• Mark Iles

'The World is at War, Again' blog tour - Day Three.

The art of writing is a delight in itself, but what adds to it for me is delving into the thoughts of other writers. How do they work, do they have a routine, is there something here that I can use to improve my own work?

Today I'm joined by Simon Lowe, who discusses his new tongue-in-cheek novel The World is at War, Again.

Do you incorporate your surroundings in your writing? If not how do you research?

I would say I am influenced by my surroundings in that I live in an area of urban countryside that's quite interesting psycho-geographically speaking. I like seeing all the abandoned concrete nestling amongst abandoned fields. But I rarely incorporate any of that into my writing.

My current novel, The World is at War, Again, has two settings- a rundown country boarding school and a luxury cruise ship. I have never set foot inside a boarding school or a cruise ship. My research involved repeat viewing of one of my favourite Columbo episodes, Troubled Waters, where Columbo and Mrs Columbo takes a cruise to Acapulco. I won't give the ending away but let’s just say I worked out who did it pretty quickly.

Your favourite book about writing?

I remember enjoying F. Scott Fitzgerald's On Writing. It's a collection of excerpts from his essays and letters, there's loads of good tips in there. So good I can't remember any of them in fact.

I did read the famous Stephen King one but I think I'm probably one of the few people who didn't like it. I find when things get a bit prescriptive, like when to use adverbs or how to start a chapter, writing feels less like self-expression and more like school work.

Are you influenced by certain writers, if so who and why?

I'm sure some of my favourite writers like Joy Williams, David Foster Wallace, Lydia Millet and Jesse Ball have influenced my writing although when I write I try and create a mental space where I feel most authentically like myself. The idea of other writers hanging around nearby I find off putting and counterproductive. I'm a big fan of the American metafiction writers - John Barth, Joseph McElroy, Robert Coover, William Gass, William Gaddis etc - all those old dudes.

In terms of my style I guess the writer I feel most connected to is Magnus Mills. I get excited by writers who are willing to take a risk. I will never write as well as Mary Caponegro but her talent definitely inspires me to try harder.

What do you think is the greatest obstacle to your writing being accepted and how did you overcome it?

I lack Mary Caponegro's talent! I'm not a natural writer, it takes me ages to find the right words and then even longer to find somewhere to put them. Also, my approach seems to consist of eschewing a process and ignoring the advice of Stephen King, which can't help.

Like many writers I'm in that hinterland where most of my writing exists outside of a specific genre or recognisable category. Not being able to easily place and explain a story or novel is, for most publishers and editors, a reason for instant rejection. Most writers get asked for an elevator pitch (even though we are not in America - yet!), yet some books are better suited to the climbing Kilimanjaro pitch. I overcame it by basing all my hope on there being at least one person on this rapidly evanescing planet who might be completely won over by my words and why not spend forever trying to find them.

Methods of clearing your mind and relaxing?

If I'm working on a story or a book it is lurking somewhere in my mind pretty much all of the time, to an extent. But as long as it is at a low level I actually find it quite productive. It's like a gestation, occasionally I'll feel a kick or request a lie down but on the whole it seems to develop without me really doing much.

If I am really struggling with something I might run it past my five year old son. This has spawned a new catchphrase, "Wow. That's terrible." Is it any wonder I have confidence issues?


The World is at War, again. New technology has been abandoned, a period of Great Regression

is under way. 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.

Visit bit.ly/TheWorldIsAtWarAgain


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


Out on the East Side deck, gobs of sea spray hit Marco in the face as he is bounced past vacant tanning chairs, in search of number 15; the collection point. It is still early in the

Afternoon. The sun basks over on the West side, where there are leisure pools and fun fairs. The East side is cool and shaded, and at this time of day it’s pretty much deserted,

considered by most a windy, no-go area until the evening.

Marco finds tanning chair 15 and reclines, conscious of how strange he looks – there is no sun. Gillian will be along shortly to drop off the files. It is Read House protocol not to engage with your collector. Gesturing, hand signals, even eye contact is frowned upon. Drop offs and collections are a mute activity. But it’s been so many years since they last spoke, were alone together, Marco wonders if Gillian will be able to resist. He’s bound to say something, he thinks.

Marco rests his eyes. The throbbing head and sickness of his earlier hangover is replaced with tiredness. He remembers the first time he and Maria met Gillian DeNielsen, at AA training camp. They were lolling in a field, holding thick blades of grass to their lips, seeing who could make the loudest kazoo noise. They were propped on their elbows, knees raised, like two deck chairs. A willowy figure appeared in front of a blazing sun, a charcoal stick man walking towards them.

Gillian was a member of the Elite Stream. A fast tracker. It was unusual for an Elite to make contact with Regulars, like Maria and Marco. But, he did. He was like a volunteer Messiah, offering to lead Marco and Maria on journeys of adventure and excitement. He arrived with high hopes of friendship and endeavour. How could they say no?

When Marco opens his eyes, the tote bag is filled with mission files, camouflaged neatly inside copies of The Speculator and Celebrity CCTV. Gillian has performed a drop off without Marco realising. Handed over the case files, unnoticed. How is that possible? To not hear, or see, shadows. To not feel movement close by. All he was doing was remembering.

Please follow the next step in the blog tour here: Les Pages Aux Folles: Blog Tours : Les Pages aux Folles

Elswehen website: https://bit.ly/TheWorldIsAtWarAgain

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