Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

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AI? Aye, no

Someone suggested to me today that I use ChatGPT4 to help me finish The Wild Hunt Quartet.

The suggestion was kindly meant. I believe they genuinely thought it might be helpful, that maybe I could use this technology to help finish The Dragon House faster. Whilst I appreciate the thought, I will not be using any kind of AI tools in my work, either now or in the future.

I haven’t waded into the social media furore about large-language models (LLMs) being trained on copyrighted works, or various websites entering into agreements with AI companies to sell them training data without users’ consent, because pretty much everything I’ve wanted to say has already been said by folks more articulate and well-informed than me.

There are any number of objectively valid reasons not to perpetuate the AI bubble, quite apart from the hideous environmental cost of powering these LLMs and that AI-assisted search engines straight up lie to you. But the one I want to talk about is subjective, entirely personal.

What a generative AI writing assistant spits out will not be my story any more.

There, I said it. Does it make me sound precious? I don’t care. I’ve invested too much of myself into this world and these characters. Even if this AI is trained on my books, given prompts I have fine-tuned to the nth degree, it will not be a product of my brainmeats. And if I will have to edit what the AI spews out anyway, I might as well just write it myself. Then the book, and by extension the series, stands or falls by my efforts.

When I read this person’s email this morning, I was reminded of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Arthur Dent’s attempts to teach the Nutri-Matic to make him a cup of tea.

He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

— Douglas Adams

I am not going to spend vast amounts of time and energy trying to teach a machine how to write almost, but not quite, entirely unlike me.


Featured image credit: Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Reading the TBR

Before I became a writer, I was a reader. I think most of us start out that way – I mean, the love of story has to come from somewhere, right? In my case, it came from my parents reading to me as a child¹.

There were always books in the house, everything from mainstream thrillers and romances to my Dad’s Penguin Classics and as I grew up  I devoured them all. I don’t recall ever being told “not that one” or that something was too adult for me. Actually, I don’t think I ever even asked permission. If it was on the shelves, it was fair game².

As soon as I was old enough to go into town on my own, I was regularly to be found haunting the stacks at Newcastle’s bookshops, or maxing out my library card. I coudn’t get enough of books. Once I had an independent income, well. It came as no surprise to anyone that my first house contained a significant number of IKEA ‘Billy’ bookcases and I filled them all to overflowing.

Fast forward through two house moves (and marriage to MrC, who is also a bookworm) and I now have a to-be-read pile which . . . well, it looms. Not quite so vast as to distort the fabric of space-time, but still enough to induce backache when it has to be packed into boxes and moved from house to house. Since I also appear to be constitutionally incapable of not buying even more books, something has to give.

To that end, I declared 2024 to be the Year of Reading the TBR Before It Crushes Me and made a start. By the beginning of April, I’d completed 9 books from the pile and come very late to the party on some great reads:


These books have been waiting patiently on my shelves for years, quite frankly. In many cases, since they were published. The longest-resident on the list is Daughter of the Empire, by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts, which I bought in 1996. I bounced off it back then, but kept it because I thought I just wasn’t in the mood for it at that time³. It has been staring accusingly at me from the bookcase ever since. Maybe I’ll get around to it this year after all.

If I’m honest, I would have liked to have read more from the pile by now. According to my mostly-accurate Goodreads list, I still have 209 books I want to read, of which the physical Mount TBR is 138. The only problem is I started the year at 206.

Um. Whoops.

¹ They had a beautiful illustrated edition of Ivanhoe that became my favourite bedtime story for a number of years, and a comfort read for many more thereafter. I don’t remember much about it as a physical object so I don’t know if it was abridged or a kid-friendly edition or what, but the story had such an impact on me that when I moved out of my parents’ house at age 23 I wanted to take it with me. Alas, it was nowhere to be found. Gentle reader, I was gutted.

² Which was how I came to read The Iliad and The Odyssey before I’d finished middle school. Quite enjoyed them, too.

³ “Books and the Moods In Which To Read Them” would be a whole other post.

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