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Computer Viruses in Books
An Interview with Mark Chadbourn

conducted by Sandy Auden

© Mark Chadbourn
Mark Chadbourn
Mark Chadbourn
Mark Chadbourn's writing career began in 1990 when his first published short story won the Best New Author award in Fear magazine. His first novel, Underground, was followed by Nocturne (nominated for British Fantasy Society Award for Best Novel), The Eternal, and Scissorman. He has also written a non-fiction study of the paranormal, Testimony.

Mark Chadbourn Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Age Of Misrule
SF Site Review: The Queen of Sinister
SF Site Review: The Devil In Green
SF Site Review: World's End
Mark Chadbourn Message Board
Interview with Mark Chadbourn

If you think a book is just a work of fiction then you're about to make a discovery. All forms of media have an influence on our attitudes and our culture -- how else would names and phrases like Enterprise and May the Force Be With You! have been absorbed into everyday life? Books can also exert an influence and author Mark Chadbourn has decided to let lose his own ideas, his own memes, into society through his Age of Misrule fantasy trilogy.

'A meme is an idea that acts like a computer virus,' Chadbourn explains. 'One person passes the idea to another. The "infected" person's consciousness, or belief system, or the way they act, is changed by the idea and they pass it on. Following the train, one small idea can change the whole of society, which to me is a very exciting concept. It means no one is insignificant, and we all have a mind-boggling power to exact great change.'

'Stories are the best way for transmitting ideas, because the ideas are put into a structure where they can sink deep into our subconscious, where memes do their work. One example that illustrates the power of stories to transmit memes is the TV series Hill Street Blues. Academic studies have noted police acted a certain way before the series was broadcast, and then subtly adjusted their behaviour, subconsciously, afterwards, so they acted more like the characters. The writers of Hill Street Blues created a meme and through the medium of their show it filtered out into a particular culture and exacted change.'

In his novels, Chadbourn has used the Celtic history of Britain as a structure to deliver his own memes. 'There's a generally held view that the Celts only stood for the three F's -- fornicating, fighting and feasting -- which, let's face it, isn't such a bad thing. But they actually provide a decent model of society, especially for the time they thrived. They had a powerful sense of community that did not have some sort of privileged ruling class -- their leaders were raised up from the people. They were extremely liberal, in that women were seen as equals to a degree -- they could become leaders, fight in battle, inherit the property of their husbands (and to understand how radical this is, look at other cultures around at the time, like the patriarchal Romans). They put art, culture and spirituality at the heart of their society. And their spirituality was very advanced, very complex, and provided good life lessons that were inherently moral. Plus they instinctively understood the true power of archetypes, the symbols buried in our subconscious that shape who we are. Arguably, their mythologies used these archetypes more effectively than any other contemporary religion.'

To incorporate a realistic Celtic atmosphere into his novels, Chadbourn has visited many ancient sites around the country. 'I've travelled the length and breadth of the UK, going to the most out of the way places. My favourites include the Avebury complex because there's still a deep sense of power in it, Tintagel because I love the romantic Cornish coast, and a place just off Loch Ness that featured in Always Forever because it's so affecting on so many levels and you get a real sense of what it must have been like there for our ancestors. The place where I feel a real sense of transcendence, though, is Caldey Island, just off Tenby in South Wales. It's now home to a community of Cistercian monks, but before then it was used as a holy island going back to neolithic times.'

And physically being there has made a big difference to his books too. 'Seeing a place in a book or pictures is like trying to taste a meal wrapped in a tea towel. I believe in the power of certain locations. You have to be there to feel it in the most deep-seated part of you. A place is not just a view. It's a confluence of many things -- the temperature, the smell, the feel of the wind, the sounds. You have to understand a place to represent it, and you can't do that until you've experienced it fully.'

(This interview first appeared on Sci Fi Channel Europe.)

Copyright © 2005 by Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.

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