Friday, August 01, 2008
  Writing For Readers.

As I've already noted, I love books. It's a visceral thing going back to my childhood, to the stories by Arthur Ransome with his series of Swallows and Amazons stories set in the Lake District of northern England, to Malcolm Saville's adventure stories, to the collection of Eagle Annuals and to the yardage of encyclopaedias.

I also enjoyed Enid Blyton's series of adventure stories such as The Secret Seven and The Famous Five which are currently popular, in translation, with Indonesian early teens, although they are very much of the time, my time. It does seem a shame that although Enid B. is dead, she is now a franchise, much like Winnie The Pooh, and The Famous Five now have offspring. Bang goes my innocence and I think it best to leave to Jonathan Calder suppositions about the fates of George, Anne, Dick, Julian and Timmy the dog.

School prizes, which I never won incidentally, were moralistic tomes, and aunts gave book tokens as presents. Books, get torn, wet, patched up with sticky tape, swapped and lost. Above all, they are remembered, if only for their illustrations, like the Bible I no longer have with its reproduction of the Pre-Raphaelite painting of Jesus holding a hurricane lamp.

It's depressing somewhat to learn that according to a 2007 study of 4,000 Britons' reading habits, a quarter say they have not read a book in the past year. The top reasons for not reading are: too tired (48%); watch TV instead (46%); play computer games (26%); work late (21%).

This is depressing enough, but it does not tell the whole dismal story. Even among the remaining 75%, a lot of readers are stuck in books that won't yield to our reasonable desire for closure. (i.e. They're too dense and difficult to read. Or there are too many pages.)

I wonder, too, if this isn't something to do with the reduction of attention spans. TV programmes are not meant to be devoured at one sitting any more: they're to be nibbled in between bite-sized chunks of advertising junk.

Jakartass is part of Web 2.0, although I didn't ask to be and I don't really know what it is. It seems to be a category of communication for folk not only with very short attention spans but who believe they are fabulous human beings because they can twitter on about the umpteen similar minded folk who have signed up to their Dumpster profile. They live in hyperspace which is a strange kind of fantasy, a parallel universe.

I merely preamble with this in order to say that I really don't like reading ephemeral pixels from hyperspace for pleasure. My desktop computer can't be carried into the loo and, with my myopia, I certainly couldn't handle pocket electronic devices such as the iLiad. I'm in total agreement with Peter Conrad and these sceptics.

The iLiad, I discovered when I tried it out, is itself a merely metaphoric book. What you read is 'digital print' - print without an imprint, hovering in a grey cloud on the screen, remote from the gravity of the printing press or the flourishes of human handwriting. The text lacks texture, despite its consumerist definition of itself as 'plain vanilla'; it's no good to be told on the box that the screen is 'perceived as paper by the human eye, indoor and out', because when you hold a real book, it's your fingers and even your nose that tell you you're dealing with paper, which is an organic product, the pulped derivative of a tree.

Like the esteemed Diamond Geezer, I really don't like .pdf downloads, particularly for email attachments which contain little information, which could be sent as NotePad or WordPad in much smaller kb size.

Where .pdf files do have an advantage is in formatting and self-publishing theses and the novels we all feel capable of writing, but which few will read and even fewer will be published. My folder of unpublished .pdf novels includes Jazz, Love & Dirty Tricks by Hugh Hopper, bass player extraordinaire, and The Dictator by Derek Bacon in which I appear as a character, rather than the bland individual most folk think I am.

The internet primarily has a value as a repository of fleeting notions, some of which may achieve a fundamental shift in perception leading to action, such as Obama Barack's use of the medium to attract funding for his presidential campaign. But this, as well as gossip, news and issues are soon passé, and are not generally worthy of the immortality of physical writings.

By and large blogs such as this one are also about passing phases, much like newspapers which are soon recycled. It seems appropriate, therefore, that freelance journalists and columnists, such as Duncan Graham and Simon Pitchforth should let Blogger archive their writings. Perhaps their writings will one day be consulted by social historians.

Books by Bloggers
aka Don't Give Up The Day Job

Four years ago, the magazine New Yorker had an article about publishers trawling the blogosphere for potential authors. They found few because most bloggers have full time lives offline.

A few, however, do manage to become 'real' writers, earning royalties as a minimal form of recognition. This is reward enough as I doubt that any have managed to earn enough to give up the day job.

It is not known if The Religious Policeman, known for his scathing satirical attacks on the Saudi government, ever completed the book of his blog, although interest remains high.

Waiter Rant - excerpt here - is a job related blog, as is Random Reality, by a London ambulance driver whose book is Blood, Sweat and Tea.

More encouragingly, perhaps, Sulekha in India is publishing two bloggers' books a month

Oh, and in case I forget, there is, ahem, Culture Shock-Jakarta.

I would be very interested to hear of any bloggers here whose writing has reached the mainstream, rather than, say, writers who have turned to blogging - such as noted pundit and media person Wimar Witoelar and prolific teen lit author Primadonna Angela.


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