Sunday, October 30, 2016

Homo Deus - Yuval Noah Harari

HOMO DEUS
YUVAL NOAH HARARI
HARVILL SECKER

Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Book Info: Hardback, Non-Fiction, 440pp

Buy/Read Now! (Links): Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads

Rating: 4/5

Audience: Readers looking ahead to the future and wondering what the world may look like in 100 years. People interested in all aspects of humanity and the science, psychology, technology and politics behind everything we have done, are doing and will do in the future.

Summed up in a few words: Relevant. Unbiased. Necessary.

First Impression: Homo Deus was a book I was really excited to read! The tagline 'A brief history of tomorrow' really intrigued me as I don't really put much thought into my life years down the line. This book is a must read! Not only does Harari talk about the future, he does so in such a wide spectrum of elements and details that I was impressed by how much information I took in. It also helps that he kept the language to an accessible and easy to read level, though there is technicality in some of the areas of the text. When I finished the book I was stuck between two very distinct and conflicting thoughts, the first was that I am comfortable with the steps that we as humans are taking to secure our futures and the other is that I am massively concerned about our future. 

Book Summary/Review

Homo Deus: A Brief History Of Tomorrow is one of many groundbreaking books that are coming out this year that will influence certain non-fiction titles for the next decade or so. I have many of these books on my to-read list but I started with Homo Deus as it seem like a book that would cover all the bases and show me what we as humans are doing to secure our futures on earth and how we plan to do so. Yuval Noah Harari definitely achieves this, though it took a long time to get to sections I really wanted to read. 

Homo Deus started off strong, outlining what we have achieved up until today and where we may take life in the future. It did this from many different perspectives from agriculture, technology, economy, geography and medicine to psychology, politics, sociology, existentialism and science and it was incredibly interesting. 

Unfortunately for some who already have read a lot of books about human history, Harari does typical 'to see where we are going we must go back to the start' section which for me was slightly irritating but if you know very little about our past, our struggles and how we came to be then you will be very pleased with this section. I know that sounds like a complaint but it is really just a warning, because though it has been covered many times before, I felt that Harari did a great job with this section. 

The next section of the book covers how we brought the world to be in the last 2 or 3 centuries and again it has been done before, but Harari has such depth, understanding and control of the subject that I was left thoroughly informed and prepared for the last section, the one I had been waiting for, where are we going!

I was massively impressed with this section, it both made me excited about the future, what technologies, scientific discoveries and biological/medicinal advances we may create or discover. It also scared the hell out of me too, where societies may change, how our life may become automated and where religion may evolve. 

I am not sure whether I enjoyed the subject or the author the most when reading this book. I feel that it is the subject overall as it is uncharted territory for me so to speak, I know I read a lot of science fiction but I have never read a book where someone has sat down and outlined all aspects of our actual humanity and extrapolated them into a realistic vision of our future, please let me know if you have read anything like this before.

In terms of content, it is overwhelming, Harari must do nothing but research as he knows more about humanity than I will ever know, but he is so down to earth and treats readers fairly, not bogging everything down in technicality and jargon but bringing the subject down to a comprehensible and comfortable level. This meant I could read this book without having to look up every other word and pretend I understanding what he is saying instead of actually understanding what he is saying. 

If you want to know what we went through to get to this point, the famine, the war, the disease and hunger. If you want to know what life truly looks like today with social media, algorithms, happiness, religion and art. And if you want a vivid depiction of what are future may or may not become then Homo Deus is the book you want. I was most impressed with how Harari was so unbiased, he treated each viewpoint and opinion with respect and lets the reader make their own mind up of what to make of each scenario. Also there are great stories and case studies to back up his points as well as images to give the insights some context or texture.

Fortunately this is not an 'all is lost' viewpoint on the future of human existence but it is definitely not all peachy and full of promise. Read the book, see what you think and tell me what you thought on Harari's approach to this topic. I found Homo Deus engaging, thought provoking, extremely concerning and delightfully promising as well.

About The Author: Professor Yuval Noah Harari is the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History Of Tomorrow.

He was born in Haifa, Israel, in 1976. He received his PhD. from the University of Oxford in 2002, and is now a lecturer at the Department of History, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

He specialised in World History, medieval history and military history. His current research focuses on macro-historical questions: What is the relation between history and biology? What is the essential difference between Homo sapiens and other animals? Is there justice in history? Does history have a direction? Did people become happier as history unfolded? (Official Bio see more about Professor Yuval Noah Harari at his website www.ynharari.com/)





Guest Post - Donn Shoultz - Why A Time Travel Series?

GUEST POST
WHY A TIME TRAVEL SERIES?
BY AUTHOR D. R. SHOULTZ


Hello Everyone!

Welcome to the first Always Trust In Books guest post. Hopefully you have come here from the Q&A session I have held with Donn Shoultz about himself, his work and his writing style/habits. If not the please check that out here. Donn has also written a guest post for me to post here all about the reasons he chose to use time travel in his Miles Stevens book series. He tell us how Steven King inspired him to use time-travel and how he makes it work in a real world setting. It is a great piece to outline his book series so lets get to it!

Why a Time Travel Series?
by D.R. Shoultz, Author

The idea of a time travel series came to me several years ago after reading Stephen King’s 900- page novel, 11/22/63.  The protagonist, Jake Epping, finds a “rabbit hole” behind a diner that he slips through to travel back to the late 1950s.  From that point, he assimilates into his new surroundings as he attempts to alter the tragic course of events leading to John Kennedy’s assassination.

King’s method of time travel is magical more than scientific with the rules briefly described to Epping by Al Templeton, the diner’s owner.  King doesn’t need to offer much detail on how Epping finds himself years in the past; the story is more about Epping’s journey to prevent JFK’s murder than it’s about time travel.  

In the Miles Stevens time travel series, Miles and his CIA partners are sent back in time from the Department of Historic Intervention (DHI) headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  The DHI is a new department created by the CIA in the year 2050.  An actual time machine is used to send agents to wipe tragedies from the history books. The agents and their possessions are fractured into subatomic particles and shot at multiples of light speed to predetermined destinations weeks before the disasters.  

I like King’s premise of going back in time to alter historic disasters, but I prefer not to write about actual tragedies. Doing so brings real people into the context of the story, along with real loss and real feelings, and I don’t have King’s resources to research the actual events.  So, I invented disasters yet to occur, those feared as possible, and I placed them on a time horizon between today and 2050.  Thirty-five years and the possibility of time travel give me incredible latitude as a fiction writer to select subject matter, plots, and outcomes.

In MELTING SAND, it’s a Middle East nuclear war that has Miles Stevens and his partner Dr. Terri King propelled back to 2028 to alter history. In CYBER ONE, it’s an apocalyptic cyberattack targeting U.S. electrical grids that sends Miles and his new team further back to 2020 to chase down the source of the deadly attacks. GOING VIRAL (planned release next year) reunites Miles with Terri King and takes them to the 2032 Olympic Games in Sydney.  The games had been the target of a biological terrorist attack.  In each, Miles races against time to identify the source of the epic disasters and wipe them from history.

Time travel provides a great foundation for an action/adventure series.  The possibilities are endless. Miles’ subatomic particles can travel just about anywhere for any number of disasters yet to occur.  Join me to discover where Miles will travel next.

The novels in the Miles Stevens series and other D.R. Shoultz books are available on Amazon.com. You can learn more about D.R. Shoultz and his novels at DRShoultz.blogspot.com. 

Thank you again for coming to check out Donn Shoultz and his work! Please check out the Q&A if you didn't get a chance and please visit Always Trust In Books again for more interviews, book posts and reviews!

Author Interview - Donn Shoultz

AUTHOR INTERVIEW
DONN SHOULTZ
AUTHOR OF THE  MILES STEVENS SERIES

Author Bio (Official): A dog lover, blogger and author of several novels, D.R. (Donn) Shoultz hails from a small town in central Illinois. He and his wife Claudia have called North Carolina home more than 20 years. Donn writes at their mountain retreat off the Blue Ridge Parkway where Claudia shares her editorial experience in shaping his novels.

Donn began writing in the fall of 2010 following a 32-year career in corporate America. His ongoing writing projects include posting regular thoughts to his blog, submitting short stories to competition, and completing the third novel in the Miles Stevens time-travelling action-adventure series. 

Several of Donn’s short stories have received recognition in national writing competitions. Blending captivating characters with suspenseful plots, Donn strives to appeal to a broad range of readers. His books include the following (in order of publication):

Corrupt Connection
Better Late Than Ever
Melting Sand – A Miles Stevens Novel #1
Cyber One – A Miles Stevens Novel #2
It Goes On – A Miles Stevens Novel #3
Most Men – A Novella & Short Story Collection #2

Hello Everyone! 

Today we have a double post about Donn Shoultz and his work. First off we have an Q&A Section that outlines his work, writing style/habits and his background. Then Donn has written a guest post going into detail about why he chose to include time travel in his book series. I really appreciate Donn sharing his work with us and taking the time to answer some questions for the readers here at Always Trust In Books.

Lets get to the Q&A part of the post and then I will share Donn's post afterwards. (Below are the cover images from his Miles Stevens trilogy)


Please tell us about yourself? 
I’ve called North Carolina home the past 20 years, but I grew up in a small central Illinois town.  It was, and still is, the kind of town where kids ride bikes, fish, and play ball with their dogs nearby. I was the first in my family to go to college, graduating in 1976 with degrees in education and mathematics.  I enjoyed a storybook life with my wife and two children that included a 31-year career in sales and marketing with a Fortune 500 company, allowing me to travel the world.

When and why did you begin writing?      
After an active and rewarding career, I found myself retired and widowed at 55.   It was a dark period of my life.  I volunteered, travelled, and even went back to work for a short time.  I had always wanted to write, so I gave it a try.  During this time, I met Claudia, a practising paralegal and former newspaper editor.  She helped edit my early books, and she still does.  We married a few years after meeting.

I threw away my first attempt at writing a novel (actually, it’s still lingering on my hard drive).  I’ve since authored and self-published four novels and two short story collections.

What are your current writing projects? 
I’m working on the third book in the Miles Stevens series, a CIA time travel series featuring Miles Stevens, CIA agent, who’s sent back from the year 2050 to alter historic disasters.  The first two books in the series are MELTING SAND and CYBER ONE.  GONE VIRAL is planned for release next year.  In this book, a bio-terrorist attack targeting the 2032 Olympic Games in Sydney sends Miles and his partner Terri Stevens racing against time to discover the source of the viral outbreak.      

I’ve also been writing short stories, as well as posting to my blog, “Thoughts, Stories & Novels.”   I’ve published two collections of short stories, IT GOES ON and MOST MEN.  Several of my short stories have been recognized in national writing contests.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?     
After I received favourable reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, it finally hit me that I might be writer. Receiving national writing awards for my short stories was also a boost to my confidence. The recognition let me know I had potential.  I still have a long way to go, but the journey has been enjoyable, and I look forward to improving my writing and accomplishing much more. 

What would you like to accomplish with your writing?
Like any author, I’d like to have a best-selling book someday.  I’m not necessarily seeking monitory success, but I’d like to be successful enough to make meaningful contributions to my favorite charity, Save-a-Pet Foundation.  I donate profits from the sale of my short story collections, IT GOES ON and MOST MEN to North Carolina animal shelters.

Do you put messages in your novels that you want readers to grasp?  
My novels are not laden with messages, hidden or otherwise. I try to write entertaining books containing interesting characters who readers will what to know better.  All my books contain three common elements: a male main character who is strong yet vulnerable, an accomplished female who usually becomes the main character’s partner and love interest, and a cloak of danger that quickly envelops them both.   While good usually triumphs evil in my books, it doesn’t always.  I guess if there’s a message in my novels, that’s it.  Life is unpredictable.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life? 
All my books contain elements of my life and my experiences.  I never let it get to the point of becoming autobiographical, but friends have recognised the early chapters of my first book, CORRUPT CONNECTION, as loosely paralleling parts of my life.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? 
I’d choose Vince Flynn, Michael Connelly, or John Grisham.  I have read and collected dozens of their books. They all write in the genre and of the topics that interest me the most. I also like that they bring back their main characters, continuing to keep them familiar with their readers.  I hope to do this with Miles Stevens.

Is there anything unique in the way you come up with your ideas or the way you write?
I often get ideas waiting to fall asleep or on my early morning walk with my dog, Milo.  My thoughts range from ideas for new short stories to plot twists for my current novels.  To ensure the ideas aren’t lost, I quickly jot them down on my cell phone for future use.

I’m not a good sleeper, so it’s not uncommon for me to wake at 2 to 4 a.m. and start writing.  This sometimes leads to me getting out of sync with the normal world, being several hours ahead of most people’s schedule for days at a time.  

What is the hardest part of writing a book?  
I guess hardest part for me is knowing when my book is finally complete.  Every novel can use more editing.  It’s difficult deciding when to quit.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?  
Thanks for taking the time to read my books.  If you’ve read any of my books, please post a review on Amazon or Goodreads.  I’d love to hear from you.  

How can we find you? 
You can learn more about me and my novels at the following links:
Blog  -          http://drshoultz.blogspot.com/

Thank you to Donn Shoultz for those insights into his work and life. I have posted Donn's guest post separately here due to space reasons so click the link to visit the post that gives us more insight into the reasons Donn Shoultz used time travel in his books. Thank you for reading and please leave a comment to let me know what you though of the interview.



Thursday, October 27, 2016

The White City - Simon Morden

THE WHITE CITY
SIMON MORDEN
GOLLANCZ
27.10.16

Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Book Info: Paperback, Fantasy, 321pp

Buy/Read Now (Links): Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads

Rating: 5/5

Audience: Readers who enjoy epic fantasy fiction with amazing characters, a huge world and infectious storylines.

Summed up in a few words: Potential. Hooking. Crafted.

First Impression: I have been looking forward to this book all year, I really enjoyed Down Station which I read earlier this year and I was eager for more. I was hoping for bigger and better this time round and that is definitely what Simon Morden achieved with The White City. We return to the characters almost immediately after the events in the first book and it is non-stop magic, action, gripping fantasy and exciting/refreshing storylines from there. I thoroughly enjoyed the book from start to finish but I was still left with more questions than answers so need book 3 as soon as possible :D

Book Synopsis: Since escaping London's inferno, Mary and Dalip have fought monsters and won - though in the magical world of Down, the most frightening monsters come from within.

Now they hold the greatest of treasures: maps that reveal the way to the White City, where they can find the answers they're looking for, and learn the secrets of Down.

But to get there they must rely on Crows, who has already betrayed them at every turn. As they battle their way towards the one place in all of Down without magic, they must ask themselves how far they will go to find their way home.

"Make a stand. Save a world." 

Review

The White City begins with a conversation between the two main characters, Dalip and Mary and it is the calmest part of the entire book, beyond that small chat is all the things you would expect from a great fantasy book, massive, breathtaking worlds that only ever get bigger, unimaginable horrors, epic and somewhat amusing escapades, epic characters and tons and tons of secrecy. Mary sums it up in page 2.

" 'So what are you worried about?' she asked. 'Apart from thieves, assassins, monsters, the weather, Crows, the portals, the journey and this city we're supposed to be heading for? Tell me if I've left something out.' "

If you have not read the first book Down Station then you need to before you read this. So much happens in the first book that sets up the events that occur with its sequel that it is important to know what you are getting into when you set out to read The White City. 

Mary (a sarcastic, streetwise lady who can turn into a eagle) and Dalip (a young man with a strong Sikh faith, who thrives in Down, becoming stronger and more courageous by the day) are still very much reeling from the events in the first book, but they do not get much of breather. Going straight back into the action, they are betrayed by Crows (another 'Geomancer' who can manipulate the weather, turn into a giant serpent and has been in Down for longer than he can remember) and one of their remaining party is killed as a result.

What follows is a story that is part adventure, part survival and part revenge. Mary chases after Crows and tries to get back their maps of Down (which are incredibly valuable as no one has a true knowledge of the geography of Down) and Dalip stays behind to protect the remainder of their group from the many potential threats that are present in Down. Both characters set out on a path to the White City and the answers that are contained within.

 Simon Morden seems to go all out with his stories and I really respect that. I read a fair few of his books and every single one has a strong core plot, interesting, witty and badass characters and an addictive sense that anything could happen/change at any point in the arc of the plot. The White City definitely fall in line with this style and maybe even takes it to the next level. I absolutely love the endless potential that emanates from Morden's work and with his Down series he has painted this awesome picture and world but continuously drip feeds little parcels of information and plot with just enough potency to keep readers addicted and excited for more.

Fantasy, adventure and science fiction lovers will all have a blast with this book. It has all the excitement of a family friendly fantasy adventure, with the darker, sweary and sarcastic tones to make it so much more interesting and enticing. Themes in this book include revenge for murder, knowledge (wanting to understand the world) courage, identity and power/control. The characters are constantly shifting in identity due to Down's influence on their personalities and abilities so anyone is eventually capable of anything. I was laughing, cringing, crying, cursing, confused and enthusiastic throughout my reading The White City and I cannot wait for the next book.

 My biggest complaint of this book is that I am still left with way too many questions, Simon Morden being the savage dungeon master that he is has left events at an incredible infuriating cliffhanger and I need to know now what has happened and I have to wait now... I wish I had stumbled onto this series when all the instalments were out so I could binge on them all at once like I did with Morden's Metrozone series.

 My favourite elements to this story are the characters and Down itself. SM could have revealed way too much about everything in this book but he still kept his cards close to his chest and focused on strengthening an already strong cast of characters. Dalip just wants to do the right thing and protect his friends, Mary wants to figure out where she belongs and her true purpose and Crows is still a backstabbing pain in the rear who is openly evil because he holds all the answers.

Down is just as gorgeous and mysterious as ever, uncharted and full to the brim with an unexpected cast of citizens, ever confusing geography and an abundance of secrets. I was probably the wrong person to review this book as I am a huge Morden fan. I have been honest and told you my thoughts but overall I was very impressed. Morden went bigger and better, taking the characters on another quest for answers and developing the cast into interesting, diverse and both dark and humorous beings. Check it out and thank me later :D

I usually do an about the author piece here at the end but I recently got the opportunity to interview Simon Morden so please check that out here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Author Interview - Theresa Pocock

AUTHOR INTERVIEW
THERESA POCOCK
ELIZABETH TUDOR: ANCESTRY OF SORCERY
RELEASED 01.12.16

Author Bio: Theresa Pocock has a love affair with history, and obtained a degree in that field from BYU-Idaho. The idea to write books didn't just dawn on her one day, it has been a boiling passion within her for years that needed to come out. As a mother of 3, she has tirelessly dedicated herself to writing for the last 10 years, stealing precious hours at her computer during nap-times and in between piano lessons and gymnastics, and many, many late nights when the house is quiet. She has completed drafts of over 6 novels during that time, and continually works on perfecting those stories, until they are ready for the world to see. After 16 moves in the last 13 years, she is currently settled in Sequim, WA with her family.


Good Evening! 

Welcome to another Always Trust In Books author interview!!

Today we have an author who uses her writing talent to combine popular historical figures/events with powerful and exciting fantasy twists. Theresa Pocock has a new book coming out December 2016 and she was kind enough to answer a few questions about Elizabeth Tudor: Ancestry of Sorcery, her writing habits and her influences. It was a really great Q&A opportunity and I am a huge fan of both historical fiction and the fantasy genre so I was eager to share Theresa's work with everyone. 

Thank you to Theresa Pocock for answering my questions which you can see below! Enjoy!! 

Can you tell me a bit about your latest release?
Well, as a history major, when you learn about the sixteenth century you can’t help but learn of Henry VIII and all his wives and his shenanigans. I of course was fascinated with the subject but something my teacher said in passing one day sparked the idea for this book; what if Henry’s claims that Anne Boleyn entranced him really were true? The idea stuck and when I began writing it was just a natural topic for me to explore.
In ELIZABETH TUDOR: Ancestry of Sorcery, Anne and Elizabeth come from a long line of sorceresses, but Anne makes certain that her daughter, the potential queen of England, will be the most powerful one yet.
I am very excited about this story. I feel that it is a strong retelling made more interesting with the sparkle of magic and the tragedy of star crossed love.
What attracted you to the genres that your work occupies?
I wrote this book eight years ago, and when I pitched it I got some nibbles but the world just wasn’t mixing genres like history and fantasy yet. So it was a ‘no’ because, where could the put it on the shelf? Isn’t that always the question! However, there was no other way to classify this story, so I set it on MY shelf, because I always have room for a good book there, and moved on to writing a totally different story.
It wasn’t until a dear friend suggested I dust it off that I decided to pitch it to Big World Network, my publisher.
What are your influences when writing?

I can’t really say. I love so many authors, I feel like I’m a melting pot.  

Could you describe a typical writing day?
There is no such thing. I have three little kids and a wonderful husband who bless his heart has not taken this ‘hobby’ of my seriously until this year. I literally am that lady who sneaks away in the middle of the night to type at my computer. When writing Elizabeth, I forced my two toddlers to take a nap at the same time so that every day I could have an hour or three of strict writing time. It’s nap times and after bed. That’s what it’s been for ten years.
Which authors do you look up to?
Oh my gosh, so so many. I will severely limit my list here; Colleen Houck, Jim Butcher, Orson S. Card, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Faith Hunter, Dan Wells, Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Patricia Briggs, Kasie West, Kevin Hearne, Patrick Rothfuss. I could go on and on and seriously on. (I actually have a list on my blog cleanlit.com. if you want that list.)
Is there a particular book you have read this year that you want to share with my readers?
I am flipping out about an epic fantasy series that Brandon Sanderson is working on. It’s called THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE. Oh my gosh it is the most complete, amazingly written world/magic building I have EVER read. It will forever be on my favourites list. (Well he is only two books in, so I reserve the right to retract this glowing review if he somehow sucks it up in the remaining 13 instalments.)
How does it feel to be a published author?
I feel like I kind of have a glow about me. Like, can people tell when they look at me that someone has stamped my daydreams as worthy of immortalization? I really wonder that. I guess that gives you a little too much info into my psyche right. Oops!
What is next for you in the world of writing?
So much, I hope. I am super excited about ELIZABETH TUDOR being released in January on Kindle, and print on demand with everyone else. We are also doing an Audible version soon after the January release. I’ve gotten some amazing feedback and I really feel like this is a story people can connect with, at least I know my mom and dad really connected with it. (Ha, ha, ha all you fellow authors can laugh, I give you permission.) No really, the word coming in from my readers is really positive so that makes me feel awesome.
Also, Big World Network will also be starting book 2 of Ancestry of Sorcery; FILLOS in January-ish so everyone who is crazy about how I end the book will not have to wait too long for the resolution. Big World does things a bit different, they release their books for free on the net in serial fashion. Like a TV show. Once a week you get a new chapter. Then after the series is complete they put it all together for people to buy. It’s a pretty forward thinking system, I feel.
A few little tid-bits in the 'What's Next?' category: I am a wattpad-er (not sure if that’s a thing.) It started out as just a way to get my friends to read, but I enjoy it. I like the community there. Anyhow, I am posting one of my favourite stories, BLOOD OF THE GODS there. It’s a paranormal romance about the Persian gods and goddess. I am also hoping to hear some good news from a pretty top notch agent on a different story called GUARDIANS OF THE GARDEN. It’s a fantasy set in the Garden of Eden. You can check out a little of both of these on my website theresapocock.com or at wattpad.com/user/theresapocock
Another great Q&A and plenty more of that to come in the next few weeks. Please show your support for Theresa Pocock in the comments and check out Elizabeth Tudor: Ancestry of Sorcery, you won't be disappointed! Thank you to all the readers who check out the interview!


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Author Interview - Simon Morden

AUTHOR INTERVIEW
SIMON MORDEN
THE WHITE CITY – RELEASED 27.10.16

Author Bio: Simon Morden has won the Philip K. Dick award and been a judge on the Arthur C. Clarke Award. A popular figure on the genre scene he has also proved to be a popular author of both noir SF and extravagant Fantasy theme SF. He has also been an editor at Focus Magazine. He has a degree in Geology and Planetary Geophysics (Gollancz Bio).

Simon Morden is one of my all time favourite authors. He is the man behind the Metrozone series which I was completely blown away by so if you haven't heard of or read those books yet then check them out immediately. Now we are here to discuss Simon's newer series of which The White City is the second instalment. 

The Down series started with Down Station last year, a predominantly fantasy based story with elements of science-fiction, I was hooked in an instant. It follows a group of people who escape through a portal in a derelict London Underground station to avoid being killed by an all consuming fire. Ending up in the magical world of Down affects each member of the group in different ways, with the magic of the land influencing their character, making them braver, angrier, more courageous, more evil and even giving a select few new forms and abilities. They look for answers but only find more questions as they explore the land and meet the inhabitants that call Down their home. Easily the most readable book I read last year and having just finished The White City myself I can say the second instalment is even better, bigger plot reveals, more diverse characters and more danger and secrecy. 

I have had the amazing opportunity to ask Simon Morden a few questions about his work, his writing style and some of his influences. I want to say a huge thank you to both Simon and Stevie at Gollancz for arranging the interview. Here are the questions I put to Simon.

Can you tell me some details about your new release?
The White City follows on directly from the end of Down Station, in which the survivors – that’s not really a spoiler if you’re at all familiar with my work, in that characters you know and like can and do die on a fairly regular basis – make their way towards what they believe to be the only city in the whole of Down. It’s in part a road trip without roads, and in part a journey of discovery. Of course, what they do discover is both wonderful and terrible in equal measure. They learn more about themselves, the world of Down, and the London they left behind. And that ending... oh, yes.

Why did you pick the genres that your work occupies? 
The Books of Down (as I’m calling them, in an entirely non-ironic and un-portentous way) are firmly in the realm of the Portal Fantasy. When I proposed the series, I was firmly and politely told that there’s no market for them, despite some of the greatest books, not just children’s books, but all books ever, being portal fantasies. And yet here we are, two books in. To the despair of my publishers, I’m a bit of a butterfly. It’d be much better for my career if I just stuck to one broad genre, but I just can’t. I’ve written full-on Lovecraftian horror, British mythological urban fantasy, cyberpunk, doorstep-sized epic fantasy and, for my next outing, a novella from Newcon Press, a nerdy, technical, deep-space SF. What I find is that certain stories need a certain genre framework to be told properly, so they tend to pick themselves.

What are your influences when writing?
I think most writers would admit to being sponges, absorbing everything they come into contact with. So a lot of it depends on what the writer chooses to expose themselves to. When I was younger, I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on, as long as it had a sword, a dragon or a spaceship on the cover, so I consumed an awful lot of dross in my time, but also discovered gems in amongst them. So writing wise, my go-tos are people like Ray Bradbury, Julian May, Joe Haldeman, Frank Herbert, Tolkien, Lewis, Pohl and Kornbluth, Greg Bear. People who can tell a story with humanity, essentially. There are loads more.
Obviously, I have loads of other influences. My politics (left wing, green), my religion (liberal Christianity), my upbringing (lower middle-class), my education (scientist by trade) and where I’ve lived for the past three decades (Tyneside). Not every story I tell has to have all of those influences front and centre, but it does mean, hopefully, I’ve got a complex, interlinked set of experiences to play off of.

What is a typical writing day for yourself?
There was an email that went around a few weeks before the last GollanczFest, where we authors were ‘encouraged’ to tweet about our writing day using the #AuthorLife hashtag. Since my typical day revolves around just how long I can stay in my dressing gown and how many mugs of tea I can get through, it’s not really anything to get excited about (I was dressed before the meter reader rang on the doorbell today, so that was an achievement). I did this instead: https://storify.com/ComradeMorden/the-seven-trials-of-count-von-katzenberg
But really, it’s a question of how long I can stay in my dressing gown and how many mugs of tea I can drink. I do write quite a lot, though, while in my dressing gown, drinking tea...

Which writers did you look up to when starting out as a writer?
I’ve mentioned a few above. At that point, I didn’t actually know any writers – these days it’s a lot of the people I know – so I only knew them through their work. One that stood out time and again was Ray Bradbury. His compassion and lyricism – as well as his sharp wit and abundant imagination – shone through. I wish I could write like him, and I have tried, but it’s not the same. Subsequently discovering that he was a decent, generous person was simply the icing on the cake.

How long roughly does it take you to write your novels?
The answer is, inevitably, ‘it depends’. As I mentioned above, I do write a lot, and sometimes I do nothing else but write, to the detriment of everything else around me. But on average, six to nine months for a decent-sized (somewhere in the range of 100,000 words) novel. Arcanum, which weighed in at 300,000 words for a first draft, took me eighteen months. And it wasn’t even a slog. I loved writing it, and couldn’t wait to get some more done on it.

Is there a book you would personally recommend to readers that you enjoy?
So my suggestion is going to be a bit left-field, but here goes. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. I’m sure a lot of people are going ‘Whoa. Dude. You mean that The Exorcist?’ Yes. The film, while excellent and Oscar-winning and all, doesn’t capture half of what the book’s about (despite the screenplay being written by Blatty himself). This is a deep, daring, and above all, humane investigation into the nature of family and friendship. The book is a revelation. Read it.

How does it feel to be a successful author? To be appreciated by readers like myself?
Shut away in my house, covered in cats, rattling away at the keyboard, I don’t feel successful. I just feel lucky to be able to do what I do. Every time I have something published, I secretly think ‘got away with it – again!’, and at some point, I’ll probably run out of that luck. Hopefully not tomorrow, though. And yes, the appreciation is lovely. Even if you can’t bring yourself to contact the author, leaving a little one-line review on Amazon or elsewhere on-line (yes, we do find them and read them, no matter what anyone says) makes our day.

Thank you again to Simon Morden! The White City is out on Thursday 27.10.16 via Gollancz and it is a must read. Thank you to all those who read this interview and please leave a comment to what you thought about this interview.