Simon Ounsley was one of the founders of the longest running British sci-fi magazine. Now the Leeds writer has published his first children’s book. Laura Drysdale reports.
When Simon Ounsley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease six years ago, he felt any chance to have a fiction book published had slipped from his grasp.
But he has continued to write with the help of voice activation software and now has a children’s story on sale and another in the pipeline.
“I have wanted to write fiction all my life,” he says. “But except for a few short stories, I was never able to secure the interest of an agent or publisher.
“When I turned 60 and the Parkinson’s diagnosis followed shortly afterwards, I felt that my chance to write any longer fiction had passed.
“Nevertheless I continued to write, frequently using a voice activation app, which allows me to input text into the computer without having to type.
“It is an invaluable aid, as in addition to the infamous tremor, the effect of the Parkinson’s frequently slows my movements down so that it feels like an age to move my finger from one key to the next.
“I had almost decided I should try to self-publish a children’s novel I had written, when an extraordinary stroke of luck led to me finding a publisher.”
That publishing firm is Journey Fiction, run by writer Jennifer Farey from Las Vegas, USA. Simon had been in touch with her husband Nic through science fiction fanzines and asked him to take a look at the book last September. He offered to show it to Jennifer and on December 1 The Shop on Peculiar Hill was released, available through Amazon and online bookstores.
It is in the sci-fi genre that Simon has done much of his writing, including for fanzines from 1978. He was one of eight people who launched fantasy and science fiction magazine Interzone in 1982. Still in existence today, it is the longest running British sci-fi magazine in history. Harrogate-born Simon was involved for six years. “It was no difficulty getting content because there was nowhere else to send things...there was so little British science-fiction around at the time,” he says.
The 65-year-old worked as a civil engineer, for many years for West Yorkshire County Council. Health problems - Simon has Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) - sparked an early retirement in 1988 and he became involved in organising a support group for other people with the condition.
In 2003, he began writing his book, inspired by an Eddie Dickens book, by author Philip Adragh, his nephew was reading at the time.
But, despite sending it to more than 20 agents and publishers, Simon, who lives in Roundhay, Leeds, could not find anyone to take it on until 15 years later.
It is the first in a planned series called Vale of Strange and tells the story of a boy named Peter who goes to live with his aunt and uncle at Peculiar Hill, where fierce creatures launch attacks on unwary humans. It is written under the “suitably spooky” pseudonym of Grimly Darkwood, he says.
“The name is partially derived from my paternal grandmother’s maiden name of Lockwood. She and my grandfather ran The White Horse pub in Ripon in the 1920s which was then a coaching inn.
“My father used to tell stories of waking up as a boy to the sound of horses’ hooves on the street outside and of going to bed with only a candle for light, there being no electricity on the upper floor of the inn at that time.
“I think the early chapters of my book, which refer to ‘strange scuttling sounds’ and something ‘whooping and howling outside your door’ at night in the shop on Peculiar Hill may derive from these tales.”
Simon is now revising the second volume in the series - Stranger Days on Peculiar Hill - which is due out later this year.
“Parkinson’s is always a bit of a race against time,” he says. “But with a bit of luck and - hopefully - advances in treatment, I hope to be writing many more books.”