DBC Pierre: ‘You can be shut down from life because of one mistake’

The hellraiser turned Booker prize winner on the infantilising nature of the internet, his favourite reading choices and why second chances are so important

DBC Pierre is the author of seven books, including Release the Bats, a guide to writing fiction, and Vernon God Little, which won the Booker prize in 2003. At the ceremony, Pierre (born Peter Finlay in Australia in 1961) pledged his prize money to friends he had duped during an itinerant past life as a self-confessed conman and addict; his initials stand for Dirty But Clean. He spoke to me from his current home in Cambridgeshire, where he wrote his latest novel, Meanwhile in Dopamine City, a satirical dystopia about a widowed sewage worker struggling to raise two children in an age of digital innovation run riot.

What led you to send up big tech and the internet, or “the grid”, as it’s called in the book?
I’d love to write a book about butterflies or something, but I [got] so incensed about what’s happening. About five years ago it became clear that for many reasons the notion of us all having a voice [online] was going to take a different route than we had expected, because of brain chemistry and mob culture and what suited the profit motive… I’m not in any way a technophobe: this is about the extremely alarming agenda behind [online] technologies. We’re running around saying we suddenly have a voice [but] the internet infantilises you – you’re automatically a teenager when you use any of these [social media] tools. They are geared that way: we’re creatures who love an idea much more than a fact, and so we can ignore a whole lot of facts. As a novelist I’m daunted because it’s impossible… well, it was impossible to write satire 20 years ago, to be fair.

You’re finding your creative resources more stretched than when you wrote Vernon God Little?
Oh yeah, for sure. I made the mistake, for about a year of writing this, of thinking, I’m just gonna look five, 10 years ahead. So I invented some cool stuff; by the end of that year, all of those [made-up] technologies were old news.

Early on in the book, the protagonist finds himself branded an abuser after he smacks his daughter.
Lonnie was brought up in a liberal world of second chances. My life is built from second chances; I wouldn’t be speaking to you but for having been forgiven and helped off the floor and back on my feet. I believe that’s the correct way, [but] that’s being thrown out very quickly. You can be shut down from life on the basis of one mistake.

My original draft actually meant to rewire your brain

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DBC Pierre: ‘You can be shut down from life because of one mistake’