On a plane from Shanghai I had a vision of that fevered place which haunted me for fifteen years. This was not of the urban behemoth it is now, on its way to becoming a financial capital to rival New York and London and probably overtake them. Not to start with, anyway. Over the years the dream changed and shifted shape, like the stupendous city itself. But at the outset I was obsessed by Shanghai as it might have appeared to great-uncle Willie, stepping ashore and hailing a rickshaw to take him to the silken pleasures of the Great World. Who would pull the rickshaw? A poor, despised, barefoot creature, lower even than the nightsoil collectors. A Russian. With blue eyes. A woman.
This image obsessed me. It carried such power and resonated so deeply that some nights I could not sleep for thinking about it. What was the story that was trying to take form? Was it a multimedia production? A screenplay? A game? Eventually, it became a thriller, The Great Firewall. That’s what it is at the moment. But two years after publishing it, I’m starting to think perhaps I’m still not finished.