IndieView with Simon Chun Kwan Chui, author of Book of the Wonders of the Galaxy

I think my book works best for people who want to be challenged, who want to encounter new and unfamiliar ideas – the artist fascinated by science, the scientist curious about art, etc.

Simon Chun Kwan Chui – 26 December 2016

The Back Flap

Nourish your imagination with a science fiction journey to places both familiar and alien, throughout the inhabited galaxy and beyond. What will humanity become in a future of extrasolar colonies, unfathomable sapient AI, and strange exobiology? But this book is no mere fantasy, for we can only build what we can imagine, and each stop on the journey is a vision of a possible future we might build for ourselves.

About the book

What is the book about?

Book of the Wonders of the Galaxy is a fictional travel diary of a person who goes on a grand tour around the inhabited galaxy, in a future where humanity has developed interstellar travel and are rapidly expanding out to the stars. Inspired by The Travels of Marco Polo, each chapter of the book is a portrait of the character and essence of one planet or place, illustrating the interconnectedness of geography, astronomy, biology, economy, technology and society. While the science fiction is speculative, it is woven from threads drawn from our own diverse history and cultures, so everywhere you look in this future galaxy, you will find echoes and fragments of us.

When did you start writing the book?

I started writing late in 2015. Seems long ago, now.

How long did it take you to write it?

It took me about a year, although much of it was spent on research and thinking, in between regular bursts of writing.

Where did you get the idea from?

As I said, I was inspired by The Travels of Marco Polo. Most people don’t get to travel very much, and some people not at all, but the sheer wonder and quantity of learning that one experiences from travelling is so remarkable. I know that every time I have travelled, I have learned things that have shaped who I am, memories that will stay with me my whole life. It is also convenient that the traveller’s diary allows me to talk about a lot of different things by going to a lot of places in the story.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

No, but it also took me a long time to write this book. It took me a year to write, but many of the ideas in this book are things I’ve thought about for much longer. I wouldn’t say I struggled, but I invested a lot of myself into this book.

What came easily?

The ambition was easy. Everything else was a lot of hours of research and thinking and writing.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

The characters are fictitious, but I would say the unusual thing about this book is that the real characters are the places, not the people. This was deliberate – most of the places have names, most of the people don’t. If you allow me to say that it is the places that have character in my book, then many of the places are inspired by real world places, or places from myth. I think you’ll find it quite interesting if you manage to figure out where I got the inspirations from. The clues are in the text.

We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

When I was younger, books by Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov stood out as being influential, and later J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I’ve found Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels to be both innovative and deeply meaningful. I also have a fondness for philosophy classics, such as works by Laozi, Marcus Aurelius, Sun Tzu, Michel Foucault – but I’ll limit the name-dropping here. Believe it or not, I’m even into constitutional and legal documents, not necessarily because they’re enjoyable reading, but because of their utter logic. Imaginative, thought-provoking, deep, precise, aspirational – that’s what I strive for.

Do you have a target reader?

I think my book works best for people who want to be challenged, who want to encounter new and unfamiliar ideas – the artist fascinated by science, the scientist curious about art, etc.

About Writing

Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?

For me, the most important thing is to have time to think. Sometimes it’s half a day, sometimes it’s several days at a time. I juggle ideas and phrases in my head, make notes if necessary. Then, when I feel comfortable, I write until I run out of what I was thinking about, usually about one to two thousand words. I try to write regularly to keep myself on task, but I am very aware that the quality of my writing tends to be low if I’m forcing myself to write. I need time to think.

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?

I definitely outline, starting with chapter headings. Then, depending on the chapter, sometimes a few sentences is enough of a brief, but sometimes the idea is almost as complex as the chapter itself. I outline as much as I need to, until I feel comfortable that I know what I’m doing.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

Both. I edit two or three times whenever I get through a chapter, then two or three times again after the whole book. Hopefully, by the time I’m reviewing the whole book, the edits are minor.

Did you hire a professional editor?

I did not hire a professional editor, but I’ve had a lot of practice writing – a Master’s thesis, a Doctoral thesis, multiple academic papers, other personal writing projects.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?

No music while writing. I already rely too much on juggling thoughts in my head instead of planning them out on paper, and I need my whole brain focused on that. When I’m done writing, I like to unwind to jazz, blues, trip hop, occasionally a little bit of metal.

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?

No. Should I? I’ve got nothing against agents, and if any are interested I’m happy to get in touch.

What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?

Maybe I’m a bit idealistic, but in my mind I just want to write things that people find enjoyable or useful, and the shortest route to get there is self-publishing. I know there’s stuff like marketing and publicity and access. But I really just want to write good stories.

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?

I did it myself, but I have some experience with design, so it wasn’t like I learned on the job.

Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?

Winging it. I have no experience with marketing. Someone help me out.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?

Work on your marketing and build hype for your book as you’re writing it. Don’t wait until you’re done. But, I mean, that’s the advice I got when I first started, and I ignored it, so who am I to preach? I’ve also heard it said that that something like a the first few books you write won’t be very good, but there are ways to get around this without actually writing a few books. I wrote a Master’s thesis and a Doctoral thesis, for example. The Master’s, admittedly, wasn’t very good, but I got past my early bad book and got a degree at the same time. So find ways to practice writing and also get other stuff done at the same time, before you actually try to be a “real author”.

About You

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Hong Kong. I half grew up there, half grew up in New Zealand.

Where do you live now?

I live in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand is a great place, but it’s not quite the same as the hype. A lot of people say, “Oh, it must be really beautiful there.” Well, it’s beautiful in places at least a day’s drive outside Auckland, and mostly it’s beautiful down in the South Island, at the other end of the country. So, close but not quite. Auckland is a rather ordinary city.

What would you like readers to know about you?

The things I want readers to know are in my book. The things readers would want to know would be that I studied architecture in university, not because I love architecture itself, but because it gave me the opportunity to do something that combined art and science and economics and history all at once. Then, because I didn’t really want to become an architect, I continued with a Master’s degree, then a Doctorate, so I can spend more time reading and writing about complicated and interesting ideas. And now I’m writing books, because I still want to read and write about interesting ideas. That’s me. Always finding excuses to do more reading and writing.

What are you working on now?

My next book, provisionally titled Love Letter to our Future Robot Overlords. Some people think that intelligent AI will exterminate humanity. I think they’ll be intelligent enough to know better. This book will be about why love is intelligent, and logical.

End of Interview:

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Get your copy of Book of the Wonders of the Galaxy from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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