8/20/11

Many happy returns


I write longhand and type it up on a computer. When I'm typing I'm really word-processing but I think of it as typing: I write in chunks which I then print out and revise and print out again. I work the same way I first worked on a typewriter. I like watching the pages build up in a stack and no matter how much technology advances there is no mechanism more useful than changing the order of the pieces of paper and flicking through them to see how the text reads. If something's no good I put a line through it; if the page is revised I score a diagonal from upper right to lower left corner; if my revisions become too dense I change ink colours, from black to red to green; if I run out of space I draw an arrow with "PTO" next to it and write on the back of the page in case, re-reading the page, my other self forgets to turn it over. (My revising self consistently underestimates my writing self.) I have doctor's handwriting: a draft ms can be tachiste.

I use a lot of notebooks and when the novel is finished go back through them, fillet any pages that might prove useful and throw the rest out. Raymond Chandler kept an exemplary notebook – there's at least one copy in stacks in the Auckland Library – as did Patricia Highsmith: her cahiers, she called them. I collect things on my laptop: text grabs, PDFs and images, so in terms of research my computer notebook is my real notebook.

But the finished novel is created on a computer so it matters to me how they work. New iterations of the Mac OS are doing away with the "Save" feature. Instead of entering a command to save a document, the system will back it up automatically. This is logical, Jim, because it's a computer but when I first heard about it I felt a twitch. Saving a document is the writer's late 20th / early 21st century equivalent of hitting a typewriter's carriage return: a self-confirmation that yes, you wanted to keep the words (data) you've just typed (entered). Says Michael Gartenburg at Computerworld:
I've long argued that we must get past the need to use a save command. This vestigial remnant of the early days of computing has caused more than one user to lose hours of work as penalty for not saving often enough. Next thing you know, the power fails or you inadvertently close an application thinking your work has been saved. Auto Save eliminates that problem, and it also helps make Versions a great new feature. With Versions, you can "go back in time" (à la Time Machine) to see older versions of any document.
Do writers want to go back in time? If I'm making a major revision to a digital manuscript I save a draft and go to work on the new one. The drafts are numbered in case I need to go back, but I never do. The early drafts are the same as my notebooks: I spot a few useful things here and there – a few pages' worth – and dump the rest. Not that one needs to dump digital drafts. A life's work will fit on a cell phone, with enough room spare for a movie.

8/12/11

These are not the redirects you're looking for

What you were searchin' this month, and what we think it might mean:
* Success!
** Not so much!
*** But not really.
**** Best I can do, sorry.

8/9/11

Nothing to see here

Twelve people were arrested on Monday night in Camden. Riot Clean Up ('Londoners who care, coming together to engender a sense of community') called for volunteers to assemble outside Camden Town Tube on Tuesday morning.

At 10am the O2 store on Camden High Street is still closed. A police tape barrier has been strung up across the front of the store and a small police car is parked up on the sidewalk with its blue lights flashing. A policeman in cap and uniform shirtsleeves leans on the bonnet with his arms folded and his legs crossed as tourists crowd around to photograph the damage. One window is cracked at foot level and the front door is shuttered.

'I cannot believe it,' says a very young woman standing on the other side of the road with her hand over her mouth. She is genuinely shocked.

Inside the secondhand electronics store across the road staff and customers discuss footage of the riots they have been watching on TV. A local man (ex-Kashmir, speaks four languages) is a special needs educator for kids aged 10-15, many of whom have already had run-ins with the law. 'Some of my kids would have been in there last night.'

The store manager logs onto the intranet and is shocked to note that 30 outlets around London are still closed. 'But we're on there... so that's probably just saying they haven't activated the till.' He directs another staff member to make up a sign saying that, in the light of recent events, the store will only buy boxed goods if the seller can produce photo ID.

Inside the Nero café three are three IT consultants / non-weaponised Blackberry users. Their boss is reading from a report that says they have not working hard enough. A neatly-dressed photographer with a bulging pack and two long-lens digital SLRs comes in and sits down with a coffee, looking tired.

The clean up volunteers assemble outside the tube around 11: seven people, two carrying new brooms being interviewed by a camera team while morning shoppers bump around them to get to the T-shirt stalls further up Camden High Street. A man
looks on tapping something on a handset. Another man is standing nearby taking notes.

Last night's news carried reports of rioting outside the Electric Ballroom but the entrance is no more trashed than usual. Further up another tape barrier has been strung outside the JD sportswear store. The glass windows are spider-web-cracked in three places and there are two policemen standing outside, one of them yawning.

A Japanese tourist snaps photographs of standing racks of clothes outside a vintage boutique. French tourists bump past him, talking loudly.

Actual street cleaners are working along Kentish Town Road , as they always are at this time of the morning. The black lamp posts have been freshly painted. A bike chained to the litter bin outside the cycle store has been vandalised, like every other bike chained up along Kentish Town Road. A helicopter tracks north, slowly, too high to tell whether it's media or police.

-- 9/8/11

8/6/11

Two dollar pistol but the gun won't shoot

I pushed my way through two of Henning Mankell's Wallander novels, Faceless Killers and Firewall and was not so impressed. They were commendably bleak but surprisingly loose with the plot. Here for instance, Hastings, is Firewall not summing things up:
They never did manage to find a satisfying answer to why Sonja Hökberg was thrown against the high voltage wires at the power station, nor why Falk had been in possession of the blueprint.
Which was only central to the entire plot. To quote
Raymond Chandler, Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel (1949):
The mystery novel must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law courts. Contrary to popular belief, this has nothing to do with morality. It is part of the logic of the form. Without this the story is like an unresolved chord in music. It leaves a sense of irritation.
Still, Mankell sells mega, so it's a reminder maybe that mysteries are not all about answers. (I've pleaded as much myself.)

I am however a hard and fast fan of the Swedish TV production starring Krister Henriksson. A few of the handsomely produced movie-length episodes were based on Mankell's novels while the remainder were storylined by the author and scripted / worked up by television screenwriters. The encroaching professionalism means that over the course of the two seasons the series evolves into something not unlike others we have seen but at its core Wallander is grim, locally authentic and refreshingly awkward. One aspect of this is the locale – as with Stieg Larsson, the extremes of winter are both an elemental symbol and threatening plot device. Another is the mood of the players: the Scandanavian cast are naturalistic and react in ways that are unexpected. Kurt Wallander really is curt; Prosecutor Katarina is brittle; Martinsson is blinking and uncomprehending – a by-product of the writers not giving him many lines, or the camera needing something/one to cut away to. Sometimes the stories are just damn clunky, but there's really something there, and so the dramatisation has sent me back to the novels to puzzle them out. I love a good mystery, especially the conundrum of how the writer did it.

8/1/11

End of days no really

Critics are saying Cowboys & Aliens didn't work, and wondering if the western is dead. Saying the western is dead is like saying the blues or jazz or figurative painting or the novel is dead: some things will always be there, in one form or another. What disappointed me instantly about the film was the aliens: I was expecting a 1950s flying-hubcap saucers vs. cowboys mashup, but I guess Indiana Jones and the Collective Noun of the Crystal Skull put everyone off that. (It nearly worked in Mars Attacks.)

Along the same line, thrillers are back. (THRILLERS! ARE! BACK!) Or rather, we flee to them in a menacing world dada-dada-da-da. As I've said before (somewhere...) I believe readers –broadly – turn to crime / thrillers because the genre commits to telling a story. At a recent literary event a publisher told me she classified a crime novel as being about "something that has already happened" and a thriller as "something that hasn't happened yet."

Screen caps from the Comic-Con trailer for Ridley Scott's Prometheus are up here. I am now officially keen. David Slade has directed S04E03 of Breaking Bad. Collider reviews it here. So that's more viewing to catch up on.

If you watch TV via torrents the New Zealand and UK governments are coming for you. Torrentfreak claims that the consultation process for the UK's Digital Economy Act was a sham and that the decision by then Secretary of State for Business Peter Mandelson to disconnect downloaders was a foregone conclusion. Exotically, Mandelson supped with Dark Lord Dreamworks founder David Geffen to discuss the matter, a mashup more discombobulating than Cowboys & Aliens / Alien Vs Predator / Frankenstein Vs The Wolfman. (Does Geffen put down the white cat with the diamond collar when he is at table? How does Peter eat with his fingertips touching together?)

New Zealand Sony general manager Andrew Cornwell says the new anti-file sharing / anti-download / You Wouldn't Steal A Car / Hey Kids Stop Tagging law is targeting the muddle:
"You're never going to stop it entirely. There will always be some hard core people who want to take on the system and get a lot of pleasure out of defeating it and proving they're smarter than the next person. The whole thrust of it is aimed at middle New Zealand who might do the occasional download."
So... the industry will be aiming its thrust at the amateurs who don't cost them very much while leaving heavy-duty downloaders to establish a second tier distribution network which will undercut legitimate corporations by supplying what users want, when they want it and at a lower price. Because that is, after all, how the drugs war was won.

But in America – the last country which Americans can't push around – former Google CIO Douglas C Merrill says Limewire was good for artists. And CNET reports album sales are climbing:
Wayne Rosso, the former president of defunct file-sharing network Grokster who now blogs about the music industry, says that the last time the recording industry saw album sales climb was in 2004, when there were a dozen file-sharing services operating, including Grokster, eDonkey and BearShare. Rosso said plenty of studies show file sharing stimulates song sales.
"This minor blip is nothing to get too excited about," Rosso said. "But it really shows it's all about the product...music has to have legs. That's what has been lost in the last decade: quality."
Full story (bar charts, balanced reporting) here.