e-books are the way to go, publishers: Max Barry at EWF
Thanks to Lisa Dempster, the Emerging Writers’ Festival director, for inviting me to First Words last night, where I heard Max Barry say in his keynote address that he has read more books he wants to read in the last two months on his e-reader than he had in the previous twelve.
The availability of e-books is something publishers should be embracing, instead of fearing their potential to cannibalise print, said Barry. He said it was possibly the most exciting time to be a publisher in the last 500 years. Since reading now has to compete with many other pastimes that are far easier to plug in and download quickly than the activity of going to a bookshop, the market for e-readership must expand rather than be held back by fears that the codex will vanish.
He also hoped publishers would start getting their act together in the area of reader recommendations, the gentle art of directing readers to ‘what to read next’ (known to librarians as reading advisory services, something they did some online work on once upon a time in the UK.) I did notice a post on MobyLives earlier this week that suggests that several big publishers are getting ready to do just that, with a site called Bookish, due to launch in the (NH) summer.
First Words is an evening of live performance, talks and a keynote speech (‘call to arms’) and opened the 2011 Emerging Writers Festival, eleven days’ worth of great value to any creative writing student or emerging writer in Melbourne. The Town Hall sessions are held this weekend and a full program is available here.
Novelist and teacher Carmel Bird appears as a Town Hall ambassador and there are a great many fine writers offering advice and stories of the journey to publication over the festival, including noted transmedia lecturer and writer, Christy Dena, whose session will be well worth catching if you are interested in writing for new media (Saturday In Conversation, May 28, 11 am).
Pascall Prize-winning critic from The Australian, Geordie Williamson, appears at a couple of sessions, (including a stint as a Living Library book) as well ; and finally, that Not Your Nanna’s Slide Night looks like a terrific exercise in digital storytelling with a travel focus. It is impossible to cover all this festival in one short post - go, browse.
“Our time is a time of erasing the lines that divided things neatly. Today we find all the superlatives and the infinite fulfillment man hungers for portrayed not only in fairy stories or poems but also in billboards and magazine ads and TV commercials. We are doing an age-old thing in new media. But when we learn (or teach) how to take fairy stories and myths and parables we must also learn (or teach) how to take billboards and magazine ads and TV commercials. In a sense this is simply to take signs as signs.”—
“Does this mean that the written “voice” is never spontaneous and natural but always an artificial construction of language? This is not a proposition that most writers could accept. The act of writing is personal; it feels personal. The unfunny person who is a humorous writer does not think, of her work, “That’s not really me.” Critics speak of “the persona,” a device for compelling, in the interests of licensing the interpretative impulse, a divorce between author and text. But no one, or almost no one, writes “as a persona.” People write as people, and if there were nothing personal about the result few human beings would try to manufacture it for a living. Composition is a troublesome, balky, sometimes sleep-depriving business. What makes it especially so is that the rate of production is beyond the writer’s control. You have to wait, and what you are waiting for is something inside you to come up with the words. That something, for writers, is the voice.”—
Some rather nice, personal stuff on writing from the great Louis Menand at the end of his tough review of Lynne Truss’s famous book in 2004. Rediscovered by chance on my laptop. As you were.(Now fixed the typo, too. Phew.)
“At first it felt strange to be sitting in a large multi-layered building, with many, many other people in it, in a city that has skyscrapers and beautiful verandahed, brick-fronted heritage buildings, and know that it is light years away from Christchurch in every way. But, afterwards I left with a warm fuzzy feeling of comradeship, perserverance and hope. Thanks Auckland for letting a little bit of Christchurch shine.”—
A Christchurch librarian reports on The Press/Christchurch session at the recent Auckland Writers and Readers festival. CCL has a fantastic blog and I read it often.
I started writing in a rather curious way. At the school I attended, the clergyman who ran the cathedral school in Shanghai would give lines to the boys as a punishment.
They expected you to copy out say 20 or 30 pages from one of the school texts. But I found that rather than laboriously copying out something from a novel by Charles Dickens, it was easier if I made it up myself.
I remember handing in this bundle of paper to the master, who after glancing through it overnight called me to the front of the class the next day and said: “Ballard, the next time you pick a book to copy from, don’t pick some piece of total rubbish.”
He didn’t realise that this piece of mock GA Henty – Adventure on the Spanish Main – was my own entire invention. That set me off, and probably all my writing has been done within the same seditious framework.
New works by Ludwig Wittgenstein — original manuscripts of more than 150,000 words, which, until now, were unheard of except, at best, as rumour or speculation — have been discovered and are being edited for publication by Cambridge.
The manuscripts include a revised and expanded version of The Brown Book, dictated lecture notes, a series of thousands of math calculation exploring “Fermat’s Little Theorem” that physically stretch 20 feet, an unnamed 60-page manuscript, and what may be the rumoured “Yellow Book” or “Pink Book,” a narrative with illustrations written in an exercise book during his time in Norway.
Another slim-line elf returning from LOTR, is a local: New Zealand’s actor/comedian/singer Bret McKenzie. Last time, he was an extra at Rivendell, the elven Last Homely House in the East. Under a tree at the Council of Elrond, he silently witnessed the forming of the Fellowship.
Wordless maybe but not unnoticed by fans of the beautiful, who gave him the acronym F.I.G.W.I.T. (“Frodo Is Great! Who Is That?”) I confess Gandalf didn’t take much notice, distracted by the main action that involved all the main characters.
I only joined Bret’s fan-base, when he joined up with Jermaine Clement in their hilarious tv series Flight of the Conchords. Now he is briefly back in Rivendell as a senior official at Elrond’s Court and he has a name “Lindir”, which means “singer”.
Tolkien has plenty of songs in The Hobbit but the script doesn’t indicate that Lindir will be singing any of them. If, as he promises, Bret makes a Conchord feature film ere long, I shall angle for a non-speaking part as BIGWIT. (“Bret Is…” etc.)
I’ve always wanted to have a blog where I could share the things I like: items of timely interest and the different curiosities I’ve amassed in my personal files the past few years. These things really should be shared (in the true sense) because they are gifts. Many of them were given to me, and if there is a benefit to the idea of giving a digital gift, it is that each time it changes hands, a copy is made. I do not lose my gift by giving it to you. Gifts may spread further and travel farther.
Every time I tried to create a blog to share these things, however, I was largely disappointed with the outcome. The formats optimized for collecting then sharing seemed to strip out so much of the stories behind what I was sharing. The schemes for blogging reduced what I was trying to share by dissecting the stuff and arranging it all in a chronological order. I wanted to do more than give people access to the things I found interesting. I wanted to truly share it by wrapping each thing in a story.
As Hilary McPhee noted last year at the Wheeler Centre, writers continue to learn, if they are reviewed.
In Prospect mag, Leo Benedictus asks for more reviews, not less, on the grounds that ‘…If a fairer literary culture is what we want, then we should embrace this slightly tougher one’.
Bad reviews will also make books better, in the end. I may regret saying this, but as a debut novelist I have found critical opinions rather hard to come by. This is not, I must stress, because my book is so very brilliant (although naturally it also is). It is because most people are sensible and kind; they do not want to upset me if they can avoid it—and they can. I want to hear, and learn from, what the sceptics didn’t like, yet almost no one volunteers to tell me.
(Found this a little while ago, a piece on a dazzling introduction by James Salter to a novel. I have just read Salter’s prose for the first time myself (Light Years) and can testify that as a master of elliptic prose, he’d be an excellent judge of what someone else is throwing out in their work. After a tough couple of weeks doing other things, it’s a bonus to find this in the drafts. )
…Salter essentially undermines his own criticism — that casual nonfiction can’t be art — by crafting a portrait of Liebling as moving as any short story. You read it wishing Salter had written a full biography of Liebling, yet also marveling that, in 11 pages, he has essentially done just that.
He describes Liebling’s background; his formative year as a young man in Paris (with an excellent long digression on the romantic allure of the expatriate life); and finally paints a surprisingly melancholy picture of Liebling — who’s popularly thought of as a larger-than-life bon vivant — summed up in this almost overwhelmingly sad sentence: “He was like a blind mill horse doomed to spend the rest of his life trudging in a circle which for him was crowds, restaurants, racetracks, the ‘New Yorker’ offices, boxing matches.”
The best praise Salter can muster for this blind mill horse is that his greatest writing “is not a novel but has a novel’s grip,” with “an entire book thrown away on nearly every page.” This hardly sounds a triumphant bugle call to gather and worship Liebling’s life. Yet it feels like an honest, clear-eyed and ultimately highly respectful and even celebratory assessment of Liebling’s legacy.
Antigone Kefala spoke to Mark Mordue a few weeks ago, on the peculiar lack of involvement with death in Australian thinking and writing:
There is a lack of intensity here. People are not fully engaged with what they are writing. A lot of it is journalistic, I feel. But serious writing must have passion, must have a tenseness to it.
And we must not be ashamed of passion,” she says. “I write about death — and many other things — oh, they must see me coming and think: ‘Eh, her again! Oh no! What about some jolly business this time, please Antigone!’ “
Kefala roars laughing this time, but she laments the way we continue to deal with death “through a certain type of fantasy, running away from or around a more immediate involvement. So these ‘ghosts’ people like to read about, they are not immediately involved with your life, it’s something less real and light and approachable. But if we are to write seriously, we have to also write about what is not easily approachable, and there is something about poetic language that deals more fundamentally with such issues than a journalistic, surface language.”
She goes further and implies we shy away from these depths in our literature because of something in our history. “You feel it when you go out bush, these forces that unnerve you in certain landscapes. It is a very powerful landscape, a magnificent landscape, a country full of light and colour, as well as a place full of terrible things that no one wants to confess to. The two things go together. Whether we can come to grips with that and produce something magnificent.
Mordue also spoke to Gareth Liddiard, a musician, and novelist Chris Womersley, covering all the bases in a thought provoking essay. As always!!
Thanks to GW at forestofwords, I have this TO READ:
The cells of an organism are nodes in a richly interwoven communications network, transmitting and receiving, coding and decoding. Evolution itself embodies an ongoing exchange of information between organism and environment. “If you want to understand life,” Dawkins wrote, “don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.”
books created with 'modest talents', says Ahlberg, but he's LYING
"Ahlberg was once a very promising young children’s writer. Of course, today he is very old and semi-retired," laughs Briggs. "Decades ago he was taken under the wing of the brilliant Janet Ahlberg, who had consented to become his wife in order to help his immigration status.
Janet created superb illustrations for ‘their’ picture books and Ahlberg added several words to fill up the blank spaces between the pictures.
Ahlberg is hell to work with. He sends you these bits of stuff, then just leaves you to get on with it. Would that there were more like him.”
Raymond Briggs has worked with Allan Ahlberg over the years, but a gap has emerged since the untimely death of his partner, Janet.
This profile is very moving - the Tucker family seriously hearts Each Peach Pear Plum, Peepo and The Jolly Postman. The account of Allan’s early life is startling:
Born in Croydon in 1938, Ahlberg was adopted as a baby into a poor, Black Country family and raised in Oldbury in the West Midlands. His father was a labourer who worked long hours, his mother a cleaner and, by today’s standards, his upbringing was tough. “In those days, most people beat their kids up,” he recalls. “You were told that when your dad gets home you’ll get the strap, and most teachers hit kids with canes.” He discovered that he was adopted when a kid in his street told him that “your mother isn’t your mother”.
While he now believes that he was “dead lucky” to have been adopted at all (on the grounds that “almost any child is better off being adopted by the most ordinary, even harsh, family than being in the most well-ordered and loving of institutions”), at the time the discovery only increased Ahlberg’s feeling of being “a cuckoo in the nest”. He confesses to acting like a “rather snobby intellectual” around his family as a teenager: “My mum and dad and brother would be watching What’s My Line? or whatever on a little 9in black and white TV in the front room, and I’d be in the kitchen with the cat, listening to the Third Programme.”
Growing up in a house with few books, he joined three libraries so that he could have a dozen books out at a time. But although he dreamed of being a writer, “I couldn’t complete a sentence, let alone a page. I remember as a young man reading Brideshead Revisited and thinking: ‘Christ, I can’t be a writer because it’s full of descriptions of trees and flowers, and I don’t know the names of any.’”