‘The World is at War, Again’ by Author Simon Lowe
Working with Elsewhen Press gives me the great opportunity to interview their authors. Today, I chat to Simon Lowe about the release of his novel ‘The World is at War, Again.’
Simon, what age were you when you first started writing, and had your first piece accepted?
I started writing seriously in my early twenties but it wasn't until much later that I began looking to get short stories and novels published. I was 37 when I had a story accepted. It was about a woman who made prints of peoples ears as a form of identification now that criminals knew to wear gloves. I had barely read a book until I was in my late teens. It wasn't until I read an Oscar Wilde quote on the back of a box of matches that inspired me to go and buy The Picture of Dorian Gray, that I took an interest.
Did you find working in a bookshop inspirational and did you write there too?
I think when you're working in a bookshop, surrounded by books, you can't help but be inspired, whether it's stumbling across new authors or marvelling at the vast amount of books only a tiny number of authors sell. I think most people imagine bookshops are quiet places where the staff lounge around reading books all day. It's not! When I was a bookseller it was pretty manic from opening to closing time. No doubt it's different now. Probably all done by robots. When I started out as a bookseller, Amazon was just a baby, the prospect of people choosing to buy books from a home computer rather than a person in a shop seemed the least likely scenario imaginable. I did write on my days off but just for fun, I never tried to get anything published.
What tools do you use to keep your mind firmly on the task of writing?
I find it relatively easy to keep my mind on the task of writing. Like most part time writers I place great value on any time I have to spend on my writing- there is an inbuilt focus in scarcity. I drink lots of tea, sometimes I listen to music, typically I go a bit neo-classical- anyone on the Erased Tapes label or I choose a Black Moth Super Rainbow album. If I were to use a tool, it would invariably be a cross head screwdriver.
Have you ever had writers block and, if so, how did you overcome it?
All the time. It's not so much generating ideas that I struggle with but knowing what to do with the bad ones. I find I am unwilling to discard them very easily. My writing day can quickly become paralysed knowing there is no point attempting to shoehorn a terrible idea into a story yet I can't help but feel there must be a way of making it work somehow. It prevents me getting anywhere. I think the key to writers block is acceptance. If it's not happening, step away. If you were constipated, you wouldn't waste a day on the toilet would you? You'd be off eating roughage, having amazing fun. Writers block is exactly the same.
What is your writing process?
I wish I had a process. I tend to just go with where my mind is at on any given day. That could be plotting with diagrams and drawings in a sketch pad or editing small segments over and over again or just writing in a frenzy. I sometimes write short stories for minor characters thinking I will get to know them better. It's a bit like being in a play directed by Mike Leigh and Mike is asking me what my character had for breakfast on their tenth birthday. Utterly pointless. I think plans are a help but I wouldn't advise sticking to them. I try to always listen to the voice of my unconscious mind. Even though it's whiny and gives me a headache.
What influences your writing and why
I would say my stories tend to always exist inside a societal or political context, characters usually operate with reference to their environment. I'm interested in how those external, pervasive structures in society can shape a mind and alter the direction a life takes in quite a subtle way. A bit like epigenetics. I should probably write more internally determined characters but I can't help but feel peoples motivations and actions are, in part, planted on the outside and in order to understand, you have to peer through a window. My writing is mostly influenced by windows.
The World is at War, again. New technology has been abandoned, a period of Great Regression is under way. In suburbia,
low level Agent Assassins Maria and Marco Fandanelli are given a surprise promotion as “Things Aren’t Going Too Well With The War”. Leaving their son Peter behind, they set sail on the luxury cruise-liner Water Lily City, hoping an important mission might save their careers and their marriage. Dilapidated and derelict, Panbury Hall is not what Peter expected from boarding school.
Together, with his celebrity dorm buddy, he adjusts to a new life that involves double dates, ginger vodka, Fine Art face painting and kidnapping, as they attempt to uncover the mystery of Panbury Hall. Despite being a member of the Misorov Agent Assassin dynasty, Chewti is a reluctant AA. She only joined the Family Business to track down her cousin Nadia, the rogue AA who killed her mother. Really, she wanted to be a school teacher. So when Nadia is spotted loitering in the grounds of Panbury Hall, the opportunity to avenge her mother’s death and have her dream job is too tempting to turn down. The World is at War, again, blends genre and expectation as characters take on an extravagant, often comic search for identity and meaning in unusual times.
Peter had asked Maria if Panbury Hall provided a brochure he could take a look at. She said Panbury Hall didn’t need a brochure because Panbury Hall was an elite boarding school and elite boarding schools don’t need to advertise, they recruit by reputation. Anyway, what did it matter, what the place looked like?
A few glossy pictures wasn’t going to tell you anything meaningful. All he needed to know was that Panbury Hall
represented a great opportunity for him. A chance to be educated outside of the concrete system. As Peter slip-slides up a muddy hill, a large cotton sports bag on his back, he contemplates how he would have liked to see a brochure regardless, because right now, as the mud clings to his socks, he could do with some reassurance. A few glossy pictures would help put his mind at ease.
Scratched and punctured by brambles and thorns, Peter is at the summit. Bent over and breathless, he sees fields of neatly chequered green and yellow, folded out in the distance.
It takes him a moment to see there is a giant hole immediately below. He is on the rim of a circular hill, curved to create a large but perfectly formed crater in the ground below. It is like a pudding bowl of giant proportions has been used to shape the land, creating a sphere-like indentation that stretches for miles. Inside the bowl are patches of scrubland and thickets, small woodlands and brambles.
In the flattened ground of its centre are a group of large interlocking buildings. From Peter’s vantage, some distance away, they look abandoned. He follows a path down the hill, walking through fledgling spruce trees and scrub to the grounds. The building in front of him is tall and wooden, some of its windows are sealed with bin liners. There are weeds and pieces of broken slate on the floor. Smoke billows out of a crumbling chimney stack and there are voices coming from a bin-linered window. There is a sign, hand painted, over the door. It says: ‘Welcome to Panbury Hall’.
Simon Lowe is the non-nom de plume of the author Simon Lowe. From humble beginnings inside a Melton Mowbray pork pie, Simon spent a summer building insulation for the millennium dome (nobody ever complained about being cold, did they?) before working the daytime shift as a flair cocktail waiter in a bar next to Leicester train station, impressing commuters with his juggling skills before pouring their coffee and thanking them for their patience.
He would eventually find his feet in the big smoke as a bookseller. For ten years, he passed sharpies to famous authors with an envious, often murderous smile. He later went on to take charge of a primary school library, issuing fines to four year olds with indiscriminate glee. Fearing burn out, from the heady world of books, he chose to settle down in Hertford of all places.
As it stands, Simon has one partner, one son and one cat. Alongside writing fiction, he is a stay at home dad with ambitious plans to leave the house one day. His short stories have popped up in journals and magazines on three continents including Visible Ink, Storgy, Firewords, AMP, Chaleur magazine, Ponder Review, Adelaide Literary journal, The Write launch, and elsewhere. He has also written about books for the Guardian newspaper.
The World is at War, Again is both a novel and a rumination on how very bad and very good the world would be without technology
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