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Simon Morden Q & A

What book are you reading just now? (Amy)

Because I try not to read fiction while I’m writing, I get through quite a lot of non-fiction stuff. I’ve just started ‘Planet Narnia’ by Michael Ward, which is his attempt to work out whether C.S. Lewis had an over-arching theme that unites the seven Narnia books. The last fiction book I read was ‘Dandelion Wine’ by the American author Ray Bradbury. Which was utterly wonderful.

How did you start writing your book? (Sara)

Because I don’t plan anything out before I start, I quite literally sit in front of a blank page and type ‘Chapter 1’. I have a vague idea of what I want to write about – a scene, a person, perhaps just a single image. I find out what’s going on as I write. It’s a bit scary!

Where did you get your initial ideas? (Sarah, Sophie, Ainsley)

Almost anything can set off an idea that I use – something I see or hear, a news report perhaps, or even a dream. I also steal shamelessly from other stories that I’ve read or been told. All authors do, as there’s only supposed to be seven basic plots.

Are the main characters based on people you have met? (Lauryn)

Sort of. They’re not people I’ve met in real life – the characters tend to turn up in the story, unannounced and fully formed, as if they were real. Tolkien (who wrote Lord of the Rings) called his writing ‘an act of sub-creation’, meaning that while he was creating an imaginary world, filled with imaginary people, it didn’t make that creation any less real than the one we live in.

Have you ever had writer’s block? (Jemma)

Sometimes when I’m writing, I can’t quite see the way ahead. It’s not a block as such, more a fog that I have to feel my way through. Usually, the fog suddenly clears after a couple of days, and I can see everything clearly again. Then it’s write, write, write.

What comes first – characters or plot? (Hayleigh)

Simon Morden

In my stories, the two are inextricably linked. The very same plot would have a completely different trajectory if other characters were involved. I like the idea of a protagonist – a chief actor in ancient Greek theatre – who can influence the outcome of the plot. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of people wandering around, having stuff happen to them which is outside of their control.

Will you write a sequel? (Daniel)

I might – I’ve got an urge to do a prequel first, telling the story of how Va and Elenya met, and the siege of Novy Rostov where Va crushes the army of the Caliphate at such a terrible cost. Think of the battle for Stalingrad in WWII, but with spears.

Do you have other books to write in mind? (Amy)

Yes. I have done, in fact: three so far, and if my publisher gets a grip, they’ll eventually emerge from the dark pit they’re currently languishing in. ‘Pax’ is a war story, fought on the first Earth-like world humanity discovers, and I’ve also written the first two books in a trilogy revolving around artificial intelligence, nuclear terrorism, science, and lots and lots of guns.

Who are your role models? (Caileigh)

When it comes to writing role models, the authors I admire are the ones whose stories I like best – sometimes it’s better not to dig too deep about the person behind the page, because not all writers are the charming, liberal and self-controlled souls you might imagine them to be. Actually meeting your idols can shatter all sorts of illusions, and not in a good way…

I was brought up on SF, so I have to name writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, Harry Harrison, Brian Aldiss and Frank Herbert. Later on it was people like Orson Scott Card, Larry Niven and Fred Pohl. Fantasy writers like CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien had a profound influence on me, too, but my favourite writer has to be Ray Bradbury. I wish I had his talent.

What came first – the chicken or the egg? (Joe)

What initially seems to be an unsolvable puzzle turns out to reasonably simple once you know some evolutionary biology. Genes are passed down from parents to offspring – a mix from both parents. However, if the genes passed down have mutated away from those of the parent, the expression of those mutated genes would be first seen in the offspring. If those differences are significant, the offspring could be considered to be a different subspecies to its parents. So the first domestic chicken would have hatched from an egg laid by some bird that closely resembled a domestic chicken but was genetically different from it. The egg was, therefore, first.

What inspired you to write books? (Brogan, Amanda, Staci, Bronwen, Abbie)
Did you ever think you would become a writer? (Katie & Rebecca)
Did you always want to be a writer? (Kirsten)

I almost fell into writing by accident. I tried my hand at a fantasy novel while I was writing my PhD, just to throw all the hard science into some relief. Then I was let down by one particular author, who I read avidly, but was so disappointed by his last book that I decided I’d write the sequel he hadn’t managed and I wanted so badly. That was a book called Heart, and it was my first published novel.

What gave you the idea for ‘The Lost Art’ as it is so original? (Daniel)

Part of the writer’s job is to make tired old ideas shiny and new. One American reviewer has described The Lost Art as a cross between ‘A Canticle for Liebowicz’ and ‘Northern Lights’, in that it resembles both the lost science plot of Canticle and the fantasy quest of Pullman’s book. Writers of every generation will take old ideas and put them in new contexts – stories continually evolve, getting retold by different societies and cultures, until they might not resemble anything that’s gone before. Again, that’s part of the writer’s job, to reinterpret earlier myths and legends for a contemporary audience.

Do you like books by Asimov? (Amy)

I grew up on books by Isaac Asimov – I managed to get hold of his collected short stories quite early on, and then discovered the Foundation trilogy. That Asimov’s Laws of Robotics are still taken seriously today by those designing artificial intelligences is a legacy almost as great as his books. He was one of the giants of the ‘Golden Age’ of science fiction, and while his style was a touch clunky, he always managed to tell a good story.

Why did you choose SciFi as your favourite genre? (Gordon)

It chose me. It affected me in a way quite unlike any other form of literature. It opened the possibility of the future to me, as well as the idea that we can choose which future we want to live in. I’m a fan of fantasy, too, but my heart belongs to science fiction.

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