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Meet the Author: Adrian Hornsby

Meet The Author is a series of brief interviews with Shakespeare & Sons' favourite writers.

Adrian Hornsby (b. 1977, UK) is a writer who sees stories as music and time in landscapes. Moods range from the subversively funny to the malevolently beautiful.

Adrian’s writing covers a rich kaleidoscope of forms and interests. Books include Disruption in Action, with Alexandra Jankovich and Tom Voskes, which tells seven business parables about global companies; and The Good Analyst, a ground-breaking study of social impact measurement. The opera As Big As the Sky, created with Dutch composer Arnoud Noordegraaf and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, is about an architectural project to turn the world upside down. Urwald is a film thriller about consciousness. A.M. is a love story about sound. And I Piano is a kid’s show about a piano that has lost its music and a little girl who wants to help find it again …

Adrian’s approach to fiction and non-fiction alike is to combine high-level concepts with acute observation and mordant wit. Or put another way, he writes stories about ideas using parts pulled from life.



1. What have been some of the key moments in your literary and artistic journey so far?

Oh God, I don’t know. When I was 22 I moved to Paris because I liked Beckett and Flaubert and fancy French movies, and thought it might be nice to live in one. But then I wound up hanging out with Americans and doing events in squats with string and junk. In that period I learned a lot about how to be less precious.

Life itself is much more interesting than trying to make life look like art. I think it took me a couple of years after leaving university to feel that right, but that was one key. Since then, I’ve tried to stay open and keep finding more.

2. Your work includes a wide range of subjects and mediums - theatre, music, social studies, philosophy and technology, to name a few. How do you navigate your thoughts between such a variety of questions? Is writing functioning almost as a connective tool between these issues and languages?

The work is story-telling, which really means taking a large body of information and organising it in a way that makes sense. I’m not sure ‘sense’ is a very helpful word here, but basically, you blow out the debris, and then when you put certain pieces of what’s left next to each other, something very exciting happens. I think this movement is what I’m looking for in everything I write.

The raw information can be almost anything: the politics of China, social studies, urban planning, tech. But you know something good is happening when you keep finding that movement.


3. Tell us a little about the process behind Disruption in Action. What led you and your co-writers to write this book? What do you hope readers take away from it?

I had an unusual opportunity with this book to have very candid interviews with people high up in giant global companies, or who’d worked very closely with them (my co-authors), and we talked in detail about how specific projects had played out. These were tech projects, but they’re more about people and politics. There were blunders, jealousies, blood on the office floor, and a few moments of real skill and daring.

Then I respun the stories into fiction because that freed me up to write the truth (otherwise you get into lots of issues with confidentiality). And that’s the book: 7 stories about global companies taking on tech.

I hope readers get a smile out of it, and some insights into how these places operate. Large companies are giant human endeavours – Coca-Cola, for example, has 700,000 people working in its value chain, and organising that is a puzzle. But more fundamentally, the book is about how human beings coordinate and do stuff. A lot of the complexities the Coca-Colas run into are very recognisable from, say, trying to get a group of ten friends into the same bus.


4. Who are your co-speakers at the panel-event on Thursday and what are some of the conversations you can not wait to discuss with the readers?

My co-speakers are a group luminary Berlin entrepreneurs! Hard not to do a brief list: Cilia Laug is Maxima’s mom and a serial startup-er, most recently of a baby toy box subscription service. Jaclyn Siu is an art-tech founder-mentor who’s done blockchain, NFTs, AI and, back in the day, was Rihanna and JAY-Z on social media. Florian Feichtinger builds teams and human code for startups. And Susanne Schlösser coaches high-level people through big inflections – a celebrity chef turns into a green politician, a pop star into an author, a boxer into a philosopher. It’s wild.

The best part of discussions with readers are always the ‘Yes, but get this!’ responses. People recognise things that happen in the book, and want to share their own versions, which are great.

5. Finally, what do you think is the role of an artist in the digital world?

I think pretty soon, AI will be creating art that holds its own or better against humans. In many fields it already is. Some years ago now, someone fed the complete works of Bach into an AI and got it to generate some more, then slipped a few of the pieces into a Bach concert and no one noticed. I’m not sure enough people noticed that no one noticed. But as far as the human vs computer contest goes, the artist is going down very soon.

But then, when that happened in chess, it didn’t suddenly make everyone feel it was pointless to play. In many ways, 26 years after Deep Blue, the game is stronger than ever.

Obviously art is not chess, but I still don’t think it’s an existential problem for artists. But what I think will happen is that more and more artists will work with AI generation, and themselves become something more like editors or curators – selecting which bits of the generation they want to use and stitching them together. Which is what artists have always done with life. The difference with AI – in the field of writing at least – is that you can get hold of the bits as text already, which makes it a lot less work!


Please join us on the 23rd of February at Shakespeare and Sons for a panel talk with co-author Adrian Hornsby and Berlin entrepreneurs discussing "Disruption in Action: 7 Inside Storied of How Global Companies Take On Digital Transformation".

Find out more from here: Book Launch with Adrian Hornsby. 


Interview by our bookseller Iti Libe.