One Question Quiz
Three Emmas: Sidnam, Hislop and Wehipeihana (Image: Tina Tiller)
Three Emmas: Sidnam, Hislop and Wehipeihana (Image: Tina Tiller)

BooksApril 20, 2024

All about Emma: Three writers talk about the name they share in common

Three Emmas: Sidnam, Hislop and Wehipeihana (Image: Tina Tiller)
Three Emmas: Sidnam, Hislop and Wehipeihana (Image: Tina Tiller)

Emmas Hislop, Sidnam and Wehipeihana discuss what’s in a name.

Emma Sidnam: Hello Emmas! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this with me. My first question for you is related to what’s been on my mind for a while. It’s very important. You see we’ve recently had some famous Emma action. There was the Netflix sensation One Day with the wonderfully relatable Emma Morley played by Ambika Mod. Then there’s the always incredible Emma Stone who won Best Actress for her role in Poor Things. So . . . who is your favourite fictional Emma and who is your favourite celebrity Emma? 

Emma Hislop: Kia ora kōrua! Fictional: Look, I know this is a cheat answer, but I love Emma Mackey, who plays Maeve on Sex Education. She was my sole reason for sticking out season two, even though Otis was extremely painful. Celebs: I love Emma Hernan, one of the iconic estate agents from Selling Sunset. She makes life look so effortless. Recently she was a judge on my kid’s current fav tv show Is it Cake? and she’s a total boss.

Emma Wehipeihana: Fictional: Emma Frost, the Marvel villain. She’s hectic and powerful and I love a villain era Emma. If I could have picked a non-Emma character, it would be Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove. I’ve always been more of a fan of the tormented anti-heroes than the boring heroes in stories, and she turns into a very cute and vicious cat, what’s not to like Celebrity: Is it basic to say Emma Watson? It’s a bit of a tame pick but I think she’s cool. I hope she hasn’t been cancelled for anything, I haven’t been across any celebrity news since leaving X formerly known as Twitter. 

Emma Hislop’s debut short story collection Ruin

Emma Hislop: Emma by Jane Austen – have you read it? What books did you have to read at high school? We read The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I remember finding Eliot hard going but was fascinated by the language and I totally loved The Outsiders. It was the first thing I’d read about class based violence.

Emma Sidnam: I LOVE Emma by Jane Austen – it’s potentially my favourite Austen book (with the other option being Persuasion) – and not just because of the name. I love Emma because she’s so haplessly confident in her abilities, so charming and meddling. IF we ignore the potential grooming going on, it’s a great love story too. I didn’t study Emma at high school, but got to read some amazing works including The English Patient (which remains my favourite book), Persepolis, If This is a Man, and the best year ten book ever, Holes.

Emma Wehipeihana: I have never read Emma! We read a lot of Shakespeare, and standard curriculum fare like To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice. The books I remember most from that time were the books I read independent of school. For example the fiercely feminist Alanna series by Tamora Pierce, and creepy classics like Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Rebecca.  

Emma Wehipeihana: I used to think Emma was a really boring name. I wanted to change my name to Magenta Galaxy when I was seven. Do you like your name? What would you change it to, if you could? Do you have an alias, a nickname or alter ego? When I was born my parents were planning to call me Amy Jane. But apparently when I came out I was immediately “Emma.” My closest friends are allowed to call me Em, my Mum’s whānau call me Emmy and my Dad’s whānau … well, it’s just niece, cousin, or moko. 

Emma Sidnam: I mostly like my name? Out of classic, popular names I think Emma is one of the nicest ones. When I was eight I attempted to unofficially change my name to Emily and the school librarian was the only one who actually called me that. I have a few alter egos but I can’t put them on The Spinoff or they’ll lose their power. At school I sometimes went by Emma Sid or Siddy became my last name and I liked that. Nowadays I like it when people call me Em or “amor de mi vida”.

Emma Hislop: Magenta Galaxy! Best name ever! I don’t have an alias or alter ego but I got to choose my own middle name when I turned 10. It felt cool at the time. Embarrassingly for me now, I chose Ace. Luckily it was never formalised, but the name has stuck from those who know me very well. I’m Em to a lot of people in my life and my oldest high school mates call me Hizzy. I like my name, I think. My tipuna wāhine Motoitoi had three daughters, Maria (our whakapapa line) Irihapeti and Emma.

Emma Wehipeihana: Are our mums related? I got to choose my own middle name as a seven-year-old (a compromise for not changing my actual name) and I chose Elizabeth. Because she was a queen. Sometimes I wish my mum was less liberal, she could have saved me from myself. 

Emma Sidnam’s debut novel Backwaters (Photo: Supplied)

Emma Sidnam: OK team of Emmas, very, very important question. Who are some of the important Emmas that have passed through your life? Because I’ve had several. I currently have my colleague/friend Emma and a high school friend Emma (we called ourselves m^2 because we were in maths together), and right now I’m pretty chuffed to have Emma writing friends.

Emma Hislop: I had to really think about this. While I vaguely know a few Emmas from social media and writing circles, I don’t have any close Emma friends. Form a queue ladies. Can a queue be two? I don’t think so.

Emma Sidnam: I interject, we can be a queue of two!

Emma Wehipeihana: Um. It’s … you two. Haha. There was a girl in my primary school called Emma but the only thing I remember about her is that she projectile vomited one day during mat time. 

Emma Hislop: Any writers with our name? Emma Forrest came to mind, but mainly because I want to read her memoir. She used to be married to actor Ben Mendelsohn, who I love. I read a thing in the Guardian she wrote about the years they were together. It sounded exciting and debauched. Emma Cline’s first novel, The Girls, is set in a cult and has stayed with me since I read it years ago. Her latest novel, The Guest was inspired by John Cheever’s famous story, The Swimmers, which made me see the possibilities that lie in fiction. 

Emma Sidnam: Emma Donoghue, who wrote Room, which is one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s horrific and excellent. And this isn’t a writer but I’m a fan of Emma Seligman who directed Bottoms and Shiva Baby. I find her work cutting and funny.

Emma Wehipeihana: I have Emma Forrest’s book! I haven’t read it yet. After I went through a separation I collected all the memoir I could find on the topic – Deborah Levy’s were so important to me, in terms of validating the decision and putting a name to the feeling that destruction is your only way to survive. I also recently read Barbara Else’s Laughing at the Dark (also on the Ockham non-fiction shortlist, what an incredible woman) and loved it for the same reason. That idea of women making tough calls for their survival, and for a chance at joy, it’s so thrilling to see more and more women writing about what would previously been dismissed by publishers as “domestic” i.e. “not marketable”. 

Emma Wehipeihana’s memoir There’s a cure for this

Emma Wehipeihana: Are we into star signs? What’s your star sign? Obviously I’m a serious clinician and only make evidence-based decisions and do science things but also I love astrology, it’s so fun and such a spicy topic of conversation. How great are Tayi Tibble’s astrology readings for Metro?! I’m an Aries, so we’re in my season right now, my favourite time of year. I can’t tell if I’m a typical Aries or if I just lean into the characteristics to validate my eccentricities and bad behaviour. Either way, it’s Aries season, bitches. 

Emma Sidnam: Ya, Tayi Tibble’s poetry is great. I’m not super into star signs but I think they’re fun. I’m a Leo and people always tell me I’m VERY MUCH a Leo, being a vaguely attention seeking youngest child and everything. Google says that Leos are loving, theatrical and creative, and I guess that sounds right? My horoscopes are sometimes accurate and I love picking up a fortune cookie every time I go to an Asian supermarket. Once, a fortune cookie didn’t even tell me a fortune – it just said “you’re great!”

Emma Hislop: I love Levy’s work so much. And I stan Tayi Tibble ofc, love her writing and I was lucky to have her as my publicist after my book came out. I’m an Aquarius. It’s true that I hate being told what to do and not excited about socialising unless I really want to lol. After a particularly taxing few days, yesterday my friend Col told me Mercury was in retrograde, Whiro and eclipse in one and it seemed to explain everything even though I didn’t entirely get it. 

Emma Wehipeihana: I’ve been blaming everything this week on Mercury, the eclipse, Whiro and Aries season. Whatever gets us through the zombie apocalypse, kare mā x 

Ruin by Emma Hislop, and Backwaters by Emma Sidnam were both longlisted for the Jann Medlicott Prize for Fiction at this year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. There’s a cure for this by Emma Wehipeihana is shortlisted for the general non-fiction prizeAll books are available to purchase from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington.

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