Interview with Haydn Wilks

Author of $hitcoin.

Haydn Wilks is a Welsh author whose first two books took a gritty and often darkly humorous look at life in Cardiff. His latest novel $hitcoin takes on the world with a wild tale of excess, betrayal, sex, drugs, and death that plays out across five continents. It follows a group of students in the Netherlands who launch a cryptocurrency and generate millions from international investors. Large portions of the novel take place in China, South Korea, Japan, and the United States. We spoke with Wilks about the insane real life stories which inspired his new novel.

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Your new novel $hitcoin is based on the real phenomena of alternative cryptocurrencies which generated insane amounts of money in the hype surrounding Bitcoin back in 2017. How closely does the book mirror reality?
  • There were thousands of projects with million dollar valuations at the peak of cryptomania back in 2017. Many even hit the billion mark. There was a huge amount of real world material to draw on. One project in particular that I probably shouldn't mention by name was being promoted as a world changing cryptocurrency that did something or other that made it stand out. If you looked at the project's website, it was created by two university students with zero track record. Most cryptocurrencies have some lengthy white paper that explains the technology, but this thing just had a two page pamphlet. And sure enough, it was soon worth millions.
The novel has a global focus with storylines taking place in many different countries. This is a big change from your first two novels, both of which were set in Cardiff. What was your thinking behind trying to write something so global?
  • I was living in South Korea when I got the idea for writing this novel. I was teaching at a university there at the time and many students were discussing cryptocurrencies in class. Korea was one of the countries were cryptomania was most noticeable. It seemed like everyone was investing. I was always going to move towards writing something with a more global overview and this seemed like the perfect topic for that.
Did you buy into the hype surrounding cryptocurrency?
  • Oh yeah! I got my first bit of bitcoin from a Bitcoin Center in Seoul in the summer of 2017. Pretty soon, I was going there every time I got paid to buy more, then shifting that into lots of other altcoins. I was also writing about cryptocurrency for some of the crypto news sites that sprouted up at this time.
Did you make much money?
  • I did until I didn't. The value was increasing like crazy throughout 2017, especially for some of the smaller cryptocurrencies. I bought into one called Raiblocks when it was 65 cents. Within a couple of months, Raiblocks had shot up to $30! I took out more than I put in but I also rode the price collapse to near the bottom. So I made a lot less than I could have.
What do you think was behind the insane hype surrounding cryptocurrencies in 2017?
  • It was a definite case of FOMO - fear of missing out. It was a hot new thing that was making people rich. Others saw that and wanted in on it. With Raiblocks, that was shooting up in value just after a similar coin called IOTA had gone from being worth about 40 cents to $5. Everyone was chasing the hot new coin and that in itself was pumping the price up. There were a lot of different factors, including market manipulation.
Which other books did you draw on in writing $hitcoin?
  • There's been a few non-fiction books that explore the madness around crypto and Initial Coin Offerings, but I think this is the first work of fiction to really tackle that topic. One book that really inspired me with this is Ryu Murakami's From the Fatherland, With Love. It's about North Korea invading the Japanese island of Kyushu. The central government in Tokyo cuts the island off and leave them to live with the North Koreans as their dictators. The United States and other countries take a similar approach and the people who live there are on their own. Murakami's novel shows a huge range of characters living in Kyushu's main city of Fukuoka. Some of them collaborate with the North Koreans, others plot against them. That kind of sweep was very impressive to me and it was probably the biggest single influence on writing $hitcoin. Other influences on the book include Brett Easton Ellis, especially Glamorama, which is kind of about the superficiality of celebrity culture. And Five Star Billionaire by Tasha Aw, which was a pretty direct inspiration for the character of Alicia in my novel.
It's just been announced that a movie is being made based on another cryptocurrency book, Bitcoin Billionaires. Do you expect to see more movies on this topic?
  • Definitely. Late in $hitcoin, the guys behind the cryptocurrency end up getting a movie deal. The Bitcoin Billionaires movie is about the Winklevoss twins and there's definitely a lot of interesting material there, but there are so many other stories in this space. There'll definitely be more.
If $hitcoin was made into a movie, who would you have in mind to play each part?
  • I actually had the name of a real actor in the novel playing each of the characters in the movie version right up until the final draft. I decided to take it out to give me a bit more flexibility and creative license with how those actors behave. But if you read the novel, it shouldn't be too hard to see who I'd have in mind to play Guus!
There are a lot of characters in the novel. Some are sympathetic, others are very much not. Which characters were your favorite to write?
  • Guus was a lot of fun to write, but some scenes with him I actually ended up turning my own stomach! He's the guy who completely buys into his own hype. He doesn't have much of a moral basis to begin with and then the success and money push him into becoming a total monster. But that whole arc was interesting for me. The most sympathetic characters are probably Aart, Graham, and Alicia. I tried to make every character as fleshed out and full blooded as possible, so they all have moments of introspection along the way. Even Guus shows some fragility and insecurity as the novel progresses.
You said that there are a lot of stories to be told about cryptocurrency. Do you have any plans for another crypto-focused novel after $hitcoin?
  • I think $hitcoin tells the whole story of the period on which it's focused but there can definitely be new developments in future which would make me want to revisit this topic. And there are a few story threads in there that could definitely be built on some more in a sequel. Maybe some day!
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Bears & Bulls make money. Pigs get slaughtered.
Three Dutch university students watch rap videos and dream of big yachts & banquets of sushi served on the naked bodies of supermodels. Could making millions of dollars be as easy as writing a few lines of computer code? How easily could they launch their own cryptocurrency?

Alicia came to China from Malaysia to make her fortune. Now she’s trapped between working at a clothes factory and a seedy karaoke bar. One of the bar’s clients got rich mining bitcoin. Can she escape after emptying his wallet?

Graham doesn’t know what cryptocurrency is but he knows it’s making people rich. That’s why the London hipster magazine he writes for sends him to Berlin to cover the crypto scene. Could it be an escape from a job he’s rapidly becoming too old for?

The lives of these and many others across the world intersect as Future Synergy Coin becomes a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Yacht parties, trashed hotel suites, drug binges with celebrities, torture, sex, mutilation, & death. This wild story takes in crypto-crazed Korean office workers, crypto-accepting Eritrean drug dealers, and crypto-thieving American teenagers.

It’s Wolf of Wall Street for the Instagram generation.

London, New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Dubai, Rwanda, Moscow, El Salvador, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Groningen, California. This is a modern tale without borders or morals. With billions of dollars to play for, who will survive the SHITCOIN’s rise?