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The Actuality: Q&A with Paul Braddon

Today we're delighted to be taking part in the blog tour celebrating the paperback publication of The Actuality by Paul Braddon. We fell in love with this speculative novel when it was sent to us, and we're pretty sure you're going to love it, too. Thanks to Paul Braddon for answering all our questions about his debut novel.

If you'd prefer to pick up a copy of the (gorgeous!) hardback we currently have an offer running on our online shop, where you can buy a copy for only £7.99.

Without giving too much away, could you tell us a bit about your new novel?

The Actuality is set in a climate-ravaged near-future in which technology has raced ahead then seized up. At the heart of this dangerous world, trying to make sense of it all, is Evie – as soulful and aware of her limitations as any human but crucially not human!

What inspired and influenced you in writing this book?

I was treading in the footsteps of Frankenstein as much as modern classics, but the key difference is that AI characters are often shown to be feared. My challenge was to make Evie someone the reader can root for and love, and when required, take her side.

The Actuality kicks off in a garden and follows a character called Evie - it certainly seems like there’s a connection to the Bible. Could you tell us a bit about that?

The garden you refer to is at the top of high-rise building and, similar to Eden, is both a haven and something of a prison. Also like Eden, there’s the danger that one can be cast out!

While your book follows an AI, it’s very focused on humanity – was this something you were driven by while writing?

It’s exciting to see the world through perspectives other than our own and how better than through that of an intelligent but inexperienced AI mind? For Evie, being as close to human as possible is essential and it’s natural for her to experience unease when exposed. It was imagining the detail of what it would like to be in her position and making her act accordingly that hopefully brings her to life. Add Evie’s unique situation and the real danger she faces, and the result is an intriguing challenge for any writer.

AI as a replacement for lost loved ones isn’t a new concept, though the way you handle it feels fresh and unique. Why did you want to explore this idea?

The question of what makes us what we are is central to The Actuality. Evie is expected to seamlessly replicate a woman she has never met, suppressing her own personality in the process. I wanted to imagine how difficult the resulting conflict and compromise would feel.

Could you tell us a bit about developing dystopian settings that are at once familiar, strange and futuristic?

I visited all the locations in which The Actuality is set and walked the routes that Evie takes, seeing what she would see and allowing the imagination to do its thing. The best bit was visiting Paris as it was an excuse for a fab (pre-Covid) weekend!

Last, but definitely not least, how does it feel to have your book optioned by BBC Studios?

It feels brilliant. BBC Studios are so enthusiastic it is amazing. We’re only at the stage of the option, so I have to be careful about dreaming too far ahead, but a series along the lines of what they envisage would be so exciting.

Paul Braddon

Paul Braddon