How very bad (or very good) would the world be without technology?
Sarah Udoh-Grossfurthner Interviews the ‘Juggler Writer’ Simon Lowe: author of The World is at War Again
Q. So, Simon, I will just go right in and ask this particular question without any preamble because it kind of piques my curiosity. ‘The world is at war again,’ huh? Considering the seemingly endless crisis that’s plaguing our world now, why the appellation ‘again’? Seems to me the world hasn’t ceased to be in one form of war or another since WWI?
A. Well exactly, global conflict is a constant and fractious affair. For my book, I was imagining something that could be referred to as WWIII but, as you say, it’s not straight forward itemising a War. When I first began thinking about this book, it was Iraq and Afghanistan I was thinking back to and how so many countries staked a claim to be ‘at War’. In Iraq, I think it was something like 50 countries, yet it wasn’t called WWIII, it was called the War on Terror. In Afghanistan, it appeared hazy, even to some of the troops, what the purpose or objective of their mission was. This cloudiness got me thinking about the generality of War and what WWIII might be referred to if we assume the actual term WWIII is off the table. The world is at war, again, seemed both oblique yet certain. It’s a reference back to Hannah Arendt’s idea of the ‘banality of evil’, the appellation ‘again’ is a shrug of the shoulders.
Q. The World Is At War Again. It’s Science Fiction, right?
A. Probably not, although it could be, if you wanted. I suppose speculative fiction is the closer approximation although speculative fiction is by definition science fiction. It’s all very confusing. The concept of setting my book in a future or alternative period of time where the world is at War and technology has advanced beyond where we are at today and then been removed is an SF concept for sure, but I think it’s all about the emphasis, the real hardcore SF puts an almost total focus on its conceptual ideas. I have strands of espionage, coming of age, family dynamics in the weave of the narrative. I wouldn’t say my science fiction ‘ideas’ are front and centre in the novel, it’s just as much about the way we, as people, form relationships and cope with the world as it becomes seemingly less straight forward and bizarre. I would say the last 12 months provides some pretty good evidence of this. The pandemic is a rupture, we have gone from living and understanding our lives one way to suddenly having to live them in another, but it’s not a seamless, invisible transition, that takes place over time like societal change typically does- it’s jolting. I think I was trying to reflect something similar in my book. It’s also a comedy, believe it or not.
Q. Why this genre of writing? We are told you have written lots of fiction (short stories) why the switch to Science Fiction?
A. It wasn’t intentional, I just had an idea for a story and went with it. At the outset, I wasn’t going to be quite so conceptual. I had been reading a few novels about young people at boarding school during WWII, sort of nostalgic, of the era stuff. I imagined updating it today, with the kind of modern warfare we were discussing earlier, and couple it with the advancement of modern technology in everyday life. The school children probably wouldn’t know who was fighting who or what it was about, let alone care. There certainly wouldn’t be planes heard overhead with their fathers inside, like in the stories I had been reading. It seemed like a good way of thinking about the modern world. I don’t know what happened after that, the story just developed. I don’t really think in terms of genre. My short fiction is not Science Fiction but at the same time, it doesn’t fit into the typical ‘realist’ style. Most of my influences have been writers or filmmakers who stretch the realms of possibility, whether it’s David Lynch or Kathryn Davis or Jesse Ball, they operate in what is identifiably the real world yet things seem to happen in a way that counters reality. It didn’t seem like much of a transition to me. Although I do it all with a much lighter touch than those guys, did I mention it’s a comedy?
Q. Now that you have travelled the paths of SF and Fiction, which is your favourite, that is, which do you find the most comfortable mode of expressing your creativity?
A. Well I think you’ve said it perfectly Sarah, it’s all about finding the most comfortable mode of self-expression. This is the essence of writing, for me. I do it because it allows me to be myself in a way I am either too scared or don’t want to be in the outside world- in my ‘real life. Stories require no conformity. You might choose to follow a particular set of rules in the design of a story, but if you want to do something entirely different, you can. I often sense a constant, low-level tension in my every day which I put down to the pressure of conformity- I have to moderate what I say and do, to some extent, in order to blend and achieve, otherwise what will happen to me? Yet when I sit down to write, the tension disappears. It’s the erosion of Sartre’s Bad Faith I suppose, that I enjoy the most, this idea that ‘other people and society are an infringement on our inherent freedom, so we end up living in Bad Faith to adjust and meet their requirements thereby avoiding guilt and shame. Again, it’s a comedy.
Q. Will you be concentrating on this genre from now on…should we expect more SF renditions from Simon Lowe in the near future?
A. I’m writing a sequel at the moment, so yes! I am moving it in more of an SF direction, it feels like now we know the characters, the ideas might take over a bit. Otherwise, who knows? I’ll just go with whatever feels right.
Q. A final question, please. You seemed to have engaged in lots of other professions – bartending, juggling, librarian – to mention a few – if you had to do life all over again, which would you rather have focused on from the get-go?
A. Oh, I’m not sure I’d focus on any of them. As a teenager, I wasn’t very interested in schoolwork, I pretty much failed my A-levels, but I was becoming very interested in books and reading and I was thinking about being a writer. I had it in my mind that I would sign up at the local college and take my exams again, this time focusing on English, which I had never studied before. It was the perfect plan. Yet bizarrely, given my non-existent grades, I was offered a place at University. I took it, got kicked out after a couple of years and became a juggling bartender. This all means I have a sort of failure complex, I never feel as if I knuckled down and achieved- I’m like a character in a 90’s slacker movie. However, had I knuckled down and ‘achieved’, I wouldn’t have the best things about my life which are the people inside it. There would inevitably be other, less good, people inside it and I wouldn’t want that. I’ve never felt so trite saying it, but whatever path was going to lead me to them I would have taken, regardless of what it involved. Although having said that, the juggling would have been very good. Scratch that. I’ll go with the juggling.
Q. Haha, so should we refer to you hereon as the ‘Juggler Writer’ then?’
A. Sarah, you can call me anything as long as you include the word ‘writer.’
Sarah. Noted! Thank you for taking time over these questions, Simon. I and your potential readers out there wish you the very best in your writing…and juggling, of course. Let’s not forget the juggling.
The World is at War, again. New technology has been abandoned, a period of Great Regression is underway. 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.
Links for Simon Lowe’s book:
Book page on our website: https://bit.ly/TheWorldIsAtWarAgain
Ebook retailer links:
About the Author
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.