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Showing posts from November, 2007

The book is dead... long live the book!

Amazon yesterday launched their ebook reader, the Kindle, to the US market. It comes hot on the heels of Sony's earlier launched Sony Reader Digital. The Kindle is larger than the Sony but I have to say that the Kindle looks nicer, whether it feels so would be another question. It's scary, this. New technology that threatens to change the way we read. Will it make the book obsolete, full stop!? As a writer I have to say that part of the joy of achieving publication is that moment when you can have the actual book, your book, in your hands, or in big stacks on the tables of the bookstores. You see, these readers don't just threaten the book, of course, but also the conventional bookshop. I fear that, in the not too distant future, we'll just have 'one-stop' sites where we download everything, and where nothing is differentiated. However, looking on the bright side, it has to be a good thing for trees, right?

Reading the nation

The Times has an article in which a group of public cultural commentators were asked what five books they would choose to give to an alien that would best sum up Britain. It doesn't say whether this meant the post-war period, a specific area or our entire history. At number one, though, came George Orwell's 1984. Second, for some unfathomable reason, was Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams. I disagree with so much of Freud - he was far too bourgeois and he placed far too much emphasis on parental influence on the child in the earliest years, and seemed to totally overlook those structures of society that also serve to mould people and attitudes. He was also useless when it came to women, making some quite disastrous conclusions in, for example, the famous case of Dora. He was definitely a certain type of man of his time. However, it got me wondering what five books I would choose to best sum up the UK to an alien.1. Keep the Aspadistra Flying, George Orwell. This…

Writers in hiding?

Ok, from the title of this post it would be easy to assume hordes of Rushdies in cubbyholes as a result of free and creative speech that is nothing if not controversial. Not so. Although it is in parts. I'm talking about writers hiding behind pseudonyms.One such writer is Booker-winning author, John Banville who has a new book out, Christine Falls, under the pen name of Benjamin Black. Many would ask: why? Hasn't Banville got enough to gain from using his real name? He has. It's called expectation. Using a pen name can help an established and, in many cases typecast writer, to play and experiment with new styles and new genres. Take J.K. Rowling. Rumours have been abound for ages that she will have to write anything other than Potter under a different name. It is, some would say, a killing of the author in order for the text to live. It is an old and contentious topic in literary theory. Roland Barthes' is now well known for his 1968 essay, The Death of the Author…

Short stories

Whilst I am waiting for my next post to become more substantial I wanted to post my favourite short stories so far, because the short story is currently receiving much championing. It is strange how, in these fast-paced gnat-span concentration times the short story is not wread more widely. A few years ago there was a story (!) that tube stations would get short story vending machines. That would have made brilliant PR copy for the papers in terms of survey results - 90 per cent of readers on the Bakerloo Line on a Monday morning read de Maupassant's Butterball! It would have said more about London than any other of the ubiquitous surveys that plague the nationals every day. My favourite short stories:The Subliminal Man - JG Ballard
Butterball - Guy de Maupassant
Cathedral - Raymond Carver (Im always a bit unsure about this story but it made an impact and has remained with me!)
Bliss - Katherine Mansfield
The Odour of Chrysanthemums - DH LawrenceThere are also too many to mention b…

British Library to receive increased funding

Culture Secretary, James Purnell, today announced that the British Library's Government funding will rise from £92 million to £100 million in 2010.
Good news, methinks. But I did wonder at the following comment from Purnell:

"As its home in London's St Pancras becomes more and more a gateway for European visitors to the UK, so the library takes on a new role as a symbol of British excellence to the world."

Does this mean that it has secured extra funding because it is increasingly becoming something of a tourist spot? I spend quite a bit of time in the British Library. Last Saturday I became aware of more tourists than usual. A few Spanish twenty-somethings, with digital cameras in hand, were trying to get the best corner to photograph the staircase that leads up from the first floor restaurant to the second! Maybe it doesn't matter that one of the reasons they're getting extra funding is because it's attracting more tourists. Just take the money and s…

Walking the lines

Whenever I have needed a jog along in my writing I have put down my pen and walked away. Walking is one of the most beneficial things a writer can do as apparently whilst you are walking the creative side is working away all the more. I have come up with so many ideas whilst walking, or it just becomes much clearer where a character needs to go next. I used to walk to and from the west end most days when I was studying my degree and would walk over Primrose Hill and through Regents Park. I even wrote a story in my head on one walk, inspired by Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, who also makes a trip to this best London park. (Hyde Park has nothing on Regents!) That story, Ula Sees, is about a woman walking through the park and is all in interior monologue. It later appeared in Ambit magazine. But writers have a long history with walking. Charles Dickens was well known for his long treks through the less desirable parts of London, which were strong influences on his novels. Then there…

The elusive notebook

I have never read Doris Lessing's acclaimed the Golden Notebook, although I am sure I will once I have completed my MA and have more time to read a wider choice. But I am constantly in search of my own metaphorical golden notebook; the literal notebook that will far exceed functionality and will enable the nib of a stabilo .88 (graphite grey) to dance to the end of each line before swinging round like the champion swimmer at the end of a length, ready to glide back and repeat. Several of Paul Auster's novels obsess about notebooks and specialist notebook shops. I like to think that I could more than easily slot into an Auster landscape as a minor character. But the notebook I have yet to come across would have heavy creamy pages with feint grey lines, that make the scribble of stabilo look expert and antiquated the second it receives it. I have had the paperblanks range, quite good, with magnetic closing and whilst a few good designs some terribly gaudy ones. Then there&…