Last Updated on February 14, 2024
Andrew Caldecott is one of the UK’s most unique writers. His genre-bending duology Momenticon and Simul is set in a dystopic future, highlighting many of our social issues in a stylised way. He weaves in references to art and literature throughout the books, making them catnip for us literature students. He is also the author of the Rotherweird series of books. We were able to have a catch-up with Andrew in the run-up to publication, discussing the world, his writing and art, expanding on the interview we did for Momenticon‘s release.
[AC] In the dystopian world set up in the first book of the duology, Momenticon (essential reading for Simul), competing powers struggle for control for what remains of a desolate earth. They represent different ideals: societies formed to indulge a dysfunctional leadership or a new genetically engineered model of mankind. A few independent spirits strive to find a new way but face violent opposition at every turn. In the background Nature, as interfered with by man, threatens too.
[GdM] I love the illustrations accompanying the text. Can you tell us a bit about the process, of working with Nick May? How did you choose the right places and subjects to enhance the story?
[AC] They are for the most part isolated objects or figures rather than whole scenes, designed to stimulate the reader’s imagination rather than dictate to it. I compiled a longlist with my publishing editor, and Nick then chose the ten which most appealed to him.
[GdM] Simul (and Momenticon too) is full of references to literature. Were there any that you’d have loved to include but didn’t?
[AC] In one way, no, you must beware of overload. Also, the references to literature (and indeed to famous paintings) must be justifiable by the plot and the social forces in play and not gratuitous. Yet classical myth permeates our language and influences our notions of what good writing should be. So, there are implicit references eg the Tower of no Return resembles the Minotaur’s maze, save that its heart lurks a lethal trick rather than a physical monster. Other writers influence the creation of character. The one writer in Simul, Hilda Crike, is an official historian, was modelled on the Elder Pliny (how’s that for Pseud’s Corner) who died watching the lethal eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Like him, she wishes to make history as well as record it, and to understand science in order to cover it. Pliny was a naturalist as well as a military commander. I liked the idea of a woman in this role. She achieves her ambition at the end of the book, though at a price.
I would add that there is as much craft and wisdom in Winnie the Pooh as Finnegan’s Wake.
[GdM] The concept of gene modification in these novels is fascinating. What inspired you to include science in such a whimsical novel?
[AC] A dystopian novel almost invariably engages science, both in the cause of the destruction of the old world and in what adjustments man chooses to make in the new. Genrich, the genetic engineering company, believes in a rule of the cleverest, while experimenting with cruder creatures as its military arm. The idea that a committee of the likes of Einstein and Newton would best run the planet is a motion worth debating. Science and entertainment are also linked, and Genrich’s creation of creatures to reflect characters from Alice is not perhaps such a giant stride from where we are now as some think.
[GdM] I feel like “not knowing”, being blind to the world is a common thread through your work, whether in this duology or Rotherweird. Is this a conscious choice, and if so, what fascinates you about it?
[AC] A good spot, but not an approach I can claim as original. As I’ve written elsewhere: ‘From its infancy to modern blockbusters, from eighteenth century young women with no prospects to hobbits, novels cast ordinary folk as heroic figures,’ meaning people untutored in the ways of the world and in that sense blind to the forces which await them. This is more than pitching light against dark. Their exposure to these forces allows for evolution of character, and a canvas on which moral conflicts can be played out. Also, I like the notion that a few characters should undertake the same voyage of discovery as the reader.
[GdM] Everything of yours has a setting that is very unique and weird in all the best ways, so I’d be curious to hear a bit about how you approach worldbuilding?
[AC] Let’s take an example from a town which features in both books and mimics exactly a painting by Breughel the Elder: Hunters in the Snow. The thought processes go something like this:
 A painting I’ve long admired. Reproducing it as a real town would be fun.
 You need a character who might build it – like the second Lord Vane, who is obsessed by paintings of the old world.
 Add a touch of the bizarre to give it purpose: at intervals every inhabitant assembles to mirror the painting exactly.
 Add a further twist: mechanicals built to resemble another painting are used to destroy the second Lord Vane, the town’s creator, in an attack on the town.
 Hope the reader is engaged enough to look at the painting in detail. Key scenes in both books take place in the cottage on the outskirts with a chimney fire.
Rotherweird is different in that the reader can make the ultimate choice as to quite how the town appears within the descriptions provided by the book. Here, the reader knows exactly how Winterdorf looks.
[GdM] What contemporary bits of art or literature would you want to be preserved in the Museum Dome?
[AC] Good point about literature: but I think books would have to overlap with art or furniture to qualify for the Museum Dome: if there were a modern equivalent of Leonardo’s Codex, it would be there. As to art, we know by the end of Simul (if not before) who the collector is, and this eccentric figure would certainly include the modern greats but perhaps a sprinkling of faddish choices too. No portraits of old-world politicians. If there is a great modern painting of a butler (?), it would be there for sure.
[GdM] I sense a strong connection to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – how did you first encounter the text and what fascinates you about it?
[AC] When very young. My mother had a copy with Tenniel’s bigger illustrations in colour. The poetry and the images embedded more deeply than the prose text, much of which now seems dated. The Alice characters manage somehow to be both real and surreal, in the same way that the verse, while nonsensical, has coherence. I suspect we all know people who resemble the Red and White Queens, the White Knight, the White Rabbit, even the Mad Hatter. They are both ordinary and extraordinary, as perhaps we all are. Even the true grotesques have a touch of convincing vitality about them, which I try to exploit in Simul in unexpected ways.
[GdM] Finally, can you tell us anything about what you’re currently working on?
[AC] A change of genre: an historical novel in a setting as horrific and in some respects comical as the imagined worlds I usually toy with.