I met Simon Cheshire in April, 2006, when we were both part of a Random House Author Tour in the U.S. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and now that all eyes are on Britain for the Olympics, I thought it’d be the perfect time to have him do an interview for Electric Moccasin.
Jen: Greetings from across the pond! Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Simon: I’ve been writing stories since I was in my teens, but my first book was published in 1997 and I’ve been a professional writer since 2001. Most of my books are what you might call “action-adventure comedies” for 8-12 year olds, but I’ve written for teenagers and adults too. My home is in Warwick, which is a small town more or less in the centre of England and which has a famous medieval castle. I live with my wife and two teenage children, but I tend to spend most of my time in a world of my own.
Jen: Aside from your job as a writer, what other kinds of work have you done? How has that affected your writing?
Simon: My very first job, when I was a student, was cleaning offices at 3:00 am. For years before I became a full-time writer I worked in publishing and bookselling—my whole adult life has been spent with books!
Jen: Describe your typical writing day. Do you set a time or page/ word count goal? Any unusual habits or routines?
Simon: I’m not a very self-disciplined person, so I try to stick to a strict timetable. As soon as the kids have gone to school, I retreat to my desk with a mug of coffee and my brain cells switched to maximum. When I’m in the middle of a book, I try to get at least 1000 words done per day. Whenever I’m stuck for inspiration I’ll often walk around the house acting out a scene to myself, or even singing. NOT when there’s anyone else around, though!
Simon: To be perfectly honest, I find it hard not to insert jokes into everything. That’s one reason my new book, The Frankenstein Inheritance, took me a long time to write. It’s creepy, no room for jokes. It’s my natural inclination to laugh at stuff, so inevitably that comes out in my writing.
Jen: List a few of your favorite past and current writers. Explain briefly why you’re drawn to each of them.
Simon: Oh, there are sooooo many writers I love and admire. From the past: P.G. Wodehouse, still the funniest composer of prose ever; Victorian writers like Wilkie Collins and George Gissing; Patrick Hamilton, the 1930s London novelist, and for me the most under-rated author of the last century; Richard Yates, whose every sentence cuts like a knife; Dorothy Parker, for her brilliant ability to sketch a character; lots of genre greats like Richard Matheson, Olaf Stapledon and Stanley Ellin. From the present: Margaret Atwood is brilliant; I’m desperate to read more from Donna Tartt; I think my favourite living novelist is Sarah Waters—her Victorian pastiches Fingersmith and Affinity are textbooks in plot construction.
Jen: Here in the U.S., the publishing industry continues to undergo rapid changes, due to online sales and digital technology. Assuming that’s also true in the U.K., how has it affected your work and /or the way in which you market your books?
Simon: The publishing revolution is, I think, both exciting and scary. Exciting because writers can now have complete control over their books and complete freedom to publish what they want. Scary because an open market is also a pretty savage one. The challenge for writers today is not “who will publish my book?” but “who will notice my book?”, which is a whole new ball game. What’s worrying for children’s writers like me is that there is little market for children’s ebooks yet (over here, at least), and won’t be until ereaders become very cheap and used in schools. Shelf space in bookshops is rapidly shrinking, so even making kids aware of your work is harder than ever.
Jen: Do you visit schools and libraries? What kinds of things do you talk about with young readers?
Simon: I visit lots of schools, and it’s the most inspiring part of my job! Getting children interested in books and reading is something I feel passionately about, and whenever a student or teacher tells me they’ve been prompted to read more by something I’ve said then I’m on top of the world, I really am.
Jen: Tell us about your latest book! Where can we buy a copy . . . and will there be a sequel?
Simon: My latest book, The Frankenstein Inheritance, is a complete departure from anything I’ve done before, a Victorian gothic chiller which has taken seven years (on and off!) to research and complete. It’s a kind of semi-sequel to Mary Shelley’s original story, and it begins in London in 1879, when two strange children arrive in the city, unaware that they’re being hunted down by someone very nasty indeed. I hope it does for sewn-together monsters what Twilight did for vampires, i.e., put a new spin on a familiar idea. The paperback edition is available through Amazon or can be ordered via any bookstore. The (cheaper!) ebook edition is available for Kindle or Kobo.
Jen: Thanks, Simon, for visiting Electric Moccasin … come back again!
Simon: Thank you for having me.