Write On! interviews author Anthony McCarten
Anthony is a New Zealand-born award-winning novelist, writer of non-fiction, playwright and screenwriter. He’s written eight novels and 12 stage plays and two previous works of non-fiction, of which Darkest Hour became a Sunday Times Number One Bestseller. His screenplays The Theory Of Everything, Darkest Hour and The Two Popes each garnered worldwide critical acclaim and were nominated for multiple awards, winning three Oscars for Best Actor, three Golden Globes including one for Best Picture, and five BAFTAs between them. He lives in London.
WO: How would you describe your writing to someone new to it?
AM: Generalising about your own work is like looking down the wrong end of a telescope; everything is suddenly small and indistinct. What I think I know is that I follow my curiosity, and that has led me recently to explore real lives, sometimes famous real lives, where I try to find the ordinary in the extraordinary, for this is how we locate ourselves in a story; in that common pool of experience. Where the work is fictional, I’m more drawn to the extraordinary in the ordinary.
WO: Can you tell us a bit about your latest book Going Zero?
AM: It tells the story of a next-level, futuristic surveillance agency called Fusion, with a mission to make society safer by being able, or so it claims, to find anyone, anywhere, anytime. To prove that this system works and to test its capabilities and so secure 90 billion dollars in government funding, Fusion, and its founder Cy Baxter, have to show they can find and capture ten specially selected contestants tasked with going off-grid for 30 days. A successful contestant will win $3m. Fusion is initially successful in finding these contestants, who they call Zeros, but they start to have real trouble finding one woman, someone they expected to be one of the first people they caught, a Boston librarian.
WO: What inspired you to write in the first place, and what inspires you now?
AM: The initial idea for this thriller came to me in the summer of 2016, at a dinner party with friends, when myself and a bunch of 50-somethings, probably into our third bottle of wine, began talking about our increasingly tech-dominated lives. We were sharing stories, things such as receiving targeted ads on our cell phones minutes after we’d simply spoken about or come into brief contact with a certain product or place… and then to receive an ad on our phone. Spooky stuff like that, suggesting our devices had been spying on us. Well, guess what, they had been. Turns out, our devices are working against us; our data is sold and our private behaviour monitored and even covertly manipulated without our knowledge or consent. The dinner table talk then turned to how, if we were being pursued, we could escape this surveillance net: how would any of us go off-grid and evade all surveillance and detection? Is that even possible any more in this all-seeing world?
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme of ‘Literary Passions And Guilty Pleasures.’ With that in mind, what would you say fuels your literary passion in terms of both reading and creating? Do you have a bookish guilty pleasure you’re happy to share?
AM: I have a passion for the relationship between the past and the present, also for the real and the imagined. In many ways, the two are intertwined, for the true history of any life is what a person has imagined. History itself is nothing if not a work of imperfect memory and imagination. My fiction reading choices favour writers who attend to big universal themes but also to the beauty of each sentence, paragraph and page. I seem to lose interest in reading anything without a poetic quality. I want to be moved by events and ideas and language. This leaves me often struggling to find anything I really want to read. As for guilty pleasures, I would say that no pleasure makes me feel guilty!
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
AM: If you don’t view yourself as very talented, keep going, for talent is not entirely born but made. It’s made through the placing of relentless demands upon the creative centres of your brain. Keep going. Above all, keep going, especially when people tell you that you are wasting your time. No time is wasted in this endeavour.
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
AM: I’m adding the final touches to a non-fiction book about Warren Buffett and Bill Gates because I’ve become fascinated by what the very rich choose to do with their money. And I’m working on a John Lennon/ Yoko Ono film, that will, again, try to bring to life the ordinary elements in their extraordinary lives.
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
AM: Noah’s dove.
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Keep going. Above all, keep going, especially when people tell you that you are wasting your time. No time is wasted in this endeavour.