Thursday, March 8, 2012

Simon John Cox - Distant Machines

Simon John Cox is with us today to promote his short story collection Distant Machines.

What is your name?
Simon Cox, but I go by Simon John Cox when writing because there's already a Simon Cox writer out there. He wrote something about the Da Vinci Code.

How old are you?
Let's say I was born in the 1970s.

Where do you currently live?
I live in Tunbridge Wells, in the UK.

Tell us a little bit about your life.
When I'm not working as a marketer or writing fiction I spend a lot of my spare time running or doing Taekwon-Do.

When did you first start writing?
I've been writing for as long as I can remember, but I think the first time I sat down and wrote fiction seriously - by which I mean writing a plan and deciding on what the ending would be before even writing a word of the narrative - I was about 24.

What was your very first story about?
I wrote a novel about a fictional Spanish island in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (I learned Spanish at school and as a result became interested in Spanish history). The two hated Civil Guards who were posted to the island are murdered, and an investigator is sent from the mainland to find out who killed them. Most people on the island see him as the same as the Civil Guards, but he befriends a local boy and the local priest, and they help him to carry out his investigation. Eventually the people of the island try to kill him and he is saved only by the intervention of the priest, who then confesses to the murders in order to absolve the islanders and to allow the investigator to return to the mainland in safety.

Have you written anything that you were too afraid to let anyone read?
Yes, the one about the Spanish island. Although writing it taught me a huge amount about how to write, it's not good enough.

Did you experience anything you’ve written yourself?
Many of the situations, conversations, relationships, characters etc are based on experiences from my own life, or else on the lives of people that I know. It's inevitable - when we create we only have our own experiences on which to draw.

Who are several of your greatest literary inspirations?
Thomas Pynchon, Gabriel García Márquez, Philip Roth, Charles Bukowski, Margaret Atwood, Alan Moore...a fair old mix.

What kind of education have you received, and how has that affected your writing?
I did a degree in chemistry, which I think was actually a great help. I've found that a logical, "scientific" approach to writing helps me to iron out the inconsistencies and to rework the unrealistic elements; it's a case of writing something and then asking yourself "why would he do that?" and "what would be the consequence of him doing that?" Constantly asking "why" and "how" and "what if", and finding the answers before continuing - it seems to me to be a pretty scientific approach.

How much research time customarily goes into your projects?
I suppose it depends on the setting. Writing the novel set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War meant that I needed to do a lot of reading about the war and its aftermath, for example, but by contrast parts of the novel that I'm currently working on are set in Namibia and in a UK defence company, and I've been to Namibia and I've worked for a defence company, so far less reading was required there. My own experiences provide a huge part of the content of my writing, so that research is being done every day.

Who is your favorite literary character?
Depending on your perspective it might be stretching the boundaries of what constitutes "literature", but Rorschach in Alan Moore's Watchmen is certainly one character who I find endlessly fascinating. Violently heroic, rigidly bound by a personal moral compass and ultimately tragic. Plus that cool mask.

Who is your favorite character of your own creation?
There's a character called Azamat who seems to keep cropping up in various pieces of my writing. He's a demon who takes the form of a snake in my novel, he appears as a magician's demonic assistant in The Great Meliakoff, a story from my Hallowe'en short story collection Totentanz: A Macabre Triptych, and he is a jealous god in The Pélissier Scroll, a short story that recently won a competition run by the Diamond Light Source. I think I enjoy writing him because with him I can give vent to all kinds of enjoyable malevolence.

If you were ever to write an autobiography, what would its title be?
"Princess Diana: The Cocaine Diaries". Just because then I'd know that it would sell.

Tell us about your featured book.
Distant Machines is a collection of short stories with a generally speculative theme (I hesitate to describe it as science fiction as there are no aliens or epic space battles, but the stories are all set in the future and all incorporate some kind of technology that we don't currently have). One story is about the implications of "designer" genetic modification; another is about what becomes important in a world in which the oil has run out; and another is about what might happen if euthanasia were accepted to the point that it became a consumer product.

I'd like to point out that the cover was designed by Tony Healey (

Why did you write that?
I love writing short stories - partly because it gives me a chance to try out different styles of writing, and partly because they act as a kind of "writing holiday" from working on the novel - and the speculative theme just fits with the way my mind works, I think. I said earlier that I have a pretty scientific approach to writing; well, if you ask "what if?", "why?" and "how?" enough times then sooner or later you're probably going to end up in unknown territory. I really enjoy writing about things that don't exist or that haven't happened yet (and in fact will probably never happen). I suppose it's a form of escapism. It's daydreaming, really.

Is there anything special you would like your potential readers to know?
I think I'd just like to thank those people who have read my work so far, to say that I hope they all enjoyed it, and to say that if they have any comments or feedback that you'd like to make on how I could improve my writing then they should feel free to get in touch -

What’s a negative trait about other people that you most notice, or that bothers you the most?

Do you ever notice it in yourself?
I don't notice it, and I do try always to be consistent, but maybe I'm hypocritical nonetheless from time to time as well. I hope not.

If you were forced to give something you adore up for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The three things that I adore are writing, Taekwon-Do and my partner, and wouldn't want to give any of those up. I suppose if I absolutely had to give up one then it'd be Taekwon-Do, just because I can't imagine being without the other two.

What is the hardest thing about growing up?
The gradual horrifying realisation that adults don't have any kind of plan and they've just been winging it.

What is something you absolutely must have in your kitchen?
At least one very good knife.

What is pain to you?
Accidentally cutting your finger with a very good knife.

What is your dream house?
I'd like a little isolated cottage out in a fishing village somewhere, with a study that had a large bay window looking out over the sea so that I could set up my desk in front of it and watch the fishing boats go out and come back in again.

Where would you want this house located in our wide world?
Somewhere tranquil, by the sea, but not too far from a decent-sized town. Whenever I've visited Devon and Cornwall I've daydreamed about living there.

You’ve been forced under various circumstances to choose a personal motto. What is it?
For New Year's Eve the year before last a friend asked a group of us to provide three goals that we'd try to achieve within the year, so instead of choosing "own a Ferrari" or "get a promotion" or "uppercut a horse" or whatever I decided to pick three things that would help me out and were definitely achievable, so I went for "be braver", "be more disciplined" and "be more determined". I think I've stuck to them pretty well, so maybe I could use them in my motto as a way of reminding me: Be brave, be disciplined, be determined. But in Latin, obviously: Beum bravum, beum disciplinedum, beum determinedum. NB I don't know Latin.

Have you ever received a present you really hated? If so, what was it?
Not really...I think at worst I've been ambivalent. I think the fact that someone has bothered to get you something is a positive thing.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? Would you have it again?
Jellyfish, in a Chinese restaurant. It felt like eating slightly gelatinous shredded cabbage, and it didn't really taste of anything much. I only ate it the first time because my friend ordered it; I don't think I'd order it again myself.

Our thanks to Simon for being with us. His work can be found below, merely a click away.

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