Jack Cooper is a depressed, analogue throwback; a cynical, alcoholic Gen-Xer whose glory days are behind him. He’s unemployed, his marriage has broken down, he’s addicted to internet hook-ups, and is deeply ashamed of his son Geronimo, who lives life dressed as a bear.
When Jack’s daughter engineers a job for him at totally-lit tech firm Sweet, he’s confronted by a Millennial and Zoomer culture he can’t relate to. He loathes every detail – every IM, gif and emoji – apart from Freya, twenty years his junior and addicted to broadcasting her life on social media.
Can Jack evolve to fit in at Sweet, or will he remain a dinosaur stuck in the 1980s? And will he halt his slide into loneliness and repair his family relationships?
Location, location, creation
Choosing a location for your book has much more to do with what you know than with what you imagine. This is because what we imagine is always wrapped in what we know. How could it be otherwise? How is it possible to create alien worlds, buildings and locations that don’t have some basis in what we already understand? Dream them up from some unique and exceptional configuration of neurons? I don’t think so.
But we can take ideas that we already know; locations, characters, events, science, theories etc. and throw them together in outrageous combinations. Douglas Adams was inspirational at this in his Hitchhiker series. For example, an everyday restaurant that happens to be located at the end of the universe. He knew about restaurants, and he knew that the universe would one day end, all there was left was to put them together.
I love to think that I have tried similar tricks in my latest book, XYZ. The anti-hero, Jack Cooper, is pretty ordinary by most standards — he’s a middle-aged man in the midst of family trouble and facing his own mortality written on stone of underachievement — but throw this banal character into a modern, hip, trendy technology company where conversations take place through the exchange of emojis, and optimism is the religion, and you have situations ripe with grumpiness, alienation, incompetence and misunderstanding. He’s most definitely a smelly fish out of the plastic wrap.
It was said that David Bowie used to throw interesting words into a hat and pull them out randomly to find creative, lyrical devices. Corinthian, chameleon and caricature, for example. And this is because an injection of randomness can help create unique combinations that the pathways of our in-grained thought processes cannot possibly imagine.
This was a deliberate act for Bowie, and I think for writers too, forcing randomness is important. For me, that included meeting gender neutral and trans-gender folk, talking to people who dressed as animals at the weekend and working in a hip young technology firm. All this experience provided rich locations and a character backdrop for Jack Cooper to experience.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but randomly mixing up your truths can give you the strangest fiction of all.
Thank you, William Knight and Love Books Group Tours.
About the author
William Knight has written for the Guardian, the Financial Times and the BBC, among many other publishers. He is a journalist and technologist currently living and working in Wellington, New Zealand.
A graduate engineer, he’s chased a varying career starting in acting, progressing to music, enjoyed a brief flirtation with handbag design, and was eventually wired into technology in 1989.
By 2003 his non-fiction was being regularly published in Computing newspaper in the UK, and he has since written about the many successes and failings of high-technology
The Donated (formerly, Generation), his first novel, was conceived from a New Scientist article in 2001 and was ten years in development. Subsequent novels, XYZ, Foretold, The Fractured, will be available, he says, “Sometime in the future. Hopefully not as long as ten years.”