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OF MACHINES AND PAPER BOATS


A couple of conflicting opinions on how writers should deal with technology and social networking sites recently came my way. The first favoured complete engagement – writers should be active and visible at all times via social media, lest they drop from sight and be forgotten. While I have retained the gist of this message I cannot recall who said it, a consequence of the volume of posts and tweets circling in the ether; reading them, it is all too easy to sink, stone-like, into the numbing swamp of unceasing chatter.

The second view, robustly voiced, was from veteran author, Ray Bradbury. In Ray’s opinion there are ‘too many machines’ and we need to get rid of some of them, too many cell phones, too many distracting internet highways for writers to roam when they should be getting on with their work.

Bradbury’s opinion will be written off by many as the ravings of an old man, a Luddite, but listening to him speak – still passionate about writing at the age of ninety-two – I was struck by his extraordinary, life-long belief in the intuitive aspects of the writing process. According to Ray Bradbury, a writer should read one short story, one poem, and one essay, every night before they go to sleep. Then, with their minds brimming, they must trust in the unconscious to ‘make new metaphors’ for them to work with.

So what is a writer to do in these technology-driven times? Is tweeting in any way compatible with the circuitous thought processes required to write a novel, bearing in mind the long gestation period and the even lengthier process of bringing it to the page? Does posting on Facebook have anything to do with writing books?

I don’t know what the answer is for others, but for me tweeting as a pastime sounds about as dangerous as using drugs – I could get into it and never get out, never again write a sentence longer than 140 characters, while my head implodes from the unceasing onslaught of other people’s voices. I don’t watch television for some of the same reasons, but am I a Luddite, am I against change for the sake of being against something new? I don’t think so.

I have used Facebook for a while, although it’s a constant battle to decide whether I’m there for personal or professional reasons. The truth is, it’s a bit of a mixture, but as I hate being the object of relentless marketing via the medium, mixing it up is probably a good thing.

Just lately, in place of writing a blog, I’ve begun making short videos. It’s exciting because I get to manipulate images as well as words, and by releasing a fragment of a work-in-progress like a paper boat into a stream I begin to see it as already existing in the world, already making its way towards the broad flow of published novels. I don’t know what Ray Bradbury would have to say about this. Probably he would see it as stealing time from the main task of writing, but unlike expending masses of energy on tweeting or contributing to online forums, this method of utilising technology seems like a natural extension of the writing process.

So while I admire Bradbury’s achievements, and especially his passion, the truth is that the machines are now with us and they are never going to go away. Each writer must find ways to work with technology that enhances what they do, and assembling sounds and images to suit the text helps me decide whether the atmosphere and tone I’m aiming for is right, while playing it over, perhaps hundreds of times, while editing the video, forces me to listen closely to what I’ve written. Best of all, whenever the demon voices seek to undermine my confidence, releasing a paper boat sustains my belief that I can steer the novel to its final form and destination.

My newest work-in-progress is a noir-ish suspense novel set in the heightened reality of my home city, Adelaide. Its fictional streets are the ones I walk every day, past beautiful, abandoned buildings in the city centre, gracious beneath graffiti and colonising pigeons. That at least one of these weary yet still elegant facades conceals a ruined 19th century ballroom is one of the city’s small yet poignant secrets. In the novel, that ballroom is a natural habitat for the girl in the red silk dress – a Cinderella of a darker cast, with a difficult past and a dangerous agenda.

With luck, and a little more work, this paper boat will soon be born away towards publication. Click here for the opening pages of Where I'm Coming From.
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