KATIE WRITES: Our interview this week is with Simon Morden–an author who has managed to make it onto my remarkably small “must read” list not once, but twice. Admittedly, those are the only two books by him that I’ve read, but he agreed to do an interview with me anyway, which I consider a great honour. You can learn more about Mr. Morden at his website where he has his novella “Heart” (which I highly recommend) available for free. Keep reading to the end for details on our newest giveaway!
Complex is a good word! But it’s only complex because the world is complex. I want to treat the readers as adults (even in The Lost Art, which is nominally YA), and society – history, geography, technology, religion, economics – is a big, sprawling mess of interconnected influences. The story itself navigates a path through that mess, and needs to be clear and understandable. So for Heart, I wrote a detective story: there’s two detectives, they follow the clues, interview suspects, work out the puzzle and solve the crime. That the motivation for the crime itself is rooted deep in British mythology – and for our mundane detectives, none of it makes any sense until they accept that – is simply part of the story. And for The Lost Art, it’s a science fiction book written entirely with fantasy tropes: wizards, warriors, princesses, thieves, magic, flying carpets, great empires and great treasure: enormous fun to write. My most recent novel, Arcanum, is almost its opposite: a great fat fantasy book that’s solidly a scientific romance.
Is genre weaving something you do intentionally, or is that just how the stories come to you?
I’ve always taken the view that the story comes first. So while any particular story of mine will sit broadly within a genre, there are no borders I can’t cross on my way to the end. To take the analogy further, if I’m writing a space opera and I discover that there’s a plot strand that’s going to need a heavy dose of mysticism and psychology, then I’m going to park my tanks right on that lawn.
The idea of writing the same book over and over again sounds as boring to me as it will to the reader. Even in the Petrovitch books, I’ve made absolutely certain that each one is different: Equations of Life is pure 80’s cyberpunk, Theories of Flight was my military SF book, Degrees of Freedom invades Cold War spy territory and The Curve of the Earth is a detective buddy film gone bad. It keeps the stories fresh, and keeps stretching me as a writer.
Where, who and what do you draw your inspiration from?
I’m unashamedly the product of every book I’ve ever read, good and bad. I started on adult SF and fantasy at an early age, and read voraciously and indiscriminately throughout my teenage years and beyond. It did mean that I waded through an awful lot of rubbish (Sturgeon’s Law applies), but it also meant that when I actually got around to writing my own stuff, I knew what I liked and roughly (very roughly) how it was supposed to go together. Ideas, however, can come from everywhere and anywhere – news articles, history books, biographies, obituaries, a building, a mountain, a particular kind of weather even. Writers should be sponges, absorbing everything and holding it inside until it’s ready to be used.
What would you say your biggest challenge is, as an author?
My biggest challenge? Distraction. And the internets don’t help. Or rather, they hinder as much as they help. I am mostly very disciplined, but there’s always something else to do that is, at that moment, more interesting that sitting in the chair and banging out the words. Take this very instance: my daughter is sitting next to me learning about cell structure for Biology. I don’t even do squishy stuff, and I keep glancing over and laughing at all the long words she has to learn.
As an industry, our collective biggest challenge is simply to monetise our work. As the primary creators of art, we should, in theory, be the primary beneficiaries of that art. It’s becoming abruptly harder to not just make a living from writing (which has always been difficult), but to earn enough even to justify the vast amounts of time we spend writing, when we could be doing other things like fixing up the house or playing with our kids. I’m lucky in that, as a family, we don’t rely on my writing income to provide anything but the treats: but many others I know don’t have a safety net. Then, of course, there’s the issue of illness and medical insurance…
Can you tell us anything about what you’re currently working on?
I’m currently working on what is technically known in the trade as a ‘portal fantasy’ – think Narnia or John Carter, though it’s closer in tone to Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles – that is, inevitably, going to draw in other aspects of genre fiction. The Books of Down, as the trilogy will be known, are about a group of survivors of a catastrophe in our world learning how to live in a very different one. Down is like Earth, but is an amplifier for all our fondest longings and deepest fears: if you can imagine it happening to you here, it will actually happen to you in Down, for good or ill. Then there’s the hidden reason for our intrepid band of proto-heroes to be in Down in the first place, which is something that they’re blissfully unaware of currently, but will discover as they learn more about how the place works, and their roles in it.
As far as it goes, sit down and write. That’s pretty much it. No planning, no outline, no clear idea of where I’m going. I’m sure that’s a really ridiculous way of doing it, but I like living on the edge. Gnarly, dudes.
It’s a bit more nuanced than that, but essentially, I get a concept, a place and a bunch of people together, and see what happens. Sometimes I have to make up a synopsis if I’m selling an idea to a publisher, who might want to know what they’re getting for their money – I haven’t quite reached the stage where I can say, “I’ll write something. It’ll be brilliant.” and they part with the cold, hard cash. Sometimes, the finished story even has a passing resemblance to the synopsis. Never underestimate the power of a good synopsis.
What are some of your favorite works of fiction? Are there any authors or creators you especially admire?
I have lots of favourites, often for odd sentimental reasons. But if I was going to pull a few out of the memory banks, I’d say: pretty much everything by Ray Bradbury, especially Something Wicked This Way Comes; Pohl and Kornbluth, especially The Space Merchants; Frank Herbert, especially Dune; Julian May, especially The Saga of the Exiles and the following Intervention books; Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books; Michael Marshall Smith, especially Spares; Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow; Niven and Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye. And about a billion others.
Do you have any favorite methods for overcoming writer’s block?
To quote Alan Bennett, “All writing is writer’s block.” And continue the quote, “It’s all so hard. But not tragically hard.” Which is a good summary of how I feel about it. It’s not world peace or solving the Grand Unified Theory, but writing is hard work. Sometimes, writing can be effortless, and at other times, it feels like you’re carving the words out one at a time from a block of granite. The trick is making both those times seamless within the whole. Writing doesn’t depend on how you feel, or the time of day, or whether you’re tired, or your desk is arranged just so. Just sit there and write the damn thing, because no one else will.
What genre do you consider most of your works to fall into?
I think that’s your answer right there: my works tend to fall into a genre, in the same way things just happen to fall by accident and land somewhere unexpected. “How did that get into your pocket?” asks the store detective. “It just fell in,” I answer. The same with stories. Because the story comes first, and I take it to wherever it wants to go, it can literally fall literally anywhere. It happens, mostly, to fall into the science fiction adventure hole, because I like stories with lots of running, shooting, gadgets and giant fighting robots. They can, and do, fall elsewhere.
Much of our audience consists of aspiring creators of some kind. What words of encouragement and advice can you offer them?
Look, we all know what a crap shoot this can be. You can work for years, decades even, and get precisely nowhere. Don’t write because you want to be rich, or famous, or award-winning, or well-regarded by your peers, or anything like that. Write because you want to, because you can’t imagine yourself not writing, because you love it and it makes you feel alive. If success follows, brilliant, but if it doesn’t – as it didn’t for me for ages, and may never again for all I know – then you’ve still spent your time wisely.
Simon has written eight novels and novellas. The wonderfully tentacular Another War (2005), was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award, and 2007 saw the publication of The Lost Art, which was shortlisted for the Catalyst Award. The first three books starring everybody’s favourite sweary Russian scientist, Samuil Petrovitch (Equations of Life, Theories of Flight, Degrees of Freedom) were published in three months of each other in 2011, and collectively won the Philip K Dick Award – the fourth Petrovitch, The Curve of the Earth, was published in 2013.
In a departure to the usual high-tech mayhem, 2014 sees the arrival of Arcanum, a massive (and epic) alternate-history fantasy, which not only has flaming letters on the cover, but the story inside is “enthralling”, “intelligent”, “impeccably rendered” (Kirkus), and “engrossing”, “satisfying” and “leaving the reader craving for more (Publishers’ Weekly). Which is nice.
We’re giving away a hardcover copy of Morden’s award winning YA book “The Lost Art.” To enter answer one of the following discussion questions:
1. Simon Morden said he likes “lots of running, shooting, gadgets and giant fighting robots.” What aspects of science fiction do you like best and why?
2. Do you like to read genre mashups? Why or why not? Give examples of favourite genre crossovers, if applicable.
Some people find discussion questions difficult to answer. Remember, you’re not going to be disqualified by answering “incorrectly.” As in all discussions “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer, if it’s accompanied by sufficient thoughts as to make it meaningful! The purpose here is to foster discussion between participants and give opportunity for new thoughts to arise, as well as help us get to know you better!
UPDATE: Winners will be announced the morning of Friday, July 18th. Winner must claim their prize by Sunday July 20th, or another winner will be selected.