Glaswegian Denise Mina is the author of 14 visceral, disturbing yet humane and witty crime novels. She also writes comics, short stories, and presents on TV and radio. In 2012 her novel The End of the Wasp Season won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. She’ll be responding to Inci Aral’s keynote on the Future of the Novel at EWWC Izmir later this week and before she left, we had a chat about the thorny issue of copyright, why sitting on your ego for 5 days is a Good Thing, and the possibilities of Cowboy Fiction in the future.
EWWC: You’re discussing the ‘Future of the Novel’ in Turkey with Inci Aral. At Edinburgh you instigated a closed session with the writers present for a discussion of the market, which led to the production of a statement addressing writers’ rights and challenges with regard to copyright and distribution. This took place before the debate on the Future of the Novel and China Miéville’s controversial address, in which he said “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.” What are your thoughts on this? Have they developed since last August?
DM: I’ve actually been researching this subject a lot more and feel it’s something that we, as writers, really need to address. There are types of digital copyright often imposed on people, especially for journalistic articles, which often mean that anybody can go in and change anything you’ve written, like an open programme on a computer. There’s a big groundswell movement against that, not just for financial reasons but also for the integrity of the work. I think we need to get organised on an international level to either try and change the notion of copyright or find another means of owning intellectual property. I think we’re going to need a much bigger discussion which looks carefully at what the notion of authorship is. At some point in the future, maybe quite soon, there just isn’t going to be an artefact like a book anymore.
EWWC: As EWWC continues over this year we’re hearing a variety of viewpoints on this subject from all over the world. How do you see this movement panning out?
DM: I think everybody has to get stuck in. I’d like to speak to other people in other parts of the world to find out what their experience of this problem is. I suspect that people writing in the three dominant languages of Spanish, Chinese and English are experiencing these things before other people, simply because we are disseminated more widely. And if we feel in any way guilty about dominating the world and freezing out minority language writers, then this is one way of starting to right the balance – of finding ways to protect other writers’ rights. It’s not just about making money for writers, it means that if these developments go unchecked, working class people will not be able to publish because they won’t be able to make any money. I think that rather than talk about what we should do, we should start by sharing information internationally so we get a rounded picture of what’s going on.
The great thing about the Writers’ Conference is that it establishes channels for writers to be able to pass on information – that’s what’s brilliant about it.
EWWC: The participants in the EWWC, both at Edinburgh and internationally, represent a range of writing genres. Do you think the copyright issue is something which is experienced more sharply in some genres than others?
DM: [In crime fiction] We’re fairly well protected because we have agents, and because there’s money in it. I think it’s felt far more keenly by people who struggle to get their works out there because there’s no money in it for anybody, so nobody has any interest in protecting their rights. The gulf that’s emerging between those authors whose work sells very well and those whose doesn’t sell at all is getting wider and wider. All the power is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. We need to appreciate that as writers we are a community, and we do have to protect people coming after us. People are really keen to do that, but they need a kick up the arse as well.
EWWC: A few days before the EWWC in Edinburgh you wrote “I want to leave the conference with that peculiar, epiphanous, synaptic twang. I want to leave with more questions than I came with. I want to leave wondering.” Five months on, what do you think about the project and its role?
DM: You know what? We really did establish a community, and that’s continued. It’s fairly hard for writers, who are used to being the most important person in the room, to be in a room with 50 other incredibly special people. So for us all to sit on our egos and do that every day for a week was a fairly difficult call. I think it’s only after a few months you can look back and you realise, God! Those people were brilliant. I really loved that. It was just so stimulating. Incredibly stimulating. And being in a group of incredibly clever, thoughtful people made a lot of us up our game. You really had to sharpen up. It’s the difference between being the cleverest person in the pub and being at university.
I left with huge questions, like Are we a community? Who’s in the community? Who counts as a writer? What can we do to protect each other? What can we do to protect forms which aren’t even emerging yet? Because I think there’s a lot coming that’s going to change fundamentally.
EWWC: What hopes do you have for the Turkish events?
DM: I’ll be really interested to hear about the Turkish take on censorship, because I’m very unclear on what the situation is over there. In Edinburgh Patrick [Ness] talked very much about self-censorship and I’m very interested to hear what that sounds like in a different culture with different cultural mores. Particularly so in Turkey, at the crossroads between western traditional values and eastern values. I’m also really interested in the future of the novel and what people have to say on that topic in that context. I’m so looking forward to it.
EWWC: What questions do you think a World Writers’ Conference in 50 years’ time might address?
DM: I think they would probably be very different. I think the novel will be a different thing, I don’t know if it will be called the novel – perhaps the subject would be the future of fiction. I think the schisms between high art and low art, or populist art, will be exactly the same but the lines all be in completely different places; crime fiction will become cowboy fiction, or something! Censorship: I think that could go either way, it could either be a massive issue or not an issue at all. National literature I think will probably be an irrelevant question. I think it’s almost irrelevant now.
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?
DM: It would have to be Edinburgh – then I wouldn’t have to travel too far to be near my family.