By Guest Author
Posted March 27, 2012
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I was asked to speak last Tuesday to the Society of Young Publishers in Oxford. As an evangelical self-publisher that was irresistible to start with, but the subject was one so important I couldn’t do anything but pounce on the opportunity – how do ebooks impact on independent bookstores? It’s a microcosm of a massive topic, but one that’s rarely addressed – the way digital fiction, far from distancing us from “reality”, is bringing readers and writers in the physical world closer than ever before in a way that print was never able to do.
I know my stance is coloured by my experience, but it strikes me that maybe that experience is illustrative of something important that we are discovering through the rise of webfiction and self epublishing. Something about the relation between art and community.
OK, rewind to the start of 2009 when I did two things, having made the decision that I wrote the kind of fiction that would make it nuts for me to do anything but self-publish. First, I started a collective of writers who did the same thing, Year Zero Writers. And second, I wrote my next novel, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, as an interactive serial webfiction on Facebook. What surprised me most about both was the way they became hubs for communities of like-minded writers. The Year Zero website went strong from mid 2009 to mid 2011 with its mix of original daily prose, poetry, and thought-provoking articles, attracting hundreds of active online participants to its various events and acting as the breeding grounds for discussions and relationships that have flourished and continue to produce not just great literature but great ideas and collaborations. And The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes got noticed by mashable and various other websites and introduced me to a whole new group of people doing exciting things with digital literary fiction.
In other words, I learned that the most exciting, and valuable – and very easily possible – thing about writing online is the way communities form.
To go off at a tangent and set myself down in late 2009, I had self-published the book Songs from the Other Side of the Wall and thought I should have a launch for it. I was also spending a lot of time reading discussions about how literature wasn’t like music because authors couldn’t do gigs, and that struck me as inherently absurd, so having arranged a launch for the novel through my amazing local store, The Albion Beatnik in Oxford, I decided Year Zero should have a tour. Our first show was at the legendary music venue Rough Trade, in London’s Brick Lane. Two years later, and 18 months after I set up eight cuts gallery, the tour is still going. Our show, The New Libertines, has played to full houses in Manchester, Oxford, Birmingham, and London, and our format of 10-20 fabulous writers performing poetry, prose, and everything in between, goes down fabulously with writers and public alike. But more than that, venues love it. We get involved with local writing groups, local arts groups and projects – yes, to come back to the refrain – live performance thrives because at its heart is an ever-expanding community.
And as both communities grow, they start to intersect. I’m working with more and more people doing amazing things that I first met online – Claire Trévien and James Purcell Webster from the review site Sabotage have become invaluable parts of our performance troupe; for the event Lilith Burning I got to make art and words in Oxford with the amazing New York based writer, photographer, artists and model Katelan Foisy. And I’m sharing online the work of people I meet at gigs. Like Sian Rathore and Paul Askew. And the more I do separately with both communities, the more they both grow and merge and the creative tentacles feed each other.
All of which should be enough of an injunction to get out and *do*. But if it isn’t, here’s a brief reflection on why live performing and self-published webfiction go together so well. Both are intrinsically active. They are creative outpourings of the imaginative will. At no stage in either process do you do what you are told or have to fit a pre-ordained format. There is no house style, there are no bookshelves your product must physically fit on.
But most of all, both are fundamentally about communication. And that is the alpha and omega of what storytelling is. Print publishing has allowed that to become obscured in writers’ minds. People think they can sit in a cold attic and type into the void and that is “being a writer”. Well, being a writer it is maybe, but being a storyteller it is not. The internet and 100 people with their eyes and ears fixed on you in a room serve the single same function – they bring everything you do right back to the purest essence of what it is – communicating stories to other human beings. Taking them somewhere with you and making them want to come back and go on more journeys in your company. It’s no wonder both digital fiction and the spoken word are thriving, and it is no surprise that they are growing at the same time – however universal one seems and however local the other seems, they are doing precisely the same thing.
You can get involved with what we do either online or in person at Not the Oxford Literary Festival, and particularly with Paint Oxford With Poetry on March 30th, in which people from all over the world can send poems that will be left in Oxford’s public space overnight.
Dan Holloway writes poetry and prose but is happiest behind a microphone, winning Literary Death Match in 2010 and the March 2012 Oxford Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam. He runs the online and real life literary project eight cuts gallery, which stages live shows and online exhibitions as well as publishing unusual fiction. He is the author of the novels Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, and The Company of Fellows, which was voted “favourite Oxford novel” by readers at Blackwell’s in 2011. This week he is hosting Not the Oxford Literary Festival.
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