The HACKED Tour – Part 2: QEH, Cathedral, Bristol Brunel, Clifton College, Clifton High

The second half of the HACKED tour of Bristol was more fun than the first, because it took a while for me to get into the groove. Having spent five years as an author of books for 8-12 year olds I’ve had to up my game in the face of hundreds of teenagers. Reminding myself that they’re not expecting Michael McIntyre is useful – even if they are. My other trick is to be measured in my expectation. With  junior school children I would often end up with a child hanging on to my leg – clearly not an aspiration for a taller audience. The goal now is to keep their attention most of the time, get a reasonable number of kids contributing useful stuff and be more entertaining than the lesson they would have been in. So far so good.

Highlightsqeh of the first five school visits in 2015 were: the QEH boys who knew everything and more about DDoSs, Lizard Squad and botnets, including the one who had actually built his own drone and the scary moment where I had to debate the difference between cyber-crime and hacking; the terribly nice English teacher at Clifton High who suggested I carry on all afternoon as it was so interesting; the great discussion we had at Clifton College about character development, and the bit about how you make a first-person narrator die; Hassan and Brittany doing a brilliant job collecting all the suggestions on the flipchart at Bristol Brunel; and the after-school writing club at Cathedral where we shared writing tips.

The best thing about wandering into schools to run an interactive session is that it’s different every time. Next up – Hans Price Academy . . .

Writing The Villain

My next book – ALIAS – is the story of Angel, the shadowy character from HACKED. My publisher, Piccadilly Press,  likes it – huge relief. That means there’s some downtime while I wait for the copyedit. I need it.

It was a tricky book to write because the protagonist is usually the hero, whereas mine was the villain. Or maybe not. ALIAS is written in the first person, so I had to be in Angels’ head and of course that meant I had to believe the same things. A terrible thing happens to Angel, and all the people that you think would help . . . the military, the government, the police, your MP . . . they all do nothing. So Angel does something. Does that make Angel a villain? Or an activist?

ALIAS is set in the here and now, starting off in Buckingham and migrating to Leeds. I used real events to influence the journey. Angel looks back at the Civil Rights Movement where peaceful protest was met with violence, at the ANC’s struggle in South Africa and at the sufragettes. In the present day Angel follows the march of the US Predator drones across the skies of Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan . . . pilotless weapons incinerating people based on grainy images and unreliable intelligence. Right and wrong aren’t opposites. They merge. What’s right for the drone pilot, is wrong for the villagers massacred without a trial, a judge, a voice. The ‘war on terror’ is on the side of right unless you’re a farmer, midwife, baker caught in the crosshairs because a ‘known insurgent’ is nearby. Wrong place, wrong time and all that.

Step back from Angel’s story and it’s clear. Bad things happen to good people – that’s the way life is. Get on with it. But get close, get inside and the world is a different place. In Angel’s world, horror will win out unless the victims rise up against the enemy. The enemy is American foreign policy.

No one likes to think that violence is the answer, but as Angel would say, “They started it.”