© Paul Mason

Paul Mason is a writer, public speaker and broadcaster on economics and social justice. He writes a weekly column for the New Statesman, and contributes to the Guardian, Freitag and Le Monde Diplomatique. He is a frequent guest on opinion-forming TV and radio shows, including BBC Newsnight, DemocracyNow!, BBC Politics Live and BBC Question Time. His latest book Clear Bright Future: A radical defence of the human being explores the moral, political and economic challenges posed by the current crisis of democracy and the coming challenge of intelligent machines. 

How many ideas for potential works do you have in your head? 

Usually two at a time: one factual, one creative. Sometimes the creative work comes to nothing but I think it's a way of keeping my left-sided brain active for the factual work. Right now I have a play/screenplay about a dystopian techno-fascist state in Europe in 2032, premised on the aftermath of the American Civil War 2.0 but the problem is all the extreme lying and violence keeps getting surpassed by actual rulers in 2020. The factual work is a book on fascism, then and now, and it's close to completion and the closer I get to the truth the more depressing it becomes.

When working on a new project, how do you sift through competing ideas in order to move forward?

There is a technique that many creative writers use: have the one brilliant idea, summarise it and mentally "tape it to your typewriter": never lose sight of it. Sid Field's screenplay manual tells you – if there's a page that doesn't contain or advance the idea, screw it up and throw it away. When I couldn't write well, or originally, it was because I was always lost in the details. This is the principle I follow now in all stages of ideas-based writing.

What writing habit do you have that you feel is impossible to shift? (That could be a particular snack, writing hours, location, caffeine consumption etc.)

I often start writing a column without knowing what I am going to say at the end. I find logical building blocks more easily manipulated once they are on paper: then you can attack them, delete them, modify them. It’s the same when I play a computer game: what’s the point of reading the manual? Just play: you'll find a strategy!

The international literature festival berlin (ilb) has become an essential part of the literary calendar of Berlin. What do you connect with the city?

The society I live in is in complete denial about its own imperialist crimes. Berliners live in a historic crime scene, with the physical evidence of totalitarian and genocidal events all around them; and I have a profound respect for the consciousness and tolerance and care for democracy this produces in everyday life and conversations, even among people who don't agree with each other.