Set My Heart To Five – Simon Stephenson

In 2054, a time past the ubiquity of the internet, Bots are everywhere. They look like humans, but they are still Bots and are considered as not much more than unfeeling slaves. Told entirely from the perspective of Jared, one of those Bots, Set My Heart To Five explores what happens when a Bot develops feelings, and what it means to be human. Using a unique writing style – a Bot trying to imitate a sort of human flow-of-consciousness – interspersed by screen-written moments, Jared and his world come to life and become more human than the supposed humans around him.

Set My Heart To Five is a heart-breaking, tear-jerking, funny story that I suspect will captivate its readership quickly. Jared is charming and infuriating, and – surprisingly identifiable with!

Add Set My Heart To Five on Goodreads, or order it from your retailer of choice, such as Waterstones, and check out my interview with the author below!

Many thanks to Midas PR and Amber Choudhary for including me on this Blog Tour, and to them and Fourth Estate for the advance review copy of the novel.

RELEASE DATE: 28/05/20

STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, SIMON STEPHENSON:

SET MY HEART TO FIVE’s premise includes humanity locking themselves out of the internet. What inspired you to imagine life without what is a lifeline for most people?

I do completely agree that the internet – and technology in general – can be a wonderful force for good, and at their best they bring us together.

There is an incredible poem by Lavinia Greenlaw called ‘A World Where News Travelled Slowly’ which – even though it was written in the 1990’s – is about the challenges of communicating meaningfully when technology means we can now say just about anything to anyone at any time. So, with that sort of notion in mind, I wanted to set my story in a world where communication was a little more difficult than today.  This of course also made it easier to write about loneliness and disconnection.

As an aspiring editor, I am always curious about the author/editor relationship. What can you tell us about working with the team at Fourth Estate?

Well, obviously 4th Estate are home to so many incredible authors it’s a dream come true for them to publish Set My Heart To Five.  My editor at 4th Estate is Helen Garnons-Williams, and she has edited many brilliant books, including Jon McGregor, so I knew I was in the best of hands. The first time we spoke I was – ironically enough, because Jared lives in one – staying in a friend’s rented pool house in an area called Echo Park, and I remember listening to her talk about the book and just being so utterly thrilled that she not only got exactly what I was trying to do, but had some smart ways to improve it.

In terms of the process, working as a screenwriter naturally involves endless redrafting and collaboration, so I’m maybe more accustomed to that than some.  That said, nothing every really leaves my desktop until I am fairly happy with it, so I think the manuscript 4th first read was maybe 85-90% what ended up in the finished book. Of course that 10% can make all the difference (and hopefully it did!).

What do you love most about being an author?

There’s always a huge thrill in simply hearing people have even read my work, let alone enjoyed it.  When my last book was published I did a few book festivals and getting to meet other writers, hear them speak and then talk shop was a real thrill.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can do such things again. 

How does your creative process differ between writing prose and screenwriting?

I think the real difference is simply in strategy – a screenplay is a middle-distance run, whereas a novel is a marathon.  So, with a screenplay – depending on context – often I will try and rattle out a first draft as quickly as I can, whereas with a  novel you of course have to pace yourself a little more.

What are some books you are excited to read in the upcoming weeks or that you have loved recently?

Next up for me is Sophie Heawood’s The Hungover Games.  She’s a brilliant – and hilarious – writer, and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Simon Stephenson is a Scottish writer based in Los Angeles.  He previously worked as an NHS doctor, most recently in paediatrics in London.  

His first book, LET NOT THE WAVES OF THE SEA (John Murrays, 2011), was a memoir about the loss of his brother in the Indian ocean tsunami. It was serialised as ‘Book of the Week’ on BBC Radio 4 and won ‘Best First Book’ at the Scottish Book Awards.

Simon moved to the US followed the success of his spec screenplay, FRISCO, a semi-autobiographical story about a depressed doctor who desperately needed a change.  The script was at the top of the Blacklist – an industry-voted list of Hollywood’s favourite unproduced scripts – and opened the door to a screenwriting career in the US.  In 2015, Simon was photographed alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge as one of Screen International’s ‘Stars of Tomorrow’.  His friends never tire of telling him that Screen International were at least half right.   

As a screenwriter, Simon nonetheless continues to be much in demand on both sides of the Atlantic.  He spent two years writing at Pixar in San Francisco, and originated and wrote Amazon’s forthcoming feature film LOUIS WAIN (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy). Julia Roberts attached to his screenplay TRAIN MAN, and the film rights to SET MY HEART TO FIVE were pre-emptively acquired by Working Title Films, Focus Features, and Nira Park’s Complete Fiction Pictures. Edgar Wright is set to direct the film from Simon’s screenplay. 

One of Simon’s most memorable moments from his time in Hollywood was taking a meeting with an actor he admired most, and then having said actor kindly insist on driving Simon home in his distinctive vintage Porsche while telling him about his mind-blowing stories about his canonical body of work.  As a token of thanks, Simon then gave that car to the villain in Set My Heart To Five!

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