Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Stephen Cox?
Born in America of British parents, I spent nearly all my childhood in Bristol, and I’m now an adoptive Londoner. I have a partner and two teenage children. I’m a professional communicator, a science PhD dropout, a recovering poet, and a Quaker.
Under all those nouns are verbs.
I remember walking in the garden when I was small, telling myself stories.
Your debut novel, Our Child of the Stars, was recently published by Jo Fletcher Books. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
It’s the Sixties, small town USA, the year of Woodstock and the moon landings. A childless couple, Gene and Molly, in the middle of a disaster, adopt a strange little boy, Cory, knowing they must hide him from the whole world to keep him safe. It’s closely about family life and unselfish love, and also, shows the big struggles for peace and change, and how decency flourishes in unexpected places.
A series? ***makes mysterious face***
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
So many inspirations. Ray Bradbury — a specific trigger for the original short story — Ursula Le Guin, so many SFF books and films. Being a parent lights up your understanding of your own parents. My odd relation with the US — there are parallel universes where I’m an American citizen. It’s a story not a polemic, but my world-view gets a look in. There is a lot to despair about, but I discipline myself to hope we’ll find a way to be kinder and less destructive.
Cory himself is woven from many threads.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
My parents were not SFF fans, I introduced myself, through a library card (five books a week by the time I was ten) and book tokens. My wonderfully book-loving mother kept telling me to read better, more edifying stuff than the John Carter books. To be fair, she bought me A Wizard of Earthsea and A Wrinkle in Time and Alan Garner and The Hobbit. The Changes Trilogy, and those ‘juvenile’ SFs we’d call YA now. And she had Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, John Wyndham, 1984, Brave New World on the shelves… And she was right I needed to read a lot of other stuff too.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It’s a lifelong dream. It has bloody marvellous bits. It’s a lot of work and if you want to write novels, you need to enjoy at least some of the writing and editing, and you have to accept other life-choices have to be made. Obviously, it’s an industry undergoing complex change.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I have to start with a really strong situation with strong characters, and a sense of where the book takes them. And some of the difficulties in the path. Not a scene plan.
I think I have to write a fairly rank first draft with a lot of “[wow, this will need fixing]” comments. You know, scattered with “[does this effing timeline work?]”. You can over-research that first draft, OK, don’t base the plot on mobile phones in 1940, but a lot of deepening and grounding comes in later drafts. You look at this raw material and know what characters and themes are working and what aren’t.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I wrote a poem about a cat when I was in primary school and it rocked. I have spent most of my life ‘vaguely wanting’ to be an author, which gets you nowhere much. I did residential courses at Arvon which were great. Did some short stories, had a few poems published. The poetry phase was interesting but came to feel like a dead end.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Nearly everything I write holds up a speculative mirror to the world — why hold the power of fiction in your hands and yet have to be tediously constrained? I have an expansive view of SFF and I’m not wildly interested in policing the boundaries. You have to give me strong characters and meaningful relationships, though, or I’m not interested. There’s exciting stuff and new voices rising up in world SFF, I think we should be fertilizing the fields of other genres, and finding new readers. I love those reviews which say ‘I don’t like scifi but this is great.’ Bring new folks in!
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Well, I was determined Our Child of the Stars would stand on its own two feet as a novel. Yet, it was obvious there was much more of the family’s story to tell. Questions were unanswered. I went through a year determined my next project would be something else. I wanted to write about Englishness, for example. And then the last weeks of edits and proofs felt glorious, I thought this book is going to work… and Cory kept nagging away, he wanted me to tell me much more.
I am getting reviews saying people felt ‘a sense of loss’ when the first book ended. I am not a harsh man. So, three guesses what the second book is.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
I’ll cheat and recommend the historical novels of Mary Renault, for people who might not have read her. She writes with beautiful authority and makes you feel you are in a different world. The King Must Die, The Persian Boy and The Last of the Wine.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I appeared on the Adventure Game, which was the TV precursor to the Crystal Maze. They rounded up my D+D group to provide the dungeon smarts. We did well until I was vaporised by the actress Lisa Goddard.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Finishing the second book, deciding on the third one, and of course receiving the adulation of a grateful people. Or at least finding a solid third way between writing full-time and working elsewhere full-time.