Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Author Interview - Simon Morden


Author Bio: Simon Morden has won the Philip K. Dick award and been a judge on the Arthur C. Clarke Award. A popular figure on the genre scene he has also proved to be a popular author of both noir SF and extravagant Fantasy theme SF. He has also been an editor at Focus Magazine. He has a degree in Geology and Planetary Geophysics (Gollancz Bio).

Simon Morden is one of my all time favourite authors. He is the man behind the Metrozone series which I was completely blown away by so if you haven't heard of or read those books yet then check them out immediately. Now we are here to discuss Simon's newer series of which The White City is the second instalment. 

The Down series started with Down Station last year, a predominantly fantasy based story with elements of science-fiction, I was hooked in an instant. It follows a group of people who escape through a portal in a derelict London Underground station to avoid being killed by an all consuming fire. Ending up in the magical world of Down affects each member of the group in different ways, with the magic of the land influencing their character, making them braver, angrier, more courageous, more evil and even giving a select few new forms and abilities. They look for answers but only find more questions as they explore the land and meet the inhabitants that call Down their home. Easily the most readable book I read last year and having just finished The White City myself I can say the second instalment is even better, bigger plot reveals, more diverse characters and more danger and secrecy. 

I have had the amazing opportunity to ask Simon Morden a few questions about his work, his writing style and some of his influences. I want to say a huge thank you to both Simon and Stevie at Gollancz for arranging the interview. Here are the questions I put to Simon.

Can you tell me some details about your new release?
The White City follows on directly from the end of Down Station, in which the survivors – that’s not really a spoiler if you’re at all familiar with my work, in that characters you know and like can and do die on a fairly regular basis – make their way towards what they believe to be the only city in the whole of Down. It’s in part a road trip without roads, and in part a journey of discovery. Of course, what they do discover is both wonderful and terrible in equal measure. They learn more about themselves, the world of Down, and the London they left behind. And that ending... oh, yes.

Why did you pick the genres that your work occupies? 
The Books of Down (as I’m calling them, in an entirely non-ironic and un-portentous way) are firmly in the realm of the Portal Fantasy. When I proposed the series, I was firmly and politely told that there’s no market for them, despite some of the greatest books, not just children’s books, but all books ever, being portal fantasies. And yet here we are, two books in. To the despair of my publishers, I’m a bit of a butterfly. It’d be much better for my career if I just stuck to one broad genre, but I just can’t. I’ve written full-on Lovecraftian horror, British mythological urban fantasy, cyberpunk, doorstep-sized epic fantasy and, for my next outing, a novella from Newcon Press, a nerdy, technical, deep-space SF. What I find is that certain stories need a certain genre framework to be told properly, so they tend to pick themselves.

What are your influences when writing?
I think most writers would admit to being sponges, absorbing everything they come into contact with. So a lot of it depends on what the writer chooses to expose themselves to. When I was younger, I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on, as long as it had a sword, a dragon or a spaceship on the cover, so I consumed an awful lot of dross in my time, but also discovered gems in amongst them. So writing wise, my go-tos are people like Ray Bradbury, Julian May, Joe Haldeman, Frank Herbert, Tolkien, Lewis, Pohl and Kornbluth, Greg Bear. People who can tell a story with humanity, essentially. There are loads more.
Obviously, I have loads of other influences. My politics (left wing, green), my religion (liberal Christianity), my upbringing (lower middle-class), my education (scientist by trade) and where I’ve lived for the past three decades (Tyneside). Not every story I tell has to have all of those influences front and centre, but it does mean, hopefully, I’ve got a complex, interlinked set of experiences to play off of.

What is a typical writing day for yourself?
There was an email that went around a few weeks before the last GollanczFest, where we authors were ‘encouraged’ to tweet about our writing day using the #AuthorLife hashtag. Since my typical day revolves around just how long I can stay in my dressing gown and how many mugs of tea I can get through, it’s not really anything to get excited about (I was dressed before the meter reader rang on the doorbell today, so that was an achievement). I did this instead: https://storify.com/ComradeMorden/the-seven-trials-of-count-von-katzenberg
But really, it’s a question of how long I can stay in my dressing gown and how many mugs of tea I can drink. I do write quite a lot, though, while in my dressing gown, drinking tea...

Which writers did you look up to when starting out as a writer?
I’ve mentioned a few above. At that point, I didn’t actually know any writers – these days it’s a lot of the people I know – so I only knew them through their work. One that stood out time and again was Ray Bradbury. His compassion and lyricism – as well as his sharp wit and abundant imagination – shone through. I wish I could write like him, and I have tried, but it’s not the same. Subsequently discovering that he was a decent, generous person was simply the icing on the cake.

How long roughly does it take you to write your novels?
The answer is, inevitably, ‘it depends’. As I mentioned above, I do write a lot, and sometimes I do nothing else but write, to the detriment of everything else around me. But on average, six to nine months for a decent-sized (somewhere in the range of 100,000 words) novel. Arcanum, which weighed in at 300,000 words for a first draft, took me eighteen months. And it wasn’t even a slog. I loved writing it, and couldn’t wait to get some more done on it.

Is there a book you would personally recommend to readers that you enjoy?
So my suggestion is going to be a bit left-field, but here goes. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. I’m sure a lot of people are going ‘Whoa. Dude. You mean that The Exorcist?’ Yes. The film, while excellent and Oscar-winning and all, doesn’t capture half of what the book’s about (despite the screenplay being written by Blatty himself). This is a deep, daring, and above all, humane investigation into the nature of family and friendship. The book is a revelation. Read it.

How does it feel to be a successful author? To be appreciated by readers like myself?
Shut away in my house, covered in cats, rattling away at the keyboard, I don’t feel successful. I just feel lucky to be able to do what I do. Every time I have something published, I secretly think ‘got away with it – again!’, and at some point, I’ll probably run out of that luck. Hopefully not tomorrow, though. And yes, the appreciation is lovely. Even if you can’t bring yourself to contact the author, leaving a little one-line review on Amazon or elsewhere on-line (yes, we do find them and read them, no matter what anyone says) makes our day.

Thank you again to Simon Morden! The White City is out on Thursday 27.10.16 via Gollancz and it is a must read. Thank you to all those who read this interview and please leave a comment to what you thought about this interview. 

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