There’s been a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence recently, and it occurred to me that fiction writers have been creating Artificial Intelligences for centuries. They’re called ‘characters’. All right, so they are not interactive in the conventional sense, but they still have to pass the Turing Test.
I shall be attending this year’s CrimeFest Crime Fiction Convention from the 14th to the 17th of May this year, and speaking on the panel ‘Crafting Crime: The Art Of Writing Crime Fiction‘ at 9:00 a.m. on the 15th. Don’t hesitate to stop and say ‘Hello’.
In the meantime, I am the featured author on the Crime Readers Association website for the whole of the month of April. Two blog posts are already live on the site: Lights, Camera, Write! and The Mystery of the Locked Room Mystery.
Update There are now two more of my posts on the Crime Readers Association website: The Butler Did It and Hidden In Plain Sight. Plus a bonus post from my fellow Grey Cells Press author Charlie Garratt: My Writing History.
Recently, there was a petition circulating on-line bewailing the lack of television coverage in the UK on the subject of books. In particular, the petition called on the BBC to consider a regular television programme that would be dedicated to books and reading.
I signed the petition, but I did wonder what the point of this programme might be. ‘To promote books and reading’ is the obvious answer, but I don’t know if a television programme could actually deliver that. Worse, I fear it might do the opposite, and give the impression that reading is a minority activity that needs to be shuffled off to its own little niche in the broadcast schedules, well out of the way of normal folk.
My fear stems from the fact that, as far as I can imagine, there are only four things that a television programme about books can provide. These are:
Reviews of books
Interviews with authors
Readings of extracts from books
‘Round-table’ discussions on literary subjects
For the life of me, I can’t think of anything else that a book programme could do beyond those four themes.
That’s fine, you might say, that’s all a book program needs—but wouldn’t a programme that consists almost exclusively of a round of reviews, interviews, readings and discussions be—let’s not beat around the bush—a bit dull? Dull in terms of being poor television, I mean. Book reviews, I believe, are better served by the written media—either print or on-line—rather than someone delivering a ‘piece to camera’. Listening to the author read his own work is great, but that can be done with better effect on the radio. So what is there in that earnest parade of talking heads praising the books they’ve read to make the non-reading public think ‘Gosh, that looks interesting. I must read more books’? Very little, as far as I can see.
Television is primarily a visual medium, but the only overtly visual aspect to a book is the cover—everything else happens in the imagination. It’s quite likely that dramatic adaptations of novels—like the current BBC production of Wolf Hall—will sell more books and get more people reading than a dedicated book programme. Not everyone’s novel can receive the big budget treatment (more’s the pity), but it is surely a step in the right direction.
I’m not against the BBC providing more programmes about books (I did sign the petition, after all) but I do wonder what good such a programme would do. Unless someone can devise the equivalent of a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ for books, I fear that any book programme on television will struggle with a tiny production budget, shunted away to a graveyard slot in the schedules, and consequently watched by a tiny audience.
After all, most book lovers prefer to read books, not watch television.
At the end of October the members of the writer’s website ‘Authonomy’ organised an on-line writers’ conference amongst themselves, to discuss all manner of issues that perplex and confound the inexperienced writer. The discussions covered subjects as diverse as ‘What Makes a Good Character’ to ‘How to Keep your Plot On Track’, and a lot of information was exchanged and a lot of tricky questions were answered in the process.
I volunteered to lead the session called ‘Dialogue: How to Get It to Sound Right’ and compiled a set of notes to help getting the discussion started. I know that a number of people from Authonomy are interested in downloading their own copy of the notes from the seminar (and I am sure that there are people outside Authonomy who will find them useful) so I have converted them into a PDF file (just five pages long) and made them available for download.
You can read the notes for this seminar if you click on this link here or you can download the file by right-clicking on the link and downloading with the ‘Save Link As…’ option.
If there’s anyone out there in the mighty Blogosphere who’d like to interview me or write an honest review of A Fistful of Seaweed, then please get in touch by leaving a comment or via twitter: @johnbayliss5 .
Detective Inspector Willis of the Westerby constabulary later made the following statement:
I can’t really say much about this case, as it is still under investigation. I can tell you that we have now identified the body under the pier, but for operational reasons I cannot release that information to the press just yet. What I can tell you is that we are definitely treating this incident as murder. The post-mortem did give the cause of death as drowning, but there is additional evidence that indicates that we have something here that is rather more than a tragic accident. We now believe that the victim either fell from or was thrown from a ship in the Bristol Channel somewhere in the vicinity of Avonmouth docks, possibly following an altercation, and his body was then carried by the tide until it became entangled with the struts of the pier.
I would like to make it clear that any reports that you have heard that this incident is connected to organised crime are complete speculation, and I would particularly ask the press if they could keep to the facts of the case and not repeat these any of these unfounded accusations. Some of the wilder stories that have been circulating recently are not helping our on-going investigations.
Back in those innocent days when I was merely an aspiring writer, I often heard about ‘real’ authors (that’s authors with books in bookshops) having to face the task of correcting galley proofs. This was the last input that the author made into the publishing process before the book was printed and sold to the public, the last chance that they had to correct mistakes (whether their own or those introduced by the typesetter) and the last chance they had to make any changes to the text. Back in those days, I thought that correcting galley proofs must be a rather exciting phase for the author. After all, this was the first glimpse that they had of seeing their own words actually set in the typeface of the finished book – the moment when the author gets an inkling of what their story is going to look like in print.
In this modern, electronic age, printed galley proofs are a thing of the past. Publishers now send out proofs as PDFs or as e-book files, but they still need correcting, of course – modern digital publishing hasn’t abolished typos yet, and the human eye is still the best technology to hunt them out. This past week I have been correcting the proof of the second of the Springer novels, A Fistful of Seaweed, and it has been an experience of mixed emotions.
First of all, it’s nice to see that my manuscript is now well on the way to becoming a real book. I mean, it actually looks like a book, with a proper title page and everything. On the other hand, it’s not so nice to find so many mistakes. I can cope with the little things – little slips of the fingers, slightly dodgy punctuation. They are to be expected and all can be corrected, easily enough. Some of the mistakes, however, must have been there in the original manuscript, despite the fact that I checked it so many times before submitting it. Perhaps I can be forgiven for writing ‘lead’ when I really meant ‘led’ but did I really write ‘severally’ when I really meant ‘severely’? Did I really use the word ‘place’ three times in the space of two sentences? How could I have written such clumsy sentences, and (more the point) why didn’t I notice any of this before?
So I go though the proof, line by line, noting every one of the little changes that need to be made. This takes more concentration than I was expecting, because I find myself getting caught up in the story (even though I know what’s going to happen) and I forget to check the things I’m supposed to be checking, like punctuation. Is everything quoted correctly? Are all the commas and full stops in the right places. Oh no, I’ve said ‘Mr Ackerman’ in one place and ‘Mr. Ackerman’ on the very next line. Why didn’t I spot that before?
You reach a point where you think: I must have found all the mistakes by now. But then you find another one. There can’t be any more, surely? But then there is another one. That must be the last, but you still have to carry on checking, just in case there’s another…
That’s the biggest problem of all: how do I know that I have found all the errors? I certainly spotted quite a few on the first pass, but I still found plenty on the second pass that I must have missed the first time round. Now on the third pass, I’m still finding mistakes. Is that it? Or are there even more?
Will I ever make this story perfect?
Which leads on to an even deeper philosophical question: Is there ever such a thing as a perfect piece of writing? One that can never be improved, whatever the author does to it?
That’s a question I think I will leave for others to answer.