Novel Writers

I have a friend who’s been published everywhere. A few times over, in fact. He’s won awards. Published two or three books of poetry. But he’s got something against blogging and it’s an issue we argue about. I suppose he sees it as irredeemably trivial and as superficial as Facebook. I concede that it can be. No doubt there’s a great deal of mediocre writing in the blogosphere. Then again, most of the writing on the shelves of a bookstore are worse than mediocre. And the point I try to make is that there’s the possibility of screen brilliance. That in fact, I’ve seen it. That I’ve been moved and inspired by writing I’ve found on the blogs of Australian writers.

A medium will always offer a set of potentials. A stage poet has physical presence to embody a poem. There’s the literal voice of the poet defining the voice of the poem, when on the page the same poem can speak in different voices, and reveal nuances of tone and suggestion even the author wasn’t aware of. On the stage a poet brings a personality and presents himself as the author. What they’re wearing on a given day is going to have an effect on what we hear, no matter how superficial that is. It’s hard to enjoy the poem if we don’t like its author. That goes the other way as well. A poet can dress fashionably and present herself with demure calculation and we applaud because we’re taken in by that pantomime.

The page gives us poetry stripped back to its bones, but then clothes it in the prestige of the literary magazine or anthology it comes presented in, and there are the voices of every other writer in the journal, before and after a particular issue, forming a literary pageant for this one poem we’re reading. There’s the validation of print and editorial sanction for a piece of writing, but it’s still one person’s opinion.

A blog is unmediated by that kind of decision making. It is not filtered through the learned and over-read decisions of an empowered literary figure bestowing upon the work an aura of authority. Yet the actual ‘authority’ of work put out by a writer themselves is more sincere and real. The author reaches out and offers up her work to the reader wholesale. The blogger might have written it the night before and it can still bare the traces of the raw work of creation, or it may have been polished to pristine brilliance. If you’re interested in writing, both are fascinating. Both can be inspiring. The immediacy of good blogging, transmitted daily, reaches us still buzzing with those inspired moments of conception.

What’s immediately clear is that the Internet breaks down the power structures that surround news and the dissemination of information. It defies the authority of the literary Intelligencia and the channels of nepotism. It opens a new intimacy with the authors themselves as they move through their daily world. It flows along in time and can come with images and musings about family, weather, books and movies that have inspired, etc. It continues to evolve.

When the novel began to develop, (not so long ago actually) the French gave it that name, because it was a novelty. Theatre and poetry had more claim to serious contemplation than the romances and dramas of those early potboilers. Authors like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen weren’t just great novel writers. They were campaigners, out to prove that the novel could have profound importance and have psychological perception, embody the sublime and reveal the depths of pathos. They were intent on giving it range and lasting value. The writers of novels now take on that legacy as though they invented it for themselves.

Film was a new medium only two or three generations ago and developed a whole system of grammar and narrative that has shaped and changed how we look at everything. Television has done similar things to attention span and rapid focus. The internet is the latest medium to offer us ways of looking at ourselves and blogging has arisen from it to define culture and give that technology a voice. It is still the novel thing. It has yet to create its grammar or define its narrative techniques. But we’re all watching it unfold now.

–> A final note: Recently Karen Andrews had the idea of putting together the best of Australian blog writing in a project that was announced here on the Overland blog a few months ago. It’s called Miscellaneous Voices #1, Australian Blog Writing. There’s a chance that an anthology like this might open the eyes of those that still dismiss everything on blogs as superficial and trivial. I’m delighted to be a part of it myself, and I’m even happier that I’ll be sharing those pages with good blogging friends like Maxine Clarke and Mark William Jackson.

Alec Patric

AS Patric is the award-winning author of The Rattler & other stories (Spineless Wonders, 2011), Las Vegas for Vegans (Transit Lounge, 2012) and Bruno Kramzer (Finlay Lloyd, 2013).

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Great piece! I think we should all relax about the rumoured end of the book or the novel or whatever. We aren’t going to suddenly stop being creative just because formats change.

  2. Viva la blogolution Comrade Alec. A very well articulated piece. Also note that in order to make a comprehensive selection for the Penguins Books ‘Best Australian Poetry’ series editors source works from print and online journals and many personal blogs.

    Technologically, this is a fantastic time in which we live, raw written material can be thrown online, someone around the corner or across the world can comment, suggest improvements, collaborate with music or visual arts. All within a matter of minutes. Print media has its place but it should certainly not consider itself well above new media, because, sad to say, one media has a clear future where the other is questionable.

  3. I would definately hate to see the death of print media, but I do enjoy trailing the blogosphere for decent material. It is hard to find a good blog, but there are some fantastic ones out there.

    I definately don’t think blogging will ever be the ‘be all and end all’ of literature. The novel will survive, but with a little blog on the side to keep it company.

  4. When the video player came out there were people who said all the cinemas would close. What actually happened was that films became more visually dynamic and people continued to go to the cinema. When cable TV (HBO) became readily available/affordable, television evolved into a fully mature medium, unafraid of petty censorship and proscriptive moral codes.

    Blogging and the Internet aren’t threats to print media (outside of newspapers perhaps –> which are mostly advertising pamphlets anyway, when they aren’t just fear mongering establishment propaganda.) The novel already is the perfect medium for a very long, involved transmission of experience and feeling.

    Blogging and other forms of expression arising from the Internet, offer more abbreviated connections in contrast, but what’s interesting is what this new medium might develop as unique characteristics all its own. What becomes possible with this new medium is communal aesthetics and understanding, a responsiveness between author and reader, reader and author, until the distinction isn’t even relevant anymore.

    And who knows what else? But for me, the novel is in its prime.

    1. I don’t think the novel will die, however, I do see it falling into a niche market. These are just my observations from days when I used to catch public transport. Where novels and newspapers once held a monopoly on the bored transit passengers, this market is now opened to iPods, portable DVD players and laptops. People have a vast array of ways to be fed information, I was one of the novel readers and will remain so as I can use the other information feeds elsewhere. I severely hope that I am wrong but I just think that the general population is moving faster than ever and its attention span has gotten shorter, blog feeds and podcasts offer automated snippets of information. And who would have thought years ago that we would want to constrain ourselves to communicate in less than 140 characters?

      As I said I hope I am wrong, I type this surrounded by books, beside a 1970’s portable Olivetti typewriter, while I listen to the B-52s (that one’s for you Alec!) on a record player, next week I am going to see Echo and the Bunnymen at the classic Enmore Theatre. I embrace nostalgia but accept change 🙁

    2. Yes, nothing beats diving head long into a good novel. I do find it upsetting though that a great majority of people I know can hardly read.
      Well, they can read alright, but if it’s more than one page long and not in dot point format and requires a bit of thought and interpretation then it’s just too much thought.
      Not to mention the countless times I have used basic English in conversationa and get told – “stop using big words Tetls!” for words like ‘determine’ … what the hell?

      And I must admit Mark, I am one of those commuters with an iPod, but I multitask and read while I listen to it.
      Unfortunately, the only opportunity I get to read is while on the train and and the bus, but I will take advantage of this time while I can!
      It is a shame though, that because I want to get my HECS debt of my back I have no time to actually finish a chapter a day, and all my blogging and commenting on blogs and writing must be done while hidden in the back room at work.
      It would seem to me that if anything were to truly kill the novel, it would be a little goblin called Debt.
      When I do find one of the elusive and rare people who read in the low socio-economic neighbourhoods I live in, a common complaint I hear from all of them is “I just don’t have time to read anymore” or “I just can’t afford to buy the books”.

      So the blog is not the enemy. In fact, the blog makes many things accessible to people who find literature a little out of reach.
      Because a lot of Blog posts are short, many people who would not normally have time in their day to read can spare a few minutes for a quick gander at their their favourite blog. Plus near everyone has access to the internet these days, be it at home, work or a friends house.

      One thing I would love to see die are those God damned PSPs. I do not want to hear somebody elses freakin’ game played at full volumn in the bus, on the train, and definately NOT in the god damned waiting room!

  5. I enjoyed this post very much, and the subsequent comments. I agree that good writing can occur no matter what the format, and there’s certainly some great writing going on in the world of blogs (but geez there’s some complete shit as well). I also agree that sometimes a blog written two minutes after something wonderful – or otherwise – has happened to a writer has a rush and energy to it that sometimes gets polished out through other mediums. BUT I was thinking last night, after an evening of blog-management and blog reading, that there’s still nothing like sitting down with a book, probably on the couch or the back deck or in bed, and getting immersed in real ink on real pages. I’ve also been thinking about the soulfulness of blogging compared to the soulfulness of the physical book, and call me an old romantic (or, worse, out of date) but I fear there might be more soul on the page than there is on the screen.

  6. I like writing my blog pieces when the emotions are raw, in a fit of rage, a few hours. Can’t get that with print. By the time it’s published, it’s old news. Tell your friend to get with the times.

  7. I love it all, print and online, as long as it’s good, and I think that there is room for both media to co-exist and collaborate. I agree with Nigel, and the general consensus, that there is an awful lot of blogs claiming to be literature that do nothing but severely dilute the good stuff. This is where Karen’s book is such a fresh idea, selected blog posts for a print book satsifies a dual need and embraces both media. I hope this proves itself as an ongoing series.

  8. Thank you for this post, Alec (and everyone for the great discussion) loved reading it.

    I agree with Alec – the instant communication between reader & author is a powerful tool, and it doesn’t really exist in print culture – which is, by nature, private. Although, like Alec said, performance and public readings is a little different (but usually without a lot of words between participants ie: reader & listener)

    …where was I going? Yes, the community that can be built in the blog world is great, a real positive in the quick-fix online world – I think, Mark is spot on too, with public consumption habits – it’s shifted from books to ipod etc – which suggests the desire for some sort of ‘portability of the private sphere’ I think. We seem to want to cocoon ourselves in information media everywhere we go.

    But (struggling here) to get back to the topic, I’m pro-blog, we take the good with the bad everywhere else, so why not in the cyber-world of writing?

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