Earlier this year, on a bit of a whim (and in no small part, drawn in by the amazing cover – just look at them!) I downloaded the audiobook of Down Station by Simon Morden and ended up really enjoying visiting Down (certainly more so than the characters did! 😉).
So when I was given the chance by the fantastic Stevie at Gollancz to ask Simon a few questions, I jumped at the opportunity!
Hi Simon, many thanks for taking the time out to answer a few questions! Could you start by telling us a little about The White City?
The White City follows on directly from the events of Down Station, and it takes the survivors – it’s one of my books, and the attrition rate of characters is usually quite high – on a hunt for what they believe to be the only city in the whole of Down. Inevitably, things aren’t quite what they seem, and even then that’s only scratching the surface of the secrets hiding there. Mary and Dalip find themselves pitched in at the deep end, and this time, it’s not just themselves and their small band they have to save. There are worlds at stake, and sacrifices to be made.
And I pulled out something special for the ending. Just to whet your appetite…
If you could take the place one of your characters in Down Station or The White City for 24 hours (even one who only appears for half a page) whose would you take and why?
Bearing in mind that the characters have strong reason to believe that all of the friends and family they’ve left behind in London have been incinerated, along with the entire city, and they’ve pitched up in a world where there’s a very high chance of being enslaved, and even if they manage to remain free, they might turn into a monster… who would I change places with?
That’s a tough call. I can’t argue that any of them have what you’d exactly call ‘fun’. Except Crows of course, and he’s a genuinely terrible person, charming and kind and believable, up to the point when he betrays you and abandons you. There is Grace, though. I can’t quite say why yet, because spoilers, but even though she’s in the background, Grace has a different and pivotal purpose, some of which is hinted at in The White City. So I’ll say Grace, and leave you guessing.
It may be related to your answer to the previous answer, but what is your favourite place you’ve written about in the series?
Another tricky one. Down is a wild place, full of wonder and beauty. It’s the people that make life there nasty, brutish and short. Crow’s castle, set on a rise in the forest, with the land sloping down to a lake, is idyllic. And for while, it’s a place of sanctuary and rest. The fact that it also grows and changes is actually a good thing, too. So, probably there.
What aspect of writing do you enjoy the most? What part could you happily do without?
The best part of writing is the actual writing, the fashioning of whole new worlds and vicarious experiences from just twenty-six letters and a few punctuation marks. Which is an astonishing thing: all the works in any given language have access to the same words, the same grammar, and yet can be used in so many different ways and to so many different effects. We treat that facility to transmit information and emotions that way in a very cavalier fashion, but perhaps a bit more reverence in required.
The worst bit? Pimping my wares to publishers. I’m utterly terrible at synopses and pitches. I’d much rather write a 100,000 word novel than a couple of pages of treatment. We hates it, we do.
If a character takes you on an unexpected tangent, do you curse them? or bounce in your chair in excitement?
How can you not live for the moment they do something unexpected? Those are the best bits, when you think you know the person, and suddenly they stop you in mid-flow and say, “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do this instead.” You’re all, “Hang on, who’s in charge here?” and they’re “You’re not the boss of me,” and they do it anyway.
All you can do is grab the notebook and chase after them, scribbling furiously as you go.
Talking of characters, if you could speak to Mary or Dalip what bit of advice would you give them?
Mary wouldn’t listen to me any more than she listens to anyone else – Mama, perhaps – but she’s pretty much a force of nature as it is, so some old white bloke telling her what she should do isn’t going to work. Dalip is much more respectful of his, er, elders, so I’d probably have more chance for a hearing with him.
I can’t really tell him to hang on in there, because it gets better. That would be lying, and I want him to trust me. I’d say something like, “I might not be able to help you, but if you see this through to the very end, it’ll be worth all the sacrifice and pain.” I mean, I’m the author: I’m supposed to put obstacles in his way, to test the content of his character and make certain he’s worthy of the prize. But I can reassure him that the prize is worth winning.
Lastly if Dalip could read one on the books on your bookshelves, which one would he pick and why?
I’m tempted to say my A-Z of London, because he’s going to need that at some point. Or ‘All my Friends are Dead’ by Avery Monsen and Jory John, because he needs that now… I have an enormous number of books, but the one I’m tending towards is ‘A History of Invention’ by Trevor Williams (Time Warner Books). It gives an excellent overview of technological improvements since about 6000BC, but it also includes a fair amount of detail. It’d appeal to Dalip’s engineering background, but it’d also provide a bit of inspiration if he ever wanted to kick-start the Industrial Revolution (or at least, the Renaissance) on Down.