High tech future for the written word?

I’m going a bit off-piste with this one so do bear with – I’m sure we’ll get mugged by something approximating a valid point down near the bottom somewhere.

I was just thinking how little I now know about the world around me – the man-made world that is. Technology has bounded along at such a lick that it’s left the average man or woman in the street trailing in its wake I’d say.

Not that I’ve ever really been up to speed. I mean, when it comes right down to it – I don’t even know how a radio works. I’ve got the headlines of course – if it came up in a pub quiz I’d know that it’s got something to do with waves and they travel through the air – but beyond that – nothing. I mean – these waves – are they everywhere? Are they all around us now? Do they pass through us? Who knows – not me, press a button, music comes out – that’s it.

So you can imagine the towering level of my incomprehension when it comes to what might loosely be termed ‘new technology’. Take this laptop I’m writing on – how does that really work? Microchips and things yes – binary code, noughts and ones. But how does it come together? And the internet? Twitter? This blog? Frankly I haven’t a clue.

When people – well, you know, nutters – say that it’s all alien technology, reverse engineered from a crashed space-craft found at Roswell, I don’t think ‘Oh – how absurd!’ I think: ‘Well – it’s a theory.’

Things have moved so fast. If I was able to talk to myself as a kid, and show him what we’ve got in the way of gadgets now, he would think I was showing him some distant science fiction.

“Never mind that rubbish you see on Star Trek with the clam-shell phones – that’s so 1995 – take a look at this iPhone. With this thing in my palm I can access every fact in the world – or at the very least someone’s opinion on that fact. I can speak to anyone on the planet who is willing to speak to me – yes on the phone, the way you have to go down to the corner and use the pay phone to do, but also on TV face to face. I can listen to any song on any record in the whole of HMV on the high street – and millions more they haven’t got. Yes, even 12 inch singles. I can watch any movie – the ones you have to go to the cinema to see. And when you get in the car – this thing can bounce a signal off a satellite up in space and tell you exactly where you are in the world and give you directions to where you have to go.’

Even supposing young me wasn’t freaked out by old me just appearing like that and going on at him like some deranged salesman from Phones 4 U he would doubtless be amazed by how quickly things have changed.

But now imagine me as a kid, going back to see my dad when he was a child – say 30 years earlier. I wouldn‘t really have had that much to tell him. ‘You know TV? Yes – well we still have that, but some rich people have colour ones – and you know telephones? Well several people in my class have them in their actual homes.’

Yes – it’s since the 1970s that things have really taken off. I think I was about 12 when Pong came out – that precursive video game based on batting a white dot from one side of the screen to the other between two paddles. I imagine that was the first bit of technology we reverse engineered from the Roswell Aliens. It’s all gone haywire since then.

Now let’s look at literature. (See, told you there was a point). How has that changed in the same period? Well, I’m tempted to bluster and make up some stuff but the truth is, it’s hardly changed at all. Styles come and go, fashions wax and wane, but we still have novels, poetry, short stories. Nothing revolutionary has happened.

It has been suggested that the changes in technology could prompt a revolution in the way we write. That the more open access of the e-book era might allow people new latitude to reconfigure what counts as a piece of creative writing. It might smash open the boxes into which writing must fit to get past publishers and agents and make it into print under the current orthodoxy.

Removing the constraints of the solid, physical book and the expensive process of printing might lead to unexpected and radical change in the forms writing takes.

Is this what’s going to happen? Or will ebooks simply lead to mass piracy and mean that authors struggle even more to get paid for their work?

Who knows? The truth is it’s a revolution – and in a revolution nobody knows what the outcome is going to be, not even the people who start it.

Gil Brailey – Author Profile

Today I’m delighted to be able to introduce author Gil Brailey to my blog to tell us about herself, her writing and her new book Deathloop. Thanks to Gil for a fascinating post.

DEATHLOOP by G. Brailey

amazon.co.uk/dp/B008DRX7D4 Currently only on Kindle

Hi Chris, thanks for inviting me to your blog.

I live in North London, but I am also fortunate enough to have a seaside flat in Hastings, East Sussex, where I sit by the window and watch the sea. For many years I acted, including work at The National Theatre, a lot of TV etc. I went to Los Angeles in the late nineties to take courses on screen writing, all this plus being a single mum to my two children, Josh and Chloe, grown up now.

I started off writing Peak Practice, then went on to write Casualty, EastEnders, Heartbeat, Harbour Lights, London’s Burning etc and many commissioned original programmes that didn’t make it to the screen. I won an award at the Soho Theatre for a new play – Future Perfect. I also wrote the film Grandma Madge’s Madonna which starred Imelda Staunton and Johnny Vegas. Currently I have two films in development although we don’t talk about them because they always have a habit of collapsing when you do!

DEATHLOOP is my first novel. Originally I wrote it as a film script but then decided to write it as a book. It has taken me much longer than it should have done. I wanted to write something with some depth, about the mysteries of life, but something modern, so many spooky tales seem to hark back to older times, I wanted to write something contemporary.

I have been told the story grabs you, which I am heartened to hear. When you write film scripts you have to grab the reader very early – and so I tried to do that with the book, setting up a flash forward, then going back to the day before although some people are confused by this. I tried to write very dense, complex characters who surprise the reader, and fortunately it seems to have worked. Personally I don’t like being able to predict the outcome of events when I read a story, I like revelations and twists.

The main character, Zack Fortune, reluctantly takes part in past life regression and is so freaked by what he sees when he drops into a past life he cuts the session short. From that moment on his life goes into free-fall when he keeps being confronted by dying strangers who seem to know him, and who insist he helps them before they die.

I have had one bad review on Goodreads which is very comprehensive and well thought out. The lady is from the US and I suspect a lot of the cultural references I make lost her, but curiously when I tweeted her comments, I got more sales! Maybe readers are rather sick of the superlatives on twitter.

I now have 11/5 star reviews and 3/4 stars but a warning – I have been told that my book is not an easy read, the words people have mentioned in reviews are: challenging, original, well written, gripping, a cult book (!) enthralling… all of which I am delighted about, but I will leave you with the comments from the lady in the US who said this: “too much sexual stuff, too much psychological stuff, too much physiological stuff (whatever that is?) TOO MUCH STUFF.” Maybe she’s right!

If anyone would like to contact me to discuss my book, or just to log in, please do so on www.gilbrailey.com I would be happy to hear from you. I am writing a basic book on screen writing and I am putting notes on the web page, so if anyone is interested, please visit, I will always get back to anyone who contacts me.

As a ps, my book is currently 77 pence, but on July 25/26 it will be free for two days. If you download and you like what you have read I would appreciate your writing a review, it helps enormously.

Me, me, me.

Should we write about ourselves? How important are a writer’s direct personal experiences to their work?

Well in one sense of course, they are of towering importance, everything we write must necessarily be coloured by who we are – our culture, our memories, the views we have formed.

But that, I would suggest, is slightly different from the kind of autobiographical writing I’m talking about here. How many of us lift an incident from our daily lives, give it a brush down and a lick of paint, and call it a story, or a scene in a novel?

That kind of autobiographical writing splits opinion among writers.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to win a UK short story award called the Bridport Prize and the judge that year was the esteemed writer Kate Atkinson, author of Behind the Scenes at the Museum among other fine works.

Among the comments I remember her making during a very civilised dinner we enjoyed in Bridport town hall was a fairly firm condemnation of writing which is too straightforwardly autobiographical. I paraphrase here – but the gist of her comments was that short stories are a good place for a writer to practice their craft and, if they must write chunks of autobiography, then here in these practice stories is the place to get it out of their system.

The author’s own life, suggested Kate, is of more interest to the author than it is to anyone else – we are likely to give it undue importance – and as a result to write things which are interesting to us, rather than interesting to the reader.

It’s an important and valid point I think, and one which I have carried with me.

Maya Panika – Author Profile

Here’s the first in a new series for my blog, talking to other writers about themselves and their work. Today I’m delighted to be speaking to Maya Panika about her book Entanglement.

Tell me a little bit about yourself as a person?

(I never know what to say to this question!)

I was born in Yorkshire, grew up in Bedford and now I live in a cottage on a wild and windy moor. I  never knew what I wanted to be, prevaricating my way through multiple degrees  and various careers.

My last proper job was a freelance journalist which I drifted into when working on a never-completed PhD in Development Studies, and ended up living in Havana for ten years working for various papers and magazines, radio and TV. Life in Havana consisted mostly of long periods of extreme boredom when  nothing at was all happening, in heat and humidity unrelieved by the comforts of electricity and constant running water, interspersed by frantic days when everything got a bit too exciting for comfort, consequently, I wasn’t heartbroken when the Cubans asked me to leave.

Since I came back to the UK, I’ve dabbled in various bits of jobs: comedy writer, travel writer, gardener, press officer. These days I review books for Amazon and others, write the odd comedy sketch and look after my elderly Dad – and write novels, of course. I like gardening and reading, radio four and good TV – Mad Men, Game of Thrones, documentary and arts, good comedy – which I find tends to be mostly on the radio. If I sound horribly dull, middle-class and uninteresting, it’s because I am.

Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed?

I’ve been a writer all my life, endlessly boring my friends, family and classmates with my stories and plays wot I wrote. I wrote and illustrated a novel about a shipwrecked class when I was ten – now long lost; I suspect it wasn’t very good.

I dabbled a bit through my school and university years, editing the school magazine, writing this and that – mainly comedy sketches and fanfic – and that was that for a while. I went to three universities and worked a few jobs as a landscape architect            during which time I didn’t write at all.

Then I went to live in Cuba, started writing sketches about the people I knew, that grew into features that I  published here and there. I wrote a novel about my time in Cuba that came terribly close to being published; got a good agent and editor, but not quite close enough (‘our commissioning editor feels this fits no particular genre and we’re mostly concentrating on chic lit now’).

While the first-novel debacle was ongoing, my sister and I  mashed together some old sketches  we’d written and made a sitcom that was commissioned by the BBC, but ultimately rejected by the then head of comedy (you’re probably sensing a pattern to my writing life!). I wrote another sitcom and the same thing happened. I’ll admit I got a bit dispirited at this point and for 5 years, wrote only a few short stories for online publications that were well received, but nothing more.

Then, a couple of years ago, I decided to re-work a paranormal fantasy I’d started in Cuba and set in Havana. I’d offered a re-worked version to the BBC as a Doctor Who novel a few years before, just as the BBC had decided to stop publishing them. I took another look at it and thought it wasn’t half bad and decided to completely  re-write it and set it in Bedford, where I grew up, rather than Havana, which I’d had enough of.

That was Entanglement, which, like the novel that preceded it, was taken on by a great agent, pitched to an editor who seemed enthusiastic, but then wanted me to re-work it as a YA novel with my on-the-verge-of-middle-age male protagonist changed to a teenage girl. I said no, which is how I came to self-publish Entanglement. It wasn’t a hasty decision, I admit I thought long and hard about it; I could have said yes and the book would have been properly published by a mainstream publisher, but I would have hated the book and hated myself.

Self publishing is very tough, but my experiences of mainstream publishing have            been so depressing – it seems such a fickle, self-regarding world – and I’m            excited to be part of something that’s fresh and ground-breaking and under my own control.

How would you describe your work – its themes and the important things about it?

I like to write about the things that interest me. When I was in Cuba, it was the security services of three nations who were watching me and each other; I thought there was a rich vein of comedy to be mined  there. Currently it’s the blurring of the physical and metaphysical that I  find in the world of quantum physics. I grew up in a haunted house and firmly believe that sceptics are people who have never had a paranormal experience, because once you have, you KNOW there’s something there that cannot be explained by any current theories.

I’m also fascinated by myths and religions and how history becomes myth. I wanted to mesh all that together in a novel, and that’s how I came to write Entanglement – and its sequels. I think it’ll take at  least three novels to get it all out of my system.


Tell me about your current book – what is it about and what makes it a great read?

Entanglement is a paranormal fantasy about a man who died and came back seeing ghosts and the future – some of the future, fragments that may or may not lead to a foreseen outcome. It’s about quantum physics and parallel universes and how meddling in time and space might not be a wise thing to do, no matter how appealing it seems, how comfortable a life we can make for ourselves a s a result. It’s a fairly dark tale, but with plenty of humour – I hope! I think; I’ve been a comedy writer for too long to write an out and out horror  tale.

What makes it a great read is for others to say, not me. I’ve had a couple of very nice reviews so far so I’m more confident now, that it really is something that other people will enjoy.

Where can I buy a copy of your book?

Only on Amazon kindle at the moment but I’m looking to put it into print as soon as I can.

UK link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Entanglement-The-trilogy-ebook/dp/B008D29OWM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1340280802&sr=1-1

U.S link: http://www.amazon.com/Entanglement-The-trilogy-ebook/dp/B008D29OWM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340280935&sr=8-1&keywords=maya+panika

Do you enjoy writing?

That might sound like a stupid question of course – given this is a blog written by a writer and read mostly by other writers and keen readers. And that’s why I asked it. Oh yes, I don’t just throw this stuff together.

Well, ok, maybe I do – but I have at least some thought for the consequences. And ‘Do you enjoy writing?’ isn’t such a daft question as it sounds. Because when I ask it of myself – I find mostly the answer is no – I don’t really enjoy it. Not the same way I enjoy ice-cream or red wine or sunsets or a good film. I don’t enjoy writing the way I enjoy reading.

Writing isn’t something I enjoy, it’s something that I do.

The obvious next question then is why do it? I mean why write fiction? I don’t get paid for it – at least not enough to live on. I get the occasional tichy pay-day when a story wins a competition and my book, when it comes out, will pay royalties – though, as the mathematicians amongst us will be aware, 15 per cent of nothing is nothing.

So there must be some other pay-off then? Yes – there are many.

The actual process of writing can be a trial – a brain-ache and a nuisance, something I would rather not be doing. But nevertheless I do it, because it is what I feel compelled to do. It feels like what I’m good at – it feels like what I’m for if you like, and it always has done.  It is something which is not part of me but which I think will always be with me – like the weather. I could have said like air or water – but I need those, I don’t need to write – I just want to. Also you can have bad weather, like bad writing.

Another reason I write, despite not actively taking pleasure in it, is that, although the process of sitting somewhere getting words onto a page, then revising them again and again and again until they feel right is not enjoyable at the time it does have an effect on my overall sense of wellbeing.

I think it does anyway – I’m not sure. But I’m going to say it does. I think that, when I am writing fiction I have more of a general sense of satisfaction – an underlying fuzzy sense of goodness. You can tell I’ve not really thought this bit out.

Is it just me or does anyone else feel like that?