The Interview: Bookbag Talks To R Julian Cox

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To R Julian Cox


Summary: Sue was impressed when she read R Julian Cox’s eco-thriller SHADOW ON THE SUN, an elegant conflation of fact and fiction which kept her on the edge of her seat. She and Julian had quite a few things to chat about when he popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 11 January 2013
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue was impressed when she read R Julian Cox’s eco-thriller SHADOW ON THE SUN, an elegant conflation of fact and fiction which kept her on the edge of her seat. She and Julian had quite a few things to chat about when he popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

R Julian Cox: Tricky this for it asks that most important of marketing questions: who is the target market? In my mind's eye I see men and woman who read such techno thriller authors as Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton or who are interested in 'science' and what it is doing to our world.

  • BB: What inspired you to write Shadow on the Sun?

RJC: Having written everything for everyone over my life (ghost writing for politicians, national newspapers as a journalist, copywriting whilst in PR and marketing etc) with the only gap being whether I could write a 'novel'?

SHADOW ON THE SUN began many, many years ago on a wet day after a wet fortnight of a wet holiday. We were on a family holiday in Bude on the North coast of Cornwall, clothes were drying round the fire (again) and I was doodling on my lap top. It began: 'It was always the same dream.... He drifted down long stone, corridors illuminated by flickering flames from wall mounted torches, then through the granite wall and high into the air. He was now looking down on the battlefield.......'

Months later I looked at what I had written and wondered: What happens next? The essential question any reader needs to ask.

Unconsciously I later realised that the spur to my original words had been King Arthur. There had been too an alleged connection between him and the close by town of Tintagel. And King Arthur is a character one can never find. Was he real or merely a character from fiction? Either way there was enough 'wriggle room' for me to make him 'mine'.

Sited on the cliff tops and easily visible from Bude was also the 'Satellite' Tracking dishes belonging to GCHQ Bude then called by the nondescript name of 'Composite Signals Organistion: Bude'. That I thought was a great technology link to my story. But how?

I had the ingredients for my novel. And so it began.

  • BB: You tackled some big issues in the book. I was particularly interested in the potential conflict between scientific discovery and religious belief. Do you think this is a widespread problem and does something similar trouble scientists who have no religious belief? I liked the character of Jonathan Anderson. Is he based on anyone you know?

RJC: Let me answer the second part of your question first.

I really don't know about the aetheistic scientific community. I suppose this would boil down to personal morality. One could be very cynical about this. Look at what German 'scientists' during the Second World War did on human beings?

As for those who do have religious faith I've read a lot of Rev John Polkinghorne KBE, FRS, once a great mathematical physicist at Cambridge before resigning to become an Anglican priest and a one time President of Queen's College Cambridge. He achieved much in the scientific world but is now just as well known for winning the £1million Templeton Prize for his 'exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension'.

I based my character Rev Gill on Polkinghorne and the character appears in Chapter 4 of my book.

I think British scientist Freeman Dyson, a former Manhatten Project scientist and a towering figure in science, summed up the ongoing religious/scientific debate best when he said both ask the same question; who are we, where are we going, where do we come from?

In terms of whether Science produces religious conflict one only has to look at what happened when the first atomic bomb was exploded at Alamagordo. Many who were there said 'God! What have we done?', the father of the project, Robert Oppenheimer most of all. He later opposed the Hydrogen Bomb only to be branded a communist and then have his security clearances revoked. It took the US twenty years to say they were sorry. A bit like our own treatment of code breaker and computer genius, Alan Turing. Without him Bletchley Park would have been an empty shell and the Second World War would have continued for another two years it has been estimated.

It is true, as I have depicted in the story, that if equations have a beauty to them, it is hard not to ask the question 'why is that and is it attributable to the hand of God!' It was this fact that so troubled the book's 'hero' Jon Anderson as it also troubled Einstein whose famous e=mc² equation led to the atomic bomb.

As for Jonathan Anderson, he is 'composited' onto a real person, someone whom I knew from the financial services sector and whom is also called Jonathan Anderson! He is real but in the end a mixture of many other people.

  • BB: The imminent arrival of a grandchild has prompted Prince Charles to speak out about the world which we’re leaving to his - and our - grandchildren. How do ‘’you’’ feel about this?

RJC: Not good. Basically there are too many people in the world. There are limited resources and infinite demand. Something somewhere has gotta give. Global warming is one aspect of burning too much fossil fuel either via coal fired power stations or via the automobile. The 'poor' understandably want what the 'rich' of the West have had for years and hang the consequences.

The question is whether we are going to reach an environmental 'tipping' point at which the perma frost starts melting, releasing methane gas which further impacts warming. This creates more melting ice caps the fresh water of which impacts the oceans and their currents. Not a good outlook particularly for the UK!

  • BB: Prior to the Fukushima nuclear disaster I was coming round to the idea that we might have to make more use of nuclear power, but I’m now back to thinking that it’s rather too perilous. Where do you stand on this? How will we produce the amount of power which we seem determined to demand otherwise?

RJC: Nuclear power is perilous and the impact of its 'waste' lasts for a million years, longer than the human mind can comprehend. I outline what the Americans think is the solution to its bi products - 'vitrification' as outlined in Chapters 3 and 6 both of which are true - but no one wants to take responsibility for the 'end product'. I'm not surprised. But is there any alternative to nuclear power? James Lovelock, the originator of Gaia Theory which posits Earth as akin to a living organism, thinks not and as again I mentioned in Chapter 6. I think in the absence of nuclear fusion, which is what Jonathan Anderson was all about, there is simply no other quick fix to our forseeable energy needs.

  • BB: I loved the neat flashbacks to Arthurian legend in SHADOW ON THE SUN. Is this a particular interest of yours?

RJC: As a kid I was always fascinated by Greek Mythology and the Arthurian legend. I used to devour books about them! They still interest me.

The Arthurian aspect I could write a book on!! There was even Melvyn Brag on the radio this very morning discussing the subject in his 'In Our Time' series on BBC Radio 4. Quite clearly there were some of his 'guests' who little hazy as to its historical reality. Whilst I think we have the issue of the fictional Arthur pretty well sorted, if not its author, the complex Thomas Malory!!!, we know next to nothing about the 'real' Arthur and whether he really existed at all!

Although there are some historical writings from the past - the British cleric Gildas from the sixth century for example although he never mentions Arthur by name! - there's not enough to establish his certainty. But legend usually has some basis in fact. The 'ex Persian' Lucius Artorius Castor from the late second century I think comes pretty close to an historical Arthur although he's three centuries too early! But what's that in the tribal memory of a nation? And there are reasons why this 'memory' of Artorius might well have lingered on and which I touch on in my Arthurian flashbacks say in Chapter 20 where I mention 'The Sarmatians'. These were originally a group of 5000 highly skilled cavalry led by Artorius and fighting in Britain on behalf of the then occupying Romans.

  • BB: It must have taken considerable skill to combine an eco-thriller with a ‘time travel’ element and avoid the plot falling apart at the seams. Did you find this difficult - and how long did it take you to pull it all together? Where and how do you write? With or without music?

RJC: It was a problem but not as much as trying to get inside the heads of the 'Arthurian' people I was writing about. It is a whole can of worms trying to do it!! I think I got there but the sad part is most of it was quite rightly cut. !!!! However the 'plus' part is I still have it left over for possible inclusion in Book 2 or 3!

I deliberately left the time travel aspect somewhat 'open' to give me room to manoeuvre later. The 'Katrina' character's (modelled on historian Bettany Hughes) experience could have been an illusion, a quantum effect of the mind, explored more fully by Cambridge mathematics professor, Roger Penrose in his 1989 book, 'The Emperor's New Mind'.

Tom Santos was different. He actually had to undergo 'time travel'. But this was not so hard to write about as I'm a keen a reader of developments in quantum mechanics and its 'many world's' theories along with cosmology and its similar though different 'Multiverse' ideas.

You ask 'how long did it take to pull it all together?' The first words I wrote must have been nearly twenty years ago!!! But I looked at it as a hobby then as I had to earn the daily crust. So whenever I had a spare moment I would pull it out and scribble a few more lines. It has really been in the last three years when I thought 'I must get this finished' that I took it all much more seriously'. The first draft came in at 167,000 words!!! Its now 91,000! I'm hoping to use those 'spare' 70,000 words in my later SHADOW ON THE SUN books.

In terms of 'pulling it all together' this was accomplished in two stages. The first draft at 167,000 words took about two years to complete. Prior to this it was a bit like a patchwork quilt with chapters and themes all over the place. Then having employed an editor she gave me her opinion in March 2011 -You've got three plot lines here when just one will do' - and I re wrote it incorporating most of her comments from Sept 2011 through to March 2012. The bit about 'vitrification' I referred to previously was not actually written until July/Aug 2012 when I was on still on a month's holiday crossing the United States c/o Amtrak!

About 'where do I do it?' - well originally it was written anywhere! On trains, on buses, on airplanes much of it using the then late, great Psion Organiser. Some of it even at home!! The later editing process was done from 'Roger's Shed'. This has a loo, a shower - the best in the house - a bed, aircon. We've often used it as a guest bedroom though less so now since I've had an 'extension' added to my timbered, Grade 2 listed house! Think here of beams and interior oak timbers, huge brick fireplaces, white painted exterior timbers and two olde worlde external gas lamposts. I mention this because most of the things I own are from a past era. The house, the cars etc. I should have been a historian!!!! Or an artist. I'm pretty good with pen and ink or watercolours!. Instead I went into business where my skills at writing - the dictionary provided me with my alternate palette of colours - were what my various former businesses of PR, marketing, computers, magazine publishing, event organisation, corporate finance, were built on!!

And sometimes when I'm writing I do listen to music but more often I work in complete silence! I get wrapped up in what I'm doing and forget the exterior world! Even forget things like 'lunch'.

But mostly I recognise that being an 'author' is 'a business' like any other which needs to be treated as such. 'The book' is the end product which needs marketing like any other product or service. I also recognise that 'waiting' for inspiration is for the birds.

At the end of the day it's a job like any other.

I give you a story here. Some years ago I was digging around in the attic and I came across the very first feature article I had ever written for a national newspaper. I re read it for the first time in many years. It was very good. I didn't believe I could match it even all those years and experience later. This thought depressed me for a couple of days afterwards. Then I remembered that the original article had taken me a couple of weeks to write. I could do the same thing now in a couple of hours!!!That's the difference. It's where 'experience' comes in. I brightened up at this thought.

So I hope it will be with 'book writing'. With SHADOW ON THE SUN when I set out I candidly admit I hadn't a clue!!! The editor (whom I still hate) was absolutely invaluable (don't tell her) in telling me the way it was. Now I know!!! So watch this space.

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment and which book which has influenced you most?

RJC: Bad question to ask at this time!!! I'm reading Kristen Lamb's (Google her) 'We are not alone:The Writer's Guide to Social Media' as well as 'The STIG, the untold story', a fun book one of my daughter's gave me for Christmas. Also by the side of the bed is James Hilton's 'Lost Horizon' which I'm re reading. And on the Kindle is Andre Camileri's 'Excursion to Tindari, an inspector Montalbano mystery whom I love. I'm even off to Ragusa in Sicily for my holls and which is where the film series is shot . Generally I usually have three or four books on the go at once to match whatever mood I'm in when I want to pick a good book up.

As to 'influence' there are two books: Arthur C Clarke's '2001:A Space Odyssey', completed after the eponymous film, as the film was taken from a short story of his called 'The Sentinel', and something far more esoteric The Notebooks of Malte Laurid Briggs by Rilke.

  • BB: You’ve got one wish. What’s it to be?

RJC: That's easy. To own and ride once more a 998cc Vincent Black Shadow (look it up!) before it gets nicked.

  • BB: What's next for R Julian Cox?

RJC: Even as we speak I'm getting on with Book 2 which is provisionally entitled DEEP EARTH. Readers of SHADOW ON THE SUN will know why!

  • BB: We're looking forward to Deep Earth, Julian - and we promise not to say a word to your editor. What did you say her name was?

You can read more about R Julian Cox here.

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