This is going on

A few days ago in one of those endlessly featured “what’s in store for the coming year” pieces the journalist asked a mixture of writers, critics and publishers what impact the recession would have on new writing. The writers mostly dismissed the question as irrelevant. The critics and publishers thought it unlikely that anyone would be taking any risks. I’m sure they are right. Barely popular modes like literary fiction or poetry are set to suffer. Publishing is a business after all, and the business is under threat, all the old rules changing.

The fact that you’re reading this at all is a sign of how far the internet is changing the rules. In the toolbar at the top left of the window I’m writing in is an icon saying “publish”, and it means it.

I want to use the space here to think aloud about what this means for writing. Most people I’ve talked to quickly dismiss the notion that books are about to go the way of CDs, and I’d agree that for the moment the technology is not quite in place. But it will be within a year or so. While poetry or literary fiction would seem to be better suited to the enduring physical presence of paper than the latest celebrity biography, the hard economics of the business may drive more demanding writing largely into the virtual world. So how will it be there? How will it find its audience, and how will this new mode of distribution change what writers actually do?

The answers to these questions will be changing over the next couple of years, so I’ll be following those changes while talking here about the different kinds of writing that occupy my life, things I’ve found or seen that strike me as interesting, mostly around written words but where relevant from film or visual art, or even food politics.

And I’ve included the idea of surviving with grace, and that’s what’s really at stake. I imagine like many people right now I’m feeling both liberated and oppressed by the ubiquity of the internet. I can’t live without it, but I want to find the best way of living with it, the things it can deliver, and with the ways it is reaching into concerns and actions that have previously gone on without it.

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