Recently, I had the pleasure of having Tom Chatfield answer some of my burning questions, and I’ll be sharing that with you all today!
Who is Tom Chatfield?
Dr Tom Chatfield (@TomChatfield) is a British writer, broadcaster and tech philosopher. His seven books exploring contemporary culture—most recently Live This Book! (Penguin) and Critical Thinking (SAGE Publishing), researched as a Visiting Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute—are published in over two dozen languages. His debut novel, This is Gomorrah (Hodder), the first in a series set in the world of the dark net, was published worldwide in July 2019 and was a Sunday Times thriller of the month.
Tom is interested in improving our understanding of digital technology, and its uses in policy, education and engagement. He is currently technology and media advisor at Agathos LLP; a Non Executive Director at the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society and at the Copyright Licensing Agency; a faculty member at London’s School of Life; a Master’s Committee member at the Economics Research Council; guest faculty member at the Said Business School, Oxford; and a senior expert at the Global Governance Institute.
Past collaborators include Google, the BBC, Channel 4 Education, Mind Candy, Shift, Flamingo London, Six to Start, Preloaded, Firefish, Future Lab, Sense Worldwide, SAGE Publications, Sugru and Allianz. Tom took his doctorate and taught at St John’s College, Oxford, and continues to guest lecture at universities across the world.
As a speaker and broadcaster, Tom’s appearances include TED Global and the Cannes Lions Festival; authors@Google; the World Congress on Information Technology; Science Foo Camp; Intelligence Squared; the Houses of Parliament; Aspen Seminars for Leaders; the RSA, Royal Society and Royal Institution; and venues ranging from the Sydney Opera House to the Googleplex.
A launch columnist for the BBC’s worldwide technology site, BBC Future, Tom writes and commentate widely in the international media, as well as guest lecturing at universities in the UK and Europe. He is a regular on BBC radio and television, and broadcasts around the world.
When not working, he plays jazz piano and drinks too much coffee.
What you need to know about This Is Gomorrah:
What he knows could kill him. . .
‘Gripping, intelligent and stylish’ Sophie Hannah
At the darkest heart of the internet lies Gomorrah.
An exclusive online market place where anything and everything is for sale: guns and porn, identities and elections, lives and deaths.
Azi Bello is nobody’s idea of a hero.
From a shed in his mum’s back garden in East Croydon, he spins webs in the darknet to lure evil from the shadows. Until evil comes knocking at his door in the real world, taking everything he has, sending him on the run, risking his life, offering him redemption. But at a price he never expected to pay . . .
The gates of Gomorrah have been opened. All hell is about to break loose.
Click the link below to grab your copy:
Here’s what Tom had to say with my questions…
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a geek in his late thirties who has written half a dozen non-fiction books about bits and pieces of digital culture—video games, online language, critical thinking and disinformation—and who has finally managed to turn some of those fascinations into what I hope is a darkly satirical thriller about the underbelly of global tech.
How did you get into writing? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
I’ve wanted to write for a living pretty much since I learned how to write. I wrote poetry and short stories at school from the age of six or seven, I studied literature at university, then went on to do a masters and doctorate looking at contemporary literature and the world of ideas. I’ve always believed that writing matters: that finding ways to talk about what it means to be alive, to wrestle with the human condition through words, is one of the most wonderful things you can do. I worked in magazines after finishing my doctorate, having decided that academia wasn’t for me, then managed to become a full-time writer thanks to a lot of luck and a passion for pouring my obsessions into prose.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
The world, and other writers! Technology and its human contexts fascinate me, because I think technology is implicated in so much of what it means to be human, and so much of what makes humans unique amongst life on Earth: our development of mental technologies like art and mathematics and written words, that convert our inner lives into shared cultures able to outlive us; the machines with which we vastly amplify our power and impacts; the appalling and amazing ongoing consequences of all this. And of course our current ambitions to build machines that, in some sense at least, are able to think and recreate our own mental achievements.
How would you describe your writing to anyone who hasn’t read your book?
Jason Bourne meets Edward Snowden: a fast-paced fiction digging into the dark purposes technology is put to in the modern world while, I hope, telling a twisting tale that’s ultimately more interested in human consequences than shiny gadgets.
Do you think social media helps in regard to promotion and drumming up publicity for a new book?
Absolutely, although it does so in enigmatic ways that it’s foolish to pretend you can control. It’s easy to go a little crazy and watch every flicker of interest or engagement online. I’m guilty of this, sometimes, but I’m trying hard not to descend into total digital solipsism.
What’s your most favourite thing about being an author?
Having readers! To be read, whether by a small or a large number of people, is just such a spectacular privilege.
What’s your least favourite thing about being an author?
The profound uncertainty around what, if anything, the world makes of your work – and trying to manage the emotional impacts of this. You can’t help caring. For me, at least, one of the biggest parts of the whole writing process is simply trying to control the emotional turmoil around whether what I’m doing is any good, deserves to be read, does something interesting, and so on.
Where do you see your writing career 5 years from now?
The wonderful thing is that I really have no idea. Things will come up, or won’t, as a result of what I put out into the world – and the most exciting thing is to be able to respond to circumstances, to react and learn and improve, to keep on discovering and grasping fresh opportunities.
What’s next for you?
I’m already embarked on the sequel to This Is Gomorrah, and hope to have it largely finished by the end of the year. I also have a little textbook out in September, called Think Critically, and will probably write another short and accessible textbook next year diving more deeply into what it means to think well. There are also a couple of books of non-fiction I’d like to write, and some more fiction, but we’ll have to see about those…
I often wonder are authors voracious readers. Do you read much, and if so, what kind of books do you enjoy?
I’m constantly reading, as I think most people have to in order to write – although I often prefer to read outside the genre I’m writing in at the time. Somehow, it makes it easier for me to hear my own voice. I love philosophical non-fiction and books of ideas: I’m reading a wonderful book about the history of calculus at the moment, Infinite Powers by Steveen Strogatz; a couple of Cormac McCarthys—Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men—for the sheer brilliance and force of his prose; a few books of non-fiction directly related to the dark net; Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson; and a selection of other short stories and works of philosophy. I really do love ideas-driven genre fiction, and those authors that bend and break the barriers between genres—and I tend to have the softest spot for thrillers that are witty as well as action-packed, like Mick Herron’s or Chris Brookmyre’s.
Can you tell me your all time favourite book, or if you have to, your top 5?
Pretty much impossible. But Bryan Magee’s book on the philosopher Karl Popper, simply called Popper, is one of my models for truly intelligent clarity and economy in non-fiction; Neal Stephenson has I think done some of modern fiction’s finest explanations of complex ideas and slices of history in books like Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle; the poetry of WB Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, WH Auden and Philip Larkin is on a shelf near my desk in always-easy reach; and what Tolstoy and Dickens and, before them, Austen did to the novel continues to knock my socks off every time I go back and re-read them.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
Apart from the whole eating and sleeping thing, I spend most of my time with my children (aged three and five) playing or reading or picking up or dropping off or trying not to get utterly exasperated. Being a parent is utterly amazing, and exhausting, and the joy/challenge of working largely from home is just how much you’re able to be involved in their lives. I’m also a rather keen pianist, and have been known to share my exploits on social media. I find it therapeutic: the total focus on making music is a far better break than just sitting around.