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  • Kathleen Kent

    Thu, 05 Mar 2009 04:09

    Kathleen Kent is a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier. She is also a masterful storyteller, and in her first novel, The Heretic's Daughter, she paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England but also of one family's deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.

    Mark Thwaite: What first gave you the idea for writing The Heretic's Daughter?

    Kathleen Kent: I grew up hearing stories from my mother and grandmother about Martha Carrier, one of 19 men and women hanged during the Salem witch trials. There was hardly a Carrier family reunion where the exploits of Martha, and her husband Thomas, were not discussed. And even though I worked for most of my adult life in various commercial fields, I always had it in the back of my mind to write about this remarkable woman and how she courageously stood up for the truth. I made a conscious decision to write the book when I moved with my family to Texas in 2000.

    Mark Thwaite: How long did it take to write your novel, Kathleen?

    Kathleen Kent: It took about five years. While I had written poetry and short stories for myself before, I had never written a full length book, so not only was I researching the history of the witch trials during this period, I was also learning the craft of writing a novel. I went through several drafts of the manuscript before I was ready to send it to a literary agent.

    Mark Thwaite: This is your debut -- tell us a little bit about how The Heretic's Daughter came to get published.

    Kathleen Kent: I had never published even so much as an article before, so I knew nothing about how the publishing industry worked. I bought a book that listed all the major agents and publishing houses in the U.S. and, after a few rejections, was very fortunate to find my current agent, Julie Barer. It was through her enthusiasm for the manuscript, and her connections at Little Brown, that the book found its way to Reagan Arthur, my editor. She was incredibly passionate about Martha's story, and she had the full support of her publisher, Michael Pietsch, and her colleagues.

    Mark Thwaite: Martha and Sarah Carrier are wonderful characters -- how did you go about creating an authentic voice for them?

    Kathleen Kent: I had heard so many stories of them as a child that they seemed very real to me. The trial records show that Martha was the only woman who directly and forcefully challenged her judges for relying on the testimony of a group of hysterical girls. I also knew that she was probably not a particularly likeable woman as she had had quite a few conflicts with her neighbors -- these conflicts were detailed in the court depositions from 1692. Because of these court transcripts, and the Carrier family stories, I always felt as though the voices of Martha and Sarah were there; I only had to listen carefully to find them.

    Mark Thwaite: How much research into the Salem witch trials did you do for your novel?

    Kathleen Kent: Fortunately, there's a wealth of material on the Salem trials so I was able to do a lot of research on-line and in the local libraries, but I also traveled to Massachusetts and Connecticut visiting local historical sites, Carrier family homesteads and numerous cemeteries. I talked to local historians and spent quite a bit of time looking at genealogical records.

    Mark Thwaite: What was the most difficult aspect of writing your book? How did you overcome it?

    Kathleen Kent: I think the most difficult aspect of writing the book was balancing the language to authentically reflect the time period and yet making it accessible to the modern reader. I read every letter, sermon and essay from 17th century New England I could find to better understand the use of language as some commonly used words of that time have changed in meaning, or have fallen out of use. But I also wanted readers to be able to connect emotionally to the characters, to feel that the themes of the story were relevant to their own present lives.

    Mark Thwaite: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    Kathleen Kent: I wrote most of the book on my computer. However, for some of the dialogue, I wrote in longhand. It slowed down my thought process and I felt it helped me to craft a more accurate depiction of 17th century speech. As for editing, the saying that there is no such thing as writing, only re-writing is so very true for me. I'm constantly changing and re-arranging my writing all the time. I went through four major drafts of the completed manuscript before I sent it out for anyone in the publishing world to read.

    Mark Thwaite: Did you know what course The Heretic's Daughter would take when you began writing it, or was writing a voyage of discovery for you?

    Kathleen Kent: It was definitely a voyage of discovery. When I first began writing the book, it was in the voice of Martha. But then I very quickly realized that so much unfolds after her death and I wanted to relate what happened to her family after the trial and the hanging. I chose Sarah as the narrator because I felt it would give the narrative a sense of urgency; a child in danger brings immediacy and poignancy to a story. My biggest concern once I made this decision, however, was to make sure Sarah's voice was never precious or saccharine, and balance the innocence of her young years with the precociousness of her nature.

    Mark Thwaite: Do you think historical fiction has a useful role in helping us understand the past?

    Kathleen Kent: The best historical fiction is always anchored in historical fact and so therefore can be very useful in helping us understand the past. The trick, I believe, is to temper the language of the period you're writing about for the modern reader so that it's not too cumbersome; but rather gives the reader a concrete sense of the time. Human beings have not changed so very much in 2,000 years; our emotions and motivations are still very much the same. We still have the same desires and the same weaknesses -- we just don't wear the funny costumes. That being said, it was important for me to always remember that the world of Puritan New England was ruled by the rigid confines of their religious practices and their absolute belief in the supernatural, as well as their dependence on nature and their lack of medicine; this knowledge helped me have more sympathy and understanding for how something as terrible as the witch trials could have happened.

    Mark Thwaite: What do you do when you are not writing?

    Kathleen Kent: I have a twelve year old son who is active with school and sports, so my second job is as chauffeur. I take long walks whenever possible (it really helps get the creative juices flowing) and I read a lot.

    Mark Thwaite: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    Kathleen Kent: Usually, I was thinking about my family and a few close friends, all of whom love history and historical fiction. My husband and my parents were my first readers and I valued their opinions highly. During the years I was researching and writing the book I told very few people I was working on it, so it was a solitary effort. The book was, in essence, a love letter to my family and I think it was something I needed to prove to myself that I could do.

    Mark Thwaite: What are you working on now?

    Kathleen Kent: I'm working on the prequel to The Heretic's Daughter which explores the life of Thomas Carrier, husband to Martha, who, according to family legend and local Massachusetts lore, was over 7 feet tall, lived to 109 and was one of the executioners of King Charles I of England. It will follow his exploits during the English Civil War and his flight with the other regicides to the New World, as well as the story of how he met and fell in love with Martha.

    Mark Thwaite: Who is your favourite writer? What are your favourite books?

    Kathleen Kent: If I had to pick one author it would have to be Cormac McCarthy. I grew up in Texas and he captures the epic, majestic scale of the American West, its sudden violence and the peculiar and insistent isolationism of its inhabitants. My favorite books are historical fiction, like Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears and The Quincunx by Charles Palliser, but I also love non-fiction books that read like fiction, such as Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

    Mark Thwaite: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer?

    Kathleen Kent: The only two pieces of advice I would give to new writers would be to be a tyrant about the writing schedule; pick a time every day and stick to it. The other would be to learn to tolerate a blank page (or blank computer screen as the case may be) because there will be days when no matter how hard you try, nothing extraordinary comes. Be patient, though, it always comes back. Always.

    Mark Thwaite: Anything else you would like to say?

    Kathleen Kent: Only that I am so very grateful that I've had the opportunity to bring The Heretic's Daughter out into the world. I had faith that someone, somewhere, would be as passionate about the characters and the story as I had been, I just never dreamed the book would come so far so quickly.

  • Joe Dunthorne

    Tue, 03 Mar 2009 03:53

    Joe Dunthorne was born in Swansea and is an established poet. He has been shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize 2008 and longlisted for both the Desmond Elliott prize 2008 and the Dylan Thomas prize 2008. Joe writes in one of four converted Jubilee line carriages on a roof in Shoreditch, a space shared by architects, theatre companies and graffiti artists! His debut novel is Submarine.

    Mark Thwaite: What first gave you the idea for writing Submarine?

    Joe Dunthorne: It wasn't so much an idea as a voice. I started writing a story told by Oliver, and once I had his voice in my head, that started the story.

    Mark Thwaite: Submarine is your debut novel Joe, but is it the first novel you've written or are there countless half-finished manuscripts under the bed!?

    Joe Dunthorne: Before writing Submarine, I'd started lots of novels, except none of them had ever made it past the 5,000 word mark. Whenever I called something "a novel" it seemed to curse it and the story would self-destruct after one chapter. When I started writing Submarine I didn't say it was a novel, I said it was "linked short stories." I only gave up that idea after I'd written about 40,000 words.

    Mark Thwaite: Tell us a little about how you came to get published.

    Joe Dunthorne: I started writing properly when I was at the University of East Anglia. I used to send my poems to magazines and collect the rejection letters. I have a box of them. Eventually, I got a few poems in print here and there, which made me believe that I could take writing seriously. When I applied to do the Creative Writing Masters at the University of East Anglia, I went for the prose course, rather than the poetry, because I thought I needed more help with my prose. Then, on that course, I started Submarine. It took three years to write -- after the MA I was working part-time in the world's most immoral call centre. Once I'd finished it I sent it to my agent, who I'd met through UEA, and who liked it. Then we worked on editing it together and then we sent it to publishers and, lucky for me, some of them liked it.

    Mark Thwaite: Oliver Tate, our hero, has a great voice -- how difficult was it to make Oliver so convincing and authentic?

    Joe Dunthorne: That was the great thing about Oliver's voice -- once it popped in to my head it was so clear and vivid, it was a real pleasure to write. To use a cliche: he wrote himself. The difficult thing has been trying to shake him off for my new book.

    Mark Thwaite: What was the most difficult aspect of writing your book? How did you overcome it?

    Joe Dunthorne: The most difficult bit was just the discipline -- making sure I wrote something every day. I used to draw graphs for each month and fill in my expected word count against how many words I was actually writing. I used to spend as much time colouring in the graphs as I did at my desk.

    Mark Thwaite: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    Joe Dunthorne: With poems, I often write them longhand, in one go, then I edit on a computer. For prose, I write straight on to the laptop, try and get through a draft of a chapter, as quick as I can, then spend the time after that editing it in to shape.

    Mark Thwaite: Did you know how Submarine would end before you began, or was writing the novel a journey of discovery for you?

    Joe Dunthorne: I had an idea of how I wanted Oliver's personality to change, of what position I wanted him to be in, emotionally, at the end of the book, but I had no idea how he would get there in terms of the story. I discovered the plot as I went along.

    Mark Thwaite: You started out as a poet -- do you still write poetry?

    Joe Dunthorne: I love poetry! I write poetry like a guilty secret on days when I should be doing prose. I can't imagine ever stopping writing poetry -- I enjoy it too much.

    Mark Thwaite: What do you do when you are not writing Joe?

    Joe Dunthorne: I play quite a bit of football. I've started playing for the England Writers' Football Team who -- despite our limited technical ability -- have been taken on international duty. We played against the German and Israeli Writers' Teams just before Christmas and got beaten by both of them. But, more important than the overall result, is that I scored a goal. They can never take that away from me.

    Mark Thwaite: You were born in Swansea, but you now live in London. Why leave wonderful Wales!?

    Joe Dunthorne: I left wonderful Wales because I went to University in Norwich. Then, when all my friends moved to London, I just copied them. It's not Wales's fault. I miss it terribly. Gower is my favourite place. I go back whenever I can.

    Mark Thwaite: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    Joe Dunthorne: I try not to think of my writing as having one particular reader. I just try and judge whether I think it's good.

    Mark Thwaite: What are you working on now Joe?

    Joe Dunthorne: After starting and scrapping lots of different ideas, I'm finally writing a new novel -- it's about a family who set up a commune. It's about home-schooling and porridge and the end of the world. I'm enjoying writing it, which is a relief. I've also got a pamphlet of my poems coming out early next year.

    Mark Thwaite: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    Joe Dunthorne: My favourite writer at the moment is probably Don DeLillo. He's ace. And White Noise has got to be one of my favourite books. It's really funny and really clever and has the best set-piece going: sixty pages of a town being evacuated after a chemical spill.

    Mark Thwaite: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer?

    Joe Dunthorne: I don't have any exciting tips. Just read, write, read, write, read, write, edit, read etc.

    Mark Thwaite: Anything else you would like to say?

    Joe Dunthorne: I sometimes tour around the UK with a show that I co-wrote with two fellow poets, Ross Sutherland and Tim Clare. It's called Found in Translation and is about the French experimental writing group OULIPO. You can get more info about it here: pennedinthemargins.co.uk

  • Peter Murphy

    Wed, 25 Feb 2009 04:15

    Peter Murphy is a senior writer for Dublin's Hot Press, and has contributed to Rolling Stone and Music Week. He is also a regular guest on RTE's arts review show The View, and has contributed liner notes to the forthcoming remastered edition of the Anthology of American Folk Music. He lives in Dublin.

    Mark Thwaite: What first gave you the idea for writing John the Revelator?

    Peter Murphy: The title. I saw it on the back of the Anthology of American Folk Music about ten years ago. The Blind Willie Johnson recording is an amazing piece of music, really raw and guttural and holy-sounding. It became a sort of talisman.

    Mark Thwaite: How long did it take to write your novel?

    Peter Murphy: About three years. But that was after many more years of trying to learn how to write fiction. I wrote a rambling spew of a novel called The Passenger, after the Iggy song, when I was about 25, and never read it. After five years as a journalist I wrote another one called Scalder, which was a sort of rural noir-ish cross between Mississippi Burning and The Wicker Man. Nothing came of that, but a few sections survived and provided the DNA for J the R.

    Mark Thwaite: This is your debut -- tell us a little bit about how John the Revelator came to get published, Peter.

    Peter Murphy: I signed with my agent Marianne Gunn O'Connor back in 2002. She and her assistant Pat Lynch were very patient and supportive while I tried to dig down and get to the heart of the book. When Marianne read the finished draft, she suspected Angus Cargill at Faber would be the perfect editor. And he got it, from the start. He told me that as he was reading the manuscript, he was listening to Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour, and Bob played Blind Willie's version of the title song. End of story.

    Mark Thwaite:John Devine is a compelling central character -- how did you go about creating him?

    Peter Murphy: I think the embryo of his character grew inside the womb of the environment I wanted to explore in the language. The sense of place came first, then the voice began to develop. At one point my friend Jane suggested I listen to the voiceovers in Terence Malick's films Badlands and Days Of Heaven. That was helpful in terms of finding the right narrative tone.

    I like that phrase "apostolic fiction". The gospels are narrated by scribes who don't really enter the story until the final act, if at all. John is a watcher. At first his function is to bear witness to his mother's life, and then his friend Jamey's, but as the story unfolds, he becomes more of a participant, changes from passive to active. Not a big transformation in the grand scheme of things, but it's huge for him. I suppose J the R is kind of an inverted version of the mythic rite of passage tale. Instead of the archetypal call-to-adventure, a boy leaving the tribe to go out into the wilderness and prove himself, John attains manhood by staying to watch over his mother. A less glamorous version of the hero saga maybe, but a trial by fire nonetheless.

    Mark Thwaite: John the Revelator is, on one level, about escaping a small town -- is that theme close to your own heart?

    Peter Murphy: It was when I was a teenager, but the act of writing the book was more about returning to the spawning ground in my imagination. The story was written while I lived in Dublin. The location is very loosely based on the villages near where I grew up in Enniscorthy, but it's an imaginary world, a retrospective, impressionistic view of the terrain of childhood rather than literal description. The book is probably as much about the natural world as the social one. In school we learned poems by Wordsworth and Hopkins, who intuited the divine in the pastoral. I was more interested in the malign aspects of nature, treacherous bogs and dead trees and scavengers and parasites.

    Mark Thwaite: What was the most difficult aspect of writing your book?

    Peter Murphy: Figuring out which book wanted to be written. In other words, finding the story. The tale couldn't really begin until the characters started to grow and assert themselves and act of their own accord, independent of any plans I might have had for them.

    Mark Thwaite: How did you overcome it?

    Peter Murphy: I made friends with three other writers in early 2005, and over the next two years we met up regularly to go over each other's stories. It forced me to take the work out of the cellar and into the daylight. Life-changing stuff.

    Mark Thwaite: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    Peter Murphy: Spew onto the screen, shape, edit, printout, make notes, cut, rework, insert, reshape, printout again, make more notes, re-insert, re-cut, repeat, ad lib to fade. I'd love to eventually get back to longhand. A cramp in the hand sharpens the mind.

    Mark Thwaite: Did you know how John the Revelator would end when you began writing it, or was writing a voyage of discovery for you?

    Peter Murphy: I had no idea it would become the book it eventually became. Earlier drafts were more apocalyptic. The oldest section, the End of the World dream, was written soon after I'd first heard Godspeed You Black Emperor. There's probably a bit of Bowie's Five Years in there too. But with every draft, that aspect of the book receded, and eventually the apocalypse became something as commonplace as loss or bereavement, which we all have to deal with. I did suspect the story would probably end with a vision that takes place in a liminal space between earth and water, the two primary elements of the book. A lot of J the R happens in dreamtime, because that's where we spend about a third of our lives.

    Mark Thwaite: You are a senior writer for Dublin's Hot Press, and you've written for Rolling Stone and Music Week. Tell us a little more about the day job, Peter.

    Peter Murphy: I write about music, books and films, and also have the privilege of interviewing musicians, writers and filmmakers. I'm lucky to have a job that feeds into the fiction.

    Mark Thwaite: What do you do when you are not writing?

    Peter Murphy: Right now, I'm recording sections from the book and scoring them with a musician/engineer friend of mine, a hybrid of spoken word and music. I played drums in bands for about eight years after leaving school, and gave it up to be a writer. It's good to be involved in music again, but from a completely different perspective.

    Mark Thwaite: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    Peter Murphy: I usually imagine certain friends of mine peering over my shoulder as I write.

    Mark Thwaite: What are you working on now?

    Peter Murphy: Another novel. Something to do with a river.

    Mark Thwaite: Who is your favourite writer?

    Peter Murphy: Today, Flannery O'Connor.

    Mark Thwaite: What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    Peter Murphy: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb.

    Mark Thwaite: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer?

    Peter Murphy: Stephen King once wrote that even the Great Wall of China was built one brick at a time, and you can see that motherfu**er from space.

    Mark Thwaite: Anything else you would like to say?

    Peter Murphy: In the eye of eternity we're all already dead, so nothing matters, so we can write the truth without fear of reprisal.

  • Marcel Moring

    Tue, 24 Feb 2009 11:05

    Marcel Moring

    Marcel Möring is Holland's most famous and bestselling author. He was born in 1957 in Enschede, an industrial town near the Dutch-German border, In A Dark Wood is his fifth novel.

    Mark Thwaite: What first gave you the idea for writing In A Dark Wood?

    Marcel Möring: My best fiend is a photographer and he, young and unmarried, was deemed the right person to cover the night before the races for a local newspaper. I accompanied him as both his mule and his bodyguard. In the early 1980's we covered the night that I used for IADW. It was a night full of violence, booze, sex and strange meetings with unexpected people. I remember thinking, it was almost day by then and we were having a beer in a huge tent run by Moluccan friends of ours... I was thinking: this would be a great backdrop for a novel. It took me fifteen years to find out how to write a novel that would both capture the weirdness of the night before the races and the thwarted history of Assen.

    Mark Thwaite: In the late sixties your family moved to Assen, a small town in north eastern Netherlands, moderately famous for its annual TT motor races. Much of the action in In A Dark Wood is set here, in Assen -- what is so fascinating about the town?

    Marcel Möring: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But that's fascinating, too, isn't it? What the Netherlands are about, the smallness, the insignificance, its middle class-ness (if that's a word), that's all embodied on a small scale by Assen. The petty religious and political conflicts, the social structure, the fear of strangers... Go to Assen and you'll see the whole of the Netherlands.

    Mark Thwaite: What was the most difficult aspect of writing your book? How did you overcome it?

    Marcel Möring: The structure, really. I had no trouble finding the voice, or voices. That was there from the beginning. And I knew I wanted the book be polyphonic. I wanted a host of voices, different voices, accents, voices that were expressions of social, political and historical elements. And I could write those voices. But I just couldn't find a way to turn them into a polyphonic yet coherent texture without writing a 19th century novel of the kind that the Russians would have written. And then I remembered what I wanted when I started writing, when I was 17 or so. I was, in my teens, infatuated by modernism, the modernist novel: from James Joyce to Max Frisch. And that gave me the idea to write the novel as a kind of modernism 2.0, as a tribute to the wealth that the early 20th century novel has brought us.

    Mark Thwaite: History looms large in your books, Marcel. Do you do a lot of research for your novels?

    Marcel Möring: I have to. I'm a bit anal when it comes to facts, even if they're not at all critical. I've learned to read meteorological stats from the 1950s, I've read extensively about the shoe industry, about corsets and bras and... Praise the internet. Without it I would have spent months in dusty archives. And then there's all kinds of people who kindly assisted me and provided specialized information on historical subjects, the art of corsetry...

    Mark Thwaite: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    Marcel Möring: Both in longhand and on the computer. I always carry a pack of index cards for making notes and I keep a bizarre collection of notebooks, most of which are only partially filled. But I start at 9 o'clock in the morning on the computer, work till 12, do my shopping and cooking, to return at about 8. I usually keep on working till 12 at night. As the work on the book progresses I print ever bigger amounts of paper. Then the work shifts to working on the print-outs. They get filled with sentences, paragraphs, chapters sometimes. Then back to the computer, to transfer my notes, new prints, etcetera, etcetera. Once the book is finished I spend a day or two shredding the prints. IADW took a toll on the environment. I produced roughly 15.000 printed pages. By then the manuscript is a bit like a stone that washes up on the beach and has been polished over and over again by the sea.

    Mark Thwaite: Do you know how your books will end before you begin, or is writing a journey of discovery for you?

    Marcel Möring: It's strange, but I never really thought about this. But, it occurs to me, now that I always know the way a book ends. But getting there is a discovery.

    Mark Thwaite: Our hero, Marcus, takes a Dante-esque journey to find his lover -- why is Dante such an inspiration?

    Marcel Möring: Ah, Dante is, to me at least, where modern literature starts and the Divine Comedy is the kind of book that is a model for the ultimate book every writer would like to write. It's not just the language -I taught myself to read it in he original- but the structure also, his humour, his compassion, his complete mastery of form, shape, narrative, poetry... The Divine Comedy privided me with a road map, structure and an idea of hell that differs from Dante's, but nevertheless.

    Mark Thwaite: I'm a big, big fan of Dante, but a lot of readers might think he is unapproachable -- please convince them that he isn't!

    Marcel Möring: Oh, Dante's a very good read! The Divine Comedy is a buddy movie, an adventure story, social and political history. It's many books in one, really. I think people should approach The Divine Comedy lightheartedly. Skip the commentary, forget that this is a Great and Very Important Book and start reading. You'll find that it's really a wonderful immersive book.

    Mark Thwaite: Do you read the critics? Have you been pleased with their responses to your books? Have you learned anything from them?

    Marcel Möring: Well, I don't read the papers, so I don't get to see the reviews. I've been blessed in the past, when it comes to good reviews, but I don't care, really. I'm doing what I think I must do and it don't really matter what the critics think if you're that focused on your work.

    Mark Thwaite: What do you do when you are not writing?

    Marcel Möring: I read a lot, Barbara, my wife, and I go to museums, the ballet, concerts. But most of the time I'm at home with my wife, reading, watching dvd's, cooking...

    Mark Thwaite: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    Marcel Möring: No, I don't write for an ideal reader, but Barbara reads everything I write and tells me what she thinks, so I guess she's my most important reader.

    Mark Thwaite: What are you working on now Marcel?

    Marcel Möring: Well, IADW is part one of a trilogy and I'm working on the next two parts now. Very different books, both in style and form.

    Mark Thwaite: Aside from Dante, who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    Marcel Möring: I like, no: love, Joyce and Beckett. I really, really like Jeanette Winterson's work. Max Frisch is favourite and Patrick Modiano. And Saul Bellow and Philip Roth are great craftsmen whom I really admire. And I would like to be as smart and witty and sharp as Will Self.

    Mark Thwaite: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    Marcel Möring: Write. Write every day. It takes a 100,000 words to make a writer, in the words of Norman Mailer. He was right. A sportsman trains every day, so should you, as a writer. And read. Read and imitate what you have read. Aristotle said that all arts starts with imitation. And he was right too.

    Mark Thwaite: Anything else you would like to say?

    Marcel Möring: I'll say it in my next book.

  • Richard Watson

    Wed, 14 Jan 2009 05:42

    Richard Watson is a futurist writer and speaker who advises organisations on the future, focusing particularly on future trends and scenario planning. His clients have included, amongst others, Virgin, Toyota, McDonald's, Tesco, News Limited, Westfield, Unilever, Coca-Cola, the Dept of Education and St George Bank. Richard is the author and publisher of What's Next, Chief Futurist at the Future Exploration Network, a member of Futures House and a regular columnist for a number of magazines. He is the author of the Future Files.

    Mark Thwaite: What first gave you the idea for writing Future Files?

    Richard Watson: It wasn't actually my idea. I do a hard copy trend "review" each January and sent one to someone that (unknown to me) lived with a commissioning editor. I therefore got an email out of the blue asking if I"d like to write a book about some of the same themes...

    MT: Can you briefly outline to us the five trends that you think will shape the next 50 years?

    RW: Kinda in the book really but briefly (and I've put these in order for you for the very first time): 1. Global connectivity 2. GRIN tech (genetics, robotics, internet and nanotechnology) 3.Environment 4.Power shift Eastwards 5. Ageing

    MT: What makes you think it is these trends in particular that are so important?

    RW: Picking 5 is really difficult. To be honest it's a mixture of gut feel plus the amount of reporting around these overall themes (I"m tracking this all the time).

    MT: Can't we really boil all this down to technology, technology, technology!?

    RW: The future is usually thought of purely in terms of technology and I do think that this is a big mistake. It is hugely important although the big question is what will the human reaction and social consequences to technology be?

    MT: Did you see the credit crunch coming!? What lies beyond it?

    RW: Yes. It's in the money chapter. The cause is debt plus the global connectivity of risk (plus a pinch of human emotion).

    MT: How did you become a futurologist Richard?

    RW: Like most people – by accident! I've always been interested in the future and the more I started thinking about it the more people kept asking me to think about it. The term itself still makes me feel slightly uncomfortable and it is not a job title I'd choose for myself but it does broadly describe what I do.

    MT: How do you "research" the future?

    RW: I read a lot. I walk around a lot and I talk to people. It isn't rocket science. Trick is breadth.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    RW: Directly onto a computer, although interestingly I couldn't do it that way 15-20 years ago. Back then I would write in pencil on paper and then type it up. Maybe this is a god example of how our behaviour can change?

    MT: Do you read the critics? Have you been pleased with the responses to your book? Have you learned anything from them?

    RW: The thing that annoys me most is people that haven't read it having a strong opinion about it! Hardly a surprise though. I also find it funny how much attention the maps/picture got versus the actual text. Just proves people have no time and that we are shifting to a visual culture I guess.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing/future-gazing?

    RW: Muck around in my garage... I like the word "tinker".

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    RW: Kind of. Someone getting on a long flight. The interesting thing, which I didn't expect, is that the book seems to be a big hit with women aged 40+.

    MT: What are you working on now Richard?

    RW: Another book and a secret web project!

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    RW: So many! I'm currently re-reading The Black Swan and I just finished How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson, which I thought was fantastic.

    My resolution for 2009 is to read old books. My favourite book is probably Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin and also anything by Charles Handy.

    For more – look here at my website.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring futurologist!?

    RW: Just do it! A niche helps (eg become a food or music futurist) but it's really the cross-fertilisation between fields that you need.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    RW: Just that we have become too distracted by the past and the future and we should pay more attention to the present.

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