Author Spotlight – Jon Richter (AUXILIARY LONDON 2039)
Jon Richter lives in London, where he spends some of his sun-cycles trapped in the body of an accountant called Dave. When he isn’t forced to count beans, he writes dark fiction about robots, artificial intelligence, human augmentation, and all the other developing technologies that will soon make our world a brilliant and/or terrifying place to live and die. Chat with him about cyborgs and other things with wires for veins @RichterWrites.
Welcome to the Hive, Jon. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I recently read Junji Ito’s manga adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s novel No Longer Human, and it honestly felt like consuming the work of a master at the peak of his powers. Ito’s artwork is incredible, and the harrowing and devastating story provided incredible (nightmare) fuel for his disturbing imagery – I demolished it in a single sitting and felt like I’d had my insides scraped out. Absolutely heart-wrenching stuff – highly recommended, but only if you’re looking for something heavy!
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I would take the earliest opportunity to backstab my fellow characters so I could sneak off and exist forever in the depths of the labyrinth like some sort of scrawny, Wigan-accented Gollum! In all seriousness, I always gravitate towards this type of character, which I suppose I’d call the ‘downtrodden villain’… a bit like Trashcan Man in Stephen King’s The Stand, or even Wile E. Coyote! Weapon of choice would have to be something nefarious, like a Taser or a pair of hidden brass knuckles… something an honourable hero would never dream of using!
Reminder to self: do not join Jon’s D&D party…
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (For example, in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Intense planner or is your system more organic?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
Another great question!! I’ve tried the thousand dead shrimps approach but they just wouldn’t let me concentrate… far too shellfish (sorry).
I like to type rather than handwrite (not only is it faster but, crucially, it’s legible!) and love listening to music, but only instrumental stuff – lyrics put me off a bit (like the prawns). Lately I’ve been enjoying a lot of video game soundtracks: in recent weeks it’s been The Last Of Us 2, which was another emotionally eviscerating experience… not sure why I seem to be gorging myself on so much sad stuff lately!
My writing process is very much that of a ‘pantser’ these days (i.e. by the seat of my pants instead of meticulously planned!) In ‘real life’ I’m actually very pedantically organised, but when it comes to writing I just find that even the best-laid plans go straight out of the window once I get going… so I’ve started skipping that phase altogether!
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I can trace my love of dark fantasy fiction back to a few books, films and video games I enjoyed when I was far too young for them, and the first that springs to mind is the Deptford Mice trilogy by Robin Jarvis. His stories charted the perilous adventures of a group of mice living in an abandoned building in London, constantly at war with the villainous rats that dwelt in the sewers beneath them – I won’t spoil the plot here but the books were by turns shocking, thrilling, gore-drenched, terrifying, tragic and uplifting… absolutely brilliant stuff! I was honoured to exchange a few tweets with the immensely talented Mr Jarvis recently, and it felt like I’d met a childhood hero.
There are countless other incredible creators I could name here, but I honestly don’t dream of working with any of them – I’m a bit of a control freak and I don’t think I’d be able to relinquish the creative reins even for my idols!
Your honesty is very much appreciated Jon!
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I mentioned The Last Of Us 2 earlier and I can’t sing its praises highly enough. It is a fantastic piece of fiction, with complex and three-dimensional characters who I cared about so much I couldn’t wait to finish work each day to fire it up; my lovely lady friend was similarly hooked, and we basically did nothing but work and then play the game for about a fortnight! The bleak setting, a world ravaged by a cordyceps infection that turns humans into blind and mindless, half-fungal monsters, is an ingenious twist on the zombie trope, and I was delighted to learn the game is being made into a TV series in the near future.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Other than devouring stories in many formats (books, movies, video games) I like to chat about them on my podcast, Dark Natter, so an extra day would enable me to get a few more episodes of the show recorded!
I also run a lot to keep fit, and find it a difficult juggling act to fit this in alongside work and writing, so an extra day might enable me to squeeze in a good long run; I was supposed to run the London Marathon this year before COVID turned the world upside-down, and it’s been tough to motivate myself to run as much without any races scheduled.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’ve actually just finished the first draft of a new cyberpunk novel, a sort of ‘sidequel’ to my recent release Auxiliary, that was written entirely in lockdown… and is set in an alternate future world where the lockdown never ends! The protagonist, Eugene, is a retired detective who lives alone, bricked up into his London flat like everyone else, communicating with the outside world only through video calls. Since his wife’s death he has suffered from agoraphobia, and has come to love (or at least to depend upon) his regimented, unchanging daily lifestyle, where the apartment building’s AI and its robots cater to the residents’ every whim… until this serene but unfulfilling existence is shattered when one of these mechanical attendants is brutally ‘murdered’, hurling Eugene into a frightening and unpredictable race to find the truth.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s that ‘writers write!’ In other words, despite the challenges of full time employment and life’s other commitments and curve balls, the ONLY WAY to become a successful author is to sit down and write a book. It’s that simple.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
The honest answer is that the key is to overcome the ‘not wanting’ bit… once I actually get going I can always get some half-decent stuff down on the page, even if some days yield more words than others! I think this links to my previous answer a bit; the old me would find every excuse under the sun not to actually start writing (I just need to clean the flat first, I’m a bit tired, I just need to watch the latest episode of Blah, I’ll do it tomorrow after an early night’s sleep…) but if you just drag yourself kicking and screaming to your desk (or couch, or dining room table) and JUST START WORKING then you’ll find it isn’t so bad.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I would visit China in the year 2100, because I think that country will be ruling the world by then, and so will have the most cutting-edge technology – I just want to see what it’s like! If robots are walking among us (and doing most of the hard work while we all chill out), and if I see just one Blade Runner-style hoverbike, I’ll be happy.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
My favourite book of all time is Mark Danielewski’s House Of Leaves – it’s fairly well-known in some circles, almost infamous, but has no mainstream fame to speak of. Never have I felt so much like a book was reading ME more than I was reading IT… at the point I started turning the book upside down to peer at the indecipherable ramblings of a madman descending into insanity, I realised that this was the perfect novel!!!
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
I mentioned earlier my recent cyberpunk thriller, Auxiliary, so I’ll attempt to tantalise you by elaborating on it a little!
London’s streets are quiet in 2039, with most people out of work thanks to the increasingly advanced robots and AIs that have replaced them. Delivery droids and driverless cars patrol the streets, while police drones keep the disgruntled populace under control, and wholesome pleasures are sacrificed in favour of rudimentary sex robots, or escapist fantasy worlds accessed via high-tech virtual reality glasses. This bleak urban sprawl is overseen by a ubiquitous AI called The Imagination Machine; ‘TIM’ is something like Alexa on steroids, and is responsible for driving our cars, flying our planes, managing our diaries and reading our children bedtime stories…
The plot sees police detective Carl Dremmler investigating a gruesome murder after a man uses his powerful prosthetic arm to mash his girlfriend’s head into her apartment wall… but the case becomes highly controversial when the perpetrator claims that the arm acted of its own accord. Is he a liar, or was this really a tragic malfunction? Or, worse, has someone hacked the unhackable TIM, an entity that has become something like a god to the people whose lives it controls…?
Thank you so much!