Brainjack is a relatively fast-paced thriller. What literary devices did you employ to the narrative to keep the pace alive?
Not many, consciously at least. To create suspense, the story hinges more on a constantly twisting plot that leads the reader in one direction then abruptly turns in an unexpected way. I have occasionally used devices such as foreshadowing and intercutting just to make sure that the tension doesn’t flag, but I am very aware that if overused, these devices become obvious and lose their power, so I would rather that the pace and suspense springs naturally from the story.
How important was the need to have technical knowledge of cyberspace when devising the plot of Brainjack?
It was absolutely vital. I have a background in the IT industry, but even so it took months of study to understand the world in which reallife hackers move. Of course it has been fictionalised, and ‘futurised’ a little but to create the fiction, and to imagine the future I first had to understand the reality. I also had to do a lot of research into the ‘neuro’ technology which is at the heart of the story, and every few weeks it seems we see on the news some further advance in that field.
Protagonist Sam is a very likeable character. How important is it to have your readers like the main character and what do you see as Sam’s most endearing qualities?
Generally if you don’t like the protagonist, you won’t like the book. Of course there are notable exceptions to that rule, but I don’t think I would be brave enough to try to write one. I have always believed that while we are reading, we are the protagonist, or at the very least we care about the protagonist. If we don’t care about them, we don’t care what happens to them, and so we have no interest in finishing the story. Sam is a geek. He lacks confidence, particularly with girls. In the real world he is clumsy and awkward, but in the cyber world he is fast, sleek and graceful. In early drafts of Brainjack he had the online nickname Penguin because they possess the same kind of qualities in and out of water. However this was removed as it got a bit too confusing. I think many people can relate to a hero who is shy and awkward, but has hidden strengths.
How much research did you have to do into real life hacking for the novel?
A lot. There are some very good books on hacking, that analyse the techniques and skills to teach IT administrators how better to protect their systems. Unfortunately these books would also make a good manual for the bad guys, so I won’t name any of them. I also did a lot of online research and interviewed colleagues in the IT industry who have knowledge of hacking.
What are you working on next?
A story set in Iowa, USA. I spent three months in Iowa City last year as part of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. While there I saw potential for a story aimed at slightly younger readers, and this is my current focus. I can’t talk about it yet, as it is still in progress, but so far it is loads of fun.