- July 1, 2019
- Posted by: Jon Stewart
- Category: Uncategorized
Our resident journalist has been a designer, coder, digital tech pundit, digital content specialist and writer. He was the first journalist to interview a British Prime Minister by posing questions from a live Twitter audience; he’s written and broadcast features for The Independent, The Guardian, the BBC, RT and numerous tech magazines; and he regularly appears as the ‘guest keynote scruffy middle-aged geek’ at conferences around the world talking about the effect of digital technology on society and the economy.
But which writer would he drunkenly wrestle? What kind of werewolf does he aspire to be? What’s so special about his balls? We trapped him with a glass of La Comptesse De Pichon Longueville-Lalande (1991) and forced him to answer the questions that matter. Brace yourself for some hard-hitting journalism.
Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: It varied from week to week. Actor. Pop star. Racing driver. Writer. Detective. Possibly an android living as a human with a tragic sense he didn’t fit in. Also some kind of werewolf, but a smart one, not a biter.
Q: As a journalist, research is at the core of what you do. What’s your process for absorbing new information quickly?
A: I’m lucky in so far as I’ve always been a quick study, so I can form a narrative quickly, which is a useful skill. I think the knack is listening to what people say and trying to visualise yourself doing it, it helps you put the pieces of the story together. I think for fiction and non-fiction, you need to really try to use your imagination like that. I guess it’s a bit like an actor getting into character.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: Inspiration is everywhere. What you need is motivation. Specifically, I’m constantly making up stories and scenes in my head, especially when I’m alone or walking the dog. I’m in a constant state of having imaginary conversations in character, or with characters in plots or scenes I have yet to write. The hard part is finding the time to write it down. Or making the effort when you’ve got time and fancy a snooze on the sofa instead
Q: When will we see your name on the best-seller list?
A: I haven’t had a book published yet. I did self-publish a funny business book once, which did well for a week then sank without trace into the Kindle graveyard. I don’t talk about it. The journey was cathartic. Had a lot of stuff to get down after a decent run as a successful tech geek start-up guy. I worked with a lot of evil people, needed to exorcise some demons. I have written three novels since, and am finally trying to get published… I’ll let you know.
Q: If you could invite a famous wordsmith for dinner, who would it be and what would you cook them?
A: Dinner would be tough. I think possibly Jean-Jaques Rousseau, or Voltaire. Someone like that, with a penchant for rich food and fabulous booze, setting the world to rights and having a good old bitch about the state of this, or that. I’d probably do something ludicrous like oysters to start, butter-poached lobster as a main, then finish off with clementines in red wine. Wash it all down with a bottle of Cotton Charlamagne, La Comptesse De Pichon-Longueville Lalande, a bottle of Chateau D’Yquem, lashings of brandy, ending in a furious fist fight and almost certainly vomiting.
Q: What are you reading right now? Is it any good?
A: I am not reading at the moment. I am writing. I find reading and writing at the same time is hard because it all leaks into each other a bit. Going cold turkey. I did just read Gogol’s The Nose. It was perfect.
Q: What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
A: Genuinely, I can’t possibly answer that. It’s a mood, a moment, a connection. Such a personal and transitory thing, I’m not sure I could define it. I have a problem with people telling me things are good. Good’s a matter of opinion, non-transferrable, no guarantees, I think it’s always positive to listen to advice, not always positive to offer it, or useful to follow it. I have read things that people love and left me cold, I have also struggled through long, painful prose and been transported by the vision behind it. I love shlock pulp fiction, I love the classics, it all depends on whether the writer throws you a line and takes you on a ride.
Q: What other writers are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
A: The only other writer friend I’ve collaborated or connected with is GD Penman, and he has helped me massively by reading my work and encouraging me. I have exchanged work with other writers, who usually respond by telling you what they would have written, instead of how to improve your writing or sharpen your ideas, points, or use of language. It’s a subtle, but crucial difference. Penman has a real gift for that.
Q: You’ve spoken at conferences around the world about the effect of digital technology on society and the economy. What are you’re most excited about when it comes to technology and the future?
A: How long have you got? I think we’re on the verge of a real shift in the way we use tech. Right now, we’re leaving an era where we used tech to consume more of everything, and concomitantly waste more too. I think technology plays a central role in reversing that. So from manufacturing clothes that last longer, and gadgets that can be repaired, we’ll see more benefits from reusable designs, parts, recycling technologies and, of course, carbon capture and storage. AI will play a big part in that. It’s not going to put millions of people out of work, but it will redefine work in many respects. Boring, repetitive tasks don’t make society great, they keep people locked into low wage economies, fearful of being replaced. Cleaning-up the environment, social care, teaching, sustainable living, small scale crafting and so on, all of those things become more realistic if a robot is stacking shelves and an AI is doing the accounts. It’s funny really, people are more educated now than ever before, but they can’t imagine making their own clothes or running a market stall like we used to, before most people could read. However, despite our education, we don’t use our skills and take crappy jobs instead, producing landfill. That will change, and tech will enable the ability to resource, organise and deliver systemic change. Maybe.
Q: What’s your favourite word, and why?
A: I don’t have a favourite word. I like curious juxtapositions of… wait a moment… oh, juxtaposition. Balls, too. Useful word, balls. Turds. Crude vernacular. Nomenclature and profanity. Clackdish, olde English. Environment with emphasis on the en-vir-on part. Jacking. Biggus Dickus, does that count?