Running out of Time is Simon Fox's first novel after 20 years trapped in the dungeon of accountancy. He is determined to never go back. He lives in Sussex with his extraordinarily patient wife and two teenage children who never tidy their rooms but would take on the world for each other.
Running Out of Time (Nosy Crow Books)
Running Out of Time is a fast-paced contemporary novel with a science-fiction twist; a boy who can see ahead in time...but can he see far enough ahead to save their lives as they try to escape people who want them dead?
We ask author Simon Fox to tell us what inspired the story, why he wanted to focus on the arduous and life-threatening journeys of refugees in the book, and how he went about writing the three different timelines the novel incorporates.
Read a Chapter from Running Out of Time
Q&A with Simon Fox
1. What's your 'day job' and how did you start writing for young people?
I'm an accountant which I moan about, but actually it can be interesting. You learn how numbers can tell a story too (although never an adventure!) I started writing for young people when my son was reading Alex Rider. I just thought how great the stories were and how unrestricted you are because young people have such imaginations and don't place limits on themselves.
2. Can you tell us about your debut, Running Out of Time?
Running Out of Time is a fast-paced adventure about a boy called Alex who has the ability to see a few seconds into the future. He is just starting to learn how to use it when his dad comes home and tells them they have to flee from their country because dad has been caught spying against the government. They begin a mad scramble across Europe, pursued by soldiers until the worst happens and they are separated. Alex is left alone, in a strange country with no money and no friends… and only his gift to help him find safety.
3. Are you a fan of science fiction? Any film or book recommendations?
I like science fiction because by changing reality, you give your characters new decisions to make and different moral questions to answer. And I never quite know what they will do! Among my favourite sci-fi stories are the Blade Runner films, which really make you think about what it means to be human.
4. What inspired your story and its 'stealing time' concept? Can you tell us a little about this?
I came up with the idea of seeing a few seconds into the future when I was at a football match and I could tell that Brighton were going to score, because I could see the passes that should be made and the way the forwards were moving and how the defence were not in the right place. (Obviously nine times out of ten we would miss but this time we didn't). And it made me think about how far in advance of an action you might be able to see what was going to happen. It's not exactly seeing into the future but it's close! So, I stretched the idea further for Alex and he took it from there.
5. Is the finished book very different from your original idea? How many drafts did you write and how long did it take to complete?
The book hasn't actually changed that much! I wrote the beginning a few times until I was happy with the direction it was going, and then I just kept writing until I had a complete draft. After that, I concentrated on intensifying everything. But after the first draft the basic story didn't change.
6. The book's chapters are featured as Now, After and Before. How did you plan and write these, as they follow different timelines? Was it challenging?
Strangely I found it quite easy to write in this way. I planned out what steps I wanted Alex to follow on each timeline, breaking it down into chapter sections. I think a lot of writers find finishing the hardest thing once they have started a story, so by breaking it into small steps, I had all of the plot's milestones already laid out for myself and I was really motivated to finish a section at each sitting.
It did take quite a fair bit of planning because I wanted to mirror his personal developments in each timeline, which required lots of thoughts. For example, I wanted to match a moment when he had to choose to trust someone with a moment when his trust was betrayed. But I won't give away which bits these are!
7. How did your lead character, Alex, develop, and how much of the story was led by him?
A lot of the story was led by Alex. He was the constant when I wrote it and the other characters all reacted to him. He has a strength which I'm really proud of but also has weaknesses and fears, the same as the rest of us. The harder I made the world around him, the stronger he became.
Sometimes I would watch my kids react to tough things in life and I'd see them grit their teeth and get on with it. All kids have that strength and, as Alex says, you can't be brave unless you are scared. I remembered all those moments when my kids wanted to give up but didn't, and I gave them to Alex.
8. Why did you focus the story on a refugee, and how did you research it? Why do you feel that it is important that we hear these stories?
I remember reading articles about refugees and thinking how different the real people described were from the generalisation you often get in the media. A huge variety of people find themselves homeless and wandering across the world, often finding themselves unwanted wherever they go. They must have such strength and resilience to keep going, so I wanted to encourage people to think a little more about how hard it must be and to appeal to their empathy.
I did quite a lot of research and reading but I didn't try and base the story exactly on other people's experiences. Alex and his dad have a specific reason for leaving, so this isn't a story you can point to and say it's representative of all other refugees. Everyone who leaves their home has a unique story and I thought we should all think a little bit about what those stories might be.
9. Other than a great story, what would you like your readers to take from Running Out of Time?
I guess what I like most about the book is how, despite the difficulties Alex faces, it is ultimately a positive story in many ways. At one point Ronnie says to Alex "We all had dreams. We all want a TV life and a big car and a magic door that opens to the world we were promised. But we are from a place no one cares about. So no one cares about us." And yet, even though Ronnie has given up on his dreams, we can see that he is wrong to do so. And so, with strength and kindness and the examples of others, maybe he will realise that.
10. Where and when do you do your best writing?
I write in the Jubilee library in Brighton, because I get way too distracted at home. The internet can be a terrible thing…
11. What are you writing currently?
Currently I'm trying to finish a story about a young boy that becomes a jewel thief. It's about the son of a policeman whose dad is arrested and accused of corruption. My hero has to prove his dad has been framed by identifying the criminals, and of course the only way to do that is to recreate the crime!
12. What do you enjoy doing when you're away from your desk?
I watch Brighton play football, I read quite a lot and I'm still doing Jo Wicks! My favourite thing, though, is just to be with the family.