Today’s post centers around my new personal inspiration for Cyberpunk, Richard K Morgan. Most of you may know him as the guy who wrote the source material for the Netflix hit TV series Altered Carbon. Some may know him as the write of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, of which Altered Carbon is the first book (and you should definitely read the other two, since Season 2 will be based on the other 2 books!).
But Richard is a very interesting guy, and I think it’s worth delving into this talented writer’s past to get to know him better, and also to help us understand what we might be able to expect from him in the future, as well as gauge what kind of influence he might have on the Cyberpunk genre.
So let’s start at the beginning. Richard was born in London and was brought up in the village of Hethersett, near Norwich. He went to good schools, buried himself in reading and music, was rather solitary with few friends, and had no interest in drinking or girls.
He then started his first year at Queens college in Cambridge, and all that changed. He discovered alcohol and drugs, but most importantly, he experienced a heart-breaking first love relationship that wrecked his first year at the university.
So as a result, he shifted his studies to history, scraped by as he struggled with putting actual effort in his studies, and finally finished college disillusioned with no purpose or direction.
Being a writer isn’t easy.
He always knew he wanted to be a writer, but in a comfortable middle-class upbringing, he was sure that it would eventually just happen. “I just assumed I’d wander out into the world and be discovered as a brilliant novelist.”
So with that in mind, he moved to London, planning to become a writer immediately get published with the snap of his fingers, and then travel the world with his royalty checks.
But that didn’t happen. London made sure of that. Everyone wanted to be a writer there, and no one encouraged you to write since it was so common. Morgan had wanted to do two things, to travel and to become a writer, and the latter clearly wasn’t happening.
Fortunately, becoming an ESL teacher is quite easy in comparison.
So he signed up for a 4 week intensive CELTA course in Istanbul to become an ESL teacher, and then easily got a job teaching and being paid at a local salary that was higher than a hospital doctor.
And he ended up staying in the English Language Teaching (ELT) field for 14 years, the field that he fell into to make a living while traveling. He started as a novice, read the literature, joined professional associations, signed up for further training, and before he knew it he became a director of studies, a seasoned ELT pro, and finally a teacher trainer.
As he taught English, he continued writing, as much as he could. Short stories, articles, a screenplay that no one took seriously, a bad first novel, letters to editorial staff, and so on.
Until the day came when he got Altered Carbon published.
And then, in 8 months, Hollywood bought it and he gave up his day job.
Just like that.
The Hollywood figure who came to him? Joel Silver, who produced the Matrix.
Warner Brothers wrote him a seven-figure check to buy film rights for the book.
And then Richard Morgan waited and waited, for seven years every 18 months they paid him more. It eventually fell out of option, and then Laeta Kalogridis snatched it up. After another film option fell through, Netflix stepped up and took it on as a series.
The rest is history.
Between publishing his first book Altered Carbon in 2001 and the series being released on Netflix in 2018, however, Richard kept busy. He finished the 2nd and 3rd book in the series, and then continued writing full time.
Then he wrote two 6-issue miniseries for Marvel about Black Widow.
His screenplay became a novel (Market Forces), and was optioned as a film and won the John Campbell memorial award.
Another novel of his, Black man, won the Arthur C Clark award.
And then he wrote a fantasy trilogy between 2008 and 2014.
Finally, alongside all this work, he had the great opportunity of being brought on board as main writer for both the 2008 cyberpunk video game Syndicate, and for Crytek’s 2011 video game Crysis 2.
What an incredible career, right? And it’s not even close to being finished!
Morgan is now 52 years old, with a wife and a young son. He moved back to the town that he grew up in. He was in his mid-30s when Altered Carbon got published.
When he was asked what was one writing tip he would recommend, he said the following:
“Have your protagonist do something unacceptable early on. You need to step away from him, so he’s not an insert or a wank fantasy. You can take the hero ride, but you’ve got to distance yourself. This is not me, this is not you, this is a man you might enjoy being in some ways, but there’s always a price to be paid. He’s morally compromised, I guess.”