Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Future of Literature is Debatable...

I'm in Norwich for an event that I've been arranging for a while with New Writing Partnership. When we talk about how "digital technology" is effecting literature it's too often couched in terms of the industry - eReaders and Amazon; downloads and podcasts - and not enough is said about the writing. It seems a legitimate conversation for writing development agencies and projects to think not just about the industry but how the "digital world" impacts on writers and readers as well as publishers. Using Chris Meade's Future of the book report Read:Write as a starting point - today's debate has a real opportunity to tease out some of the issues. It may seem hard to believe, with so many bloggers-with-book-deals and writers-who-blog, but literature remains, on the whole, with its head in the sand about all of this. Not, I'd hasten to add, necessarily a bad thing. There's a distinction between using digital tools to market yourself, and changing a way of working that is already successful for you...

Except I'm not convinced that everything's fine and dandy in the world of literature. Whereas the turnover of authors remains high, and possibly disastrous, the industry itself moves at a glacial speed. Only last week I was hearing about another young author, this time Cecilia Aherne, who proudly writes using a pen; a boast that I still find hard to believe in this day and age where people put their shopping lists on their iPhone. Yet Aherne is a massmarket writer as well; one of the things I hope we get out of today is a sense of how the writing itself needs to develop with the medium. If the recent Bond movie Quantum of Solace showed not only the influence of video game narrative, but also of HBO style series such as "24", then its a wonder that fiction and poetry can remain stubbornly linear in an age of the digital. The challenges are there as well of course... a novel written entirely as a Twitter stream is almost certain to come out in the next six months, but will Twitter, or microblogging in general, survive the restlessness of the digital audience?

There's different definitions about "progress" in writing - the 20 book strong longlist for the £50,000 Warwick Prize is a case in point. Throwing up philosophy, fiction and reportage in one big stew, it aims to reward how writing "evolves" - though with Naomi Klein, Alex Ross, John Burnside and "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill, alongside more wayward names, it may take a few years to get into its stride.

I'm going to be blogging today's event - I hope, internet connection willing - so come back from 1.30 if you're interested.

Set up a LIVE BLOG for the event: http://digitalliteraturereconnected.blogspot.com/

4 comments:

Elizabeth Baines said...

I'm not sure I agree that fiction and poetry remain stubbornly linear (have I read you right there?), but I think the interesting thing, which you and I have discussed previously, is that so far when people have tried to use the web for fiction the results tend to be linear.

And I use a pen for my first draft too - I don't think that makes my writing any less linear!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Sorry, I meant more linear!

Bournemouth Runner said...

It was very interesting, Elizabeth, to hear from a few writers who were doing things in a different way - though I'm still of the view that its (a) good writer first (b) form second, whatever it might me! But it was interesting....

Great Literary Works said...

“Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts,” said Nietzsche. Heinrich K√∂selitz found Nietzsche writing style become more telegraphic since Nietzsche writing with typewriter.