Anthony McCarten's Going Zero is shortlisted for the 2023 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. 

Anthony McCarten © Jack English

Going Zero, a high-concept thriller from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Anthony McCarten. Erase yourself. The hunt has begun...


Ten people have been carefully selected to beta test a ground-breaking piece of spyware. Pioneered by tech-wunderkind Cy Baxter, FUSION can track anyone wherever they are on earth. But does it work?


Each participant is given two hours to 'Go Zero' – to go off-grid and disappear - and then thirty days to elude the highly sophisticated Capture Teams sent to find them. Any Zero that beats FUSION will receive $3million in cash. If Cy's system prevails, he wins a $90 billion contract with the CIA to develop FUSION and revolutionise surveillance forever.


For contestant Kaitlyn Day, the stakes are far higher than money, and her reasons for entering the test more personal than Cy could have ever imagined. Kaitlyn needs to win to get what she wants, and Cy will stop at nothing to realise his ambitions. They have no choice but to finish the game and when the timer hits zero, there will only be one winner…

About the Author: Anthony McCarten is a New Zealand novelist, playwright, journalist, television writer and filmmaker. He is best known for writing the biopics The Theory of Everything (2014), Darkest Hour (2017), Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and The Two Popes (2019). He received Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay nominations for The Theory of Everything and The Two Popes.

WNSF: What does adventure writing mean to you? Would you have considered yourself an adventure writer before being shortlisted for the Prize?

Anthony: Hardly. When I submitted my book to my agent I was informed I’d written a thriller. I had been under the impression I’d written my usual literary novel which just happened to turn out to be unusually thrilling. The content, in this case, dictated the form, and the form was that of an adventure. With it came, quite miraculously, an entirely new and varied readership with whom I’d never before been in contact. Now I must ask myself, why write anything else in future but adventure books. 

WNSF: Are there any particular books or authors which have made a lasting impact on you? 

Anthony: I have to mention the standout book series from my middle childhood, the adventure books of Willard Price, in which teenage zoologists Hal and Roger Hunt travel the globe capturing wild animals. Mr Price said his motivation in writing these adventure books was to lead young people to read by making reading exciting and full of adventure. In my case he succeeded in spades, opening up to me the worlds of books and natural history.

WNSF: Can you tell us about any adventurous experiences in your life? Have they influenced you as a writer or your writing?

Anthony: I was once swept down a flooded river toward a waterfall with my then pregnant young wife, clutching on to a log as we both kicked vainly for the farther shore… but in the main my adventures have been professional. I would rate movie making as a continuous adventure into the unknown with considerable risk for all involved.

WNSF: Can you tell us about a particular relationship between two characters in your novel and how you made it feel genuine?

Anthony: The battle between a tech giant, Cy Baxter and the librarian Kaitlyn Day is at the heart of the book and the battle is physical but also ideological. Central is the question of whether digital technology harms more than it helps. These two characters represent opposite sides of the argument and the challenge was to arm both evenly, to allow for a fair fight, for what other kind is worth watching? Research was necessary to make them both believable – me living in Kaitlyn’s Boston and spending time in Cy’s Washington DC – but more important was figuring out how each justifies to themselves the opinions they hold.

WNSF: We find that adventure often crosses into other genres, including crime and historical fiction. What kind of books do you like to read?

Anthony: Literary fiction in the main. My Mt Rushmore would have to include Saul Bellow, John Updike, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Philip Roth, writers who, once discovered, you feel compelled to read the entire corpus.

WNSF: What would you consider to be the upsides, and the downsides, of being an author?

Anthony: The privations of solitariness are a challenge, especially difficult to come to terms with early in your career. Later on, this becomes of one of the great rewards, alongside the control you can exert over every part of the creative process. It’s also almost impossible to make a living entirely from being an author, unless you break through in a significant way, but this clearly discourages few as the allure of storytelling, of having the contents of your head known, draws more into the fold every day.

WNSF: What would you say is the hardest thing about writing? And the easiest?

Anthony: The hardest thing about writing is living up to a certain standard, for if you are ambitious about the quality of your work then on any given day that standard should feel unfeasibly high. But what a joy it is when you feel you got there, feel you reached it, got the work down in a way that feels unimprovable. To write well, that is what a writer lives for. The easiest thing about writing is that it’s almost impossible to be stopped from doing it. Even a prisoner in a dark cell denied pen and paper will find a way to make markings upon their wall.

The winner of the 2023 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize will be revealed at an awards ceremony on 18th October 2023. Support Anthony and buy a copy of Going Zero: