Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another relatively good reason to keep blogging

I noticed this over at the Buns and Zammo blog. Looks like their web director has written a novel, that he's released as an iPhone app, apparently inspired by Nick Cave's all-singing, all-dancing digital version of the The Death of Bunny Munro.

I'm sort of allergic to The Cave's non-music projects, because by and large they tend to be pretentious in the way that only the works of Australian auteur can be, and I haven't downloaded Neil Ayres's app, because this evening I'm mainly downloading the new iPhone software, and frankly I don't think it's a good idea to do anything that might jeopardise my relationship with the only people currently prepared to pay for my journalism. Hastily reviewing the work of one of their key employees is unlikely to work out well for either of us.

But look, we all better get interested in writing for the iPhone/iPad because that's what it's going all going to be about from now on.

As part of the Creative Writing MA we've had a series of lectures from agents and commissioning editors. These have been, by and large, deeply depressing and involved them telling us that we're very unlikely to be published and that even if we are they certainly won't be able to give us any money.

In fact the only thing they haven't managed to be totally pessimistic about is the possibility that writing for the iPad might just save publishing, creating what is essentially a new media that people could be excited enough about to pay real money for.

The thing that makes writing for the iPad or the iPhone different is that you can accompany your words with things like video, or music. I hesitate to mention the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy again, but I don't think anyone will be surprised, given the kind of nerd I seem to be becoming, if I say I recently found myself looking at this clip from the not very good film that was made of the first of the books a few years ago. (Don't worry, I'm not about to start quoting Blackadder, or The Life of Brian, or inviting you round to my house to play Risk):

The theme music is excellent, but what you will notice is that the edition of The Hithchiker's Guide to the Galaxy (from 1.10 mins) they show is underwhelming - watching the animation you can't avoid a creeping sensation of pointlessness or redundancy. This was a major problem with the film, this and Mos Def's inability to act.

They didn't want to lose the narrated passages from The Book, since these are some of the most entertaining bits of writing in the novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide constituting a sort of separate character or sub rosa narrator. But they were then left with the difficulty of showing a film of a digital book. This was much more stylishly done in the TV serialisation from the 80s, when interestingly, they didn't bother to show the frame of the book. Probably something weird has gone on with our acceptance of screens within screens that's to do with the Windows operating system and YouTube. But to an art director in the 80s it would have just looked absurd and extraneous to requirement.

But I digress.

The problem with the animations in the more recent film, as you can see, is that they are merely dramatisations of what the words are saying and, as such, gratuitous. Douglas Adams wrote it originally for radio. In the radio version the impression you have is of someone reading out passages from the book, which, we are invited to imagine, with the help of sound effects, would have been digital text.

The text therefore described everything the listener needed to imagine the experience of reading The Guide for themselves - there was no shortfall which had to be supplied with images.

Most books are written like this.

And but see this is interesting because advertising writers, at their best, are used to writing with pictures. In fact, some of the very best adverts are good precisely because of the pleasure that comes from the weighting of meaning between visual and text.

Boring headline without the picture, meaningless picture without the headline. Nothing is wasted.

Obviously the other people that do this are graphic novelists, but there's something about the framing of text within a graphic novel that doesn't leave it to play freely off of the meaning of the imagery.

Bloggers also do this, because they link to an image, or a piece of film with text. Really good bloggers, like Ben Kay, do a killer lead in - so even though you don't really want to you, end up watching a shit French McDonald's advert or something.

So all I'm saying is that if I was a publisher looking for someone to offer a lot of money to, I would be assiduously reading advertising bloggers of a literary bent right now.


Anonymous said...

I think it's quite easy to make an app, see the wklondon app...

Also digital publishing looks cool...

iPad owning SWE

Ben said...

Thanks for the kind words. But what an odd coincidence. I wrote my latest post about old-time Y&R then checked out your blog. Carl is alive and well in both our hearts.

Almost creepy.