This is a door – Heather Child

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By Heather Child

Having been lucky enough to get a book deal with Orbit last year, I set about editing and revising my novel Everything About You.♥

It tells the story of a woman whose sister went missing when they were teenagers, who gets a virtual assistant – like a Siri or Alexa – in the future and finds it has adopted the lost girl’s personality.

Although I knew that Orbit was a science fiction and fantasy publisher, I hadn’t been thinking much about genre when I wrote the novel. It was just the book that needed to be written, a story exploring my concerns about how our lives are being documented on the internet, almost from birth to death.

The recent Facebook data breach that caused personal data from over 50 million users to be passed to Cambridge Analytica is just the latest in a series of incidents proving that control is slipping from our hands. Already the average child features in around 1500 online photos by the age of five, and an algorithm exists that can answer questions about people more accurately than their friends and family, based on what they have ‘liked’ on Facebook.

Perhaps because I’ve been researching this topic for so long, and for me this version of the future feels so close, it took a while to get my head around the idea that I was writing science fiction (even though it’s technically a ‘crossover’ novel) and to realise the marketing of the book would reflect this.

Take the cover: masterfully graphic and punchy, but also somewhat darker than I’d expected. It was revealed on the website of Sci-fi Now, and many of the requests I’ve had since, for interviews and contributions, have been from science fiction media. I never thought I’d be attending sci-fi conventions, but it’s exciting to have been invited to attend MCM Comic Con in London and I’m looking forward to it.

Genre may have been an afterthought for me, but the deeper I venture into the world of science fiction and fantasy, the more I appreciate how diverse and liberating it can be. Ever since Mary Shelley brought it into the mainstream with Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus, which marks its 200th anniversary this year, writers of every stripe have been tempted to sketch reality from just outside its confines.

Book clubs fall hungrily on novels by Claire North and M.R. Carey, drawn in by the great writing and ideas, and Guillermo del Toro took a moment to recognise the importance of genre fantasy in illuminating real-world issues when he accepted his Oscars recently for The Shape of Water, saying “This is a door. Kick it open and come in.”

Heather Child has worked in marketing within the non-profit sector for more than ten years, coming into close contact with the digital automation and personalisation technologies that herald the ‘big data’ age. She was educated at the University of Warwick, and now lives in Bristol. Everything About You is her debut novel and is out now.

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