Please welcome Tom Chatfield to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Gomorrah Gambit is published on July 23, 2019 by Mulholland Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Tom: I've been writing fiction pretty much since I was old enough to write; when I was about nine or ten years old, I remember writing thinly fictionalised portraits of family life and reading them out loud to my classmates at school, in a style vaguely intended to be comic. I've basically wanted to be a writer since I could string words together.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Tom: Hybrid, I guess. I know the themes and the broad outline of what I want to write. But then I fly firmly by the seat of my pants, writing and rewriting intensively in an effort to see what my characters want to do, and where they are coming from. Often, they end up doing something much more interesting than anything I could plan in advance.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about fiction writing?
Tom: I've written half a dozen books of non-fiction, and I love/hate the fact that fiction isn't propped up by the real world in the same way as non-fiction: the story you're creating has to stand up (or flop) on its own terms. Also, with thrillers in particular, if your reader isn't thrilled, you've basically failed - it doesn't matter how clever you think you are.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Tom: I'm a huge geek around speculative fiction: genre-bending science fiction, fantasy and thrillers that cross over into that world of technology and wild ideas. I love books that transport you, that drag you along while offering you new ways of seeing. Writers like Asmiov and Ursula Le Guin loomed large in my childhood along with, more recently, Naomi Alderman, Nnedi Okorafor, N. K. Jemisin, Ben Aaronovitch, China Miéville, Charles Stross, and many others working somewhere between fantasy and horror and science fiction. There's something amazing about transporting people into other possible worlds; showing them reality slantwise.
TQ: Describe The Gomorrah Gambit using only 5 words.
Tom: Edward Snowden meets Jason Bourne.
TQ: Tell us something about The Gomorrah Gambit that is not found in the book description.
Tom: Pretty much every single hack and location in the book is either real, or a lightly remixed version of reality. And I have personally owned all the classic computers I mention (and used to practice whistling tones at my friend's dialup modem in the early 1990s)
TQ: In addition to your background in digital technology what inspired you to write The Gomorrah Gambit?
Tom: I'm fascinated by technology, which is why I've written so many books of non-fiction exploring digital culture - but I also love the way that fiction can bring possibilities to life through narrative that you can't handle any other way. The opportunity to reach a new audience, and take them on a journey into the underside of global technology, was irresistible.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for The Gomorrah Gambit.
Tom: It was done in-house at Hodder, and it's a very stark depiction of a glistening network in the shape of sharks shining against a black background. I love it. It's an abstract realisation of the themes of the book: the hidden depths, the lurking predators, the fine web of light woven across darkness.
TQ: In The Gomorrah Gambit who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Tom: My lead character has a best friend, Ad, who's an amalgam of several of my friends growing up - and their relationship is directly imported from my own experiences of being a geek mucking around online in the 1990s, playing games, exploring the internet, tasting the excitement of a future that few people seemed to know about. That relationship flowed onto the page, and formed the foundation of the book. Perhaps the hardest character was the female lead, Munira. She's from a very different place and mindset to my protagonists, and she's playing her own double games. She's smart, enigmatic; but I didn't want her to be dull or one-dimensional. It took her a long time to come to life.
TQ: Does The Gomorrah Gambit touch on any social issues?
Tom: I'm deeply interested in disinformation, fake news, democracy, and the impact on society of manipulation in these areas; indeed, I also write textbooks about the kind of critical thinking and research skills needed to see beyond these things. This is a huge area of interest and anxiety for me, and I hope I captured some of its possible impacts on society and politics, without at any point sounding like a textbook...
TQ: Which question about The Gomorrah Gambit do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Tom: Did someone really hack a casino via the sensors in a smart fish tank? Yes, they did. And others have also hacked everything from children's toys and baby monitors to smart fridges, plug sockets and pacemakers. Which is why you really ought to be worrying more about the Internet of Things.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Gomorrah Gambit.
"After years of thinking he was the smartest person in the room, it occurs to Azi that he has spent most of his life in rooms containing just one person."
"Azi has a rule of thumb... If someone describes an internet-connected fridge as anything other than a futile blot on the technological landscape, they’re talking out of their arse."
TQ: What's next?
Tom: I'm writing a sequel that, I hope, takes the characters and events of The Gomorrah Gambit in an interesting and unexpected direction. And, for variety, I have a new textbook coming out in November: a short guide to critical thinking in the 21st century that should be useful for anyone worried about fake news, disinformation and the dismal state of truth online.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Tom: It was my great pleasure. Thanks for having me.
The Gomorrah Gambit
Mulholland Books, July 23, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 304 Pages
With dark technology hollowing out global privacy, an elite hacker enters the belly of the beast in this “gripping, intelligent, and stylist” international conspiracy thriller (Sophie Hannah, author of Closed Casket).
Azi Bello is an amiable outsider with a genius for hacking. Having spent the better part of his life holed up in a shed in his backyard, Azi has become increasingly enmeshed in the dark side of the internet. With the divide between online and offline worlds vanishing, so too is the line between those transforming civilization through technology and those trying to bring it to its knees. Dark networks rule. Someone with the right connections can access to anything imaginable, and power is theirs for the taking-although even they can’t know what kind of bargain they’ve struck.
Tipped off by a secretive young woman named Munira, Azi sets out to unravel the mysterious online marketplace known as Gomorrah, sacrificing his carefully constructed privacy in the process. Munira’s life is spiraling out of control: her cousins recruited to work for a terrorist state that’s hunting them both, her destiny in Azi’s hands. Her desperation drags Azi into the field where, working together, the two uncover an unimaginable conspiracy.
As pressure mounts, Azi has no choice but to take on the ultimate infiltration. In an age when identities can be switched at will and nobody is who they seem, how far will he go to end the nightmare?
Dr Tom Chatfield (@TomChatfield) is a British writer, broadcaster and tech philosopher. He's the author of seven previous books exploring digital culture—most recently Live This Book! (Penguin) and Critical Thinking (SAGE Publishing), researched as a Visiting Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute—published in over two dozen languages. His debut novel, The Gomorrah Gambit (Mulholland), is a darkly satirical thriller set in the world of the dark net. When not working, he plays jazz piano and drinks too much coffee.