In this interview, I speak to Katherine Franklin, whose debut novel The Empyrean has just launched on Kickstarter!
The Amazon links used here are affiliate links — I will receive a small commission from Amazon for any purchases you make. Thank you for supporting my website!
When I posted on Twitter asking for authors to get in touch if they would like an interview, I was thrilled when Katherine contacted me. I have known her online for many years so it is great to learn more about her and her debut novel, The Empyrean!
The Empyrean is a space opera and has just launched on Kickstarter (and was fully funded in 26 hours!). The Empyrean is set in a section of another galaxy far in the future. Since its records began, it has been home to a small group of people who can see and manipulate emotions in others: empyrrics. Its history has been shaped by these individuals and the energy they wield: the Empyrean.
The cover of The Empyrean is absolutely gorgeous and I am really excited to read this one — a review will be coming very soon!
Below you can find my interview with Katherine, and learn more about her and why she decided to launch her novel on Kickstarter.
The blurb for The Empyrean
Emotion is a weapon. Harnessing its power could destroy worlds.
Palia’s emotions are in turmoil. After watching her son succumb to Empyrean fire, she barely escapes the same fate. Guilt ridden and alone, she will not stop until his killer is brought to justice.
The Protectorate forbids Ferrash to have emotions. That suits him, since he can’t avoid the people who control the Empyrean. Making this sacrifice prevents them from hijacking his feelings and using them as a weapon against him.
When Ferrash spots Palia’s ship venting atmosphere, he is forced to save her. Having an enemy from the Hegemony on board could see him accused of treason. But when the Empyrean reveals its potential as a destroyer of worlds and Palia’s link to it, Ferrash knows he can’t let her leave.
With billions at risk of succumbing to the Empyrean weapon, can the enemies join forces and prevent the same fate that killed Palia’s son?
Tell me about yourself.
I live in the suburbs in Yorkshire (my husband calls it the countryside, but having grown up in the countryside, there are way too many houses here to call it that!) with my husband and dog. My dog’s a Romanian rescue, about the size of a small horse, who loves snoozing, lying on his back with his feet in the air and waving squeaky toys around in his mouth while they scream.
My full-time job is in software engineering and I work remotely, so I spend most of my day in front of the same desk. I’ve been in that job since uni, as it’s a pretty good company to work for, my team’s a good laugh and crunch is non-existent, unlike a lot of software companies. I wanted to go into game development (and eventually narrative design) while I was at uni, but I wrote that idea off pretty fast after hearing how rubbish it is to work on the games side of things (which is really sad). I’ve actually started an apprenticeship through work recently as well, which has been an interesting experience.
But anyway, on to writing! Despite my debut novel being science fiction, I actually prefer writing fantasy. Or when I say ‘prefer’, I guess I mean it just comes easier to me, imagination-wise. I’d say ninety percent of the books I’d read until recently were fantasy, too. I blame being a sucker for anything with dragons in it. The only reason I started reading science fiction (if I remember right) is because I picked up an edition of Ender’s Game with the Dragon Army logo on the cover and loved it.
I have a few short stories published here and there. I think I’d have more if I didn’t groan so much at coming up with ideas for them. That’s something I need to get better at. The Empyrean will be the first novel I’ve published, but by no means the first I’ve written.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
As a sole occupation, maybe briefly, but I’ve wanted to be one on the side, at least since I was around eight. I’m not sure what kicked it off, but I think it’s the cliché answer of The Lord of the Rings (sorry!). The first film came out at that time and my mum made me read the books before I saw them. I planned so many books during my childhood. I had whole series drawn out with cover ideas and everything. If only I knew where the plans were – all I have are the covers!
Of course, I also wanted to be a palaeontologist and an astronaut and all that. (Still a little miffed I’m not digging up dinosaurs.)
Did you write many books/stories before The Empyrean?
The first I started writing was called A Dragon in the Sea Caves. It was heavily influenced by whatever I was into at the time, which happened to be the TV show Raven and The Hobbit. There were dragons, a lady with wings (whoops, I have one of those in The Empyrean, too) and a lengthy sea voyage. I might go back to it one day. I still get nostalgic about it.
Later (whilst writing a lot of angsty and some decent poetry), I wrote a science-fiction trilogy that might be called climate fiction if I wrote it today. It was the first time I realised I could write fast – I finished the first book at 50,000 words and thought that was too short, so added 30,000 more in two weeks over the Easter holidays. It was, of course, complete rubbish. I got nice comments on Authonomy (Harper Collins’ attempt at a peer-voted slush pile, newly launched then and defunct now), but I guess people were holding back.
I wrote another one about a woman in a bird suit overthrowing the government, but decided I didn’t know enough about politics to carry that one on. It went up from there – at uni, I discovered D&D. I’d made a fantasy setting the size of France for a JRPG that never happened, so repurposed it for a Pathfinder campaign. It ended up lasting over a hundred hours in total, I think. I have the start of a novel set in that world saved somewhere, which I should probably get back to, as well as the setting book. Alongside that, I had some Star Wars: The Old Republic fanfiction (which I’m still really proud of) and a brief stay on Wattpad with a novel that was meant to be a cross between Battlestar Galactica and Red Dwarf. A match made in heaven it was not.
Since then, it’s all been short stories and The Empyrean.
Where did your ideas and inspiration come from?
Looking back, there’s definitely a theme of media influences to my books. So the cycle goes: My imagination is fired by something I read or see or watch. I dream about it, or concepts related to it, slightly different scenarios each time, and stuff gets twisted or mashed together. I guess a ‘what if’ gets thrown in there somewhere, though that’s not a conscious process. At some point, a clear idea emerges and I start writing it down on paper. The Empyrean was terrible for this. I’d had the core points of its plot blundering around my head for months, if not years, and it was driving me up the wall. I started writing it just to get the stupid thing out of my head! Something else has already replaced it, of course.
With short stories, the process is a little more conscious. Most of them are ideas that pop out from writing prompts, as I don’t tend to have the discipline to work on short stories unless I start them in one of my writing groups. Recently, I’ve been making a conscious decision of ‘okay, I have this situation – who can I put in it that we least expect?’. Or phrased a different way, ‘who has a reason for being here that you might not expect?’.
What is your writing desk like?
My writing desk is also my gaming desk, painting desk and work desk! It might be nice to get a separate space at some point, but I’d need to shift some boxes first. I have some serious decluttering to do.
I do all my writing on a computer because my hand just doesn’t have the stamina to write on paper that fast anymore. And I like writing on 4thewords because its gamification motivates me, so that wouldn’t work on paper.
The most important element is ergonomics. My screens are at the right height, and I made sure I got a chair that adjusted to the right height as well (buying office chairs when you’re just over five feet often leaves you too low). Just before the pandemic started, I splashed out on a standing desk and the new chair because I was getting carpal tunnel/tennis elbow from the combination of writing and work typing. Later, I got this particular keyboard because I realised the version with an integrated number pad was far wider than my shoulders and reaching for the mouse was causing my tennis elbow. I wish keyboards came with detachable number pads. That would be useful.
Do you have a writing routine? Tell me about that.
I’ll freely admit that I think the last time I wrote something was back in December last year, finishing up my NaNo novel. Maybe I did a couple of short stories earlier this year. So if I had a habit, I don’t anymore – it’s all been editing and downtime since.
When I do write, I start in the evening after tea. I can get a solid routine going where I write for about an hour a day on weekdays and more on weekends. That’s all in the study I share with my husband, so I have to put headphones on and listen to music if he’s typing or using his microphone. I very rarely write when inspiration strikes, unless it’s to jot an idea down for the next time I write. I quite like routine, and I think dropping something else to chase an idea would make me more stressed than anything.
I never used to plan my writing, but I do now. I planned The Empyrean and its sequel using the three-act structure and a bunch of other things that looked helpful. For a separate series I’m working on, I’ve tried using the snowflake method because it looked a bit simpler and more streamlined. It’s heavier than I’m used to planning, but I think it’ll be worth it.
Have COVID and lockdowns changed your writing goals — either inspired you to write more (or start writing!), or negatively?
COVID hasn’t impacted me much. None of my family members have had it, I’ve kept working all the way through, and my husband and I never left the house much beforehand, so not much changed. Still, I can’t discount that it might have affected me – I’ve barely written during it, compared to before. I’m not sure how much of that was due to pandemic blues and how much of that was due to querying The Empyrean, which was my first time querying and so utterly depressing that I decided it could never be worth the stress to do that again. Turns out I don’t take well to email crickets. In any case, a combination of stress and lack of inspiration means I’ve not been able to write consistently. NaNo is the only time I can sit down and get solid words down.
I think it’s really exciting that you have decided to launch your book via Kickstarter! What made you decide on this route? What is the process like, and how are you feeling about it?
A lot of the agents I’d been looking at mentioned The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which was initially launched via Kickstarter. I hadn’t really thought of it before that, but I came back to that idea when I decided to self-publish. When you self-publish, you typically go straight to Amazon – where you’re competing against what, millions of other books? – and/or brick-and-mortar bookshops, where you’re competing against all the big-name authors in the windows if you even get a physical presence in store.
On Kickstarter, you only have to distinguish your book from maybe a few hundred publishing projects at most, maybe a handful of which are in the same genre. So it’s a good launchpad to build a core group of involved readers right from day one. Still, the main reason I went for it is because I would really love an audiobook for The Empyrean. Thing is, they cost around £3,000 to guarantee they’re done well. On top of my existing costs and the fact that I can’t guarantee how much profit they’d bring back, I can’t justify paying for it out of pocket. But if I make it a stretch goal and hit it, I’ll have the money to start production right away and I’ll know I at least have people who want to listen to it.
It does lead to a few questions I can’t just google the answer to. What do I do with ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies), for instance? They’re a pretty established part of the process, but part of the point of Kickstarter is that backers are the first to get their hands on the product. If I give out ARCs, will that annoy my readers? If I send ARCs out at the same time as the backer rewards, are they even ARCs anymore? I think with my first book, building that initial group of readers is important enough to try this route, but I might take a different approach for the sequel depending on how it goes.
What have people’s reactions been when you tell them that you are an author?
I suppose I haven’t yet told anyone I’m an author – I reckon I’ll start doing that when The Empyrean‘s out! But I quite often tell people I’m writing a book, and they’re usually a little bit interested. My parents are probably a little jaded by it now because of how long I’ve been writing them without anything happening, so it’ll be good to have something to show for it soon.
The first question they ask is almost always ‘what’s it about?’, which never fails to send me into a mild panic. I’ve had a lot of people say they’d read it after I explain, though there’s no telling if they’re just being polite!
My husband’s actually better at selling my book than I am. He’s given the sales pitch to all his friends and apparently whenever he meets them, they keep badgering him about when it’s going to be published so they can read it.
What is your favourite thing about being an author? What have been your favourite or more proud moments?
I think my favourite moment only happened the other day. I’d just finished editing the hardest chapter (I’d left it until last) and re-reading my edits to make sure I hadn’t accidentally introduced a typo with the latest changes. When I copied the manuscript across to the formatting fileshare, it was cathartic. Everything out of my hands at last, for now. I imagine getting the book in my hands and hearing about the first people reading it might supersede that moment pretty fast, though.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? (Either about writing or just life in general!)
Write lists. Break things down into manageable chunks. It’s probably advice everyone’s heard, but it really does help for me. Over time, generic lists on any number of tools morphed into bullet journaling. That’s been most effective for me in terms of making sure I keep writing lists and making sure I tick the items off.
Who are some of your favourite indie authors?
I’ll be honest and say I don’t read enough in the indie scene. That’s probably because I hadn’t been reading much at all since uni. Then I spotted a tweet about S. Z. Atwell’s Aestus, which was amazing, and that got me back into reading more often. I recently read Rab Ferguson’s Landfill Mountains, too, which was a magical read. There’s a chance I’ve read other indie titles, but I’m pretty bad at paying attention to who the authors are unless I came to the books via the author in the first place. (These are affiliate links!)
Can you share one of your favourite quotes from The Empyrean?
“Then it began. An emerald blush washed across the sphere of the planet’s surface, filling in the lakes and valleys with seas of gentle turmoil. Mountains the length of her thumb which had arched into the sky for miles in reality were crowned with their own aurorae, then swallowed whole. In no time at all, the whole planet became nothing more than a writhing green sun in the firmament.”
About Katherine Franklin
Katherine Franklin writes science fiction and fantasy when she isn’t writing code, and is preparing The Empyrean, the first book in her debut space-opera trilogy, for publication in early 2022. She spends the rest of her free time on a collection of hobbies, one of which is painting the small mountain of miniatures occupying her cupboards. Only martial arts and her horse-sized dog succeed in dragging her away from her desk.
And of course, don’t forget to check out the Kickstarter campaign for The Empyrean — the campaign finishes on 25th November and just £7 gets you a digital copy!
The Amazon links used here are affiliate links — I will receive a small commission from Amazon for any purchases you make. Thank you for supporting my website!