Author/Character Interview – Sean Williams/Clair Hill
Posted by kirstyes
Twinmaker by Sean Williams is a thrilling fast paced YA sci-fi novel and today I’ve got the author here for questions. Here by d-mat is Clair Hill the protagonist of Twinmaker. Thanks to both of you for your time.
Firstly congratulations on the PhD.
As someone who is signed up to do one what advice can you give, especially with respect to maintaining balance and getting some creative writing completed alongside it?
Thanks heaps (as we say down here). I’m very excited that my examiners liked it and recommended it be lodged without amendments (very impressive – well done). It was a creative writing PhD, so a large chunk of my thesis is fiction. In fact, it’s a massively rewritten version of Twinmaker called Making and Remaking Iteration 113, which tells the same story but from Q’s point of view (oooh would love to read that). There’s also an exegesis focusing on the history of d-mat in literature, arguing that it’s an important trope of science fiction that’s been unfairly overlooked. Does that sound dry? (No – but then you are talking to a fellow PhD and creative writing geek) It probably is! (You can read the intro here.) I had a lot of fun researching and writing it, even though it was a bit stressful keeping up with it on top of other deadlines and everyday life (little things like cleaning do you mean – she says surrounded by piles of paper and books?). Over the course of the PhD I published six or so books and wrote four, so finding that balance was critical. I actually took a year off over the course of the PhD to fit everything in.
Secondly (and maybe more importantly??) congratulations on Twinmaker. I was impressed to see you’ve used the science from your PhD in your novel. How important is it to you that the science fiction is possible science?
Thanks again! The question of whether d-mat could ever be real is a tricky one. I have a section in my exegesis where I argue that the sheer unlikelihood of it being practical any time soon is a strike against it ever being taken seriously in literature (although time travel gets over that hurdle somehow – that’s good she says having written a time travel novel). Let me quote myself (like a first rate tosser)(Not tosser like at all – you’ve done the work so why not use it):
Writers grappling with matter transmission eventually must find a way to approach the problem that “[e]ven an educated layman must realize that one can’t simply disassemble a living body at one point, reassemble it at another, and expect life to resume” (Schmitz 1961). The data storage required to create a copy of a person to the atomic level is immense: “About 10^28 kilobytes would be needed to store a human pattern in a memory buffer” (Johnson 2002). Given that the standard practical unit for measuring memory is the terabyte (10^9 kilobytes) and the current capacity of our entire culture is estimated at in excess of 600 exabytes (10^15 kilobytes), present-day technology falls short of the task by a factor of 10^13, or ten trillion (Adams 2011). That doesn’t take into account the difficulties associated with reliably transferring that data from one place to another without taking longer than the estimated lifetime of the universe (Clarke and Baxter; Leinster 1961).
So there’s that (love it). But the idea itself is plausible if not practical, particularly with 3-D printing a thing now (I need to watch a video of this – I still don’t believe it exists ;o)), and quantum teleportation also, and all that. You can see a natural convergence. Helping that sense of plausibility is the fact that just about all the other stuff in the book is real too. Here’s a post that details just how little of it I actually made up. With science fiction, as with all fiction, it’s important to find a balance between the real and the imagined that works best for most readers.
In the novel social media has become even more invasive than it has now – not even out of sight – what’s your relationship with social media?
I prefer to think of the social media as more available in Clair’s world rather than intrusive, just like it is today. No one’s forcing anyone to use Facebook or Twitter (I’m a social media lover/addict). I like the former and struggled a bit with the latter, and there are a whole bunch of others, like Pinterest and Google+, that I barely look at all (You really should look at Pinterest – great for pinning pictures of characters and things and pudding recipes!). But yes, there’s a media thread running all the way through Twinmaker, and I hope it resonates with today’s users (and avoiders) of social media.
If Improvement were real would you use it and how?
Hmmm. I’d give myself a full head of pure-white hair (fabulous). That is my greatest desire, on a superficial level. More meaningfully, I’d probably want to make my brain younger–and my body too, while we’re at it. Getting older sucks. (Having worked with older people in my career as an OT I heard the phrase ‘Don’t get old dear a lot’. Personally I’m not too keen on the alternative though).
If you could Dupe as anyone who would it be and why?
I would dupe Tony Abbott, the current Prime Minister of Australia. I would take his pattern, strip out all of his monstrous policies and ambitions and try to bring something more forward-thinking, rational, and compassionate to my country. (A political answer – I like it – so do we have religion in here somewhere as well? ;o))
The start of the meme:
You are special.
You are unique.
And you have been selected.
speaks very much to our culture at the moment. Although I feel that everyone deserves the opportunity to be an individual I wonder if we’re losing a sense of social responsibility. Clair seems to realise her social responsibility in the book. I wonder if this was a theme you’d planned to explore?
The idea of social responsibility is an interesting one. I think we could use a lot more of it these days, but is the cult of the individual to blame? I’m not sure. There’s undoubtedly some kind of very complex feedback loop between people and the group they belong to that rewards either selfish or altruistic behaviour. If society isn’t promoting the latter, is the individual to blame for not exhibiting it? (Excellent points well made) If most individuals aren’t interested in being altruistic, why would society encourage them to be? Like a lot of people, I think we could all be more compassionate and considerate of those around us, but I know at the same time that I have a way to go before I get there myself. Clair is pushed there by extreme events. I think it’s very easy, if you’re not pushed, to let it slide. The media, which plays a large role in influencing our social behaviour, could supply those pushes, if it wanted to. I wish it did. (Me too).
There was a comment by Clair later in the book about her hair going into an afro after getting wet, I’d forgotten the earlier mention of her skin colouring and it made me query who I’d been visualising throughout the book. As an author how do you take it when someone perceives a character differently to you?
The reader brings their own baggage to every novel. I can’t control that side of the process, and I don’t want to. I love it when people mentally elaborate on what I’ve written, just as I’ve done to very book I’ve read. Clair is African American, but she doesn’t have to be for the story to work, in the same way that Gemma has an Indian background (i.e. from India, not Native American) and Mallory is ABC. Twinmaker isn’t a book about race, but it is interested in how we perceive people, including ourselves. If readers have a “huh” moment when it twigs that Clair is not white, then that’s good for me. As long as it doesn’t drop them completely out of the book in the process . . .
How long do we have to wait until Crashland and how many books are planned in the series?
Crashland is due November 2014, followed by the third and final book in the series the same month in 2015. There are tons of related stories out there to help plug the gap–ranging from the quite long to the very short. You can find a list of them here.
And finally my favourite question and subject of my PhD – Why do you write?
Because I want to. Because in some ways I have to. Because I’m not very good at anything else. Because I see myself as a writer, and in order to be a writer I have to write. Ultimately it’s about loving stories and wanting to be part of them, if only in my mind. When I’m writing a story, a very large part of me is thinking of the craft and the mechanics of getting it onto the screen, but there’s always part of me living everything that I’m imagining. It’s the ultimate escape. (Brilliant answer)
If you’d had a birthmark like Libby do you think you would have been more inclined to try Improvement?
“Maybe. I mean, I hate my nose so I was tempted, just a little bit, but it’s not like I’m ugly or anything. My face is perfectly ordinary, and what’s wrong with ordinary? It’s who I am. I don’t think I’d like to look in the mirror and see someone who didn’t look like me. Hell, I don’t even like to cut my hair!” (Funny you say that, until I was twelve I cried at most of my haircuts – even when it was just a trim).
Why did you think Q was male to start with?
“Ouch. Good question. I’ve read too many adventure stories, I guess, where the big bad is always a guy. And Q sounded a bit like a guy at first, before her real voice kicked in . . . Hey, now I think about it, that original voice sounded a bit like Ant Wallace. That’s disturbing.”
If you could only choose one person to keep would it be Zep, Jesse or Libby? Why?
“My friends are the most important thing in the world to me. I wouldn’t accept that I could only choose just one. Try to make me and you’ll regret it!” (Backing away slowly)
Can you tell us why being a Crashlander is seen as important?
“I guess people like being part of groups, particularly the most popular new groups that pop and cause a scene then fade away. It seems like a bit of a waste of time to me, always chasing after something that won’t last forever. I wonder what the people it really matters to, like Libby, are actually looking for. My mum has this saying: ‘If you’re not happy now, you never will be.’ I love a good party like anyone, but I don’t think it’s the point of my existence.”
Now you’ve tried a few which is your favourite mode of transport?
“D-mat, definitely. Why would any sane person choose to bust their backside on an electrobike or mooch about doing nothing in a Skylifter or a train when they could step into a booth and jump instantly wherever they like? D-mat isn’t perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than the alternative.”
What more can we expect from Clair 2.0?
“I really can’t say. So much has already happened–it blows my mind. My friends aren’t safe, the world is a mess, Q is . . . I don’t even know where to start there. I made some bad decisions and I have to deal with the fall-out of those. After that, who knows? Maybe Jesse and I will get to see where that’s going to go. Hopefully he’ll like Clair 2.0 just as much as he did Clair 1.0. Hopefully I will. Time will tell, I guess.”
Thanks to both (cough – Sean twice) of you for the enlightening answers. Hope you didn’t mind my little comments.
I said I was going to keep this to myself – but always one to show off my idiocy here goes. For some reason I hadn’t picked up on the fact Sean’s PhD was a creative writing one, I thought he was really looking into the science behind the possibility of d-mat. And there was me thinking ‘I don’t think I’d ever trust that in my lifetime when my iPad keeps crashing all the time’!! But I’m glad I asked the question about the science because we got to see some of Sean’s PhD.
I’m very impressed with the writing output over the course of the PhD and jealous of the year out, trying to do it alongside work is challenging to say the least.
Thanks too for all the links – looking forward to reading them and the next two books.
Hope you’ve all enjoyed reading the answers to my questions as much as I did. I’m always overwhelmed by the generosity of writers to entertain my random queries.