Dr. Simon Morden, B.Sc. (Hons., Sheffield) Ph.D (Newcastle) is a bona fide rocket scientist, having degrees in geology and planetary geophysics. Unfortunately, that sort of thing doesn’t exactly prepare a person for the big wide world of work: he’s been a school caretaker, admin assistant, PA to a financial advisor, and a part-time teaching assistant at a Gateshead primary school. He now combines a busy writing schedule with his duties as a house-husband, attempting to keep a crumbling pile of Edwardian masonry upright, wrangling his two children and providing warm places to sleep for the family cats. As well as a writer, he’s been the editor of the British Science Fiction Association’s writers’ magazine Focus, a judge for the Arthur C Clarke awards, and is a regular speaker at the Greenbelt Arts Festival on matters of faith and fiction. In 2009, he was in the winning team for the Rolls Royce Science Prize. In 2011, the first three Petrovitch books were collectively awarded the Philip K Dick Award.
1. Tell us three things about yourself.
I never thought I’d end up being paid to write fiction. I was all set for a career as an academic scientist, then the early nineties happened and the department just ran out of money. Being a junior researcher and on a short-term contract, that was it. So I did a few of the crap jobs that are supposed to grace every writer’s bio, before becoming a full-time house-husband and parent-in-charge.
I try to write the stories I’d enjoy reading. When I was young (turning 50 this year...) I read everything I could lay my hands on, and most of that was second-hand sf and fantasy novels from the 50s through to the 80s. I’ve read an awful lot of rubbish. I’ve read a great many wonders. The best of those gave me the feeling of being transported, physically and emotionally: that’s what I try to emulate.
I’ve designed a board game by accident. I was writing a story set in a historically accurate but slightly alternative Persia, about an inventor plotting the downfall of a prince, using nothing but a game. I thought I could wing the actual game mechanics, but rapidly realised that wasn’t going to work. So I set the story aside, worked out how it would look and how it would play, then went back to writing. When I’d done, I remembered that I had a game that actually worked, was easy to learn, and fun to play. Handmade sets are now for sale via my website!
I think that honour goes to a short story, “Bell, Book and Candle”, which appeared in Scaremongers 2, edited by Steve Savile. That was 1999. Due to a tortured production history, it popped out just before the much-later penned “Empty Head”, which was in Noesis #2, in March that year. “Bell, Book and Candle” was also the first story I wrote set in the Metrozone: playing the long game even then.
3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
It’s normally the thing I’ve just finished. I try very hard to do the very best I can in all my writing – I’m never going to be the one who just phones it in – and I try to challenge myself to do better each time. But if pushed... my short story "Whitebone Street." I was called up by the organiser (and personal friend) of a ghost story evening at very short notice to ask me to be a replacement. I didn’t have time to write anything new, but I had this one old piece I realised would be perfect. But I couldn’t read it out loud without choking up (it’s a elegy to old age and dying, and I’d recently lost my father to cancer). And yet it was so obviously right that I persevered: I practised and practised until I could guarantee I could make it to the last line. And on the night itself, it was a triumph. Not a dry eye in the house. So yes. That. [NB both "Bell, Book and Candle" and "Whitebone Street" appear in Simon's story collection Brilliant Things.]
The stuff that people will never, ever see. Some of my very early unpublished and unpublishable stories are, well. Terrible would be an understatement. But we all have to start somewhere, right?
5. What’s a normal writing day like?
I stagger from my pit in time to wave the kids out the door (now that they’re old enough to get themselves up and get their own damn breakfast), throw some food at my face, and take my first mug of tea of the day to the computer. That’s where I start. There are interruptions – shopping, the washing, running various errands, cooking dinner, diy of some sort – but it always comes back to the writing. Sometimes I’m still going at one in the morning.
That’s a really difficult question, because I’ve written across the spectrum of genre fiction and it depends what floats their particular boat. If it’s SF, then the first Metrozone book, Equations of Life, is probably the place to start. If you like your fantasy big and fat, then Arcanum. But a lot of my work doesn’t fit neatly into one category.
7. What are you working on now?
It feels like a bazillion things. I’m gearing up for the launch of my first book for Gollancz, the first Book of Down, Down Station, which is a post-pre-apocalyptic portal fantasy set on a sentient world. I’m about to embark on the edits for the second, The White City. I’ve got three other extant novels I’m trying to sell, and a synopsis, all at my publisher for consideration. My next new work is somewhat dependant on what they say. But there’s also a diamond-hard SF novella being considered at another place, and I’m busy pimping my board game, too. I’ve lots of ideas: it’s just that the paying projects have to come first.