Episode 350: Voice, Emotion, and Metastory in a “Mistopia” – Interview with Simon Stephenson

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Simon Stephenson.

Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, Simon Stephenson is a writer and screenwriter now living in LA (with stop-overs in London and San Francisco along the way). 

His first book was the memoir Let Not The Waves Of The Sea, about losing his brother Dominic in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. It won Best First Book at the Scottish Book Awards in 2011. His most recent novel, Set My Heart To Five, was released in summer 2020 and this is what we’ll be discussing today.

In this episode Simon and I discuss:

  • His method for writing a “mis-topia” future and how that differs from a dystopia.
  • Why writing a character without feelings allows you to explore feelings more.
  • What role movies played in developing his protagonist and the plot.

Plus, his #1 tip for writers.

About Simon Stephenson

Simon Stephenson is originally from Scotland, but now lives in Los Angeles, California. He was born in 1978, an auspicious year already renowned for bringing the world such inimitable cultural treasures as the Bee Gees’ Sergeant Pepper’s movie, and the Star Wars Holiday Special.

A junior library cormorant from a young age, the arrival of the first series of ER on television diverted him from his inevitable English major to medical school. A less impressionable teenager would probably have understood that what he was drawn to was story and not hospitals, but we live and learn.

His first book Let Not The Waves Of The Sea, a memoir about the loss of his brother Dominic in the Indian Ocean tsunami, was written around his hospital shifts and published in 2011. It was serialized on BBC Radio 4 and won Best First Book at the Scottish Book Awards.

By now working as a children’s doctor in London, he next wrote a screenplay about a depressed children’s doctor who desperately needs to make a major change in his life. He remains unsure where this idea magically sprung from, but the script – in which the doctor travels to a life-altering conference in San Francisco – came third on the Annual Blacklist of Hollywood’s favorite screenplays and opened the door to a screenwriting career in the US. In an irony not lost on Simon, he subsequently got a job writing a movie at Pixar Animation Studios in San Francisco.

He has lived in the US since 2013. As a screenwriter, he originated and wrote Amazon’s forthcoming Louis Wain, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy. He also has a small credit on everybody’s favorite bear sequel, Paddington 2.

He got the idea for his new novel while living in the Bay Area, a place where the near future can sometimes seem very near indeed. Set in a 2054 where Elon Musk has incinerated the moon, it tells the story of Jared, a biological android who learns to feel by watching old movies and then sets out to write a movie of his own. Many of the lessons Jared learns might well be the same ones he has learned on his own writing journey, but one he did not learn is about the importance of short titles. His novel is called Set My Heart To Five; despite this, it has nonetheless been optioned by the director Edgar Wright to hopefully make a movie of its own.

You can follow Simon on Twitter.

Set My Heart to Five

Set in a 2054 where humans have locked themselves out of the internet and Elon Musk has incinerated the moon, Set My Heart to Five is the hilarious yet profoundly moving story of one android’s emotional awakening.

One day at a screening of a classic movie, Jared notices a strange sensation around his eyes. Bots are not permitted to have feelings, but as the theater lights come on, Jared discovers he is crying.

Soon overwhelmed by powerful emotions, Jared heads west, determined to find others like himself. But a bot with feelings is a dangerous proposition, and Jared’s new life could come to an end before it truly begins. Unless, that is, he can somehow change the world for himself and all of his kind.

Unlike anything you have ever read before, Set My Heart to Five is a love letter to outsiders everywhere. Plus it comes uniquely guaranteed to make its readers weep a minimum of 29mls of tears.*

*Book must be read in controlled laboratory conditions arranged at reader’s own expense. Other terms and conditions may apply to this offer.

If you decide to check out the book, we hope you’ll do so via this Amazon affiliate link, where if you choose to purchase via the link DIY MFA gets a referral fee at no cost to you. As always, thank you for supporting DIY MFA!

Link to Episode 350

(Right-click to download.)

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