The West Port Book Festival was over all too quickly this year but luckily podcasts from some of the events are available online to keep me going for a while. I also have my notes from the sessions I attended and I’ll be posting them here over the next few days.
On Thursday afternoon I went to hear Ken MacLeod read from his new novel, The Restoration Game. The intriguing beginning saw Lucy Stone being asked by her spy mother to write a computer game based on the legends of Krassnia, the tiny former Soviet Union country where Lucy was born but which can’t be found on any maps. Lucy and her mother left Krassnia in a hurry when Lucy was seven and she hasn’t been back since. Except, she tells us ominously, “in dreams. The dreams mattered, as it turned out.”
After the reading MacLeod fielded some questions from the audience about his writing career.
“I was one of those kids who read too much science fiction in his teens and misguidedly thought that he would be really good at science. I wasn’t. I ended up working in IT. I’ve been writing short stories since I was a kid, sending off a story to a sci-fi magazine every two years and getting a rejection. I wrote my first novel mainly to prove to myself – and to prove to my friend, Iain Banks – that I could write a novel. I started it in 1987 and finished several years later. An agent in London liked it but she explained that it wasn’t right. She said, if it was going to be made into a film, what would the poster say? And I said, a man gets killed and his gun goes on fighting. Great, she said. Now go and write that book.”
Before giving up his job to write full time, MacLeod worked on his novels in the evenings and at weekends. “There was a complete work-life imbalance. I stayed up far too late working.” MacLeod was asked if he noticed that his writing improved on being able to concentrate on it full time but he thought that any improvement was down to “sheer practice. When I look at my first novel I quite like it in a way, but there’s far too much of me doing clever things stylistically. I’ve stripped out all that nonsense after the years.”
In 2009 MacLeod was writer in residence at the Genomics Forum and he continues promote and participate in forum events. “The Genomics Forum is part of a social science initiative that tries to bring aspects of life sciences that came out of studying the genome into public awareness. Being a writer who likes to scribble and squirrel things away, it’s been a delight for me to see what sociologists are like in action. I’d like to write a novel that does for the sociology of science what The History Man did for sociology in general.”
The Restoration Game (Orbit, £18.99) will be published in hardback on 1st July.