Passed/Failed: William Gibson, novelist and scriptwriter

'I dodged the draft in Toronto'

William Gibson is the author of Neuromancer and the writer who coined the term "cyberspace". Other novels include Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive and All Tomorrow's Parties. He wrote the film script of Johnny Mnemonic based on his short story. Pattern Recognition was published in April.

Swamped: Pines Elementary School near Norfolk, Virginia: the address was nicer than the reality! It was a 1950s red-brick structure. Whatever they were doing at school didn't include teaching me to read and there was some dismay about this from my parents. Perhaps encouraged by my mother, I began to read her bound copies of the Pogo comics by Walt Kelly, which was written in semi-dialect and set in a swamp in an imaginary version of America's South: we lived pretty much in a swamp in the South.

Basketball case: I was only there for a year and a bit; then my father died suddenly in an accident and my mother moved back to Wytheville, the isolated small town in Virginia where they came from. For me, this was like having to move back into the past, from the 1950s to the 1940s or even 1930s.

Spiller Elementary was a Victorian-American, falling-apart, brick building with pigeons in the attic: very Gothic. George Wythe High School was not a good time for me education-wise. I was very tall, but not interested in basketball, which was the national sport in that part of the country. I was reduced to staying in my room with my books and records.

Not SATisfactory: In frustration at my poor marks, my mother threatened me with boarding school and I surprised her by saying, "Yes - Southern California!". She couldn't afford California so at 15 I went halfway, to Arizona. I had vague allergies which in another time would have been called asthma and the clear dry air of Arizona was deemed good for this.

At Southern Arizona School for Boys I resented the structure but it forced me to be a social being, which was what I most needed. At 15 or 16 we took the SAT - Scholastic Aptitude Tests. For most people the SAT score was very important because every higher education institution would want to see these scores, which would probably weigh as much as the accumulated marks at high school. Out of, I think, 150 I got five for maths and for the written section I got 148. They didn't like that, on the grounds that it was impossible: I was doing it deliberately!

Having had my father die when I was eight, I was 18 when my mother died, so I ended up wandering away from my education and left Southern Arizona without having graduated from the school.

Goodbye, Vietnam: It was 1967, the Summer of Love. I was material for the draft [the call-up for the Vietnam War] so I went to Toronto and did what was necessary to survive. I didn't want to get killed: I wouldn't characterise it as a political decision. By 1972 I had met the girl I married. I moved to Vancouver, where my wife was finishing a Bachelor's degree at the University of British Columbia.

I began taking a few night courses in English and film history. I realised that if as a full-time student one's grades were sufficiently high, one would be forgiven one's student loans. It occurred to me that if I took only the courses which looked congenial, I would be able to maintain this high average without too much work.

Campus Follower: My wife went on to her Masters and I got a BA in English literature. I then hung around campus for a couple of years and became a sort of unlicensed graduate, doing odd jobs for the English and film history professors. I would mark undergraduate essays and was one of those guys shuffling around making overhead projectors work; I began to think I would become one permanently. It was at that point I began writing fiction, although, even when I had published my first short stories, I suffered from "impostor syndrome"; I felt that they'd come and arrest me for impersonating a writer.

jontysale@aol.com

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