William Gibson: Opening Lines The Seminal Cyberpunk Author Reveals How He Learned to Write Fiction


To mark the beginning of 2012, sci-fi pioneer William Gibson recalls the first sentence of fiction he ever wrote. The Vancouver-based author releases his first collection of non-fiction essays this month, Distrust That Particular Flavor, tackling subjects as varied as Yakuza films, cyborgs, and Steely Dan. In the following extract from his essay African Thumb Piano, Gibson remembers his early attempts at fiction in a revealing glimpse into his writing process, influences and obsessions.
From African Thumb Piano by William Gibson
When I started to try to learn to write fiction, I knew that I had no idea how to write fiction. This was actually a plus, that I knew I didn’t know, but at the time it was scary. I was afraid that people who were somehow destined to write fiction came to the task already knowing how. I clearly didn’t, so likely I wasn’t so destined. I sat at the typewriter, the one on which I’d written undergraduate essays, trying to figure out how to try.
Eventually I began to try to write a sentence. I tried to write it for months. It grew longer. Eventually it became: “Seated each afternoon in the darkened screening room, Graham came gradually to see the targeted numerals of the academy leader as hypnagogic sigils preceding the dreamstate of film.” I’m not sure it was Graham. Maybe it was Bannister. It was a sentence far too obviously in the manner of J.G. Ballard, and Ballard gave his protagonists sturdy, everyman British middle-class surnames.