Saturday, 30 April 2011

Joanna Russ

Mourning the loss of one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

Joanna Russ (22 February 1937 – 29 April 2011)

Monday, 4 April 2011

What is lost?

I am in the middle of writing a little book report. Literally. I have just broken off because this thought came to me whilst writing a sentence.

I am, of course, using a word processor. But I am old enough to remember when it was written by hand; revised by hand; typed up; corrected and, if needs be, literally cut up and pasted back together in the required order; then retyped; and checked. If you could afford it, you photocopied it. If not you typed a fair copy using carbon paper to create a second copy. And when you had a finished piece, you also had a record of all the changes you had made. If you had the space, you kept it for the day that some institute would bid for your papers so that students could study your technique.

Yet when I was writing my short report just now I was suddenly aware that I had changed a sentence a dozen times before I was happy with it. And all those changes are lost.

Now. I am not arrogant enough to believe anyone would ever want to see the various drafts of my work (and I do still print up and edit by hand with a fountain pen filled with red ink, but I don’t have the space to store old manuscripts). Ten or twelve drafts of a book would easily take up the drawer of filing cabinet. Be that as it may, I did wonder how much is being lost for future generations to consider.

This isn’t an important issue as world events go. Anyone coming upon this little musing in the future should look up the history of the early months of 2011 to see what I mean. But it is about re-inventing the wheel.

Writers know about their craft by reading. They read in the same fashion that locusts move from one side of a field to another. But they are also interested in what other writers think, about how they developed their style, how they tackled particular problems, why they abandoned certain approaches. All this provides a set of tools for writers, maps out pitfalls, and provides a huge resource to chuck in the cauldron and stir in the hope that what they cook up has a unique flavour.

So how much of that is lost now that we can sit at a machine and change a sentence a dozen times before moving one, can cut and paste with a couple of clicks of the mouse, can change a characters name through a 100,000 word script with a few more clicks.

What is lost?

Is anything gained?

Or is it just change and me finding something to be anxious about?

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Dream on

A month rushes by and I slink back in here knowing blogging acquaintances who have racked up thirty or more entries since my last one. So what have I been doing? What excitement has kept me from the keyboard? What delights have distracted me?

Nothing. Not a sausage.

I’m drifting. True, I am working on a set of four shorts stories. True, I’m waiting on a submission. True, I have been busy packing up signed copies of Thin Reflections to send out to my adoring fans. (That sound you can hear, that’s Barbara rolling on the floor laughing after reading that last bit). But I have been sending out signed copies. And brushing up on my poker. And reading. And contemplating the silicone in the bathroom that needs stripping out and replacing with fresh. And reading.

It is a difficult state for a writer to be in. As hardships in the world go, it is, I am the first to admit, way down there at the minor end of the scale. But it is vexing, nonetheless. My head is full of images and voices (which makes me sound a candidate for those nice young in their clean white coats and their coming to take me away, ha ha). As yet they are formless, and I know with a bit of patience the two novels swirling in the chaos will begin to accrete. They will form a binary, twin novels one of which tells of Charlie’s next set of adventures whilst the other picks up the story of one of Charlie’s avatars – Jeniche of Antar.

I have to be patient and let these things take their course. Watch the debris form short stories. Enjoy the rest to be ready for the approaching ride.

So if I don’t turn up for another month, you’ll know I’ve got my feet up, headphones on, coffee and notebook close at hand… Working, in other words. Essential research. And wondering just how much fun it’s going to be when the Council finally turn up and install their anti-damp devices. Perhaps they can be persuaded to renew the silicone in the bathroom. Perhaps.

Dream on.