Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » Scotland 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 What’s the best thing about EWWC? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/edinburgh-presentations/whats-the-best-thing-about-ewwc/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/edinburgh-presentations/whats-the-best-thing-about-ewwc/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:32:17 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5431 What's the best thing about EWWC? Hear from writers and participants about what the EWWC means to them ]]> Hear from writers and participants about what the EWWC means to them

Recorded at Edinburgh Book Festival 2013

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/edinburgh-presentations/whats-the-best-thing-about-ewwc/feed/ 0
MIEVILLE, KUNZRU & KAYGUSUZ – The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/mieville-kunzru-kaygusuz-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/mieville-kunzru-kaygusuz-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Sat, 17 Aug 2013 09:53:32 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5187 Edinburgh Book Festival 2013 Saturday 17 August 5:00pm BST The Future of the Novel Discussion with: China Miéville, Hari Kunzru & Sema Kaygusuz Chair: Susie Nicklin ]]> SEMA-KAYGUSUZ-360pxEdinburgh Book Festival 2013

Saturday 17 August 5:00pm BST

The Future of the Novel

With: China Miéville, Hari Kunzru & Sema Kaygusuz (left)
Chair: Susie Nicklin

The Novel: Tenacious as a cockroach? A year ago, the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference kicked off with five events recalling the seminal Writers’ Conference of 1962. Since then, authors have been discussing the vital role the novel plays in cultural life, at events in 14 locations around the globe. What can we learn from the discussions? China Miéville, Hari Kunzru and Sema Kaygusuz talk about the future of fiction.


Author Biographies:

China Miéville‘s first novel was King Rat (1998), a dark fantasy relocating the Pied Piper to contemporary London. His second, Perdido Street Station (2000), is the first set in the city of New Crobuzon, and won the 2001 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction and a 2001 British Fantasy Award. Two further books in this series are the British Fantasy award-winning The Scar (2002) and Iron Council, winner of a further Arthur C. Clarke Award. His other books include the young adult novel, Un Lun Dun (2007),  and a collection of short stories, Looking for Jake (2005). The City & The City (2009) is an existential thriller, winner of a further Arthur C. Clarke Award, Hugo Prize and World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. His non-fiction includes a study of international law. China Miéville is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Warwick University and an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck College School of Law.

Hari Kunzru was named The Observer Young Travel Writer of the Year, and in 2004 he became a member of the Executive Council of English PEN. He is on the editorial board of Mute, the culture and technology magazine. He has had short stories published in various magazines, and his first novel, The Impressionist (2002), won the 2002 Betty Trask Prize and the 2003 Somerset Maugham award and was also shortlisted for several awards, including the 2002 Whitbread First Novel Award. His second novel, Transmission (2004), centres on Arjun Mehta, a computer programmer, who lands a new job in America’s Silicon Valley, only to find things do not turn out as he imagines. This won him the inaugural ‘decibel’ award at the British Book Awards and was named a New York Times notable book of the year. In 2005 he published Noise, a short story collection, and his third novel, My Revolutions, in 2007. In 2003, Hari Kunzru was named by Granta magazine as one of twenty ‘Best of Young British Novelists’.

Sema Kaygusuz is a fiction writer living in Istanbul. Sema Kaygusuz was born in 1972 in Samsun. Due to her father’s itinerant military career, she lived in various regions across Turkey. Kaygusuz spent most of her childhood in rural areas and small cities, where she had the opportunity to be closely acquainted with the complexity and cultural diversity of her country. A wide range of folk tales, legends and stories, which the author excavated from various dialects and languages during her travels, remain to be her greatest sources of inspiration. In 1994, Kaygusuz moved to Istanbul, where she still resides. After publishing three collections of short stories, which won some of the most prestigious literary awards in Turkey, her first novel Yere Düsen Dualar (Prayers Falling on Earth) was published in 2006. The novel met with unanimous acclaim from both the Turkish and the international reviewers and won the 2009 Ecrimed-Cultura translation award,  the 2010 France-Turquie award in France, and the 2010 Balkanika award including six Balkan countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia, Turkey). Her second novel, Yüzünde Bir Yer (A Place on Your Face), was published in 2009 and praised as the “literary Guernica”. Yüzünde Bir Yer will be published in April 2013 by Actes Sud in France. Her most recent narration, Karaduygun (Melancholic), was published in 2012 and will be published in March 2013 by Matthes & Seitz in Germany. Sema Kaygusuz is also the co-author of the movie script of Pandora’s Box, which won in 2008 The Golden Shell Best Film Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival. (Image credit: Muhsin Akgun)

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/mieville-kunzru-kaygusuz-the-future-of-the-novel/feed/ 0 Airborne: Anna Lea on her artwork commission for the EWWC http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/airborne-anna-lea-on-her-artwork-commission-for-the-ewwc/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/airborne-anna-lea-on-her-artwork-commission-for-the-ewwc/#comments Fri, 09 Aug 2013 13:08:01 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5242 bird box 3The Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference 2012-13 is a remarkable project, unrivalled in its scope and depth. I feel honoured to create an artwork to celebrate the conference at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where the conversation began.

My first thought was to capture the excitement I felt when I first came across the conference. Here were writers from around the world talking about what mattered to them, how it felt to be a writer today in South Africa, Russia, China, India… and on and on. The speeches, and the conversations that follow, are firecrackers – energetic, unpredictable, exciting. How could I recreate the joy of discovering them?

Most importantly, I wanted to work with the strengths of the material.The speeches are, of course, beautifully written – but they are also delivered with conviction. And when you listen to the recordings in succession, you begin to hear the chorus of voices that the conference is intended to be. As an audio producer, I have been spellbound by readings, drawn into another world just by the lilt and sway of a single voice. I found that again when listening to writers speaking at the conference. So I knew I wanted to use just the power of their voices to quickly engage and move audiences. I listened to the conference’s recordings and carefully selected clips from twenty two authors. I then constructed five short sound installations, each of them introducing listeners to a central theme of the conference.

The next stage was to think about how audiences would experience those voices. The site of the Edinburgh International Book Festival is Charlotte Square, a green and tree-filled space in the city centre. I wanted to respond to this space in a playful, enjoyable way – and to offer audiences a journey, the sense of ideas connecting across space and time, just like the conference itself. The result is simple and playful. The installation uses motion activated speakers housed in bird boxes, mounted in five trees around Charlotte Square. This way, audiences discover the voices of writers for themselves and the ideas, the words, which are at the heart of the conference, take flight. They are airborne.

Listen to ‘A National Literature’ by Anna Lea:

For more about Anna, visit her website.  To attend the EWWC event in Edinburgh on August 17, book tickets here.

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/airborne-anna-lea-on-her-artwork-commission-for-the-ewwc/feed/ 0
Greg Baxter’s take on The Future of the Novel – EWWC Berlin http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/greg-baxters-take-on-the-future-of-the-novel-ewwc-berlin/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/greg-baxters-take-on-the-future-of-the-novel-ewwc-berlin/#comments Wed, 19 Sep 2012 12:07:00 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1234 The Future of the Novel: Some Tendencies to Watch

This is just a brief and incomplete note to follow up two discussions on the future of the novel that took place here in Berlin, as part of the Edinburgh World Writers Conference. I attended the first, and took part, more or less, in the second.

I feel compelled to write something, even in haste. I acknowledge, from the outset, that as a person who has written a novel and plans to write another, I’ve become one of the least qualified people to discuss the future of the novel. But I still feel compelled to express a general dissatisfaction with the way these conversations always seem to go, not because I want to dismiss the conversation or the people who want to have the conversation, but because I think tendencies develop that make it difficult to have fair, open, and illuminating discussions.

These tendencies usually reflect – if the people having these conversations are novelists – a desire to reverse the losses in status and prestige that novels once brought upon themselves and literature in general, and, importantly, upon the authors of novels. Rather than propose or contemplate various future directions for the novel – or if new directions are proposed, they are usually absurd, or they are simply very old new directions – novelists just make their own demise more undignified.

There’s a tendency to think of the novel’s growing social irrelevance like an illness being suffered by a sick patient, rather than the fatigue of a very, very old person. Solutions, therefore, are prescribed like medicine, or surgery is performed, and we’re puzzled by the fact that interventions just make the patient worse. These solutions often take the form of sentences with the word should in them. Sometimes even a must.

There’s the tendency to think of the novel’s future – or its health – as its ability to appeal broadly, to sell well, and get into the hands of people who will see what – under the demands of television, social media, the working life, bad books, and laziness – they’ve been missing. The problem is that this tendency leads us not only into the business-end definition of books but also to lethal considerations of what readers need and want, and how to appease or seduce them.

There’s a tendency to belittle the essay and experiments in nonfiction, and this tendency reinforces the outdated and dangerous prejudice that novels are big literature and everything else is small literature, that novelists are talking about profound things and everyone else is talking about trivial things. We defend this position with banalities and cliché.

There’s a tendency to turn a conversation about how we should respect the limitlessness of literature into a conversation about how we should impose limits on literature.

There’s a tendency to claim, without too much evidence, that the novel cultivates strong moral and ethical citizens, whereas new technology does the opposite. The suggestion is that humanity needs the novel, and technology is a threat to humanity.

On the other hand, there’s also a tendency to become smitten with the possibilities that new technologies bring to the novel. I think this is like being smitten by the sight of alien warships collecting over all the large cities in the world and starting a countdown. (Welcome! Save us! BOOM.)

There’s a tendency to let the conversation be led by people trying to sell you pet theories. This leads a lot of very accomplished novelists to complain that what is wrong with literature is that the majority of people do not accept that his or her pet theory is self-evidently correct. The concern here is that these accomplished novelists, many of whom are critics, then apply this pet theory to everything they encounter. New novels, then, tend to be good or bad based on how they fit inside the pet theory. This tendency prizes intellectualism and devalues both curiosity and humility. It makes us blind to the new, and it leads us to celebrate the predictable.

There’s a tendency to support pet theories with language that is empty, that is based on a knowledge of, but no sympathy for, theory.

There is a tendency to miss the obvious, and to say outlandish things that only sound profound until someone says, ‘Yes, but that already exists.’ There’s a great deal of overlap between this tendency and the tendency to think that the novel’s future is about collectivism. Or about innovations in narration.

There’s a tendency to complain about the injustice of prizes. There’s a tendency to complain about the dire state of criticism and book reviews. There’s a tendency to complain about the publishing industry. If you ask a room full of novelists about the future of the novel, you will hear a lot of complaining. And the people – I was sitting right beside one – who offer intriguing and worthy insights on the subject, rather than merely complain, are perceived as cracked. Or they are merely met with glances that say, Why don’t you write an essay about it?

Greg Baxter

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/greg-baxters-take-on-the-future-of-the-novel-ewwc-berlin/feed/ 0
In the media: Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/in-the-media-edinburgh-world-writers-conference/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/in-the-media-edinburgh-world-writers-conference/#comments Fri, 14 Sep 2012 12:46:13 +0000 edcottrell http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=941 The Edinburgh World Writers` Conference has provoked a strong reaction, online and in the press. We’ve gathered links to some of the coverage here – please feel free to add to these in the comments!

In preparation for the conference, the Guardian wrote an article on the 1962 conference, giving insight into how the conference changed the world of literature as have the BBC. The transcriptions of the speeches themselves are also available.

The Financial Times has blogged about the conference, and there have been a number of articles in the Guardian:

The New York Times has carried two thoughtful and fascinating responses to the Conference from our delegates Manu Joseph  – Where Will Literature Go From Here? and Elif Shafak : Writers’ Quandary: Create or Report?

There was an enthusiastic response on social media too – with over a thousand tweets with #worldwritersconf. The conversation was kicking off before the debate too, with our twitter interview with writer Nicola Morgan.

As ever, if you’ve missed any of the debate, full videos of the conference are available on this site, with highlights from the conference available as a podcast from the Guardian Books Podcast.

Next stops: Berlin, 15/16 September & Cape Town 20/21 Sept, followed by Toronto, Krasnoyarsk, Cairo, Jaipur and many more.

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/in-the-media-edinburgh-world-writers-conference/feed/ 0
Writers issue statement of principle and intent http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/writers-issue-statement-of-principle-and-intent/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/writers-issue-statement-of-principle-and-intent/#comments Sat, 01 Sep 2012 11:19:48 +0000 andrewcoulton http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=816 During the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in August 2012, a number of participating writers met in a closed session to discuss aspects of the publishing industry and the influences on literature and writers of recent market changes, not least as to ebooks and the internet. It was agreed to develop a statement of principles that could then be further developed and refined by the upcoming Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference events throughout the coming 12 months.

Thus, we, the undersigned writers, suggest the following ‘Statement of Principle and Intent‘ agreed at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in August 2012:

  1. That all writers have a right to a fair share of the profits generated by their work; taking into account a) the tendency for mega-scale publishing and internet conglomerates to increasingly pressure the income of writers; and b) 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). In this regard, we take note of and laud the German “We are the Authors!” initiative – and recommend that this statement be translated into English and endorsed by writers and publishers all over the world to form an international movement.
  2. In the context of a rapidly changing global market, we urge national writers’ associations to set up a portal with reliable information on national and international market conditions, accessible to all writers for ongoing discussion with an aim to supporting each other and thus continuously improving writers’ working conditions.
  3. That writers working in majority languages actively support writers working in minority languages to ensure fair and equal access to the global market. Any information portal (see 2) for writers should be open also to literary translators who are crucial in sustaining the cultural richness of the book industry.
  4. That a robust debate on all aspects of the above should be initiated, maintained and developed at subsequent sessions of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference and through other available channels – with a particular focus on the current threats to copyrights.

Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference Edinburgh participants:

  • Alan Bissett
  • Theresa Breslin
  • Melvin Burgess
  • John Burnside
  • Sophie Cooke
  • Junot Díaz
  • Carlos Gamerro
  • Alan Gibbons
  • Keith Gray
  • Xiaolu Guo
  • Manu Joseph
  • Kapka Kassabova
  • Nick Laird
  • Yiyun Li
  • Aonghas MacNeacail
  • Denise Mina
  • Nicola Morgan
  • Ewan Morrison
  • Ben Okri
  • Matthias Politycki
  • Ian Rankin
  • James Robertson
  • Preeta Samarasan
  • Elif Shafak
  • Kamila Shamsie
  • Owen Sheers
  • Ahdaf Soueif
  • Janne Teller
  • Kim Thúy
  • Chika Unigwe
  • Irvine Welsh

Other Writers:

  • Michael Allaby
  • Lin Anderson
  • Jayne Baldwin
  • Andrew M Bell
  • Mark Billingham
  • Gwen Berwick
  • Daniele Bourdais
  • Paul Broda
  • Ann Burnett
  • Miller Caldwell
  • Jana Valeska Chantelau
  • Gwen Chessell
  • Regi Claire
  • Amanda Davidson
  • Jude Dibia
  • Fabienne Durand-Bogaert
  • David Edgar
  • Andreas Englhart
  • Jan Eriksen
  • John Evans
  • Claire Feeney
  • Gordon Ferris
  • Sue Finnie
  • Cathy Forde
  • Linda Gillard
  • Alex Gray
  • Clio Gray
  • Millie Gray
  • Jenny Harper
  • A.F. Harrold
  • Mairi Hedderwick
  • Diana Hendry
  • Joanna Hickson
  • Tendai Huchu
  • Eghosa Imasuen
  • Peter James
  • Jamie Jauncey
  • Stephanie Johnson
  • Fiona Joseph
  • Philip Kane
  • Rafiq Kathwari
  • Julie Kennedy
  • Bill Kirton
  • Nick Klepper
  • Tamar Levi
  • Joan Lingard
  • Lorrie Mack
  • Nicholas Maclean-Bristol
  • Susie Maguire
  • David Manderson
  • Mary McCabe
  • James McCarthy
  • Margery Palmer McCulloch
  • Oisin McGann
  • Hazel McHaffie
  • Ian McLoughlin
  • Niq Mhlongo
  • Ian Mitchell
  • Carey Morning
  • Pat Mosel
  • Mphuthumi Ntabeni
  • Frank Muir
  • Helen & Morna Mulgray
  • Moira Munro
  • Aly Munroe
  • Emma Neale
  • Edwin Eriata Oribhabor
  • John Parker
  • Gilliam Philip
  • Stephen Potts
  • Ray Prowse
  • Sheenagh Pugh
  • Jo Ann Hansen Rasch
  • Antonia Reeve
  • Jane Ridder-Patrick
  • Malcolm Ritchie
  • Dirk Robertson
  • Revd Eamonn Rodgers
  • Hilda Ross Rodger
  • Eike Schönfeld
  • Alastair Scott
  • Sue Reid Sexton
  • Emman Usman Shehu
  • Sara Sheridan
  • Nikesh Shukla
  • Volker Skierka
  • Adela Stockton
  • Barbara Strathdee
  • Sheila Szatkowski
  • Graeme K Talboys
  • Kiru Taye
  • Dr Philip Temple
  • Chris Townsend
  • Binyerem Ukonu
  • Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike
  • Millie Vignor
  • Zukiswa Wanner
  • Julie Watt
  • Ian Waugh
  • Richard Webster
  • Jude Welton
  • Marianne Wheelaghan
  • Olga Wojtas



http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/writers-issue-statement-of-principle-and-intent/feed/ 2
Kirsty Gunn: conference postscript http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/kirsty-gunn-conference-postscript/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/kirsty-gunn-conference-postscript/#comments Thu, 30 Aug 2012 17:27:16 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=876 Now that a week or so has passed since that extraordinary five day event that was the Edinburgh International Writers Conference 2012 I am starting to understand the real benefits and stimulus that come from bringing a group of disparate writers together and waiting to see what will happen.

During the event itself, the experience was often confusing, this is true enough  - giving rise to a serious of half risen debates that lacked clear definition in order to fully take off. But it was often inspiring too - when individual writers captured  in a sentence or two (often quoting another writer, or other writing practices) an entire folio of ideas.

Now that we have all gone our separate ways, I am both further from and yet closer to the idea of a body of us, many headed, multi voiced… Monstrous, actually, but also rather beautiful. I learned a lot, I think. China Miéville’s address on the last day, in particular, turned on lights in rooms in my brain I didn’t even know existed. That exhilarating anarchic spirit of true creativity electrified his address and reminded me fully of the life affirming wonder of making something that wasn’t there before, that is formed in such a way as to take us somewhere different – intellectually, aesthetically, culturally…What could be more exciting than to think about that?

Because we’re all doing this thing – putting words on the page. One word after another word. It’s what we do – for whatever reason, outcome, gratification or reward… And the white space in front of us is another country. The one we can keep visiting, over and over – no matter where we’re coming from.

Being together in the way we were in Edinburgh this year made me fully aware of that – how different we all were, and yet carrying this same passport that has stamped on the front of it the same thing: ”writer”.  An international conference indeed.

Kirsty Gunn


Please join in the discussion below. You can sign in using your existing Twitter, Facebook, Google or Disqus accounts by clicking on the icons. Alternatively, submit a name and email address to set up an ad-hoc account for your comments..

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/kirsty-gunn-conference-postscript/feed/ 0
Janne Teller: conference postscript http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/janne-teller-conference-postscript/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/janne-teller-conference-postscript/#comments Thu, 30 Aug 2012 17:20:03 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=861 Inspired, provoked, enthused, enlightened, in between saddened and angered, mostly uplifted and exhilarated - eventually thoroughly exhausted: the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference was a whirlwind of choice, a magic flying carpet taking me in a million directions at once, suggesting myriad paths of thought that couldn’t all be followed in the moment, but which are all lying in wait as rich undiscovered territory, for me, the other participants and all others to venture into from our more quiet solitary writing dens.  I cannot thank enough Nick Barley, Lisa Craig and her team, the British Council, for putting this rare opportunity together for writers from all over the world to meet and discuss with one another. The sessions were wonderful in themselves; and as always at such events; the in betweeen off-sessions were the moments friendships were made and the issues more fully dug into. Look very much forward to seeing what the other conferences around the world will bring forth.

 Janne Teller chaired  ‘The Future of the Novel’ debate on Tuesday 21st August.


Please join in the discussion below. You can sign in using your existing Twitter, Facebook, Google or Disqus accounts by clicking on the icons. Alternatively, submit a name and email address to set up an ad-hoc account for your comments..

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/janne-teller-conference-postscript/feed/ 0
CHINA MIEVILLE – Will the novel remain writers’ favourite narrative form? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/china-mieville/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/china-mieville/#comments Tue, 21 Aug 2012 22:00:32 +0000 Arran Moffat http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=31 China Mieville

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Tuesday, 21 August 3pm

The Future of the Novel

The Keynote speech by China on ‘The Future of the Novel’ is listed below, and the video of his keynote is viewable above:

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

Notionally, the horror here is something to do with the denigration of human creativity. But Durrell is aghast in particular that these novel sets will be on sale at Woolworths – the tragedy, perhaps, might have been a little lessened if they’d been exclusive to Waitrose.

It’s not clear how scared he really was. Futures of anything tend to combine possibilities, desiderata, and dreaded outcomes, sometimes in one sentence. There’s a feedback loop between soothsaying and the sooth said, analysis is bet and aspiration and warning. I want to plural, to discuss not the novel but novels, not the future, but futures. I’m an anguished optimist. None of the predictions here are impossible: some I even think are likely; most I broadly hope for; and one is a demand.

* * *

A first hope: the English-language publishing sphere starts tentatively to revel in that half-recognised distinctness of non-English-language novels, and with their vanguard of Scandinavian thrillers, small presses, centres and prizes for translation, continue to gnaw at the 3% problem, all striving against the still deeply inadequate but am-I-mad-to-think-improving-just-a-little profile of fiction translated into English.

And translation is now crowdsourced, out of love. Obscure works of Russian avant-garde and new translations of Bruno Schulz are available to anyone with access to a computer. One future is of glacially slowly decreasing, but decreasing, parochialism.

And those publishers of translated fiction are also conduits for suspicious-making foreign Modernism.

* * *

What is literature, and what do we want from it? The former is a key question, which I’m going to duck. What do we want from it? Many things. One is an expression of something otherwise inexpressible. An ineffability, by which you don’t at all have to be a person of faith to have your breath taken away. Jewish mysticism warns of the qliphoth – husks, entropic shells of psychic muck and detritus that encrust and obscure that numinous. As you can tell, I’m turning my attention to English fiction.

Paulo Coelho’s ill-judged Joyce-bashing has made him a butt of scorn this week, but he’s a safe target because, with books that multitask a little too openly as self-help manuals, he’s not so clubbable. Unlike, say, Ian McEwan, who not-that-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 young Turks hold out with limpidly observed interiority, decodable metaphors, strained middle-class relationships and eternal truths of the human condition(TM).

All the usual caveats: yes, there are admirable 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 prioritisation, with apologies for repeating my favourite heuristic, of recognition over estrangement.

ii) Today it is not quite qliphothic business as usual.

After last year’s Booker Middlebrowmaggedon, this year’s judges are far too polite to draw attention to their task, which is to salvage something. But they’ve not done badly. Longlists are performances, and while it’s appropriate to cavil about our excluded favourites, the list sends various messages rather well. Including that the Booker is rapproching with that so-called dead hand.

There’ve been other wind-blown straws. The muted, palpable recent shame when Christine Brooke-Rose died, that this astonishing innovator was so overlooked in the country of her birth. Renewed interest in Ann Quin. Excitement at the online archive Ubuweb. With the internet has come proof that there are audiences way beyond the obvious.

* * *

I really, really don’t want to talk about genre, because I always really want to, and nerd-whines are boring. But a detente between litfic and its others is real. It’s a cliché to point out that generic tropes are infecting the mainstream, with a piling-up of various apocalypses by those guilty of literature. But on the other side, say, an extensive interview with Yinka Tutuola, son of the legendary Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola, about his father’s work, is online not at any traditional outlet of the literati but at Weird Fiction Review, a fabulous site that emerges, with brilliance and polymath gusto, out of genre traditions.

It was a generic, science-fictional horror that oppressed Durrell, those fiction engines. He’s not the only writer to have suffered this nightmare: the Automatic Novel Writing Machine crops up repeatedly in fiction as a sign of awful futurity. Given the fire, flood, uneasy dead and enormity on which one can draw, it’s an underwhelmingly terrifying dystopia, a future in the despotic thrall of the autonovelator, but apres nous le deluge – writers would far rather suffer planetary catastrophe than deskilling, or a scab algorithm.

* * *

The machine is unbuilt. The past future of the novel did not lie in being digitally produced. As traumatically, it’s being digitally distributed.

We are, at last, leaving phase one of the ebook discussion, during which people could ritually invoke the ‘smell of paper’ as a call to cultural barricades. Some anxieties are tenacious: how will people know what a splendid person I am without a pelt of the right visible books on my walls, without the pretty qlippoth husks? A hopeful future: that our grandchildren will consider our hankering for erudition-décor a little needy.

Early predictions for what digitality would do to the novel look pretty creaky, as the futures of the past always do. The hypertext novel? A few interesting experiments. The enhanced ebook, with soundtrack and animation? A banal abomination.

In fact what’s becoming obvious – an intriguing counterpoint to the growth in experiment – is the tenacity of relatively traditional narrative-arc-shaped fiction. But you don’t radically restructure how the novel’s distributed and not have an impact on its form. Not only do we approach an era when absolutely no one who really doesn’t want to pay for a book will have to, but one in which 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 – think of the scrivener’s edit, the monk’s mashup – but it’s going to be even less so. 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, will, in this age of distributed text, be able to do so without much difficulty, and some are already starting.

One response might be a rearguard clamping down, as in the punitive model of so-called antipiracy action. About which here I’ll only say – as someone very keen to continue to make a living from writing – that it’s disingenuous, hypocritical, ineffectual, misunderstands the polyvalent causes and effects of online sharing, is 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.”‘

A collection of artists and activists advocating the neoliberalisation of children’s minds. That is scandalous and stupid. The text is open. This should – 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 the authorial voice, and the novel’s survival, even in its new forms, even with a permeable membrane between text and reader, is that it’s hard to do so without sounding as if one’s indulging a kind of ahistorical Olympian simpering at the specialness of writers. That the novel is tenacious as a cockroach 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.

To love literature doesn’t mean we have to aggrandise it or those who create it. That aggrandisement is undermined by the permeable text. Be ready for guerrilla editors. Just as precocious 14-year-olds brilliantly – or craply – remix albums and put them up online, people are starting to provide their own cuts of novels. In the future, asked if you’ve read the latest Ali Smith or Ghada Karmi, 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 else be.

“[Y]ou will all be able to buy them,” Durrell says of those novel-writing kits, addressing not the other writers, who didn’t need them, but the public, “and write your own.”

That’s a telling elision – he starts by kvetching about writing by machine, by no one, and segues instantly to doing so about writing by the public, by everyone. That’s apocalypse. That, apparently, is a nightmare future.

The worst anxiety is not that the interfering public will ruin your work if they muck about with it, or that they’ll write a terrible novel, but that they’ll improve it, or write a great one. And once in a rare while, some of them will. How wonderful that will be.

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 to think that the model of writers as the Elect is at best wrong, at worst, a bit slanderous to everyone else. We piss and moan about the terrible quality of self-published books, as if slews of god-awful crap weren’t professionally expensively published every year.

* * *

Of course there are contexts in which particular books become politically important, and writers who exhibit astonishing bravery in the face of oppression. For the most part we’re not talking about that. What if most fiction – which, yes, we all do and should love – is at best moderately important? What if it’s so vague and culturally dribblesome and so mediated by everything else, once the culture industry extrudes it through a writer-shaped nozzle, that our stentorious declarations about subversive literature are, mostly, kind of adorable?

Stand down. The blurring of boundaries between writers, books, and readers, self-publishing, the fanfication of fiction, doesn’t mean some people won’t be better than others at the whole writing thing, or unable to pay their rent that way – it should, though, undermine that patina of specialness. Most of us aren’t that special, and the underlining of that is a good thing, the start of a great future. In which we can maybe focus more on the books. Which might even rarely be special.

One of the problems, we often hear, about online piracy, ebooks and their ephemeral-seeming invisible files, is that they ‘devalue writing’, that our work is increasingly undervalued. Well, yes. Just like the work of nurses, teachers, public transport staff, cleaners, social workers, which has been undervalued a vast amount more for a whole lot longer. We live in a world that grossly and violently undervalues the great majority of people in it.

It’s that hegemony of the market again. We’ve railed against it – as we should – for the last several days. There’s a contingent relationship between book sales and literary merit, so we should totally break the pretence at a connection, because of our amplifying connection to everyone else, and orient future-ward with a demand.

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 an improvement in their situation, an ability to write full-time. 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.

But 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. So we should democratise that boisterous debate, as widely and vigorously as possible. It needn’t be the mere caprice of taste. Which changes. And people are perfectly capable of judging as relevant and 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?

We couldn’t bypass the state with this plan, though. So for the sake of literature, apart from any- and everything else, we’ll have to take control of it, invert its priorities, democratise its structures, replace it with a system worth having.

So an unresentful sense of writers as people among people, and a fidelity to literature, require political and economic transformation. For futures for novels – and everything else. In the context of which futures, who knows what politics, what styles and which contents, what relationships to what reconceived communities, which struggles to express what inexpressibles, what stories and anti-stories we will all strive and honourably fail to write, and maybe even one day succeed?

Copyright: China Miéville 2012

Click here for Kirsty Gunn’s account of the ensuing discussion

Click here to see the historical context from the 1962 conference.

Please join in the discussion below. You can sign in using your existing Twitter, Facebook, Google or Disqus accounts by clicking on the icons. Alternatively, submit a name and email address to set up an ad-hoc account for your comments..

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/china-mieville/feed/ 35