About Simon

 

 

A Detailed Biography…    

 Simon Higgins

 

Simon Higgins was born in England, and raised in Nigeria, Africa, then in South Australia. His earliest childhood memories are of red, cracked earth, and huge lizards he used to chase as a toddler. Simon’s father was a Major in the British army and as a result his parents had lived in many  parts of the world including India, Africa, Cyprus and South East Asia. The family was a mix of Irish, French and English stock, and many of Simon’s ancestors were professional soldiers.

 

     On the migrant ship to Australia. Yep, he was writing a story.

 

Both parents spoke a smattering of languages, and Simon cites his mother as responsible for cultivating his love of reading at an early age. By the time he was ten, Simon was ploughing through full-length novels written for adults, as well as non-fiction reference books. In early high school he entered –and won – a poetry contest patronized by Jose Feliciano, the celebrated guitarist. Over the next two years he wrote two full length novels, both historical, one of which he maintains ‘had real promise.’ The other however, he admits was ‘a beyond awful rip-off of the tackiest kind.’

Simon left school and decided to try as many different jobs as possible. He also drummed for a heavy metal band, learned to play guitar and sang vocals, and developed a long term interest in song writing. But he soon realized that he didn’t have enough motivation to walk the often unappreciated road of the serious musician. Reflecting on his time as a muso in Adelaide-based band ‘Haze’ he says with a smile, ‘We might not have been good, but in our defence, at least I can say we were loud.’

 

                                   Drumming for ‘Haze’. 🙂

 

Drawn to aspects of traditional Asian culture, Simon began training in different martial arts, his first being Ju-Jitsu, soon followed by Judo then Karate. Later he would add Kendo, Iaido, Tai Chi and Kung Fu to his martial arts resume. Fascinated with anthropology and archaeology, he studied translated historical texts including the I-Ching  from China and The Book of the Dead from ancient Egypt. Simon describes the post-high school years of his life as ‘career path chaos theory’. His jobs included stints as an assistant camel handler and costumed monster in a circus’s sideshow, laboratory assistant, retail salesman, construction site labourer, factory hand, marketing manager, and DJ.

Simon first went to Asia in his twenties, visiting Japan, China, the Philippines and Hong Kong, on a journey of personal discovery he was to describe as life changing. ‘Again I had the same experience I’d had in childhood when first reading about traditional Asian clothing, castles, and customs – inexplicably, much of it felt familiar.’

 

Tea Ceremony at Momoyama Castle, Kyoto. Simon’s in the middle.

 

Perhaps inevitably, in his late twenties, Simon felt what he calls today ‘a genetic pull’ towards a career in uniform, but not in the military per se. So, seeking some useful form of challenge and adventure, he joined the South Australian Police Force, and went on to serve in it for 8.5 years.

 

      Bearded and grim, during a South Australian bushfire crisis.

 

Simon worked as a patrol officer, solo enquiries member, cell guard, station officer, breath analysis squad member and prosecutor, during which posting he gained the rank of Senior Constable. He received two commendations during his police career, one for excellence in trial work before the courts, the other for initiative in the field during a car theft and high speed pursuit incident. But finally he resigned to accept an invitation from defence Barristers to work for them as a licensed private investigator on murder cases in Adelaide.

Eventually growing weary of all the ‘dark energy’ of his professional world, Simon began finding escape and positive stimulation through reading and writing, just as he had in childhood. While working on a final murder case, he wrote his first commercially viable novel, the crime thriller Doctor Id.

Doctor Id was published in 1998 and won a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book of the Year accolade. It was later published in Italy alongside novelizations of Alfred Hitchcock’s work, then serialized in English in Japan with dramatic, stylized manga art supporting each instalment.

From there, Simon didn’t look back. Leaving the world of crime-reality behind, he quickly became a full time novelist, supplementing his writing income with paid visits to schools to inspire a love of reading and teach creative writing. Two crime fiction sequels to Doctor Id were to follow, the siege drama Cybercage and the psychological crime thriller The Stalking Zone.

 

Signing line, Voices on the Coast Literature Festival

  A book signing and warm welcome in sunny Queensland.

 

But first Simon penned the all action sea adventure Thunderfish, the tale of an orphaned billionaire who reinvents herself as the 21st century’s Captain Nemo to defend refugees from modern pirates with a revamped black-market submarine. Despite its unusual premise, or perhaps because of it, the novel became an Australian bestseller, garnered Simon his second Notable Book award and attracted the interest of two Hollywood studios, though ultimately, no film deal eventuated. As well as the publication of a Random House novel, Thunderfish became an audio book with Bolinda Publications and was followed by two sequels featuring the same world and characters, Under No Flag and In the Jaws of the Sea. Under No Flag’s plot involved the unusual subject of marine-based environmental terrorism, and the novel was shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Crime Fiction award. The series also gave Simon a venue for much exciting hands-on research, working with friends in the Royal Australian Navy to learn all about submarine warfare, and also gaining a number of advanced SCUBA diving licences, including Shipwreck and Deep Dive qualifications.

 

Simon making friends with a giant cuttlefish off the coast of Tasmania, and a digital record of his dive in Bass Strait to explore a scuttled J-Class sub on the ocean floor.

 

Beyond the Shaking Time was Simon’s first novel with Hodder Headline, now part of the Hachette Group. After moving to northern New South Wales, Simon imagined a post-disaster Australia, plunged into medievalism by a global climate apocalypse and catastrophic flooding. The mountains and plateaus of the Tweed Valley and Queensland’s Border Ranges made up the novel’s setting. In 2000, when the book first appeared, its radical climate-change theme was still seen by many as a touch of science fiction. ‘I don’t think anyone is that naïve these days,’ Simon observes.

Random House released a compendium of Simon’s three crime thrillers under the title Jade Draper in The Dream Web Files, and he reached that point in his career that most novelists come to, sooner or later. What to write next? Was it finally time to tell stories arising from his private obsession: Old Asia’s history, martial arts traditions, heroic tales from the long-past chivalric worlds of the East?

‘I had my doubts,’ Simon muses in hindsight. ‘Who wants to read the work of a Celtic hybrid raised in Australia who’s excited about samurai and warrior monks he didn’t descend from?’ But others encouraged Simon to just take that next step, confident that his knowledge base, experience in Asia and deep respect for his subject matter would weave its own magic. He reflects on the outcome: ‘Who wants to read it? Lots of people, it seems, all over the world, including Asian people, who often tell me how much they appreciate my take on their history and culture. I’m always moved and humbled to hear that. Kipling, Rider Haggard, Lafcardio Hearn, even Marco Polo, all these authors demonstrate that sometimes an outsider is the best person to introduce an exotic culture to the world. ’

Testing the water with an unpublished manuscript set in historical Asia, Simon won a Fellowship of Australian Writers National Literary Award in 2007. That year he also produced a separate young adult novel: Tomodachi: The Edge of the World, the story of Daniel Marlowe, the teenage son of an English lord, shipwrecked in Shogun-era Japan and befriended by two displaced samurai youngsters.

 

 Launch of Tomodachi: The Edge of the World, at the Brisbane Writers Festival.

 

One key decision Simon made was that all the swordplay in the novel would be completely true to Japanese historical culture as opposed to Hollywood or Anime style mayhem. In fact Tomodachi utilized his knowledge of Iaido, the medieval art of duelling with the katana (samurai sword), training in which Simon had invested a total of seven years, earning a black belt awarded by masters from the All Japan Iaido Federation.

 

Simon receiving Gold Medal as member of winning team in National Australian Iaido Taikai 2007

Simon (in white) receiving a Gold Medal in the national Iaido titles held on the Gold Coast, Australia, from Fukushima-Sensei of the All Japan Iaido Federation, a very traditional network of dojos that enjoys royal patronage.

 

 

The published novel received great reviews, became a Readers Cup Finalist Book in three states of Australia, and was later purchased in class sets by numerous private and public schools in every state for study as their Australian National Curriculum Shogun Era Japan novel. Simon was even invited to schools in Asia to talk about the novel and demonstrate his skills with a sword in traditional Japanese costume. At one school, he even had the honour of teaching creative writing to a young Malaysian prince.

 

Simon with fellow Random House author and iconic film reviewer, David Stratton. Over dinner, David signed his book, ‘To Simon, the Eighth Samurai.’ In Simon’s words, ‘Such an honour!’

 

Emboldened by his success, Simon turned his attention to another area of Japanese history that had always fascinated him, and one that he’d researched first-hand in the city of Iga-Ueno and the village of Konan, Japan: the world of the shinobi, or as they are usually known in the west, the ninja. The result was Moonshadow: Eye of the Beast, featuring the action-packed adventures of a young ninja and drawing heavily on real historical shinobi spy craft and folklore. As before, Simon took care to make all the duelling sequences true to history and practical swordsmanship. The novel was short listed for an Aurealis Fantasy Award, and published in Australia by Random House and the United States by Little, Brown of New York, publishers of the highly successful Twilight saga. It was an Australian bestseller and was translated into German, Turkish and Bahasa Indonesian.

Two sequels followed, Moonshadow: The Wrath of Silver Wolf and Moonshadow: The Twilight War. Simon has more Moonshadow adventures on the drawing board. In 2008 he was invited to talk about Moonshadow –and even demonstrate swordplay – on Australia’s highest rating Children’s TV show, Saturday Disney.

 

A fun day’s TV shoot with Shae Brewster, then one of the hosts of Saturday Disney.

 

That year he also co-hosted the Aurealis Awards before an audience that included Her Excellency the Governor of Queensland and, despite an injury, won 5th place in the Iaido World Titles in Kyoto, Japan, before His Imperial Highness, Prince Munenori Kaya, of Japan’s royal family.

‘I won’t always write exclusively about Asian historical stuff,’ Simon says, ‘but for now that’s my focus as it’s a profound pleasure, and the work is accessed by such an appreciative audience. A witty Confucian saying is that if you can just find a job you love, you’ll never have to work for the rest of your life.’ In 2010, perhaps not surprisingly, Simon became an Ambassador for Asia Literacy under an Australian federal government scheme. In 2012 he stayed on the grounds of the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China, researching a novel, and in that same year, with assistance from Copyright Lending Agency, had his first taste of working with Chinese screenwriters.

In 2013 he gratefully received an Australian Government, Endeavour Executive Fellowship to live and consolidate his study of Screenwriting  for Film & TV Animation in Guilin, China for two months, and was later invited by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to attend a dinner held for her in Beijing. Simon was ‘honoured and thrilled beyond description’ by the whole experience.

 

Crane Animation Writing Team

 

Since then he has returned to China several times to work with colleagues in Guangxi Province and co-write for China’s animated shorts series ‘Gemini Fables’ which features positive social, humanitarian and environmental messages, delivered through adorable, comic human and animal characters. Simon has been told that the show, which runs on over 1000 TV channels across Asia, is now viewed by around one fifth of the human race, and he feels ‘both humbled and proud’ to be creating ideas and story lines for such an ‘epic’ audience. Giant billboards of the Gemini Fables characters can now be seen in even small Chinese towns, and episodes Simon has contributed to run on massive TV screens stretching across skyscrapers in major cities. Reflecting on the Buddhist, Confucian and Daoist principles communicated by the show, Simon says: ‘I humbly submit that there are many ways to help serve this planet. Thor uses a hammer. I do this.’ 🙂

 

SAM_8571Gemini Fables

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big fan of many aspects of Chinese culture, including Feng Shui, Traditional Medicine and Kung Fu, he is also working on uniquely engaging material for future school visits, designed to help students understand China’s history, language and traditions.

 

Finally, for this page, a glimpse at Simon’s chance to hang out (at least symbolically) with famous writers from the past…. 🙂

Simon visiting the historic Raffles Hotel, Singapore, and the legendary Writers Bar where many of the world’s most famous authors once socialized, including Robert A. Heinlein, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, W. Somerset Maugham, Gunter Grass, Noel Coward and James A. Michener.

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