Excerpts from the interviews:
“I started writing at the height of the Thatcher Era, in 1983. I was just out of university, had no job, and didn't know what else to do. It was the classic 'I can do that better' origin. I was passing through Belfast Central Station and I saw a magazine, a short-lived but nice one called Extro. I bought it, read through it, and thought 'I could do that.' So I wrote them a story, 'The Island of the Dead', sent it off, and they bought it. With the money, I bought a guitar, which was a very rock 'n' roll thing to do.
“Then the magazine folded and there was no other fiction market in Britain or Ireland, so I turned to Asimov's. Shawna McCarthy was editor there at the time, and she bought 'The Catherine Wheel' and a couple of others. Then she went to Bantam Books, and sent me one of those letters you always like to get: 'Dear Ian, I've been headhunted by Bantam Books. I've always liked your stories. Have you thought about writing a novel?' (I have now!) So I wrote Desolation Road.”
“River of Gods was literally conceived over a lunch with my agent John Parker and my editor John Jarrold in 1999. We were sitting around having a very nice lunch with quite a lot of wine, and talking about Rudyard Kipling's Kim and what a great book it actually is. (Kim is a great book. Kipling gets a lot of stick as 'The Great Singer of Empire,' but the past is another planet: attitudes and values are quite alien to us, and I do believe that Kipling was genuine in his attempts to understand and portray Indian society as he encountered it.) But back to lunch: I was saying, 'Why has nobody ever done a science-fictional equivalent of Kim, a wide-scale book set in India?' and John Jarrold said, 'Well, I think it's your job to do it then!'
“As I was thinking about it, India was emerging as a major cultural and scientific player. I was saving web pages onto my computer, about weird things happening -- the whole Bangalore software thing, and everything being outsourced to India. A lot of Indians speak English (which is one of India's great advantages over China -- the other being that it's the world's largest democracy, and the democratic streak runs very very deep), and the people working in call centers were given British names and shown old copies of British soap operas like East Enders and Coronation Street so they could chat away with customers when they were on hold. I thought, 'That is wonderful. That's where the future is going.' The more research I did, the more I thought, 'There's a huge gaping hole in science fiction. A lot has been done about China, but people have been overlooking India.' When do you ever see an Indian on Star Trek? There are Chinese all over the place, but you never see an Indian.”
“Even though I've never actually read much Ballard, Chaga did get compared a lot to him. In some ways, we approach the end of empire from different angles: he takes the British/English angle, while I take the approach of somebody living in England's last colony, Northern Ireland. We have classic post-colonial problems: nationalist movements (or armed separatist movements, if you want to call them that), unionists, terrorists, the whole lot. It's the classic British Empire endgame, so I found it was natural to me to write about empire and colonization from the other side. War on terror? I've been living through that for 30 years and, thank God, we seem to be emerging from it. There are very few indignities and infringements of civil liberties that I haven't seen or even personally experienced. Maybe that's why, in the current book, Brasyl, the 2032 section is set in a surveillance society (then again, the 1732 section is similarly a surveillance society, under the omniscience of God). But in the end, the process in Northern Ireland was so simple: engage in politics, real politics. Let the 'enemy' speak and learn what they want. Maybe there's something in there you can live with. Maybe there isn't. But at least you'll know.”
“The July 16, 1950 final of the 1950 World Cup is a date graven in shame in Brazil. Soccer is not a question of life and death to Brazilians; it's more important than that, as the saying goes. They had built a new 100,000-seat stadium and they were favored to win, so their loss to Uruguay -- when the goalkeeper slipped and missed the ball -- seems a key point in Brazilian history. Brazilians have done loads of films where people go back in time and try to change the results of the fateful final. My book Brasyl is set in present-day Brazil (or what seems like it), in Saõ Paulo 2032, and in 1732 Brazil just before the Jesuits were expelled. It revolves around the way quantum computing opens up multiple parallel universes -- in some of which Brazil won that World Cup and in some of which it didn't. And of course, a whole lot more besides.”