Thursday, April 19, 2012

Telephones, or why technology is bad for writers.

Don't worry. I'm sitting here bashing this out using my speech recognition software, while searching out links and images on my new iPad. I don't really think technology is bad for writers. Or at least, not bad for writing...

You might remember that late last year, among all the fun and games that is the silly season,  my lovely publishers at University of Queensland Press put out the new edition of my 2001 book A New Kind Of Dreaming. One of the nice things about having a new edition released is that it gives you the kind of reassurance that your writing hasn't dated.

Actually, this is something I often tell writing students to be very aware of, particularly when writing young adult fiction – there's this difficult balancing act  between being relevant and contemporary, and being too ‘trendy’ (for want of a better term), in which case you run a very real risk of your work becoming very quickly dated. The first of my Nathan Nuttboard books, for example, includes a scene where the main character and his sister have a fight because she's stolen the batteries to his Discman CD player. Remember those? When I wrote that book they'd been around for about a twenty years, and were – in my opinion – just the coolest things ever. And they were exactly what a boy of Nathan's age would've used to wile away the hours of a long car journey.

Image and excerpt from Nathan Nuttboard Hits the Beach
The thought of another 6 hours of tractor music and Nadine whispering “crap" every five seconds was almost too much to take. I dug around behind the seat and pulled out my Discman. At least I could do something about the music.
I put in my favourite CD, Machines of Blood and Glory. I don't actually like the music all that much, but Narelle absolutely hates it, so I tend to play quite a bit. The best thing about a Discman is that you can turn the volume up loud enough so that only the sound of the drumbeats escapes through the earphones. It's a little bit like having a mozzie buzzing around your ears in the middle of the night. Totally annoying, and there's nothing you can do about it. It would drive both of the girls crazy. I pressed play.

Nathan Nuttboard Hits the Beach was published in early 2002, hitting the shelves and almost immediately finding a solid readership and getting good reviews. What I hadn't factored in, however, was that a few months earlier – on 23 October, 2001, to be precise – the Apple Computer company had announced a funky new product. An odd little music playing device they called the iPod. And, of course, within 2 years the Discman as a piece of technology was effectively dead in the water. And so was that chapter of my book. I couldn't have timed it worse.

But of course, that's the problem with trying to write for posterity; you can't. It's impossible to predict – especially in this day and age, with technology being what it is – what the digital landscape is going to look like in 6 months, let alone in 10 years.

That's why I was thrilled when UQP agreed to re-release and repackage Dreaming – It's really nice to have a vote of confidence in the fact that I'm not the only one who feels that the book is still relevant and worth keeping on the shelves.

And I'm pleased to see that other people think so too; the talented Steph Bowe earlier this week posted this lovely review of the new edition on her blog. And she makes a very good point about telephones, too. Certainly when I was bashing out the first draft of Dreaming, in the late 1990s, mobile phones were technology on the increase, but certainly not as widespread or as powerful as they are today. In fact, the school where I was teaching at the time had a policy that all students with mobile phones were to turn them in at the office at the start of the day, and pick them up at the end. This was a school with roughly 800 students. There were regularly about 9 phones in the collection box. I don't imagine any school would even try enforcing such a policy today.

And, as Steph points out in her review, the rise of the mobile phone has in many ways made life a lot more difficult for the writer of realist action/adventure. Her observation that "about 90% of problems in novels can be solved with a phone call or text…" is so true.

Luckily, however, even mobiles have their weaknesses. Flat batteries, signal holes, or they might be attached to the Virgin mobile network in Canberra. There is a solution, of course, and that's to simply  set everything in a slightly alternative world or near future. But I suspect that's not entirely sustainable. All you can really do is 'future proof' your writing as much as is possible, try not to rely too much on contemporary trends and jargon, and cross your fingers.

In any case, thanks, Steph, for the lovely review. It's really nice to know that the book is still working after all these years.

And now I'm off to start work on my next novel. It's about a girl who develops a 'One Direction' app for her iPad2  ;)

Friday, April 13, 2012



Remember me?

I'm the guy that used to blog here, on a semi-regular basis.

Not lately though.

To be honest with you, I've been feeling really bad about my complete lack of bloggage in the last month or two, but I just haven't had the energy. Or the time.

Of course, the reasons are all the usual ones: utterly snowed under at work, teaching load, organising conference* having to host every communicable virus visiting Canberra, etc... etc... etc...

Plus that nasty old inertia - which I think I've mentioned here before. It's had me in a headlock the last month or two, and as a result I haven't written anything. Not an academic paper, not a goodreads review, not a book, not a blog post. I've written lectures, and a few tweets, a couple of grant applications, some peer reviews, a bunch of judge's comments for a writing competition, and a shitload of emails. So. Many. Emails. But nothing in the creative department.

And now, I feel a bit like Andrew McDonald.

But there is news. Most of it good. And many things to write about, so in the days ahead I'm going to do my best to ease back into the writing habit again, and get some stuff up. It won't be earth shattering or ground breaking, for the most part, but at least it'll be writing. Which is, after all, what it's all about.

So bear with me. I'll be back soon.


*which is coming along nicely, by the way.


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