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Week #28: The story behind the ghost

17 July 2014
Posted in: Books, Writing | Be the first to comment

52 weeks of reading and writing
(I was asked by my publishers, Scholastic, to do a blog post about the making of There’s a Ghost in My PC, and this is a result of that.)

There's a Ghost in My PCThere’s a Ghost in My PC had its genesis in a short story I wrote for a Puffin anthology of ghost stories. I’ve never met a ghost myself, so I don’t know much about them except that they tend to hang about in old houses. But haunted house stories are so last century. So I asked myself, if I were a ghost, what would my haunt be? The answer was easy: a computer! Thus, the idea of ghost in a PC was born.

In short, Ghost in My PC is a story about an almost-13-year-old called Madhu and a ghost called Viru, who lives in Madhu’s laptop. How this came about was that, a couple of years ago, when Madhu’s mother gave her her very own laptop, she found there was already someone living in it—the ghost of her dead neighbour Raghuvir Nair, or Viru. This was because, the laptop had originally belonged to Viru, and after he died, he realized that death was even more meaningless than life had been…

[Read a longer version of this here]

So there was only one thing left to do: he started haunting his own PC. (You might wonder if there are ghosts randomly whizzing about your computer’s circuits. Viru says it’s highly unlikely, since there was a lot of difficult tinkering to do before he managed it, and it’s that much harder if you are an ethereal being, whatever that means.) At first, he was a little panicked and started sending me messages, including “virus here”. He meant to write “Viru’s here”, but he says if he could punctuate correctly, he would have been a writer. He only meant to let the user of his computer (that is, me) know that he was around. But all he did at first was just freak me out.

Anyway, we’ve sorted things out since. Viru lives happily in my laptop, keeps it updated, and spick and span. He also manages to get me online for short periods at a time. Sometimes he helps me with homework, gives me bad advice and tries not to read my personal files. (pp.26–27)

At first, the short story (called “Virus Here”) was never intended to be a book. But then, one of Scholastic’s editors started haunting me about making it one. At first I just said, “Hmm…” and changed the subject quickly. But the more I thought of it, the more I liked the idea.

Somehow, Viru the digital ghost and his “owner” Madhu grew on me. I wanted to know what happened to them. Did they make friends? Did Madhu’s inquisitive sister Kumuda find out about Viru? What about Amma? Heck, was Viru really a ghost or was it just an early version of the operating system that he had been developing?! Well, the answer is… ha, I’m not telling you! You’ll have to read the book to find out.

But ghost story (or not!), There’s a Ghost in My PC raises a lot of questions about cybersecurity. What would you do if your computer started talking to you? Would you talk back to it or would you smell a rat? A ghost in your PC sounds like a fun thing to have, but only in stories. Real life can be a lot more complicated. But that’s a subject for another day.

~PD

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