It really is rocket science
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Date: August 2007
'Many tutors of writing say ‘Write What You Know’, a maxim hard to cling to when you write science fiction.'
Suzanne Elvidge talks to scientist and newly published author Simon Morden
As a scientist myself, I’ve always rather liked sci-fi written by real boffins. Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, John Gribbin et al.
But this is the first time I’ve interviewed a real rocket scientist – Simon Morden has degrees in geology and planetary geophysics.
‘The Lost Art’, Simon Morden’s first published novel (the first unpublished novel, a ‘City of God’-esque fantasy epic, is sitting in a metaphorical drawer somewhere in Newcastle) describes a world where north and south have reversed and science and technology are taboo.
On stage in the Hub venue at Greenbelt (and later over a cup of tea in the Tiny Tea Tent), Simon talked to me about the birth of his novel, described as science fiction masquerading as fantasy.
Many tutors of writing say ‘Write What You Know’, a maxim hard to cling to when you write science fiction.
For Simon, steeped in science fiction from an early age, this has worked more as ‘Write What You Love’, and in fact his reading influenced his choice of career – he describes himself as a thwarted astronaut, who just writes about it instead.
The process of publication began when Simon wrote a first draft of a near future detective novel and got an agent.
This novel didn’t sell (the main character is being recycled into a story currently in development – Morden’s 1 st Law: Nothing is Ever Wasted), but five chapters of the next one did (Morden’s 2nd Law: Keep Writing).
The key character in ‘The Lost Art’ is Va, a fanatic Christian monk driven and tormented by his past – kind of an antihero with an obsession to do the right thing.
He is balanced by Benzamir, a kind-hearted and compassionate Muslim (perhaps more by culture than by active decision), wielding magic and doubt in equal parts.
However, Simon sees the placing of a Christian zealot and a Muslim in the same quest as not so much an act of bravery, but more a requirement of the plot, which would not have worked the same with the two characters reversed.
Simon doesn’t write so-called ‘Christian Fiction’, but when I asked him about the influence of his faith, he explained that it has a big impact on his business ethics.
Christian lawyers should uphold justice and Christian accountants should be accurate and thorough, whether working for Christians, Sikhs, Jews, Pagans – well, everybody.
So a Christian writer should be trusted to honour contracts, meet deadlines, and not be underhand in deals.
However, he doesn’t feel a need to use his stories to preach – he sees that a storyteller has an unwritten contract with his or her readers to entertain, and feels that people should not have to read books that do them good.
There are a number of film-makers looking to buy the rights to ‘The Lost Art’, but this doesn’t mean he can move to the Hollywood Hills quite yet.
It’s tough to make a living just through writing, and you have to be prepared to do other things, unless you are content with very little, or can work by Morden’s 3rd Law (Get a Patron, or Marry Someone Richer Than You).
The ending of ‘The Lost Art’ (which I won’t give away) is not a tight and tidy one, much like life. However, I think the characters get the ending that is right for them. And I guess you can’t ask much more from a book (or perhaps even life).
Read more about Simon Morden at The Book of Morden.
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