre that frequently involves magic, and rules that simply cannot exist, which is lovely if you want creative escapism. GRR Martin’s Game of Thrones is not science fiction. It’s fantasy and doesn’t belong on the same shelf as Asimov’s I, Robot.
For me, it needs to be theoretically possible; that’s the whole point of science fiction. It might be incredibly far-fetched, but that’s generally a good thing. I feel it’s just wrong to conflate sci-fi and fantasy into one genre; one is based on science and one on fantasy. We separate religion and philosophy into their own respective fields, and I think the same should be true of the science fiction and fantasy genres. Don’t lump intelligent sci-fi and adult fairy stories together.
Q: What process did you follow to find an agent and publisher?
A: I looked for agents at first, but not very hard because I didn’t realize how important it is to have someone looking out for your interests. I just thought, “Ok, I’ve written a book, now I should get it published.” In retrospect, that was stupidly naive, and I was very, very lucky that after a few attempts I came across Austin Macauley, who liked my book.
If I were advising anyone thinking of publishing their novel, I’d say – edit it like mad, over and over again. Edit it until you can edit no more, pay a good editor to edit it again, then choose the right agent for you. If it’s science fiction, for goodness’ sake don’t send it to an agent who deals with romance, because it’ll just irritate the agent and his response will hurt your ego! Then when you find one, the agent will source a publisher who’s suitable for you, or advise you about what you need to change. Don’t let your ego tell you that you’re unlucky. If you can’t get published, something’s wrong, and your agent will be able to tell you what the problem is.
Q: What would it take for you to feel successful as an author?
A: There’s a small part of me that’ll never feel like a successful author. How can I be? It’s only me! But that part of me is getting quieter, and I’m starting to think that if I keep working, and keep trying to get better, maybe I’ll get some critical acclaim in the future, and that would do it. I enjoyed writing Manumission. It was mostly fun, but I was very new to putting ideas on paper when I started it, and I’ve learned an awful lot since then. I’m going to get a lot better.
Q: What would you be writing if not science fiction?
A: If it weren’t sci-fi, I’d like to write gritty crime novels. I think it’s probably a good idea to start with what you know, and I know I haven’t even been murdered once yet, but I feel I have certain instinct for the genre, and I did have a hard upbringing! I’ve written half of a gangster novel which I haven’t looked at for a long time, and I must see if it’s worth finishing. I’ve also nearly finished a historical romance, but it makes me wince when I read it, so I don’t think I’ll try to publish that one. I don’t really do romance.
Q: What well known literary character would you say was the most memorable for you and why?
A: My most memorable character is probably Sam Vimes, the stressed watchman of Sir Terry Pratchett’s discworld series. Although he’s part comic, he really is the most multi-layered and ‘real’ character I can think of. Vimes is a kind of composite of every indignant, powerless social commentator I’ve ever come across; terrible things happen to him and yet he always gets results from sheer, pig-headed stubbornness. I can identify with that!
Q: What was the last book you read?
A: The last book I read was Simon Winstanley’s ‘Field Two.’ It’s science fiction and absolutely great. I read ‘Field One’ first, and I’m waiting for ‘Field Three’ with bated breath. One of his characters has been left in an increasingly inhospitable place, (no spoilers), and I’m very worried about him!
Q: What do you plan on reading next?
A: I’ll be reading Parlor City Paradise by, er, Michael Sova, as soon as I can work out how to download it. The reviews are great and it sounds exactly like my kind of thing, when I’m not following sci-fi. It’s a problem being UK based when so many excellent writers are in the US! Amazon needs to make it easier, but failing that, I’d appreciate it if US writers would be kind enough to get their books on Amazon.co.uk, as well as on Amazon.com. There are loads of us readers here in England, honest!
*Readers note: I realize that must sound like a shameless plug for my own work but I assure you no money changed hands. I didn’t make any threats either… or promises for that matter.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not reading, writing or mired in self promotion?
A: In my limited free time I like fiddling and fixing things. Unfortunately I’ve just broken my very old Kindle Keyboard, and I’m heartbroken about that because it’ll need a new screen, which I just can’t do. The original Kindles really aren’t user-serviceable unless one has all the tools. I loved that thing; it was the nearest thing to a perfect book that never, ever ran out of words!
I also do carpentry and make things. And I cook and read, generally at the same time. Or rather, I used to when I still had a Kindle that propped up nicely and whose pages I could turn with the side of my floury hand…
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: So there you are. I think you know more about me than my own family does. . This is better than psychotherapy.
Manumission is now available in hardcover, paperback and e-book formats at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. You can find E. R. Harding on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram, and visit her brand new website at erharding.com.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.