Stephen has his new book, ‘Our Child of Two Worlds’ (9781787471627), coming out at the end of March. This is the follow-up to ‘Our Child of the Stars’ a massively well-received debut novel set in the world of the Vietnam War and Woodstock, and absolutely nothing to do with the Beverly Hillbillies.
What came first the characters or the world?
In Our Child of the Stars, the three main characters and their setup arrived together. It’s small-town USA – the time of Woodstock, the Vietnam War, and the moon landings. Molly is sewing her son’s Halloween costume in a hurry. Why do Molly and Gene need to keep their much-loved Cory a secret? It was quickly a fantastic short story floating on a sea of possibilities and over the months I realised it was a novel. I worked back so we understood Gene and Molly and worked forwards to the challenges they face. Since some big issues for the family couldn’t be resolved in book one, it always felt like two books and Our Child of Two Worlds is out in March 2022. Both books have tender emotion and relationships, gripping drama, and the joy and humour of this unusual family.
How long did it take to write?
I wrote one novel that did not get an agent, and even as I sent it out I knew that Our Child… was better. The original idea was 2013, I got an agent in 2015 – I was plucked from the slushpile by an agent I had never met – and he gave invaluable advice re improving it. Then we got a publisher, and it was the Quercus lead title beginning 2019.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
I played the music of the time, and a little from Gene and Molly’s youth. This was great as I expanded my knowledge and dived deep into artists I didn’t know. Joan Baez, (who plays a role in the book), Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Joni Mitchell, the Mamas and the Papas, Motown, the Grateful Dead. Molly likes her music beautiful, a bit mournful, and often with some social dimension…
Do you take notice of reviews?
I’ve been really pleased with the reaction to the first book – positive reviews in the Guardian, Grazia, the Mail, and a glowing, sensible review in the Sport! The Los Angeles Times called the first book “…a wonderfully emotional, heart-warming journey of what it really means to be a parent”
It’s great when a book lands with ordinary readers too. Not everyone liked it, I’ve been in and out of writing groups for many years and individual reactions to books or films will differ. Look at friends who like things you hate and vice versa. I try not to get worked up about those who didn’t like it or misunderstood it – that’s their opinion. It’s more complex when a review occasionally says something which is objectively untrue, or which proudly proclaims they understand your sinister motives for writing the book, when they are talking bunk. But this is a private grumble, the 100% best advice for authors is not to share those frustrations publicly. Go into the shed and scream into a bucket if you have to.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
I sit lightly to genre. I write books which reflect that life is often hard and unfair, but which also try to offer hope and humour. Most of what I write does fall into the science fiction, fantasy, speculative area – as a way of throwing light on the human condition – but it seeks to be character led and accessible. Our Child… has been loved by speculative fans – it uses classic SF ideas – and by those who don’t usually like those sorts of books. I could move around a bit within that remit. My current project is technically fantasy not science fiction. I suppose an idea might come to me which had no speculative angle, an idea so good I would write it. Hasn’t happened yet.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I work in frontline NHS communications so everything slowed down massively in the last two years. Most authors need to work or marry someone wealthy as well as write.
Which author(s) inspire you?
Ursula Le Guin not least for her philosophy of non-violence and extraordinary ability to rethink her work as her understanding grew. Ray Bradbury for real people but supernatural goings on. Neil Gaiman for daring. Mary Renault wrote extraordinary books set in the ancient world as gripping and immersive as the very best fantasy – and with same sex relationships presented as real and honourable. There are so many authors who have opened-up what fiction can be and who it can be about. Bernadine Evaristo, Zen Cho, Jeanette Ng, Nnedi Okorafor.
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
I was “consulted”. The draft covers were so clearly gloriously good designs – and what I thought we might try was basically undoable in the real world – so there wasn’t any friction. It’s important to know that covers don’t exist for the joy of authors but to sell the books… Publishers are not infallible of course and you do see real clashes, particularly where the author feels the cover misrepresents the books’ genre or tone.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
I want to write about England, specifically, and its delusions, and where the main characters are loveable rogues – certainly less pure and honourable than Gene Molly and Cory. It’s in early stages.
Any events in the near future?
There will be various ways to get involved as I launch Our Child of Two Worlds – look on my website www.stephencox.co.uk and twitter @stephenwhq. I will be at Cymera (Scottish SF event) in Edinburgh, and I hope to do a tour – probably online.