William Gibson talks at Bristol’s Festival of Ideas

I had the pleasure last night of attending a Festival of Ideas event at which William Gibson was the star. He is of course on a promotional tour for his new novel, Agency. I was glad to see the large room was full to capacity. It shows you how much of a draw such a famous author is. Of course there was the usual Bristol science fiction mafia cohort there, but there were many faces new to me.

As with all writers at these events he did a reading, which for those who’ve read the novel already was Chapter 2. To my ear he put the emphasis on the unusual words like chimera, almost as if he was like most readers attracted to those words and wanted to linger over them.

Then of course the standard question and answer session. William described how he wrote the novel – an outline structure in which he freewheeled his way through the novel’s end. That really made me sit up, because that is the way I write. William is known for his imagination and creativity and so am I (for those that have seen later work). It left me wondering whether there is a good way to get creativity into a novel.

Please don’t get me wrong. There is no right way or wrong way for a author to produce their fiction. It is a case of finding out what works for the author or what they are best at writing. I have always said those detective novels that are really solving a puzzle need to have a reasonably detailed plot before they are written. (For those who say Agatha Christie did not work this way, I would suggest that she wrote her first draft and then worked out who the murderer was towards the end as putting a plot together, because she then had to go back to effectively rewrite the novel.)

One interesting tidbit from while he was writing this novel. He had work out the prevailing political world f**cked-uppness quotient (or FQ as he called it) and adjust his writing accordingly. After all the Brexit vote happened and President Trump got elected during this writing time.

Of course Neuromancer got mentioned and William noted that novel had a high FQ on the grounds it makes the criminals the heroes. But interestingly when he wrote it, he did not even own a television. He had to go round to a neighbour’s to watch any programs.

There was also talk about the Jackpot. William maintained that the Jackpot has been ongoing since the start of the 19th century that coincided with the industrial revolution getting full steam ahead and is still going on in a continual manner. It includes all sorts of things going horribly wrong like climate change and massive political upheavals.

There were questions about his social engineering as this novel was clearly about the way our society can develop into the future. William reckoned his move towards social engineering can be tracked from a small inclination to do so  in his early works and increasing in strength until he wrote his latest novel. It’s as if he becoming more comfortable with dealing the a bigger richer world-building that is grounded more firmly in today’s society.

Peripheral the first novel in the trilogy (Agency is the second) is being made into eight episodes with $10,000,000 being spent on each episode. He noted that he only gets a very small amount from Amazon, certainly not enough to live off.

One thing he did promise was that the third novel in Peripheral-Agency trilogy will not have the issue to becoming out of date with current new while he writes it.


From what William said and the few starter chapters I have read, Agency looks like it deserves the good reviews it is getting.

All in all a very interesting event and well worth going to.



4 thoughts on “William Gibson talks at Bristol’s Festival of Ideas

    1. Good to hear from you. Sorry you couldn’t be there. You’re not alone in that respect, which is why I popped these notes onto the website. There were comments about a certain member of the Prime Minister’s staff quoting from Peripheral in the meeting, which I did not include to avoid any political controversy on the grounds that William did not seem overly interested in them.

      1. Yes – I’m too far away to be able to make that kind of journey easily. Yes… best to steer clear of any political allusions right now, given that feelings are running so very high…

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