A Q&A with Liam Hogan, winner of First Prize in the Open Category, Quantum Shorts 2015
The heart of this story is a little girl Ana who’s afraid of what’s under her bed. Were you afraid of things under your bed?
No, I don't think I ever was, which is good. I always had clear sight lines. For a long while, what was under my brother's bed was me, because we had bunk beds. But I did grow up watching Dr Who from behind the sofa, so there's that.
Where you did you get your inspiration for your story?
It has been percolating a long time. If I remember correctly, I started writing it in 2013 for a call for stories with an ‘under the bed’ theme, thinking about what's the weirdest thing that could possibly be under the bed. I'd previously done an event called Science Show Off in London, where you talk (or sing or joke) for 9 minutes about something with a scientific basis. I played with ideas of alternative forms for Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment, so the idea of lifting up a bed’s valance and discovering something underneath – or not - built up slowly from that as well.
What research did you do for this piece?
I've done enough Science Fiction reading about multiverses and was aware of some of the ‘thought experiments’ in the area of quantum physics, so I pretty much just went ahead and wrote it. I probably should have researched the psychiatrist who talks to Ana to know exactly what they would or would not say, but that might have spoilt the story!
What about the ending? (Spoiler alert!)
Sometimes you write stories and go "well, it's a nice idea, but I don't really know how to finish it", but this one pretty much wrote its own ending. Once I started thinking about what could be under the bed - a toy, something you lost, nothing at all - the possibilities just kept expanding until eventually the psychiatrist had to go under the bed! It has a darkish, nightmarish, Halloween vibe, even if the psychiatrist himself is perfectly nice; it's just a bit too weird.
It's a delightful thing if you can get a fully formed story out of this length because it becomes this thing where you can go: I don't really want to change any of those words. It’s done. Longer stories are never finished, they're always editable.
What’s your background?
I did physics at Oxford University then took up computers. The great joy of having done IT and finance for a while is that now it’s funding me trying to do something more artistic. I'm currently, technically, a full time writer. (Also known as Self-unemployed.)
What was your path into writing?
One of the things that started me writing short stories is a live literary event called the Liars’ League, where they get actors to read out stories, which perfect because people who write stories are sometimes the worst people to read them out. I started it to have a monthly theme and deadline to knock myself into being disciplined. After they noticed I'd sent them about 50 stories, they invited me to be part of the process, so I now host the London event.
Last year one of my short stories squeaked in as a finalist in the Sci-Fest LA short story competition. They read them out in Hollywood using proper science fiction actors - mine was a Ferengi from Star Trek! (Armin Shimerman)
How did you feel about the news of your prize?
Finding out you're a finalist is great, finding out you've won it is wow! Because I don't have one of these vast social network things, I kind of knew I was not going to win the popular vote, so when I found out I won the judge's prize I was very much delighted. I read all the shortlist. They are all good stories.
What’s next for you?
It has to be said that one of the main reasons that I gave up full time employment was so that I would write novels, and so far I haven't... I've got a few ideas, some of them are fantasy and some of them more science fiction. I need to crack on and do them. At this point, having written short stories continuously for 8 years for Liars’ League and other places, I've probably got enough good ones that I might think about putting them together as a collection that's book-sized.
I'd love to thank the contest team for running the competition, because there aren't that many for quirky science fiction. I grew up reading huge amounts of science fiction by the likes of author and scientist Isaac Asimov. Anything that encourages people to be both scientist and writer is, I think, a wonderful thing. A lot of science conjectures and experiments have to come out of a great imagination.