Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » Canada http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org The website for the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 EWWC Highlights Film http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:43:51 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5435 EWWC Highlights Film Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the festival throughout the past year]]> Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the EWWC festival throughout the past year, and read more about the Conference on our About the Conference page. ]]> http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/feed/ 0 Liam Card: Thoughts on the rise of self-publishing http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/liam-card-thoughts-on-the-rise-of-self-publishing/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/liam-card-thoughts-on-the-rise-of-self-publishing/#comments Fri, 16 Nov 2012 22:18:34 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=2046 Liam Card

Liam Card

Recently, at the International Festival of Authors, Toronto, I was asked to participate in a round table discussion as part of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference alongside A.L. Kennedy, Beatrice MacNeil, Kristel Thornell and Irvine Welsh. Late in the game, a question was posed by an audience member with regard to the rise in popularity of self-publishing, and our thoughts surrounding that phenomenon. Inevitably, along came my turn to tackle the tricky question, however, I’d like this opportunity to expand upon and clarify my response.

It is a fact: self-publishing continues to grow as an outlet for scribes demanding that their hard work be read. Moreover, the popularity of the e-book format has allowed the self-publishers to cut costs tremendously, and to launch their work solely in an electronic format without having to deal with the anxieties surrounding printing a precarious number of hard copies that could very well end up occupying an entire bookshelf in one’s own living room or (more likely) basement. Yes, the thought of one having to dust a bookcase worth of self-published overstock seems entirely depressing. Regardless, self-published books continue to be born each and every day. Each with the sincere promise from associated websites that (via this platform) an author can control their own destiny and the number of book sales rests solely in their hands, as if effort was the deciding factor, and not the quality of the material:

Identify your target audience.

Self-publish your book.

Shamelessly, market your book to that audience via any channel possible.

Away you go.

Oh, and you’re not allowed in major book retailers, and good luck getting reviewed.

For an author desperate to have their work exist out there in the world, I can see how this is option is tempting – a something vs. nothing sort of situation. All-the-while, looming over every decision to go this route must be the “one-in-a-million” dream. The tease of stories whereby an author self-published and somehow managed a best-seller out of it. Thus, the swing-for-the-fence mentality comes into play, as it does in the film industry when a screenwriter can’t sell a script and ultimately hires non-union actors, shoots the film on a Sony Handicam, edits the project on their MacBook Pro and somehow that gritty uber-indie feature film finds its home at Sundance or Toronto or Cannes or Berlin, and everyone loves it when David hits Goliath square on the forehead. Perhaps, the self-publishing industry acts as the slingshot, and the content – the stone, and holy hell, if you pull back hard enough and fire blindly, you just might hit something.

With respect to the rise in self-publishing, I get it. I understand how and why it is attractive for many authors for the myriad of the reasons associated. It’s just far too uncomfortable for me.

For me, there is a heaping tablespoon of romance lost in all of it. For me, there is an inescapable beauty in an unbiased, third-party group of individuals gathering around a table and selecting your book against hundreds of other choices because they have reached a consensus regarding the quality of the craft and the quality of the storytelling. There is something magical about a group of strangers pushing your content out into the world, screaming, “World, you have to read this … it is sensational.”

Your craft and storytelling – validated and supported by a team of industry professionals.

It just seems tremendously important.

The self-publishing world reminds of American Idol, X-factor, or Britain’s Got Talent, whereby the thousands of artists who come to audition have every assurance in the not-yet-determined fact that possess the talent and formula for stardom and riches. Just ask them, the quality of their work is exceptional. Of course they believe that – they are their own quality control board and marketing team, and the whole thing is just off-putting. Despite that, there are diamonds in them there lines who need sourcing and polishing. It is proven time and time again. The same has to be true in literature and self-publishing. Maybe that’s entirely the point. As A.L. Kennedy stated, “I have to think that all of the self-publishers are really just looking for a respected publishing house to come along and snatch them up.”

I couldn’t agree more.

At the end of the day, it’s not something I would do … but I completely understand what drives it.

Liam Card

View the event Liam took part in here

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CHAN KOONCHUNG – Censorship Today http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/chan-koonchung-censorship-today/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/chan-koonchung-censorship-today/#comments Sun, 28 Oct 2012 15:35:29 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1668 International Festival of Authors, Toronto
Sunday 28 October 3:00pm Human Rights Watch Reading/Interview - Censorship Today Featuring: Chan Koonchung Host: Jasmine Herlt Interviewer: Minky Worden ]]> International Festival of Authors, Toronto

Sunday 28 October 3:00pm EST

Human Rights Watch Reading/Interview – Censorship Today


Featuring: Chan Koonchung
Host: Jasmine Herlt       Interviewer: Minky Worden


http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/chan-koonchung-censorship-today/feed/ 0 Harkness, Mattich, Nesbø & Redekop – The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/harkness-mattich-nesbo-redekop-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/harkness-mattich-nesbo-redekop-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Sat, 27 Oct 2012 15:36:59 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1664 International Festival of Authors, Toronto

Saturday 27 October 12:00pm EST

Zombies, Witches, Killers and Cowboys: Visions of the Future Novel


Featuring: Deborah Harkness, Alen Mattich, Jo Nesbø, Corey Redekop. Host/Moderator: Andrew Pyper


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Card, Kennedy, MacNeil, Thornell & Welsh – A National Literature? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/card-kennedy-macneil-thornell-welsh-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/card-kennedy-macneil-thornell-welsh-a-national-literature/#comments Sat, 27 Oct 2012 15:36:26 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1666 International Festival of Authors, Toronto

Saturday 27 October 5:00pm EST

A National Literature?


Featuring: Liam Card, A.L. Kennedy, Beatrice MacNeil, Kristel Thornell, Irvine Welsh. Host/Moderator: James Grainger


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Toews in Canada – Keynote on A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/toews-in-toronto-keynote-on-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/toews-in-toronto-keynote-on-a-national-literature/#comments Thu, 25 Oct 2012 15:46:10 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1697

A National Literature

Keynote address given by Miriam Toews

First presented at the International Festival of Authors, Toronto

Giving back-to-back Keynote addresses, China Miéville presented ‘The Future of the Novel’ ‘remixed’, along with Miriam Toews who debated ‘A National Literature. The event was hosted/moderated by journalist and author Rachel Giese.

Miriam Toews Keynote text: “A National Literature”

Last month I was at a literary festival in Mantova, Italy. Most guest writers were Italian, but there were a handful of writers from other countries, and as it turned out I was the only Canadian in the program. I figured that during appearances and interviews I would be asked a few questions about the literary scene in Canada, perhaps about Canadian politics, but I quickly realized that for the Italians, my Mennonite identity was of far more interest than my Canadian identity. For them, I was a Mennonite writer. I had no problem going along with this, I’ve been in this position before, but it reminded me again how so much of our self-identity is determined by others, how the person we’re imagining ourselves to be, the self we expect to impose on the world, is always in negotiation with the identity given to us by other people.

Granted, I was there to talk about my latest novel, Irma Voth (In Italian: Mi chiamo Irma Voth), and the book is about a nineteen year-old Mennonite girl named Irma who lives in a religiously conservative community in Northern Mexico.
Irma Voth is my sixth book but it’s only the third time I’ve featured Mennonite settings and characters. I’m happy to answer questions about Mennonites, and in Italy I talked about their history, their practices, their beliefs – all the while thinking: what an odd position to be in! I’m not a historian or sociologist or theologian. I’m only a fiction writer. And though I am a Mennonite – born and raised in a religious Mennonite town in Manitoba – I am not a good Mennonite, at least for a great number of people in the Mennonite community who continue to regard me as an irritant, a shit disturber, and most certainly the last person who should be telling their epic tale of persecution, exile, and hard-won religious independence.

I can’t count the number of times people have made a point of telling me – in writing or to my face – that I’ve besmirched the reputation of Mennonites, made a mockery of the very community that raised me up to be who I am. In fact, during a recent interview with a publication in Manitoba, I was asked how I feel about the fact that my novels reinforce negative stereotypes of Mennonites and fail to represent the educated, cultured, tolerant urban Mennonites who are very much open to the secular world.

It was one of those questions that is also an accusation, and it told me I should feel guilty, ashamed, and repentant. But the truth is I have never set out to expose flaws in the Mennonite community. Fiction writing, for me, comes from a much more child-like impulse. There are stories to tell and I dive right in.

But it would be bad faith to say I simply can’t understand why certain Mennonites would object to my books. We don’t want people to think we’re unsophisticated inbreds, mad for cruel practices like shunning and condemning gays and lesbians to hell. It’s a natural, defensive gesture to say “Wait, we’re not all like that!” It has to do with arrogance and embarrassment. And self image. But protests like that conveniently remove the onus of confronting difficult truths and lobbying for change. We know that some Mennonites were involved with the Nazi Party. Should we erase this from the history books? Should we say, “Yeah but forget about that, most Mennonites are pacifists and apolitical!” (is this even true anymore?). And is it somehow my responsibility to write a novel about an agnostic cocaine-addicted Mennonite working at a New York fashion magazine who abandons her sophisticated, polyglot Wall Street boyfriend in order to fulfill her childhood dream of joining NASA and becoming an astronaut – simply to redress stereotypes of religiously retrograde Mennonite farmers?

No. I’ve come to realize what it is these Mennonites want from me – both the conservative Mennonites who have condemned me to hell as well as the secular Mennonites who regret the way I’ve depicted their other half: they want my piety. Not just loyalty to the community, but allegiance to whatever transcendent authority unifies the community. In other words, there are services to be rendered. They’re fine with stories about Mennonites, they welcome stories about Mennonites, but only as long as the stories reinforce certain pre-determined narratives. The insinuation is always that because I fail to show piety towards my own community – especially this historically beleaguered community – I am a spoiled, mischievous, rebellious child, someone not to be taken seriously, a prankster, or worse, a morally directionless castaway who is best kept at a distance else I infect the community any further.

The parent-child analogy is inevitable when talking about identity. Identity is so much about inheritance. The Mennonite community often compares itself to a family, as do other minority communities. Even nation-states are sometimes described as families. In my life I’ve heard talk of the Canadian family, especially in times of crisis – during sovereignty referendums in Quebec for example: suddenly Canada is a marriage on the verge of divorce, or a family of several children, the eldest threatening to run away. You can be sure that whenever a politician chooses to describe the nation-state as a family, or extension of family, or even of a human personality developing into greater maturity, he or she is asking for your obedience, your allegiance to the status quo.

Like the conservative, religious men of my community, conservative nationalists want each one of us to conform to the identity they’ve imagined for us; they want our stories to become part of a larger authorized story. Which brings me to the dubious idea of National Literature. I say dubious not because I don’t believe in the existence of a “national literature” but because for me, a writer, it implies obligations and confinements, much in the same way that the “Mennonite literature” label can sometimes feel like a confinement for me. Makes me think I’m about to be sent on a mission. I would never need or want to deny my Mennonite background and culture; even if identity is multiple and evolving, forever subject to the judgments of others, I’ll always feel like and be identified as a Mennonite, and therefore possess that little extra authority on all matters Mennonite. I also see myself as a Canadian writer, very much implicated personally in all matters Canadian. Like every Canadian, I have been taught that one of the most important functions of art is to supply and elaborate the myths and narratives of nationhood. Northrop Frye said so: fictional stories are a secular bible for our imagined community. I get this: I wouldn’t tell an Irishman that the great books written by Irish authors have nothing to do with who he is. So for me, to be granted a place under the banners of Mennonite Literature and Canadian Literature is an honour.

The problem is, the more defined these national narratives become, the less they have to do with the individual artist creating her art. The greater the number of stories that fall neatly into the category of “national literature,” they more they threaten a writer’s imaginative freedom. Fiction is perhaps the most emancipated artistic form; it’s messy, shape-shifting, rebellious. Fiction is emissary to no embassy and child to no parent; a writer is not a soldier or Olympic athlete, flying a national flag. The only legitimate role of a writer, regardless of her community or nation is to tell the stories that are truly hers. I’ll quote the American writer Dorothy Gallagher: “The writer’s business is to find the shape in unruly life and to serve her story. Not, you may note, to serve her family, or to serve the truth, but to serve her story.”

Serve your story and you are doing your proper business. You are also doing your part in the national project: helping to create an environment in which the diverse populations of the nation can develop freely and spontaneously towards a future that does not resemble the past. Ideas of national identity always belong to the past. By the time we’ve recognized a unifying national theme, we’re somewhere else. And whether or not your stories are contributing to national literature is for other people to decide. Writers are off the hook, which should be a special relief to Canadian writers. As M.G. Vassanji says: “To define [Canada] or its literature seems like putting a finger on Zeno’s arrow: no sooner do you think you have done it than it has moved on.”

Literature is always moving on, quickly, daringly. If a story happens to serve someone’s national agenda, then so be it. But it’s most likely to do the opposite. Good fiction does not reinforce our complacent self-image; it makes us aware of identities outside our own. It brings to life complex characters who resemble real people, provides new points of reference, reclaims old territories and invents new ones, magnifies familiar moments into epiphanies. If anything, a good story will threaten the sanctity of the establishment and question the voice of privilege and tradition, and in doing so, evolve what it means to be a member of the community or the nation.
To many, serve-your-story-over-family-or-truth is the justification of a selfish and insensitive person. What if your writing hurts people close to you? Why would you want to expose the foibles of a vulnerable minority group that is so important to you? Mennonites need understanding, not critique.

These are important questions. I wouldn’t have written A Complicated Kindness if my father had been alive. Not because I would be afraid of how I’d characterized him in the book, the character of Ray, my favourite and who is in the end the hero… but because of how sad it would make him to know just how critical I was of the community that meant the world to him… so in a way, although I would prefer that he was alive, his death freed me up to write the book I needed and wanted to write.

I worried that Carlos Reygadas, the Mexican film director who was the inspiration for the eccentric filmmaker in Irma Voth, would take badly to the way he was portrayed – a man contriving chaos on the set and given to wild flights of somewhat pompous poetry. Some time after the novel was published, I went to see him. We spent hours talking before I finally had the courage to ask him: Um, what did you think of the book? He wasn’t upset at all. He said he preferred the first half of the book, before the two sisters flee. I was relieved when he told me he liked it very much, and that he saw my blood on the page. Except, he just wished I had bled onto the page even more.

Many Mennonites have thanked me for my books, for telling my story, their story. This has been wonderful for me and deeply reassuring. On the other hand, there are the Mennonites who would be offended by any representation whatsoever. We all know that individuals who define themselves exclusively by the cultural group they belong to are less willing to acknowledge its inherent problems. I want to ask: to whom exactly am I exposing Mennonite foibles? I realize that a minority position is less secure than a mainstream one, but I fail to see why this insecurity makes its members less capable of rigorous self-critique. I think it’s simplistic to assume that a mainstream Anglo reader (or reader from any other social tribe) confronts human foibles more courageously than other people.

Canada has, at times, represented itself as a country in a valiant struggle against powerful and menacing agents that are indifferent to its special practices and sensibilities – most especially American culture. It’s the old, outdated garrison mentality. But even Canada, this highly regionalized, pluralistic, and accommodating country has a palpable sense of national community; it’s manifest in our laws, institutions, and customs, in the unique conflicts of our history, in our differences from other nations, and yes, in our literature. So we’ve got no revolutionary war, no centuries-old Declaration Of Independence, no Walden in the woods, no American dream. Let’s get over it. Let’s embrace our insecurity, and continue to fall short of certainty. The concept of “national literature” promises certainties and definitions and boundaries, all the things that literature withholds. The imagination is inherently subversive and cannot be mandated. A writer can only serve her nation by serving her story.

Copyright Miriam Toews, October 2012

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Miéville in Canada – Keynote on The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/mieville-in-toronto-keynote-on-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/mieville-in-toronto-keynote-on-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Thu, 25 Oct 2012 15:41:18 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1695

The Future of the Novel: Remixed 

Keynote address given by China Miéville

First presented at the International Festival of Authors, Toronto.

Giving back-to-back Keynote addresses, China Miéville presented ‘The Future of the Novel’ ‘remixed’, along with Miriam Toews who debated ‘A National Literature. The event was hosted/moderated by journalist and author Rachel Giese.

China’s Keynote address text: “The Future of the Novel: Remixed”

In August this year, Philip Roth published an open letter to Wikipedia. ‘I had reason’, he wrote, ‘recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel ‘The Human Stain’.’ (That ‘reason’ presumably being that he typed his name into Google. No judgement. We all do.) He complained that they wouldn’t remove a ‘falsity’ in the entry, the claim by some that the book drew on the life of writer Anatole Broyard. Roth withered that according to Wikipedia, ‘I, Roth, was not a credible source’.

This was not in fact what Wikipedia claimed. Rather, delightfully, the administrator wrote: ‘I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work … but we require secondary sources.’

On this issue, we must all rally to the Wikipedian banner. Roth’s counterclaim should be noted, but he objected to the entry stating that the book was ‘allegedly inspired’ by Broyard’s life, which is simply factual – the allegation is part of the book’s history – a point made by Broyard’s own daughter. And the notion that Roth himself has the key to his inner truths is naïve. He acknowledges he’d heard ‘hearsay’ about Broyard – is it impossible that such fed, unconsciously perhaps, into the mulch from which the book grew?

Boisterous online discussions are, sometimes in staggeringly discourteous ways, doing more than decades of Barthes to kill the author. The opinion of the writer is, rightly, one input among many. The clash between two conceptions of authority is nowhere more vivid than in the short first sentence of Roth’s letter, written, surely, to end the matter. He says: ‘I am Philip Roth.’ To which the diffuse argumentative ecrowd responds: ‘That’s adorable.’

But crucially for us here, the undermining of authorial authority is likely to extend, at accelerating rate, beyond intention and interpretation, and into the realms of literary creation.


On the 21 of August, I spoke in Edinburgh on the future of the novel. Originally, the request was to give the same talk here. But as I hope will become clear, that would have been a betrayal of the talk’s own content. So this is not new, as a comparison to the first version will quickly show, and it’s not a replacement. This is a remix incorporating responses the initial version provoked, which immediately became, after all, part of this cluster of textness.

Of course I get final word. This is as much l’esprit de l’escalier as WikiRigour. This is a bug-fix, a security update. Maybe not even The Future of the Novel 2.0, but 1.5.

Prediction is analysis, anxiety and aspiration. I remain an anguished optimist. None of the futures here are impossible: some I think are likely; many I broadly hope for. One is still a demand.

* * *

I duck the question, ‘What is literature?’ and veer instead towards ‘What do we want from it?’ Many things. One of which is a glimpse of and gasp at something otherwise inexpressible. A felt ineffability that strains language, and by which you don’t have to be a person of faith to have your breath taken away.

Now consider the enemies of that pleromatic vision. Jewish mysticism warns of the qliphoth - entropic shells of psychic muck and detritus that encrust that numinous and obscure it. Blockages, clots that hide the astounding.

As you can tell, I’m turning my attention to English fiction. But it’s my sense that the following diagnosis isn’t entirely unhelpful for mainstream Anglophone literati elsewhere.

Paulo Coelho notoriously bashed Joyce recently, to the scorn of bien pensants, but Coelho’s a safe target because, with books that multitask a little too openly as self-help manuals, he’s not very clubbable. Unlike, say, Ian McEwan, who not-so-differently declared against “the dead hand of modernism”, for all the world as if the dominant literary mode in post-war England was Steinian experimentation or some Albion Oulipo, against which enfants terrible hold out with limpidly observed interiority, decodable metaphors, strained middle-class relationships and eternal truths of the human condition(TM).

Yes, there are fine novels written according to such norms, and conversely there’ve always been writers playing with form, etcetera. But two things remain key.

i) The culturally dominant strain of English novel has for years been what Zadie Smith called “lyrical realism”: the remorseless mimetic prioritization of recognition over estrangement.

ii) Today, for a variety of reasons, it is not quite business as usual.

There was a limit point. Last year the Booker suffered a Middlebrowmaggedon, with judges undermining its cred by enthusing about ‘readability’ and stories that ‘zip along’. This year’s prize salvaged things not badly. Among the messages the judges sent with their own long and short lists was that the Booker is rapproching somewhat with that so-called dead hand.

There’ve been other wind-blown straws. The palpable recent shame when Christine Brooke-Rose died, that this astonishing innovator was so overlooked in her own country. Renewed interest in Ann Quin. Excitement at the online archive Ubuweb. The growing importance of translated fiction, a conduit for experiment (I think it makes the point about the specific narrowness of English fiction that one gets giddy with cognitive dissonance trying to imagine judges for, say, the Goncourt demanding stories that ‘zip along’, for which what even is the French?). With the internet has come proof that there are audiences way beyond the obvious.

The hedgerow between genre and litfic is also being hacked at, by writers and readers on both sides. It’s not the Paris Review but Weird Fiction Review currently championing the legendary Amos Tutuola. And generic tropes continue to infect the mainstream, both in fiction, and as discursive metaphors.

“I have just … paid a depressing visit to an electronic computer which can write sonnets if fed with the right material,” said Lawrence Durrell lugubriously, at the session 50 years ago of which this and its predecessor are echoes. ” … I have a feeling that by Christmas it will have written its first novel… you will all be able to buy them, and write your own “.

It’s not clear how scared he really was —

I’ll interrupt myself, as stern internet critics interrupted me first time round. Durrell, gadfly and game-player, was not scared at all. Any suggestion otherwise, is as one reader admonished, ‘amazingly, stunningly wrong’.

Correction taken. What Durrell was doing was rolling around his mouth a succulent piece of fret-candy, and he’s not the only writer to have conjured this science-fictional nightmare: the Automatic Novel Writing Machine appears repeatedly in fiction. Given all the fire, flood, uneasy dead, it’s an underwhelmingly terrifying dystopia, the despotic thrall of the autonovelator, but apres nous le deluge - writers would far rather suffer planetary catastrophe than deskilling.

In fact, though the terror of civilians being able to press buttons and produce books remains, the past future of the novel – now – lay not in being digitally produced, but digitally distributed.


We are, at last, leaving phase one of the ebook discussion, during which people could invoke the ‘smell of paper’ as if it was a serious argument. Some anxieties remain tenacious: how will people know what a splendid person I am without a pelt of the right visible books on my walls? Here’s a hopeful future: that our grandchildren will consider our hankering for erudition-décor a little needy.

No matter how doggedly persistent relatively traditional narrative shape is, you don’t radically restructure how the novel’s distributed and not have an impact on its form. We quickly approach an era when no one who really doesn’t want to pay for a book will have to, and when the digital availability of the text alters the relationship between reader, writer, and book. The text won’t be closed.

It never was, of course, but it’s going to be even less so now. Anyone who wants to shove their hands into a book and grub about in its innards, add to and subtract from it and pass it on altered, will, in this age of digitally distributed text, be able to do so without much difficulty. It’s happening. An unkempt grassroots modernism, often from the other cultural direction than any haute literary thaw. Every text potentially fractured.

To which one response might be clamping down, the punitive model of so-called antipiracy action. About which I’ll say – as someone very keen to continue to make a living from writing – that it’s disingenuous, hypocritical, ineffectual, intellectually incoherent, moribund, and complicit with toxicity.

The Creators’ Rights Alliance, with which my own trade union is associated, put out a manifesto that ends with a chilling injunction:

[A] fundamental part of this provision should involve education about intellectual property. … All schoolchildren should be encouraged in the habit of using the © symbol with their work, whether it be an essay or a musical composition.

‘The concept behind copyright is so simple that a child can understand it:

‘”I made it: it’s mine.”‘

Artists and activists advocating the neoliberalisation of children’s minds. That is scandalous and stupid. The text is open. This could be our chance to remember that it was never just us who made it, and it was never just ours.


The problem with emphasising authorial voice and insight is its unconvincing stress on the specialness of writers tout court, as a category, as opposed, more interestingly, to their work.  Of course we’re not talking – regular declarations of its mortal illness notwithstanding – about the death of the novel. The novel is as tenacious as a cockroach. This fact is morally neutral. We can hope for a good novel – created by whatever means – decry bad ones, and observe with a shrug that in total they endure.

The aggrandisement of literature and writers is undermined by the increasingly permeable text. Be ready for guerrilla editors. Just as 14-year-olds remix albums – sometimes brilliantly, sometimes craply – people are providing their own cuts of novels online. In the future, asked if you’ve read the latest Nalo Hopkinson or Ahdaf Soueif, say, the response might be not yes or no, but “which mix”, and why?

We’ll be writing as part of a collective. As we always were.

And so might anyone. A healthy sense of not-special-ness doesn’t mean having no awe in the skill, insight, wordsmithery, of a particular writer. You don’t have to think that writing is lever-pulling, that anyone could have written Jane Eyre or Notebook of a Return to my Native Land, nor even that no writers are special people. But the model of authors as an Elect is unconvincing, and insulting to everyone else.

Consider that the growth in importance of fanfic and self-publishing are often criticized, with a straight face, on the grounds that they will lead to a diminution of the quality of literature. As if slews of god-awful crap aren’t cheerfully extruded by major publishing houses every year.

The worst anxiety is not that the interfering public will write bad novels, but good ones. The literary apocalypse accompanying remixing is not that the public will ruin your work if they muck about with it, but that they’ll improve it. And once in a rare while, some of them will. How wonderful.


How do we protect the original? John Burnside: ‘I don’t trust the state, big companies and religious nuts not to try to erase the text and replace it with their version’. Indeed, books have been eyed by the powerful for as long as there’ve been books for them to eye, but it’s hardly as if censoring and rewriting came with the internet. Nor does the digitisation of texts make it easier to efface the original. The opposite, as when controversial documents are copied and mirrored in profusion when their original host is threatened. The original text is going nowhere.

We should be skeptical of the notion that it needs protecting at all. In the words of Kamila Shamsie, talking of a writer whose astounding reconfigurings of fiction were the results of engaging with an explosion of new cultural forms like TV and film, also heralded as deaths of the novel, ‘[i]f the threat of something new and different and bigger than you creates Calvinos, then it is not a threat.’


Money. The blurring of boundaries between writers, books, and readers, self-publishing, the fanfication of fiction, the new collectivity doesn’t mean some people won’t be better at the writing thing than others, nor unable to pay their rent by doing it. Querying the existing model – opposing the rottweilers of copyright, who act as if they never made a mixtape for a friend or shared battered books in the playground – doesn’t mean not wanting writers to be paid. So how?

I don’t know. I’m open-minded. I’m eager for a discussion, a calm, collaborative exploring of new options not predicated on suspicion or punishment of readers. The great majority of whom, like the great majority of writers, are honourable people, who know that if writers are never paid, they won’t be able to write. We want to work something out.

Ewan Morrison, an eloquent opponent of what he calls this dotcommunism: ‘I would support people like Dr Dre and Bono who defend copyright because they believe that there won’t be a future generation of musicians if everyone just gets to mash-up their material for free and redistribute it.’

Five minutes online and you meet that future generation, making music piratically, shoving things together, manipulating, and even finding new ways to make a living from it. Far from fearing it, we in fiction should be so lucky as to see that kind of creativity, the creation of new forms. Why are we not hankering for some book version of the mixtape? If some precocious young bookturk turns our stuff into something new we should have the grace to be grateful. The original’s still right there too. And theirs might even be brilliant. It might be better. This is how culture moves.

I see Ewan’s Dr Dre and raise him Public Enemy’s Chuck D, who knows that without these so-called transgressions, culture would be vastly poorer. ‘How do you feel about other people remixing your tracks without permission?’ asks stayfreemagazine. ‘I think my feelings are obvious,’ he replies. ‘I think it’s great.’


Most of us aren’t that special, and clarifying that is a good thing, the start of a great future. In which we can focus on the books. Which might even, rarely, be special.

We’re told that a problem with ebooks and their ephemeral-seeming text files, is that they ‘devalue writing’. That writers’ work is undervalued. Well, yes. Just like the work of nurses, teachers, public transport staff, cleaners, social workers, which has been undervalued a lot more for a lot longer. We live in a world that grossly and violently undervalues the great majority of people in it. Which is why triumphs against this hegemony of the market are so salutary – and I salute the Quebec students on their victory.

In fiction, it’s not true that only rubbish sells. Nor, though, do the best books always do best. There’s a contingent relationship between sales and literary merit. So we should totally break the pretence at a connection.

What if novelists and poets were to get a salary, the wage of a skilled worker?

* * *

This would only be an exaggeration of the national stipends already offered by some countries for some writers. For the great majority of people who write, it would mean a huge improvement in their writing lives. For a few it would mean an income cut, but you know what? It was a good run. And surely it’s easily worth it to undermine the marketisation of literature for some kind of collectivity.

Who decides who qualifies as a writer? Does it take one sonnet? Of what quality? Ten novels? 50,000 readers? Ten, but the right readers? God knows we shouldn’t trust the state to make that kind of decision. (I draw attention to that last sentence for those who, first time round, unaccountably interpreted this as a call for state-appointed writers.)

We should democratise a vigorous debate about qualification as widely as possible. It needn’t be the mere caprice of taste. People are perfectly capable of judging as important literature for which they don’t personally care. Mistakes will be made, sure, but will they really be worse than the philistine thuggery of the market? What new literary culture could we create?

We couldn’t bypass the state with this plan, though. We’ll have to take control of it, then, for the sake of literature, among many other things. We’ll have to invert its priorities, democratise its structures, replace it with a system we deserve.

A stress not on writers but on people, and a fidelity to literature itself, demand political and economic transformation. For futures for novels – and everything else – worth having. For that we hope and fight. And about those futures we can say almost nothing. Except that whatever their literature, whatever stories and anti-stories we tell from them, none of us will pause, after that telling, to append a shameful and ugly lie, none of us will dream of adding:  ‘I made this. It’s mine.’

Copyright China Miéville October 2012


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MIEVILLE & TOEWS – The Future of the Novel & A National Literature? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/mieville-toews-the-future-of-the-novel-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/mieville-toews-the-future-of-the-novel-a-national-literature/#comments Thu, 25 Oct 2012 13:19:32 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1350 Mieville-and-ToewsInternational Festival of Authors, Toronto

Thursday 25 October 8:00pm EST

The Future of the Novel & A National Literature?

Keynotes: China Miéville & Miriam Toews

Giving back-to-back Keynote addresses, China Miéville presented ‘The Future of the Novel’ ‘remixed’, and Miriam Toews debated ‘A National Literature. The event was hosted/moderated by journalist and author Rachel Giese.

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Celona, Lee, Schofield & Shapton – Style vs Content http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/celona-lee-schofield-shapton-style-vs-content/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/celona-lee-schofield-shapton-style-vs-content/#comments Wed, 24 Oct 2012 15:38:17 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1662 International Festival of Authors, Toronto

Wednesday 24 October 8:00pm EST

Basic Instinct: Style vs Content


Featuring: Marjorie Celona, Rebecca Lee, Anakana Schofield, Leanne Shapton. Host/Moderator: Susan G. Cole

Short stories, novels, graphic novels, written chronologically or out of order—how does the writer decide how to approach the story?



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A Conversation with China Miéville http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/a-conversation-with-china-mieville/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/a-conversation-with-china-mieville/#comments Wed, 24 Oct 2012 13:01:32 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1556 China Miéville at Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Tues 21 Aug c Pascal Saez

China Miéville at Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference Tues 21 Aug c Pascal Saez

China Miéville will be revisiting the Conference theme of The Future of the Novel in Toronto at the International Festival of Authors on 25th October.  We had a quick chat ahead of his trip in which he revealed, among other things, his sanguinity towards pirate editions, in which city he would choose livelong exile, and his reaction to the reaction to his Edinburgh ‘moment’ this past August.

EWWC: The Guardian called your keynote address on ‘The Future of the Novel’ “barnstorming”, Kirsty Gunn spoke of the “exhilarating anarchic spirit of true creativity” which “electrified” your address; other audience members were less enthused and scorned your “dotcommunism”. Were you prepared for the kind of reception your address elicited in Edinburgh?

CM: I really didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that much of a response to it. If you’ve been thinking about something for a long time you kind of lose track of what other people think about it. It was useful for me to hear the objections from people like Ewan [Morrison] – who obviously I disagree with, but who’s smart and serious and interesting – they made me realise that I have to hone my explanations somewhat. That’s the appeal of giving version 2.0 of the same talk again – it gives me a chance to think about those critiques and respectfully respond to them. Overall I was really startled and pleased that there was such a response to it on both sides.

EWWC: Where there any responses that you’d heard before, or that you were expecting?

CM: I think what tends to happen – and this is not unique to just this debate – is that your own position becomes parodied. So if, for example, you say “I am not a defender of the existing punitive system of copyright”, people turn round and say “How can you say that writers shouldn’t be paid?” Which is incredibly infuriating, because you didn’t say that. I think that kind of debate happens all the time with high octane arguments. I find that exhausting and I oscillate between thinking it’s my duty to dot every “i” and cross every “t” – while on the other hand sometimes it feels like it’s occasionally almost wilful misunderstanding. It does depends on my mood, but that kind of defensiveness tires me.

EWWC: You’re revisiting the theme of ‘The Future of the Novel’ in Toronto later this week. Have any of your positions or suggestions changed or developed since August?

CM: I think I’ve come to realise a bit more where it’s helpful to spell certain things out. The point of these things is to present a provocation. It’s in the nature of a 15 minute talk that it’s neither possible nor is it your job to laboriously spell out all possible positions; your role is to get the discussion started. I haven’t changed my opinion but I’ve become more aware of what’s clear and what’s not clear in my argument. I think sometimes you can make a stronger case if you lay out an alternative remit or position, but you’re not obliged to. That’s a rhetorical trope, the critique can have teeth whether or not you lay out an alternative. It’s quite helpful and the argument might be more persuasive if you do, but there’s nothing wrong with holding your hand up and saying “I am open minded about what’s going on”.

The other thing is that people’s responses in the main focused on digitisation – there were a few other points in that talk for example, about translation and so on, but the ‘dotcommunism’ overwhelmed the other strands a bit in the ensuing discussion which I somewhat regret, as I think the other issues of, for example, form and experiment, are important and interesting.

EWWC: To your knowledge has anyone ever remixed or repurposed your work – and what do you think of it? Do pirate editions of your work concern you?

CM: Pirated editions of my work come out the second the work is published, like everyone’s. To the best of my knowledge there’s not a great deal of fanfic about my work, so I honestly don’t know. It’s worth reiterating that I never advocated remixing. I said that it’s likely and unworrying and may or could lead to some interesting things. I also said it may lead to some absolute crap. It’s more a question of being sanguine about it, than enthusiastic.

EWWC: You didn’t sign the ‘Statement of Principle and Intent’ agreed at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in August 2012 which stated that “copyright which has historically been the basis for writers’ income is increasingly being infringed, (something which threatens both the income generated by the individual literary work and its artistic integrity).” Why?

CM: First of all, I want to be clear – I do understand why some writers want to sign this and I think it’s a perfectly legitimate debate. But I felt that the formulations within that statement are highly problematic, both implicitly and explicitly. When the statement talks about copyright having been the thing which has protected work’s artistic integrity – i.e the existing model of copyright which is a model predicated on punishing transgressions – I think that’s a model which is broken and outdated and philistine. I think we have huge problems with the current model. I felt that the Statement assumed that model, and for that reason I wasn’t comfortable with it. Many of its predicates are unproven and indeed highly questionable, so when it says that copyright enshrines the work’s integrity, I think that’s straightforwardly bogus. You can make a strong case that copyright has been a profoundly philistine dynamic over the years. When it says that it protects the writers’ incomes, I think that is highly questionable. My position is not a naïve libertarian one whereby you get rid of copyright, information is free and everyone makes loads of money – I don’t think that’s true at all. Nor do I think there aren’t important and knotty questions of, for example, courtesy and fair recompense. My problem is with the existing model and the punitive actions around it. My position is that it’s a very complicated discussion; that it is virtually impossible to generalise. There are undoubtedly times when the mass-scale pirating of a particular book has resulted in large scale losses for the author – I don’t dispute that for a second. I can also name specific examples where the pirating of a particular book has given it a new lease of life and has increased its sales. To posit that a non-paid for download is stealing is in my view entirely wrong. It’s a basic error: the idea that a million unpaid-for downloads are a million instances of theft is just nonsense because you have no idea how many of those people would have paid for it otherwise. Maybe 995,000 of them had no intention of looking at the book otherwise before they looked at it via download and therefore you might even ultimately gain sales. You’d have to go much more into it to prove that a download is theft. I make my living as a writer, I’m not advocating that writers shouldn’t be able to make their living from writing books  – what I’m saying is that the model in that declaration was, to my mind, simplistic and wrong.

There is a moral issue here as well which I feel very strongly about. This is very noticeable in the music industry, when I hear some people who make their living from music attacking filesharers and accusing them of moral transgression through theft, I want to say to them, ‘Did you ever in the playground exchange a mix tape? Did you ever lend a friend a book and have that book passed around the class and it was amazing and you discussed it and you all shared it? I think it is completely immoral to take what a younger more hi tech generation are doing, which is an updated version of what we all did, and attack them for it. I think it’s outrageous. And I think what we should be doing instead is having a serious conversation which says ‘let’s work out a model in which you have access to what you want, in ways which are not difficult for you and which are financially possible for you, and for which we get paid.’

EWWC: On to, perhaps, more flippant territory. You’re interested in Futures; what questions do you think a World Writers’ Conference in 50 years’ time might address?

CM: I suspect much like this time it would be the same questions with different answers. While I think there might be new questions I think it would be interesting to rigorously ask the same questions again and see what the answers are.

EWWC: And finally … If you had to be exiled permanently to one of the EWWC cities - Edinburgh, Berlin, Cape Town, Toronto, Krasnoyarsk, Cairo, Jaipur, Beijing, Izmir, Brussels, Lisbon, Port of Spain (Trinidad), St Malo, Kuala Lumpur & Melbourne – which would you choose and why?

CM:I really love Cairo, and I haven’t been to Cairo for many years. It can only be a partial answer as there are many cities on that list I haven’t been to – Berlin, for example – so it would be irresponsible to say it’s my final answer – but Cairo would be my first choice, I think.

China Miéville at Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference Tues 21 Aug c Pascal Saez

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