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  • Nelson DeMille

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Nelson DeMille is the author of: By the Rivers of Babylon, Cathedral, The Talbot Odyssey, Word of HonorThe Charm School, The Gold Coast, The General's Daughter, Spencerville, Plum Island, The Lion's Game, Up Country and Night Fall. He also co-authored Mayday with Thomas Block and has contributed short stories, book reviews, and articles to magazines and newspapers.

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Wild Fire?

    Nelson DeMille: Wild Fire is a work of fiction based on a rumour, repeated on the internet, about a government plan very much like the one I call Wild Fire. The Anti-Terrorist Task Force is based primarily on the actual Joint Terrorist Task Force (with some literary license). Various acronyms in the book such as ELF, NEST and Kneecap are factual, and accurate to the best of my knowledge. Hopefully, the story I tell will play out only in the pages of the book...

    MT: How long did it take you to write it? Is that typical for you Nelson?

    ND: From concept, to outline, to finished product, it took about 18-24 months. This includes the research I did, and two to four drafts, plus final editing and proofreading of the galley (proof copy). This is typical for my books as I work to that time frame for all of them.

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

    ND: I do a lot of research for all of my books. There are three ways to do research: reading; interviewing people; going on location. Usually, I begin by reading about a subject until I have enough knowledge to interview people who are in that profession or occupation that I'm writing about - policemen, FBI agents, scientists, forensic people, and so on. Then I go to the locations where my novels are set, such as Moscow (The Charm School), St. Patrick's Cathedral (Cathedral), Ohio (Spencerville), and so forth. I think you feel much better as a writer to say, 'I stood in the middle of Red Square' when you've written about it. Some day, I'd like to set a novel in Tahiti!

    To research Wild Fire I visited the Adirondacks and stayed at The Point, a pricey resort on Saranac Lake where John Corey stays in the book. I had already been in the area many times as a kid, on vacations. This time around we looked for bears. I wanted to encounter one. They're all over the place, but you never run into one when you want to. Corey makes much of looking for bears in Wild Fire.

    MTWild Fire is your twelth book -- does it get easier or harder to keep them coming?

    ND: Each of my books is quite different. They are not interchangeable. That's why I end up doing a lot of research for each one. I enjoy every one of the books I write so I wouldn't say they get easier or harder.

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

    ND: First I write longhand on legal pads, using #1 (very soft tip) pencils. Then I type up the chapter onto the computer, and print it out for reading and editing. Once I've decided on the edits I alter the text on the computer and the process continues for each chapter, over and over as needed, until the novel is finished.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    ND: I have a young child so I'm enjoying fatherhood for the third time in the new home we built for ourselves. I separate my three worlds, the world of the house, the writing studio and the business office.

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

    ND: No I have a wide variety of readers. I often get feedback from readers through my website nelsondemille.net so I get to hear from the people who enjoy my books. My books are for everyone who like dramatic thrillers.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    ND: I'm currently working on my next novel, which is a sequel to The Gold Coast and is keeping me busy for now. I've also been working with producers and screenwriters on a television series featuring the returning protagonist Paul Brenner, who first appeared in The General's Daughter and returned in Up Country.

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

    ND: I tend to read dead authors, so if I like their books, I don't feel tempted or obligated to write to them. Which dead authors? Okay, mostly dead British authors - Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Eric Ambler, George Orwell, and others too numerous to mention. For dead Americans, I like Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Cheever. I also like Updike and Tom Wolfe, but they're not dead, as of this writing. I wrote to Tom Wolfe once, after he published The Bonfire of the Vanities, and he never wrote back. I wouldn't expect Hemingway or Steinbeck to write back - they're dead. But Tom Wolfe owes me a letter.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer?

    ND: Pick the subject which fascinates you most, do as much research as you can into that area - the history, people, location. Be prepared to spent a lot of time writing and rewriting.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    ND: If you enjoy reading Wild Fire, John Corey also appears in Plum Island, The Lion's Game and Night Fall. My best wishes for a happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year.

  • Michael Blastland

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Michael Blastland was born in Glasgow. A journalist, he started on weekly newspapers before moving to the BBC where he makes current affairs programmes for Radio 4. He lives in Hertfordshire, often with his daughter Cait, less often and less quietly with his son Joe. His book, Joe, is a touching memoir about life with his mentally disabled son.

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea to write a book about your experiences with your son Joe?

    Michael Blastland: A whole bunch of motives: the most proximate to starting to write was when Joe escaped in a DIY store and was found cheerfully sitting on a display toilet with his trousers around his ankles, Saturday shoppers ambling around, not a care in the world or a jot of self-consciousness. "Interesting" I thought, among other less printable things. But it fed the resolution to find out as much as I could about the theoretical understanding of how children like Joe see the social world. I'd also wanted, for some time, to ground that thinking in a real life, namely Joe's, to try to bring it to life. And I hoped it might be some use to people who had stared for as long as I had at a child who seemed such an enigma. It had also struck me that other personal books about autism, good as they are (and some are superb), invited questions they didn't pursue about what it told the rest of us, which I thought might be a way of gaining wider attention for autism.

    MT: Was it a difficult process writing about such a personal matter so candidly?

    MB: It was hard to write, but not because it was personal. The fascination of Joe has been one of the greatest consolations of life. And once in that state of mind, there seemed little point except in telling it how it was. Frankness has a funny way of becoming a writing habit.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    MB: About six months to write and about eight years to think about.

    MT: Do you think those who aren't mentally unwell will be able to understand something called normality better if we can understand the mentally ill?

    MB: I think I do. I'm not sure that we properly understand ourselves without others who are different, and with whom we can compare. For example, I don't think we can properly appreciate the sophistication of our social understanding, or perceptions of others, until we see what goes wrong in those who are not so instinctively socially astute. Then we begin, as researchers into autism have begun, to see our capacity for decoding other people's consciousness for the breathtaking skill that it is. It is analogous, I think, to discovering one day that there were such things as mirrors. Imagine the shock of recognition and I think we get close to the scope of the realisation possible from greater self awareness of our social and perceptual faculties, all brought about by thinking of what autism can or can't usually do. What we can also understand better is which are the differences that truly matter. One or two people thought that by raising questions about Joe's nature I was doubting his humanity. I hope I was affirming it, and doing so by placing him squarely amongst the rest of us.

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

    MB: Straight into a computer, with appalling posture in an old chair at an old desk, and then lots of revision until the restlesness fades or exhaustion wins.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    MB: I lke pointless kinds of exercise: running nowhere in particular, skating around in circles. Also time with friends and children, especially wandering around the local countryside or staring at the sea. And I like weather. Hard to explain, that one. I just like weather, every sort, and being in it. There's a gale at the moment, thrashing through the trees, rattling the windows, there's Monteverdi playing too loud, and it's thrilling.

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

    MB: I'm not sure. It was always an ambition to try to reach a wider audience than those with a personal interest alone, using the idea that we can all understand ourselves better through someone like Joe; but I also had in mind the reader who came to the book after a recent diagnosis for their child or a long period of increasing desperation. Most of all, though, I think I had Joe himself in mind, wondering what he would say about the book, were he able.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    MB: A book about the hailstrom of numbers that assail us, in the news, in politics, in life, and how to see through them, not with the need of any sophisticated maths, statistics or economics, but with images, ideas, and tricks from everyday experience. I hope it will be called something ike The White Rainbow, one of the chapter headings, which might convey the idea that it's not numbers as we usually approach them. It's co-written with Andrew Dilnot and linked to the Radio 4 series we make together called More or Less. It'll be out from Profile in August 2007.

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

    MB: That's hard. One favourite? Thats too hard. An eccentric selection, fiction and non-fiction would have to include Henry James, Swift, Johnson, the Gawain poet, William Empson, John Maynard Keynes, Primo Levi, and I still find myself opening a huge edition of Shakespeare I remember blowing what seemed like half a student grant on; more recent, Ian McEwan, Jenni Diski, Mary Midgley, Thomas Nagel, Saul Bellow. I think there's an intermittent touch of genius in Zadie Smith, and I've just been introduced by a wonderful translation of Stephen Mitchell's to Gilgamesh.

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

    MB: Am I not aspiring any more, then? I'll take any tips you've got. So maybe that's the adivce: keep looking and listening. And get a good chair.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    MB: Thanks for asking.

  • Ryan Knighton

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Ryan Knighton is the author of Cockeyed: A memoir. His comic essays and journalism have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Salon.com, The Globe and Mail, The Daily Telegraph Magazine and many others. Ryan is also the subject of the documentary film As Slow As Possible, to be released in 2007. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.

    Mark Thwaite: What made you want to write a memoir about your blindness?

    Ryan Knighton: Well, it was sort of by accident, really. Originally I wanted to write a book of personal essays about anything and everything that blindness has shown me. Not a book about, you know, how awful the blinkered life is, or how well I can weep lyrically into my sleeve about my circumstances (I'll save those dippy books for other people to write), but I wanted a book that would use blindness as a perspective for talking about other, more interesting things, such as how language changes, and family, and masculinity. Any number of things really. Then, when I strung a few of these personal essays together, I realized I suddenly had recurring characters in my stories, people I've known, and a series of situations I went through, and that they needed connective tissue. That's how the memoir crept to the foreground, colonized my imagination, and became more interesting to write about than just the ideas. You can still spy a few vestigial tails from the original essays - little oases here and there of oddball musings, nothing more than armchair philosophy in my estimation -- but I still like those moments. They add another texture to the book, some other element of reprieve from all the comedy and tragedy, not that those are so easily distinguished from one another, I think.

    MT: Was it painful to relive the memories of your loss of sight?

    RK: No. writing this book a few years ago would have hurt, perhaps, because I was still busy trying to outrun my blindness and act like a sighted person, and all that stupidity. But, in fact, I had a helluva good time writing the book. I laughed a lot and writing, even the tragic kind, is always an easier gig than digging ditches or pumping petrol. Think about it this way, maybe: to my mind, comedy and tragedy are often born in the same place, at the same time. Slapstick is painful and funny all at once, and always has been. Couldn't have felt good to be Curly when Larry or Moe poked him in the eye. In the case of my story, whatever stung at first, and hurt for a long time and caused me so much discomfort and embarrassment, well, all that feeling was part of the immediacy of what was going on. In looking back, however, tragedy and pain diminish, and the absurdity emerges from a distance. The dark gives away to the light, the sting morphs into a tickle. What's more, you need both darkness and light when composing any picture. So, no, writing about what happened to me didn't hurt at all. Living it did, indeed, but not reliving it.

    MT: How long did it take you to write Cockeyed?

    RK: The first draft took eight months and was ridiculously long. I wrote every morning for maybe four or five hours, and always at the same spot at the kitchen table. I even developed a superstition. Because the book was coming so easily at first, I was skittish that if I moved spots, then the book wouldn't know where to find me anymore. The inertia was strong, too. I'd write every day, maybe a thousand loose words, and I always knew what I was going to write tomorrow. Never had a better job. And I have to confess, I loved being edited. Everybody should be lucky enough to have an editor that they trust. The best analogy I can give is a good editing feels like you've been readying yourself to show the world your school photo from 1984 - Flock of Seagulls hair and all -- only to have an editor come along and offer to doctor the photo, all of it. For the better, of course. An editor is always right, and makes a writer look the way we intended but hadn't the style to pull off.

    MT: Are you angry/bitter about your blindness?

    RK: Hoo boy. Haven't got time. Bitterness and embarrassment are the most common side-effects of blindness, and they're far more crippling. Sure, I felt both at some points - hell, I'm not superhuman, nor a saint - but it's so bloody boring, too, feeling all balled up inside and white-knuckling against the fates every waking moment. Rather, today, I consider myself a fortunate alien. That is, as a writer I've got an embarrassment of riches for material, and not just about blindness. Simply put, I am the naive observer, the newborn, always puzzled by the fuss about whatever is going on in this very, very visual culture. It's a natural perspective for satire. And to be a provocateur. I mean, let's be honest: I walk around with a white stick. I like to poke people with it and see what they do. Writing is no different, if I'm doing my job.

    MT: How do you write? With a brail machine of some kind or directly onto a computer? Straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    RK: I use a voice synthesizer in my computer and touch-type. As I type it says nothing, but when I move the cursor back to any line, the machine reads me that line. So, I type a lot, then go back and listen, and fix accordingly. I can hear typos and whatnot, as well. The more interesting thing about the machine, though, is how much it has shaped my prose style. That is, you can imagine what it's like suffering a bland computer voice in your ear all day. Like having an ice pick slowly press into your skull. Yeesh. To fight it, then, I write in a very casual voice, and use as much slang and colourful language that a good sentence will allow me to comfortably shove down its throat. What I'm doing when I'm writing is not only spinning a yarn, but trying to make my computer sound like a human being, or at least an approximation of one who's company I don't mind sharing. A lot of readers have emailed me and said how much they liked the book just for the sentence style. That's been a really swell thing to hear. I owe it to a poorly intoned machine.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    RK: Mostly I loaf on my couch and play my guitar badly. I'm a big rockabilly nut -- all that sort of roots country and blues stuff -- which I listen to while I'm writing or noodling on email. I also hang around my gym and push heavy objects around most afternoons. Good anger management if I've bumped into a few too many poles recently. Otherwise, well, I like to cook and I like making dinner for my gal since she's a busy corporate exec and needs to keep her strength up.

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

    RK: It might sound selfish or silly, but I imagined myself as the reader. I figure I can't be so different from everybody else, so if I'm engaged in the story I'm telling, or prompted to laugh aloud or blush at certain moments in the writing, well, I figure I can't be the only one in the world who will, and what other measure do I have for how well a chapter is going? So I think of my body and its gut reaction as my first reader.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    RK: I'm just starting to chip at a book about becoming a new father. This answer is shortish because I don't like to write about what I'm writing about. One will poach the pleasure from the other. Suffice to say I've got an arsenal of oddball stories and editorial takes on the wiggy modern world of parenting, and the private world of not being able to see my daughter, or what I'm doing. Or what we're all doing.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer?

    RK: Changes all the time. Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London was a very important book for me. I mean, here's a guy who wrote forty pages about being a dishwasher and showed us all how shapely writing can make anything a compelling read. Even the kitchen sink has a good story in it. The list grows from there: the American blind punk satirist Jim Knipfel is a good chum and one of my favourite prose workers. Will Self comes to mind, too. I adore the 1950's Canadian novelist Ethel Wilson, but I have to say I don't read much fiction these days, mostly memoir and other non-fiction. Dunno why. My teeth just sink into those genres better, I guess.

    RK: What is/are your favourite book(s)? How accessible are (especially your favourite) Braille books? How do you find audio books?

    MT: I don't read Braille. Never will, I suspect. The computer technology and MP3 files of books on the web are just so easily accessed and used that Braille's essential role as a blind technology has changed. I like audiobooks fine, but somebody has to stop the actors from performing the damned things as one man or one woman shows. They steal the pleasure of making up voices in our own heads for characters and, let's be honest, a novel is not a dramatic monologue and simply doesn't work that way, nor was it intended to work that way. As well, while I'm grousing, would somebody please smack the person who decided books are too long, the same person who seems to be of the opinion that audiobook readers share the attention span of goldfish? Abridged books are a venial sin, if you're into that sort of judgment. I tell you, when I'm Emperor, somebody is going to have something to answer for.

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

    RK: Writing is a verb first, a noun second. If you're interested in being a writer, don't' bother. Keep posing at bohemian bars in black and having long discussions with your chums about the virtues of deconstruction. Most of that will chew up the time needed to actually write a book. In my experience, writing is something you do, and that's the whole story. No mystery. A writer is somebody who writes. A lot. That last phrase is the difference. But if a young writer is interested in "being a writer" more than writing itself, well, that's a bad case of bassakwardness.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    RK: Who is Richard and Judy!?

  • Tom Harper

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Tom Harper (real name Edwin Thomas) won the CWA debut award in 2001 for The Blighted Cliffs. He also wrote The Mosaic of Shadows and Knights of the Cross, published by Random House. He lives in York.

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for The Siege of Heaven?

    Tom Harper: The events of Siege of Heaven are what I was heading for all along, and they actually drove the whole series. The capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade is the climax of one of the most extraordinary campaigns in history, a true triumph against the odds. But it’s also a bloody cataclysm, as the crusaders massacre every man, woman and child in the city – leaving a legacy of hatred that persists to this day. The combination of such dramatic material and so much modern relevance gave me plenty to work with.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    TH: It took about 18 months, which is twice as long as it usually takes me to do a book. Part of the reason for that was simply length – the first draft was literally twice as long as the other novels, though it’s been pared back a bit in the final edit. But a big part of the delay was that it’s a very confused piece of history to make sense of and incorporate into a well-paced story. After the siege of Antioch (the end of Knights of the Cross), the crusaders had routed their enemies and were only a couple of weeks away from Jerusalem. They could have wrapped up the whole business in a month or two. Instead, they sat around bickering, going nowhere, for the best part of a year. Finding a way to understand why they did that, and then tell that story in a way that’s clear and dramatically satisfying, was the major challenge for this book.

    MT: How much research do you do for Siege?

    TH: Several months’ worth – on top of all the research I’d already done for the previous two books. I had this fond idea that each successive novel would involve less research than its predecessor, but in fact the opposite’s true. It’s definitely a case of the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. Then there’s the scale of the novel: whereas Mosaic of Shadows all took place in Constantinople, and Knights of the Cross entirely at Antioch, Siege goes from Turkey to Egypt, then back via modern Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Walking the ground is very important to me, so a big part of the research for this book was visiting Jerusalem and travelling through Israel.

    MT: Was writing Siege of Heaven a very different experience to writing your naval fiction?

    TH: It’s very different in a number of ways. The early nineteenth century that I write about is a period of history that’s very close to us: there are buildings and furniture from that period that are still in use, and there’s an almost infinite supply of written and physical records of that society. In comparison, the 11th century seems an awfully long way away. Europe was just emerging from the dark ages, so the surviving material is very thin on the ground. To give one example: if you want to see a sword used in the later middle ages, you can find any number of them in castles and museums, as shiny and sharp as the day they left the forge. If you want to see a sword from the era of the crusades, you have to travel a long way to see a fragile piece of rusted iron that’s been dragged out of a river. It requires you to use much more historical imagination to fill in the pieces – which often means looking beyond the obvious.

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

    TH: Most of the time I write straight onto a computer, though sometimes if I’m stuck I find it helpful to go out to a local café with pen and paper and do it the old-fashioned way. Getting the words out is hard enough that I hate having to throw them away, so I plan the novel as completely as possible before I start writing, so as to minimise the rewriting afterwards. That said, a novel’s too huge to keep the whole thing in your brain (at least my brain), so there’s inevitably a good bit of editing to be done afterwards. I’m very lucky with Siege to have a terrific editor who can really cut through what I’ve written to see where things need to be clarified or tightened.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    TH: Week to week, I try and balance the long days in the house on my own by spending as many evenings as possible out of the house with friends. Being based in York is great for getting out on weekends to do some walking in the dales or on the moors, and I’m lucky to have the flexibility to travel further afield too.

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

    TH: Like most writers, I set out to write the sort of thing that I would want to read, so I guess my ideal reader is actually me. I write what I like, and hope that it’ll appeal to other people as well. Obviously there’s a danger of self-indulgence there: I think the key is to focus on what you would want to read, not just what you want to write. The only other imaginary reader I worry about is an hypothetical historian who’s the world’s biggest expert on the subject and a pedant to boot, who’s always peering over my shoulder pulling me up on any factual mistakes.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    TH: I’m taking a short break from the middle ages to leap forward to the 20th century, with an Indiana Jones-esque archaeological adventure. It’s set in the post-war Mediterranean, and involves an assortment of spies, adventurers, archaeologists and ex-Nazis chasing around after lost treasures of antiquity. After all the effort of the last book, I wanted to do something different that would be pure fun; hopefully this’ll fit the bill.

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

    TH: I’m in awe of Neal Stephenson. To have written a novel that became a self-fulfilling prophecy of the internet (Snow Crash) would be enough of an achievement for most writers; to then jump into historical fiction and write such complex, intelligent, dazzlingly vast novels (e.g. Cryptonomicon) is nothing short of extraordinary. He’s totally irreverent to history, and yet ends up with something that feels more authentic than any number of self-consciously ‘historically accurate’ novels. I love John Le Carre and Donna Tartt, while historically I’ve been heavily influenced by George MacDonald Fraser and Bernard Cornwell.

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

    TH: Always remember the reader. This doesn’t mean cynically chasing audiences – you’ve got to tell the story you want to tell – but you should always focus on telling it in a way that grips the reader. Novels require more engagement from the audience than just about any other form of art or entertainment; if you don’t give your readers a good reason to keep going, they’ll stop.

    Aspiring writers with a criminal bent (in their fiction rather than their personal habits) should check out the CWA’s Debut Dagger competition, which I’ve organised for the last two years. It asks unpublished writers to send in the first chapter and synopsis of a potential crime novel, and it’s launched the careers of over a dozen authors, including me (before I organised it).

  • David Edgerton

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Born in Montevideo in 1959, David Edgerton is one of Britain’s leading historians, and has challenged conventional analyses of technology for 20 years. Currently the Hans Rausing Professor at Imperial College London, he writes for the broadsheet press and is a regular on television and radio. He lives in London. David's most recent book is Shock of the Old.

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Shock of the Old?

    DE: For years I felt that lots of assumptions underlying our thinking about technology and history weren't quite right. These thoughts developed over the years, mostly in lectures, but I got a chance to write them up for the great French historical journal the Annales. The reaction to that paper convinced me that I was on to something. A second important influence was traveling to India, Malaysia, Argentina and Uruguay in the mid-1990s. These visits made obvious the need for a global technology of technologies in use, as well as providing many examples of long-lived machines. What was in a sense obvious about technology in these countries applied just as much to Britain or the USA, but was not so visible there. But none of these ideas would have turned into a book without the intercession of my wonderful publisher, Andrew Franklin.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    DE: Longer than planned! Just how long is between me and the publisher.

    MT: What is it that annoys you most about the "promoters of new technologies", and the gurus of the "Information Age", and how they talk about technology?

    DE: That they want us all to be as ignorant as they are. We know a lot about technology and have a good sense of where things are likely to go, but they want to take us into a future in which all our knowledge is supposedly redundant.

    MT: In your book, are you really saying any more than innovation isn't as innovative as we think it is and that some old(er) technologies (steam, coal) have a remarkably longlife?

    DE: Yes I am. I am also saying that we innovate in old technologies, indeed that to think of technologies as old or new is a mistake. All technologies are a mixture of old and new. But I am also saying that we don’t have a good picture of what technologies, now and in the past, were significant, or indeed what was invented in any particular historical period. I’m saying that most innovations that are highlighted are not as innovative as their promoters would like us to believe.

    These are in any case, preparatory steps. In my book I explore not just that general argument, but also use it to look afresh at the relations between technology and war, technology production, technology and the nation and so on. I think I am making original arguments about the particularities of these relations.

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

    DE: Straight onto the computer, with lot of editing. There must be a better way, but ... It is a pleasure, when away from a computer to get out and notebook and a fountain pen, and some of the key parts of the book started life in that way.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    DE: I’m reading, teaching, administering!

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

    DE: Since it took me a while to work out whether I did or didn’t the answer has to be no. But in a book of this sort I did have to have in mind specialist in many subjects, and readers who would come to the book from very different positions from my own.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    DE: I am going back to British history. I’ve started researching a book on science, technology industry in Britain in the second world war, for Penguin.

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

    DE: My favourite book of fiction is Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities. I remain a critical fan of George Orwell as a writer of non-fiction.

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

    DE: Make sure you have something to say before deciding to write .

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