Crime fiction author and software developer talks to me about his work and the influences that drive him.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards darker fiction?
You know about the simulation argument? It’s the idea that, based on an infinite amount of outcomes, we most probably all live in a computer simulation. Well, I think of writing as a simulation inside this simulation. As authors, we simulate alternate realities and characters to prepare our readers for alternate outcomes. Writing “darker fiction” – as you call it – is doing this very knowingly, as if reaching out to the master simulation and trying to mess up its algorithms. It’s the only conceivable freedom.
What is your career background and how did you become a professional writer?
I mostly manage a software development firm. Software development and novel writing share many characteristics. You pick a language, choose frameworks/styles and set down requirements of what needs to be done. In novels it’s “the feel” of the work, what it wants to say, what it leaves behind. Then you write to assemble the plot and go sub-plot by sub-plot, feature-by-feature to make the thing work. Because it has to work. And performance counts in a novel, the same with software, you can never “consume” unnecessary resources, the readers are there to be transported in different worlds, not to play with widgets or investigate your moods. No one cares about your moods except for Spotify.
Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?
I’m a deep conformist; I wear different clothes every day, but they’re of the same brand, same colors and designs. I love doing the same things early in the morning, when I write. Driving to work at exactly the same time. Getting coffee at the same time. We are all Melvin Udalls (As Good as It Gets) in this business, we esteem ritual and sameness and are basically extremely boring people. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. You can never allow drama to spill from the page on to your life and especially vice-versa.
What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?
I keep a safe five-year distance from publication to reading and I expect that your smart readers will be doing the same and ignore The Machine Murders until 2026. A book needs to grow organically, you cannot boost it like a Facebook post. So looking at the past five to ten years, I love what Liu Cixin has done with his The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. The scope is tremendous. I don’t think any other writer can expand the scope, like him. A daring guy. Beyond literature, I’ve been blown away by Nick Bostrom and his Superintelligence. Couldn’t you tell I’m a Bostrom fan?
If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
Well, I’d love to work with Bostrom for the third novel of The Machine Murders. He has thought and deeply understands our challenges with artificial intelligence and where we should focus our attention in dealing with the control problem. Sometime in the future, it’s going to be a writer, a philosopher and a developer in front of an AGI (artificial general intelligence) agent, trying to save us from turning into paper clips. The politicians and the generals will be useless. We may begin simulating options on this from now.
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Currently, I’m working on The Machine Murders: Desert Balloons, which will be the second book in the Manos Manu series. It feels better than the first.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?
As I said, I rarely follow the publishing cycle because I think it’s going to be the long tail bringing up marvels like a gold mining pan, that will define my choices. But sometimes I get carried away. And I’m never disappointed by authors like Nassim Taleb, Yuval Harari, Ian McEwan and Kai-Fu Lee – I have pre-ordered his latest, AI 2041 and can’t wait to read it. Ambition is not in shortage in the writer species and these people always deliver on their ambition.
Anything you’d like to add?
I want to thank you Hannah for this interview. Your hands move steadily with the mining pan and the role of great blogs such as the Dorset Book Detective is more important than ever.
Huge thanks to C.J. for answering my questions and writing amazing books: without artists like you we’d have never gotten through the past few months!