Interview with Valisumbra

Who are your favorite authors?
Philip K Dick must be at the top for 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' and 'The Man in the High Castle'. His preoccupations with philosophy and psychology put him streets ahead of anyone else in Science Fiction - he showed how good SF could really be.
George Orwell is my hero. Some think '1984' is no longer relevant, but its real warning is about authoritarian and orthodox thought, and that is still with us. Add to that his fearless, ground-breaking non-fiction like 'Down and Out in Paris and London' and 'The Road to Wigan Pier', that showed the depth of poverty in England in the 30's, and it makes him easily the most important writer of the twentieth century.
Christopher Priest is another writer who has pushed the boundaries of SF well into the territory of literary fiction. His book 'The Affirmation', with its reality bending psychology, is a work of genius.
More recently I've finally got round to reading the short stories of Jorge Luis Borgas - whose work I'd previously avoided because I thought it would be too elitist and self -consciously 'literary'. Actually, his preoccupations with the fantastic possibilities of philosophy (exploring ideas around the infinite and eternal) are very similar to those of Philip K D. - but with lots of classical references thrown in.
What's the story behind your latest book?
It's a collection of short stories, some from the last few months and some that have been collecting dust for years. The title story, Mortlake, is about some interesting historical connections in the part of London I grew up in, so perhaps it qualifies as 'psychogeography'.
Memetics - the concept of ideas as living things that evolve and spread by replication through human culture, is a subject I can't let go of, and it appears to some extent in several of the stories, most obviously 'The Shape of Things'.
'The Fold' touches on non-Euclidian geometry as a gateway to higher dimensions, while 'Burning Bright' is a much more gritty affair, dealing with a former soldier who joins an animal rights group. Parts of that were based on my own experiences many years ago.
'Changes' is about androids and artificial intelligence - certainly a nod to Philip K Dick, but showing a very different future. 'Nano' explores what I see as the very real threat and promise inherent in that technology.
'The Escape Route' is longer, with more twists and turns, as befits an escape route. It also links in with the prologue and epilogue - you can never have enough meta-fiction, in my opinion.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
It's being able to completely lose myself in ideas, and the possibility of making connections between them that no-one else has made before. For me, that's like being an explorer - the first person to a particular mountain-top.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Mortlake, a very quiet little part of south-west London, right next to the Thames. Usually the only time it gets a mention is near the end of the university boat race. Back in the 1990's I found out that it was the site of the house of Dr John Dee and the tomb of the Victorian explorer, Captain Richard Burton. The more I found out, the more interesting it became, until the story, 'Mortlake', almost wrote itself - as if it was just waiting for someone to make the connections.
When did you first start writing?
From a very early age, sometime in the mid-nineteen seventies, I discovered Science Fiction and fantasy - in books and comics - and was reading all the SF I could by the age of nine. Somewhere I have a proudly scrawled note that (when deciphered) says, 'when I grow up I want to be a science fiction writer'. It wasn't until much later, around 2000, when my obsession with music had calmed down sufficiently, that I actually tried to write anything.
It's been a very slow process that has got more intensive over time, but I now genuinely can't do anything else. Apart from my family, writing has become my life.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Writing short stories these days means you are pretty limited in terms of publishing opportunities. There is huge competition for the relatively few magazines and anthologies on the market, and previously unpublished authors stand even less chance. There are, of course, always those who will publish for a fee but somehow the idea of paying someone to take the work I've agonized over for so long just grates on me. I'm not a hack, just in it for the money - but I believe in my writing, I think it's worth something. Anyway, 'independent author' has a nice ring to it - a bit DIY, a bit Punk Rock, and sidelining the greed of big business has a certain appeal to it.
What do your fans mean to you?
Well it would be strange if there were some. I can't really imagine that - it's always been me that's had hero's.
What are you working on next?
I'm writing another London-based story, again featuring John Dee. It's like a keystone that fits 'Mortlake' and some of the other stories together.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My family (school-run, etc), reading, music, and my writing - the process of going from the nothingness of a blank slate, or screen, to making huge chains of connecting ideas and creating alternate realities. It is addictive - there aren't enough hours in the day.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I love spending time with my family - I like helping the kids with their homework and I'm becoming pretty damn good at building Lego models. I love reading (obviously) and listening to music.
Published 2015-10-30.
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