Category Archives: Midlife Crisis Column

Media Monday: New York Public Library changes – good or bad?

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday” where I bring you my views on the latest writing and publishing news…

Ah, libraries. I’ve always had this mildly Dickensian image of dusty rooms and ticking clocks with me surrounded by wooden shelves wearing some half-moon specs (don’t know why…), a research book at my fingertips and big loud ‘shushes’ if anyone made a noise. However, since I’m not about to shove my kids up a chimney any time soon, I have to accept that, like it or not, libraries just ain’t what they used to be. Everyone agrees, right? Hmm. Not quite, because over in New York the prestigious New York Public Library  (NYPL) is facing a $300 milion dollar makeover – and some people are not h.a.p.p.y about it.  When the plans were revealed, a letter  to the NYPL, detailed by the New York Times,  was signed by more than 700 eminent figures, many of whom are academics, writers and other prominent persons with bigger brains than me, and, I suspect, bigger bank balances. In it they state that, ‘NYPL will lose its

NYPL research room
People busy working in the New York Public Library – probably reading Dickens

standing as a premier research institution and become a busy social centre where focussed reasearch is no longer the primary goal.’ Okay, I hear you say, and what, pray tell, are these dastardly NYPL officials proposing that has upset this esteemed bunch so? Well here it is: book collections will be moved about to create more space for working, there will potentially be a – wait for it – cafe, there will be more (breathe) computers, and, finally, 3 million books will be moved into storage. That, my friend, is it. Now, let me take you to a time non-Dickensian and somewhat more modern. Let’s call it Obamian, for argument’s sake. It is a time where children, adults and even your granny, are using computers and the Internet for instant research. Documents are freely available – a bit like speech,  academic opinions and fresh fruit.  Instead of dusty room full of ticking clocks and frowning researchers, there are docking stations, internet connections and cake. Yes, there are books. There will always be room for books. It is important to retain them and I really do understand the signatories of this letter and their deep concern that the books will be forgotten, pushed to the basement to be replaced by digital imposters and a robot, say.  But as for worrying that research will no longer be the primary goal of any library as a result of the proposed changes? I don’t think so.

Let me tell you a little secret, signatories. Come on, huddle up. The secret is this: if you cling on to the past, if you stand in the way of change, the number of people willing to do research in the first place will decline. And then what will you have? A room, books, ticking clocks – and no progress. By the NYPL folk investing now in the library, they demonstrate that they understand that times are changing, and that to bring everyone – and I mean everyone, no matter their background, socio-economic group, colour or creed – with them, then they have to adapt, and fast.  If children can look to the NYPL – or any library world-wide, for that matter – and feel it is accessible and relevant to them, then it is a job well done. And it is this result that will shape our future. As for me, I will be there, my imaginary half moon specs on, my iPad in a docking station, a Dickens book open by my side in the cafe. As long as no one tells me to shush if I let out an involuntary yelp as I drop my cake. I don’t want to have to ask for more. 

Do you think the library changes should go ahead? Are libraries to be kept in the past or should they move with the times? Let me know.

If you live in Gloucestershire (UK) and are concerned about the library cuts, you can go to The Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries website for more information on how you can petition and help.

 **Out on Wednesday: “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry from my Diary of a Hopeful Author…**

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Pottermore and the magical rise of the ebook novel…

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday” where I bring you my views on the latest writing and publishing news…

 

Pottermore. Or maybe Potter more more more, because, since it’s launch a month ago, Pottermore, the flagship e-book store of the Harry Potter book series written by J.K.Rowling has sold more books than forecast, with the latest sales figures topping £3m, according to industry insider, The Bookseller. Now, you don’t have to be a wizard to work out that, naturally, a lot of the success of the website is down to the books. Since they were first published, more than 400 million of the Harry Potter series books have been sold, with translations into 67 languages with  millions of children, like my daughter, obsessed with wands, witches and the prospect that one day they might invent a real invisibility cloak (there’s always hope.) Of course, another part of the Pottermore success is down to the website itself.  It’s interactive! You have to register! You can make potions on it, have wizard duels on there and even, even, be sorted in your own Hogwarts house (can I be Gryffindor? Please?). But of course, as well as the great branding, engaging writing and good-old fashioned wizardry plots, the other element of its success is all together more modern, namely the ebook.   All the books sold on the Pottermore site have been in digital form, and it’s this ease and speed at which people can purchase them, together with the anonymity the medium provides, which has helped sales enormously. The books have been sold as bundles and heavily discounted, which of course all helps, but it’s success mirrors a wider trend which has been sweeping the publishing industry. According to latest figures in The Telegraph last week, sales of ebooks quadrupled last year, while sales of paper novels over the same period dropped by a staggering 12.5 million in the UK alone. What does this say about the future? Are we witnessing the decline of the paper book? Many readers are polarised by this, stating that nothing can replace the feeling of the page between the fingers and the relaxation that it brings. Certainly, I know from experience that reading a book can quite literally reduce your heart rate (mine drops to around 50bpm!). Some people claim that an eReader cannot have this same calming effect, particularly if that eReader is, for example, an iPad where the temptation of checking your inbox or surfing the web  is only a fingertouch away.

The publishing industry it is true, is nervous about the future of books. But this is perhaps due to the fact that they are suffering from a lack of ability to embrace change? Look at LPs and CDs, now all but replaced by the downloading of music to MP3s and iPods. And if you’ve ever seen the Oscar-winning film The Artist, you’ll know what happened when the talkies were introduced. Stand in the way of change and it may just run you over, whatever industry you are in. But change should reflect the past, and if the past is a paper novel, then so be it. The answer, I think, is to make room for both formats in a reader’s bookshelf, and the sooner we embrace this fact, the sooner the industry will move on and everyone will benefit, with the bottom line meaning more books will be available, helping more people to read. Now, whether it’s Pottermore or not, that’s a little sprinkling of magic we’d all welcome.

What do you think of ebooks? Are they the way forward? Do you think paper novels have had their day? Or is there room for both? Let me know.

**Out on Wednesday: “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry from my Diary of a Hopeful Author. This week it’s all about my runner-up prize in a short story competition…**

Fifty Shades of Grey: e-book success or top-shelf snigger?

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday”, when I bring you a short, sharp post of the latest writing news…

Fifty Shades of Grey. Heard of it? It’s the erotica novel that has just pushed the phenomenal Hunger Games off the US bestseller list and has bagged its author, E.L. James, a $5 million publishing deal – oh, and it’s a bit racy. While industry experts and publishing houses are now dusting off their erotica authors and getting them out on the shelves to cash in on this new trend, many journalists and reviewers are hailing this fiction genre as the long-awaited voice for all women. News streams such as The Huffington Post have applauded E.L.James’ book, with guest blogger, Lisa Guest, declaring that it was ‘about time’ women spoke of s.e.x (see, I can’t say it…), while Goodreads.com has announced that the book could be turned into a movie. But, the thing is, I think they’ve all missed a major point here, namely, has the fact that this was originally published solely as an e-book contributed to its success? Fifty Shades of Grey is, as the media claim, ‘mummy porn.’ But answer me this: How many mums do you know who go to the top shelf of the local supermarket and chuck a copy of Playboy in with the mince and the nappies? I’m guessing there aren’t many. And that’s the point. These women saw an opportunity with the e-book format – and so did E.L.James. Namely, they could buy their erotica and no-one would be any the wiser. Except, perhaps, their other halves.

Now the book is in paper format, it’s doing very well, but for its author E.L.James, the success lay, not only in having the guts to write a book of such an explicit kind in the first place (it’s one of a trilogy), but to then sell it as an e-book so readers could purchase it in the privacy of their own homes. Like it or not, the e-book is a seller, and while Fifty Shades of Grey is not my kind of novel, top-shelf snigger or not, you’ve got to admire the sheer success of it all.

What do you think? Is it an e-book phenomenon or simply a top-shelf snigger? Let me know.

**Look out for “Wednesday Wafflings”, my Diary of a Hopeful Author out on..Wednesday. This week, I talk about the sheer agony of listening to my own voice on the radio…**

Today is World Book Night – what will you be reading..?

It’s “Media Monday”, when I do a short, sharp post on the latest news in writing, books or fiction…

23rd April 2012. Today is World Book Night, and to be honest, at first, I didn’t really know what it was about. Turns out it’s about a lot. Tonight 1 million books will be given away. 1 million. It’s a follow-up to its more famous brother you may have heard about, World Book Day, and its main drive? To get people who wouldn’t normally read to pick up a book and, well, read.

A lot of people may be cynical about this. How do the organisers know that the people who they are trying to target are going to actually get the books? How can they monitor whether they’re being read or not? Who will distribute them? Well, turns out the last part is the easy one. Some 20,000 people have volunteered to give away the free books, books that range from classics such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, to Andrea Levy’s A Small Island. Now, I’m actually not one of the distributors tonight, but I know, if these volunteers are anything like me, they’ll try to ensure the books get to the right people in the right way (apparently, their remit is to give books to 48 strangers).  While for many of us, reading is as familiar as breathing, for others getting into books may not have come as naturally – and it can take a donation of a book from another to spark a literature love that can sometimes, quite literally, change lives. Take inmate Daniel Bramley, a father who read Martina Cole’s novel The Take in prison – and felt it changed his life for the better. The book, about a dad who comes put of prison to his wife and kids,  made Daniel want to improve his life – and part of that was by ensuring other inmates got the chance to read.

And that’s it, really. It’s all about getting the chance to read. While yes, the organisers of WBN can never accurately know whether their books are read in the end or not, what they do know is that through distributing them via libraries, the London Marathon yesterday, celebrities givers, and so many more routes, they at least are creating that chance. And who knows where it could lead to? Reading creates writing, and writing can change the way we think, the way we live, the way we are. As the author Emily Barr said in her excellent blog post about a children’s writing club which she runs, encourage your children to write – they are amazing. Just think – if we all had that approach to reading, writing, no matter what out age, just think of all the things we could do, we could change. Now that’s a World Book Night I’d like to read about.

To find out more about World Book Night 2012 go to their website worldbooknight.org . It details all the books being given away and how and where to get your hands on one. Good luck!

**Look out for my next blog post, “Wednesday Wafflings”, all about my Diary as a Hopeful Author. It’s up on, well, Wednesday…**