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Interview: Emma Uren talks about It's a Small World

There’s nothing like a deadline or two to get your creative juices flowing. Just ask former Auckland Girls Diocesan student Emma Uren, who was still putting the finishing touches on her entry to a prestigious writing award just hours before it was due – and before she was due at the 2018 Diocesan Graduation Ball.

She made her deadline, enjoyed the ball, and her entry, titled It’s A Small World, went on to win her the Young New Zealand Writers Youth Laureate Award for 2018-2019. Emma’s prize is to be mentored by New Zealand author Lee Murray, to have her novella-length manuscript developed for publication by Phantom Feather Press, and a contract for its publication in e-book and print.

Christine Stride talks to Emma about her inspiration for the novella, the process of writing it, and her plans for the future.

What’s the book about?

It’s A Small World weaves through two parallel narratives. A boy from a futuristic school has to make a model universe for a science project. He’s not terribly good at it. There’s also a girl living in a Victorian-inspired era, just trying to survive. It turns out that she is living within the model world, and each of their stories, while separate, impacts the other.

What sparked the idea?

The original idea was that our world is actually created by a kid as a school project, except that he’s not a very good student (really just aiming for a pass), and that’s why our world has so many imperfections. But I also deal with themes like the beauty that can be found in imperfection, so it’s not all bad!

I’ve always been fascinated by how we as a species make sense of our purpose and what, if anything, might be out there - fascinated and a bit frightened by the scale of it all. Watching ants provides the opposite view, because my driveway is their whole world. These ideas hung around in the back of my head as a humorous alternative to all the deep discussions of creation and evolution.

Tell us about the process of writing It’s A Small World.

The competition strongly prefers speculative fiction, and I knew that I needed a powerful and unique idea. I spent some time refining and developing my plot and characters, and somehow managed to fit writing in amongst my final NCEA exams. As I fleshed it out I also enjoyed adding a few coding and science-related tidbits, acknowledging some great science classes I’ve had over the years! I finished my manuscript on the due date just hours before the Graduation Ball. I absolutely enjoyed and grew from the experience, and just finishing would have been prize enough! I’m completely over the moon that the judges liked it and that it will actually be published as well.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Dance is a real passion of mine and I spend far too many hours a week in a dance studio. I really love the satisfaction of personal improvement and the natural artistry that dance allows, and of course my wonderfully supportive dance family. I also enjoy music (I’m trying to teach myself the piano), languages, writing and reading, as well as just hanging out with my family.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m focusing on university right now, but I’m sure I’ll do some more writing before long. I’m studying a conjoint Bachelor of Arts and Engineering at the University of Auckland, majoring in psychology, with some linguistics and languages on the side. I’m aiming to specialise in biomedical engineering. I’m also interested in a teaching diploma or higher education.

What books are you reading now?

The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks, Stephen King’s It and the German version of Harry Potter.

What five things can you never do without each day?

Friends, rain in the bush, a pencil, dance, and mango sorbet.

It’s A Small World will be launched on 31 May at the 40th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, in Rotorua.


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