Dark fiction YA author Sarah Govett takes ‘T.I.M.’ to Netflix:
we chat books, A.I. and her new tv drama
We’re always delighted when authors we have featured and on the site take their careers into new and fascinating directions. Back in 2016 Sarah Govett’s dystopian ecological thriller The Territory (2015) was the deserved winner of the Trinity School Book Award, a London book prize involving lots of schools (including my own) which declared The Territory the overwhelming winner after a huge pupil vote. Two outstanding sequels followed and Sarah quickly became an author in high demand for school visits for her engaging talks around south of England, including my own where we held a Q&A with pupils who had read the book. She then changed direction, with two comedy dramas developed around the trials and tribulations of teen school life in south London with India Smythe Stands Up and its sequel.
However, Sarah is at her best when things are kept very dark as we saw in her next novel We Go On Forever (2021) a tale of having lifespans elongated by jumping into unaware hosts, being a bleak triumph peppered with small sprinklings of hope. This book was also nominated for the 2023 Trinity School Book Award and at the recent ceremony Sarah we chatted about her latest project T.I.M Technologically. Integrated. Manservant., which she has co-scripted with her husband and appears on Netflix in August. This film is not aimed at children!
We later caught up with Sarah and she kindly answered a few questions on T.I.M. and the inspirations behind it. Following the interview is the official press release from Netflix and link to the trailer.
OUR CHAT WITH SARAH
GNOH: There has been a lot of water under the bridge since The Territory won the Trinity School Book Award back in 2016 (the ceremony was tragically cancelled at the last minute due to the ‘Beast from the East’ snowstorm). Looking back on it, why do you think your debut was so successful and popular with kids?
SARAH: I am still so grateful for this award. I think the reason The Territory resonates with kids is that it addresses issues that are central to their world: exams (the emphasis placed upon them, the stress that surrounds them and the unfairness of the education system) and the environment (which so many are passionate about). Moreover, it doesn’t preach to them or talk down to them – I’ve tried to write it in a very accessible way and incorporate humour, yet not shy away from darker themes. I loved dystopia at this age and it seems to have enduring appeal!
GNOH: Before we get to T.I.M., did you ever think about writing a screenplay for The Territory? It’s clearly very topical for both environmental, educational reasons and these days dystopia never goes out of fashion.
SARAH: I still have hopes for The Territory reaching our screens one day – I’m doing all I can to make that a reality!
GNOH: Why did you decide to aim T.I.M. at the adult market, considering this might have been perfect material for a YA audience? Is this a sign you might have fiction in the pipeline aimed at adults?
SARAH: I always conceived T.I.M. as being for adults (and older teens) as it’s an adult relationship drama melded with a thriller. It is inspired by mine and my husband’s deep distrust of A.I. and Big Data and our love of 80s and 90s stalker thrillers like Fatal Attraction, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Sleeping with the Enemy etc. These formed the backdrop of many of my late-teens sleepover parties. I’ll never forget the way we all jumped when Julia Roberts saw the straightened towels and the lined-up cans in the cupboard. And I do actually also have an adult psychological thriller/crime procedural that’s just gone out on submission!
GNOH: You obviously love writing about technology, from brain downloads in The Territory to the horrors of mind moving in We Go On Forever and now T.I.M. What attracts you to this type of technological darkness?
SARAH: I like writing about what scares me, and I have a deep distrust of technology! Mankind’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge is both a wonderful and terrifying thing. There is a lot of wisdom to the phrase just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Tech companies are currently racing ahead, wanting to be first to market, when even they admit they don’t know exactly what they’re unleashing on the world. And whether it will destroy us. As Geoffrey Hinton, the Godfather of A.I. recently said in an interview: ‘Imagine a household robot where you could tell it what to do and it can do things. That household robot will be a lot smarter than you. Are you confident it would keep doing what you told it to?’
GNOH: You co-wrote T.I.M. with your husband. How did that work, how big were the tiffs along the way and how long was the process?
SARAH: We wrote the film at the start of 2019 when our youngest was only 3 months old – the combination of ideas flying and sleep deprivation producing a sort of creative mania. We then had to find a producer, secure funding and so on. It filmed last summer and is out at the end of this one (16th August), so quite a lengthy process!
At first, we found it quite hard to work together as a husband-and-wife team. We’d both written with others before but then there were more lines of politeness that couldn’t be crossed. Feedback was always preceded by positive qualifiers. We had none of those boundaries. Opinions weren’t filtered. Feedback wasn’t sugar-coated. When we disagreed, sparks flew. But then this actually made for much faster progress and we can now work together really well.
GNOH: T.I.M. could have been inspired by countless films, books or television shows, but what was buzzing in your head when you wrote it?
SARAH: The seed for the idea came when we were discussing concerns about our middle child’s speech development and, unprompted, our phones’ feeds started suggesting speech therapists. The fact that we’d been overhead, eavesdropped on by our own devices was so unsettling. So many of us take technology we don’t fully understand into our homes in the name of convenience. We have no appreciation of the potential consequences. We wanted to take this fear and heighten it. We’d also recently rewatched The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and were talking about how no-one makes those sorts of thrillers anymore. We decided to try and bring them back!
GNOH: How or at what stage did Netflix get involved?
SARAH: When we got out producers on board they took the script to Netflix.
GNOH: T.I.M is being released at a particularly relevant time as artificial intelligence has been dominating the new cycles. What is your take on the future of AI? Have you sampled the prowess of Chat GPT at all when it comes to writing or essays and stuff like that? (I have, it’s rubbish).
SARAH: I hate A.I. and, as you can probably imagine, shy away from any type of ‘Smart’ technology. My husband and I did try Chat GPT out of interest. We tried to see if it was able to come up with jokes (my husband was originally a stand-up comedian) and found to get anything of value you had to feed it incredibly detailed instructions. For example, if you asked for a joke it was rubbish but if you drilled down to specifics and asked for a joke about leaving a Christmas tree on a pavement it started to produce the occasional good joke amidst the dross. I won’t be using it for my writing!
I think A.I. will inevitably be used more and more, rendering a sizeable chunk of working-age adults redundant, with terrible societal consequences. I can also imagine A.I. robots being used in care homes (as is being done more and more in Japan) and I find the idea of elderly people spending their final days with a machine rather a fellow human unbearably sad. I see any existential danger coming from A.I.’s use in warfare or from a shutdown of all our systems in the coldly logical pursuit of a programmed aim rather than from a malevolent proto consciousness.
GNOH: So many kids in my school library have enjoyed your books and I see you regularly recommended on many other book pages, so I hate to think you are abandoning YA for the bright lights of television. Tell us it’s not true and if the makers of Black Mirror come knocking at your door you’ll tell them to get stuffed?
SARAH: I intend to keep writing YA, but I do love screenwriting too. Black Mirror, what’s your offer?
GNOH: Thanks Sarah. We look forward to watching T.I.M. and it is always great to bump into you on the book circuit. We’re delighted you are sticking with YA!
T.I.M: HIS INTELLIGENCE IS ARTIFICIAL. THE THREAT IS REAL.
Stigma Films are excited to announce that T.I.M. starring Georgina Campbell (BARBARIAN, BIRD BOX BARCELONA), Eamon Farren (THE WITCHER) and Mark Rowley (THE LAST KINGDOM) will be available to watch on Netflix UK from 1st August 2023. This twisty and sophisticated thriller is comedian turned writer-director Spencer Brown’s debut feature following his multi-award-winning short film, The Boy with a Camera for a Face. His co-writer and spouse, Sarah Govett, is the award-winning author of sci-fi trilogy, The Territory. T.I.M. was inspired by their mutual love of 90s stalker-thrillers and fear of A.I. and Big Data. The film eschews the polar tropes of British film – kitchen sink ‘grittiness’ and chocolate box charm – to present a truly modern Britain, its sleekness and setting recalling contemporary classics such as The Invisible Man. The film is produced by Matthew James Wilkinson and Patrick Tolan. Altitude Films are on board as the sales agent.
T.I.M. follows Abi, a robotics engineer, as she moves to the countryside to work for a tech firm that’s developing an A.I. manservant: T.I.M. She is hoping the new job will be a fresh start, allowing her to rebuild her relationship with her husband following his affair, and start a family. As a perk of the job, Abi is given her own prototype T.I.M. She’s thrilled. After all, they’re meant to change your life. However, T.I.M. quickly becomes obsessed with her. He will do anything he can to take her husband’s place, using his access to their data to manipulate her into thinking her husband is straying again. What hope does trust have against an intelligence that can deep fake your voice, access your bank account, control the locks on your smart home and take control of your driverless car?
T.I.M. delves into our fear of A.I. – tech companies racing ahead, wanting to be first to market, when even they admit they don’t know exactly what they’re unleashing on the world. And whether it will destroy us. As Geoffrey Hinton, the Godfather of A.I. recently said in an interview: ‘Imagine a household robot where you could tell it what to do and it can do things. That household robot will be a lot smarter than you. Are you confident it would keep doing what you told it to?’