A lot of the superheroes we see are born with their powers and responsibilities. I wanted to write a character from the other side of that. Peter Parker is one of the latter; he goes from a picked-on kid to a superhero, which is one of the reasons I think he’s been so relatable for so many people. I wanted to write a messy woman who doesn’t have her life together learning how to build her own strength when those around her would rather she be weak.
2. You’ve referred to Gwenllian, your main character, as Scotland’s first superhero. Tell us a little about her.
I got beaten to the punch a bit with Saltire, a big blue superhero who debuted not long ago. :) Gwen Maule isn’t big OR blue, but she definitely packs a punch. Scotland is in a time of transition right now, and whether the Scots choose to forge their own nation apart from the UK or stay within the UK, and I wanted to write a character that reflected that transitional period. However Scotland votes, people across the country are in the process of making up their minds and learning about themselves and what they want for their country in the process.
3. Why as it important to you to create a female superhero, and in this particular location at this time in history?
To go with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks theme, I think having female superheroes (and superheroes of color with different ability levels and other qualities outside of a variation in 5 o’clock shadow) is important to show that you don’t have to share a gender with a superhero to find her relatable. Growing up female, I desperately wanted to see people like me doing awesome things and saving the world, but I also deeply identified with Peter Parker, Wolverine, and other male superheroes who were trying to find their way in the world. The more diverse stories that are out there, the more we can break down the walls for those who are accustomed to seeing their own demographic’s dominance and show them that they can find themselves in other stories as well.
4. If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
Teleportation. Hands down. Think Davy in Jumper more than Nightcrawler, though.
5. I know you have a degree in history. If you could live in any other time period, what would it be and why?
The future. One of the reasons I write is to be able to imagine better worlds than the one we’ve inherited. I couldn’t imagine myself going back in time to be someone’s property, but I like to pretend I have hope for a better future.
6. What’s next for you?
Next in the pipeline is the sequel to THE MASKED SONGBIRD as well as a little non-fiction debut, A GEEK GIRL’S GUIDE TO FANDOM, also from Harlequin. I’m thrilled to get the chance to work more with my editor, and I can’t wait to continue Gwen’s story. After that, I’ve got a few other secret projects in development.
The Masked Songbird blurb:
Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.
Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.
Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.
Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends—even her country.
Excerpt from The Masked Songbird:
Days Until Referendum: 24
That’s the sound I imagine my boss’s head making when it explodes.
Or maybe BLAM. A comic book noise, written in all-caps in a jagged bubble at the top of the panel while I dance a jig and pick bits of her out of my hair. As Annamaria de Fournay speaks into her mobile, not facing me, the back of her head displays no outward indication of an imminent explosion.
She toys with a white card, eyes fixed on a bouquet of purple-blue flowers in a fluted white vase. “I appreciate the flowers,” she says without a hint of irony. “Interesting choice.”
I wait for her to notice me, but her gaze remains locked on the angular petals. After a beat, she goes on.
“The research has been completed? You’re certain, then.” She pauses, a hint of a smile hovering at the corner of her mouth. “You’ll have to work out what to put it in. Something sweet would work.” She turns her head away from the bouquet and starts, seeing me. The almost-smile vanishes. “I’ll ring you back.” She drops her mobile on the table and looks at me as if I’ve walked into the loo to find her on the toilet with her knickers around her ankles.
She says nothing for forty-seven seconds. I cough. “Ms de Fournay, you wanted to see me?”
“Took you long enough to get here.”
I’m not going to remind her that she was on the phone when I arrived. What research was she talking about? A momentary picture of de Fournay at a chemistry set blowing up beakers of bright green liquid intrudes, and I shake it away before I crack a smile. She’s probably just researching the top ten habits of highly effective arseholes.
The Queen swivels in her chair and turns her green eyes on me. I instantly pity the bouquet for having to endure forty-seven seconds of that stare.
Her hair falls in exquisite curls to her breasts, and her nose rises toward the ceiling when I fail to apologise at once, and I look at my hands where they sit clasped in my lap, focusing my gaze on the small ruby ring Mum gave me when I turned eighteen.
De Fournay laces her fingers on the table. Not one of her nails is smudged or chipped. Even if I made her salary, I don’t reckon I’d get a manicure every day. I refuse to accept that she keeps them so perfect without daily upkeep.
“The financial you ran on Francis Duck’s merger lacked any glaring errors. He was very pleased, and he requested that I tell you personally of his…esteem.” Annamaria de Fournay’s lip quirks as if someone has tugged at a marionette string.
I stare at her, waiting for her to continue. I don’t trust myself not to squeak or belch or scream if I open my mouth, so I nod with as much grace as I can muster.
“Additionally, he asked that you be responsible for his summaries for the foreseeable future. I trust you understand the value of his continued loyalty to our company and conduct yourself accordingly.”
I nod again, not sure if de Fournay just praised me or if I fell through my mirror this morning into Wonderland. Or Bizarroworld.
For one shining moment, I think she’s going to let me go without a thrashing.
Instead her lips, top and bottom, as even and calculated as the rest of her, flatten into a line. She gestures to the chair across from her, dropping a folder on the table.
I sit, cupping the arms of my chair with both hands and trying to absorb the coolness of the plastic as a buffer against the verbal flamethrower she secrets away behind those lips. Her eyes are stony jade, her chin high, her skin smooth as a morning loch.
One immaculate French-manicured fingernail lands on the file folder that bridges the mahogany conference table between us. The white crescent of the nail’s tip reflects the fluorescent light from the ceiling, and as she leans forward, I smell the rosewater she dabs at her temples every day at two-thirty.
It might be a friendly gesture if I hadn’t seen it every day for three years. In spite of the compliment she just paid me, something in that file is my fault, and those even lips are about to part in a searing tirade against my character, my work ethic, my mum’s Welshness, my parochial highland crofter upbringing and the ethical conundrum of Mum allowing me to live past birth. Most days, Annamaria de Fournay believes my mother ought to have shrouded me in white linen and fed me to the selkies.
She opens the folder. A rush of rose scent crests over the table like a breaking wave. Pushing one sheet of paper toward me, her lips manage to stay in formation even as she speaks.
“Do read this date for me.”
I blink, following the line of her finger down to its gleaming, polished end and read aloud. “Nineteenth of August.”
“Do you not find that curious?”
I find her accent obnoxious, but the date looks mundane enough to me.
Annamaria de Fournay came to Edinburgh from Cambridge, but if you ask her about it, you’d think she came straight from Buckingham Palace. While I don’t doubt that she’s English, the way she pushes every vowel out through the bridge of her nose makes it sound as though she’s thanking her subjects in St James’s Court rather than pointing out a discrepancy in an accounting report.
I shift my shoulders in response to her question.
“This report was due the ninth of August, Ms Maule. Not the nineteenth, though I see how someone who squints as much as you do could imagine a one in front of the nine.”
Och, aye. That. Truth is, the report was turned in on the eighth of the month, but telling her would just make her set me aflame.
My eyesight is fine. I squint because her rosewater makes my eyes burn.
I used to try to argue my case with her. At least until it resulted in her dragging me into her office every day to flay me with words. Bringing up Francis Duck’s account will only make her angrier. Now I shut up, try to tune her out, and hope she’ll let me return to my blissfully unscented office.
I settle in, painting my face with an expression I hope radiates contrition and humility. I likely just look constipated, but she prattles on, and I wait for her mobile to beep for her next meeting. Two-thirty, rosewater scratch and sniff. Three o’clock, humiliate Gwenllian Maule. Three-thirty, fawn over clients and water them with expensive single malt.
I’m a part of her schedule now, as surely as the rosewater.
“We are Edinburgh’s finest accountancy firm, and the go-to resource for businesses in the northern United Kingdom. Our clients expect more than a crofter’s level of professionalism, Ms Maule. Sheep and accountancy are not bedfellows. You will submit a revised report by Friday. And,” she continues with no change in tone, “I will not tolerate any more careless mistakes of this nature. Do it again and I won’t wait for your annual review to fire you—and no number of compliments from Francis Duck will keep you in this office.”
Fired. I can almost see bills popping up above my head in bubbles. Rent. Mobile. The university loans I make just enough to pay monthly. Credit cards. Car repayment for a car that doesn’t even run. My shoulders curl in, and the air I draw into my lungs feels thick, heavy. I’m glad I’m already sitting down, because I feel wobbly and lightheaded. My annual review is coming up in a couple short weeks. The review is just the excuse she needs to get rid of me, contract or no contract.
De Fournay waits for my response, her eyes trained on my face.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I force the words out so she’ll stop looking at me. “It won’t happen again, Ms de Fournay.”
I almost sound sure of it.
Just my luck. One of our best clients picks me to do his reports, and she still finds a way to remind me that nothing I ever do here is good enough.
Her eyes drop back to the desk, and I uncurl my shoulders, waiting for the air in the room to thin without her unblinking gaze to thicken it. Her fingernail scans across the report like a heat-seeking missile, searching for more mistakes she can throw in my face. Finding none, she returns to the subject of my idiocy.
I stop listening and watch Annamaria de Fournay’s head, looking for signs of it going POOF. If only I could press a red button and make it so.
About Emmie Mears: