This month I’m delighted to welcome another West Australian writer to the Writers Ask Writers fold. Yvette Walker is the author of Letters to the End of Love – a gorgeous, lyrical meditation on art and love which was one of my favourite novels of last year. Yvette has resisted the urge to start a blog, which is somewhat ironic, given that the topic for our shared post is ‘writers in the digital age’… However, all is not lost, because she is on Facebook.
Today is the launch day for my third novel, The Ark. It is also nine years – not quite a decade – since the release of my debut novel A New Map of the Universe. Looking back at the writing and publishing of my first book, I find myself feeling quite astonished by the changes in the publishing industry in the intervening years.
When A New Map was published, ebooks were still a brand new technology and self-publishing was a fledgeling enterprise being undertaken by only the most adventurous, tech-savvy writers. It never crossed my mind that within a few years I would find myself creating an interactive self-published ebook with an interactive app.
And yet here I am. Set 25 years from now The Ark explores some of the pressing issues that face us today: climate change, post-peak oil, privacy, surveillance and connectedness. With such contemporary themes, it seemed fitting that the novel should also have a contemporary form; thus, from early in the writing process, I conceived of The Ark as a novel which would offer readers new ways to consume, connect with and interpret ‘fiction’.
I am not convinced by the predictions that paper books are going to become ‘extinct’ because I don’t believe that readers desire to have every reading experience augmented by digital bells and whistles; I believe that most of the time, what readers want is much the same as it has always been: a great story, well told. However, I do believe that there are some stories which might be enhanced by interactive multimedia reading experiences and I wanted to explore the possibilities of one such story.
Through the novel’s accompanying app, readers will be able to tour the bunker which is The Ark’s setting, ‘eavesdrop’ on conversations between characters, read deleted scenes and bonus content, and create their own fictional responses to the world of the story to upload and share with other readers.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to create a work which is at the cutting edge of publishing. At the same time, the learning curve has been dizzying and I have spent many many hours engaged in tasks which have nothing at all to do with writing. Sometimes I fear that the opportunities this digital age affords the writer may also be the undoing of us, in the sense that we are in danger of becoming jack of all trades, master of none. And so, though I am very excited to see how readers respond to the interactive elements of The Ark, I am also very much looking forward to getting back to writing a plain, ordinary old book.
Emma Chapman says ‘as someone who has always been a recorder – what else is a writer, after all? – I love that I have a trail of breadcrumbs to remind me of who I was and how much I’ve changed.’
For Amanda Curtin, the greatest advantage of writing in a digital age is the access it provides to otherwise inaccessible information to assist with research, and the relief of never having to use a microfiche again!
For Dawn Barker, though the internet is a useful tool, her biggest challenge is finding the balance between its benefits and the endless distraction.
Yvette Walker mistrusts the internet, maintaining her faith in the book because ‘the book is not watching me. The book is not harvesting data about me. The book is not trying to sell me anything’.
Natasha Lester believes the digital age provides writers with ‘opportunities to have more control over the kind of work we produce, when we produce it, how we produce it’.
Sara Foster finds that the internet is ‘a fantastic tool for publishing and promotion, but also an endless noise-maker.’
Your turn: Does the digital world make things easier for writers, or were we better off without it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.