Interview with Emma Rose Millar

Today's guest is Emma Rose Millar, author of Strains of an Aeolian Harp.

Tricia: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Emma: Well I’m a mom first and foremost, I’m a single mom with a three year old who is brilliant; I’m very lucky to have him. I also work part time as a sign language interpreter so I’m pretty busy. I write and edit historical novels and feminist fiction – novels and short stories when I get a moment to myself.

Tricia: When did you begin writing?

Emma: I used to love creative writing when I was a child and had a very vivid imagination. Also I used to use it as a means of escapism; if ever anything was bothering me I used to turn it into a story. As I became older though I became more inhibited about my writing and eventually stopped altogether. It took a massive trauma in my life for me to start writing again.

Tricia: Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?

Emma: I used to just start writing and see where it took me, but I think that’s why I could never finish anything longer than short story length. With Strains from an Aeolian Harp I had a plan, then half way through the novel I tore it up and came up with a new plan but I believe that was how I was able to finish the novel. I wrote it while I was breastfeeding, in short sections as and when I could . It was a lengthy process. Now I have to wait until my son’s in bed before I start writing and I work far too late into the night.

Tricia: Can you tell us about your most recent release?

Emma: My first novel Strains from an Aeolian Harp is the story of a woman who finds herself in a psychiatric hospital, lost, alone and with no recollection of events which brought her there:

1922: Charlie is a chancer, with a taste for gin, ragtime and women. Underneath his veneer of assurance however, is a man with a terrible burden of guilt. Fuelled by his fatal addiction to opium, Charlie’s violent temper soon inflicts devastating consequences on the three women who love him, dragging each of them into a world they could never have imagined. Strains from an Aeolian Harp is the story of one woman’s enduring strength and of the fragile bond between women in a society filled with prejudice and misogyny.

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Tricia: How did you get the idea for the book?

Emma: Where do I start with this question? Strains from an Aeolian Harp is my story; it was a story which I had to write. When I first started work on it I was at a very emotional point in my life I’d just had a baby after years of trying and several miscarriages and I’d come out of a relationship with a man who I had been very much in love with but who was violent. Even though we had split up there were a lot of threats and bullying going on and I was becoming more and more afraid that something terrible would happen. I think the sense of fear really comes across in my novel. It was my way of expressing my fear; I had no other outlet for it. I created a character, Rose who was trapped literally, by her abusive husband and by the laws in 1920s Britain which prevented women from getting divorced on the grounds of cruelty alone. I couldn’t sleep; I sat up night after night writing the novel, sometimes I stayed in hotels because I was too scared to go home. Then one day there was a knock at the door. The police came to tell me that a man I knew had been found dead and that my ex-partner had been arrested on suspicion of murder. From that moment on I couldn’t stop writing; it was the only way I could cope. I deviated from the plot and my novel became much darker and more sinister. When I look back on it now, I can’t believe I wrote it, but I am proud as well that something so positive came out of such a terrible experience.

Tricia: Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?

Emma: Rose has to be my favourite. By the time I had finished the manuscript it was as if I knew her; she’s not a conventional character, I tried to show her for what she was, warts and all. As I felt stronger, Rose also became stronger in the novel; that’s a really powerful thing for me when I read it back now. I also love Jess though who is Rose’s friend. She’s the kind of woman I would like to be, confident and free-spirited. She’s a 1920’s flapper girl, a rebel, I like that.

Tricia: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?

Emma: Editing it, because I had to read the manuscript over and over again, and I think it stopped me from moving on because nearly every day I was re-living what happened. Having said that, I had a fantastic editor who worked tirelessly on the book and it was greatly improved because of her input.

Tricia: What is your primary goal as an author?

Emma: Just for people to like my work, and in the case of Strains from an Aeolian Harp, if it made only one woman think about her situation decide to do something about it then I would be very happy. And of course a movie deal would be nice!

Tricia: Which authors have inspired your writing?

Emma: I read mainly the classics and historical fiction. I love the Bronte sisters and Wilkie Collins and am an avid reader of Philippa Gregory and Sarah Waters. My favourite novel is probably Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I like authors who are quite atmospheric in the way they write and who put a lot of emotion into their work. I’m reading Harold Courlander’s The African at the moment in preparation for my next novel, which is fantastic.

Tricia: What projects are you currently working on?

Emma: I’ve just finished editing a novel called Holloway 8632 for another author which is the story of working class Suffragette Sally Cox who goes on hunger strike whilst in prison for her role in a political protest.

I’ve also nearly finished my second novel Five Guns Blazing, which is based on a short story I had published in the best-selling lesbian anthology Sunkissed by Freya Publications.

Five Guns Blazing is an epic journey of self-discovery which spans from the backstreets of London across the seas to Barbados. Follow Laetitia Beedham, from the Florence Street workhouse, through transportation, gruelling plantation life and into the arms of wanted pirates Anne Bonny and John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, but who will win her loyalty… and her heart?

When I started the process of turning the short story into a full length novel it soon became clear to me that I couldn’t do it without a co-writer and I shelved it for a while waiting for the right person to come along. Then one day a writer called Kevin Allen interviewed me for his blog – it’s amazing who you can stumble across sometimes. Kevin had already spent a long time looking into his own genealogy, conditions on Jamaican sugar plantations, piracy and the reasons behind it, so I sent him my half-finished manuscript and to my amazement he agreed to work on it with me. So here we are, two complete strangers living on different continents writing a book together. It’s a mad plan but it might just work.

For more information on both projects visit my blog:

Tricia: What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?

Emma: Don’t give up and follow your dream. Make time; even if you only write 200 words a day you can finish your book within a year. Make a plan, stick to it, don’t stick to it but make one all the same. I’ve found out that there’s more to success than just writing a book. You have to keep plugging away at PR and marketing if you really want to make it, but you’d be surprised what a bit of determination can do. Finally, good luck!

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Excerpt, Strains from an Aeolian Harp by Emma Rose Millar


It was the night her mother died when Rose lost her second baby. She had had a bath to get over the shock of her mother’s death and the water had turned pink with blood.

“Charlie!” she screamed. “Oh please, Charlie, help me! It is happening again!”

He rushed into the parlour where she had drawn a bath beside the crackling fire and plunged his fingers into the water.

“It’s too bloody hot Rose, you stupid bitch! The water’s too hot.” He dragged her out by the ankles and threw her, naked, onto the floor. The contents of the bath spilled over, the coals let out a hiss as the flames were extinguished and grey smoke poured out from the grate. He whipped off his belt and lashed her twice in the face with the buckle, then flipped her over with the toe of his shoe. “And don’t even think of saying you’ll divorce me again Rose because you haven’t got grounds any more. Even that band of lesbians you’ve been hanging around with will tell you that! I’ve lost Sophie over you and your damned child—and you know how I love things. I’ve lost her all because of you!”

Rose curled over on her side, bringing her knees into her chest, and she lost the baby right there on the parlour floor. She felt the tiny little ball sliding from her and tensed her muscles desperately trying to keep hold of it but it was no use.

He was gone.

Charlie gently lifted up her head and shoulders and put his lips to her ear.

“You know what you did, just there? You know when animals kill their young? That’s what you did Rose. It’s exactly what you just did.” He let her flop lifelessly back down onto the linoleum. “Now stop snivelling and mop up this bloody mess.”


Charlie slammed the front door and wandered slowly away through the night which was unseasonably cold and sat alone on the canal bank with the wet grass soaking through the seat of his pants. He removed his overcoat and his hat and sat with his teeth chattering and his hands clamped under his armpits. The lock creaked slowly and the coal barge though tethered, rocked against the gentle current. He felt afraid, not being part of that secret world between the foundry and the water, where people of the night hid in the shadows—rent boys, tramps, punters. Charlie watched his breath as it froze white in the black air, in the unearthly silence knowing that he was not alone. How cold would it have been in Canada all those winters? He wondered if he could even remember them properly: there was nothing to hold onto and they were slipping away from him. His mother, in her grief, had not even permitted their names to be mentioned, their few toys, their little clothes had all been sold on; she could not bear to keep them with her. Suddenly he could hear an inexplicable humming sound, which was at first loud and unpleasant, and then grew strangely soft. Charlie looked into the rippling water knowing that two small children were lurking just below the surface, beckoning him to come to them. He picked up his coat and ran home again, terrified, lest one of their blue hands should rise up and take hold of him.