Welcome to the age of the digital readeur

TO AN interesting talk at the Oxford Literary Festival this morning.

The three speakers were talking about publishing online and I was especially interested to go as I will be talking about my other blog, SHORTCIRCUIT, at the Vale and Downlands Museum in June.

I found the first speaker the most engaging. Ivy Alvarez, a poet and teacher, smiled, a lot, and like she meant it. She gave us her personal history of moving from physical print books to the digital world. ‘The internet is a new country,’ she said and talked about the possibilities for contact between people that could never have taken place without our new digital passports.

The next speaker, Alexander Smith, is one of three students who run a publishing portal, mainly for students. I’m incredibly impressed that he and his friends have started DEAD BEATS.

Finally a French intellectual, Philippe Aigrain, spoke and made some interesting comments about the different ways the digital tools have been used in different countries. In China, the digital landscape for literature is dominated by one site on which writers post original work. In England, authors tend to use their personal websites, or blogs, to advertise their wares.

In France, writers have individual websites which they use to publish their projects including experimental collaborations (I’m sure they use them to advertise their books too). He showed us his very interesting piece, inspired by some music, which was, among other things, a demonstration of how a digital presentation can be used to slow down the reading of, in this case, a poem, the words becoming legible in time to the music. This, he saw as an interesting experiment in countering the speed culture which dominates so much of life, not least online. The poem and its digital presentation had been put together for an informal swap, in which he made something for a friend’s blog and vice versa. This is a common, often weekly, event in France, a sort of ritualised guest-blogging.

Both Aigrain and Alvarez talked about the blurring of the distinction between readers and writers. And it’s something I’ve noticed myself. Almost all the people who follow me either on twitter or facebook, are writers. We are a new type of writer though, many of us being unpublished, in the traditional, professionally-filtered, sense. Yes we want to read your work, but we want you to read ours too. We are readeurs, readers with our own voices, our own authorial intentions.

This is on one reading simply a symptom of our narcissistic age. But it’s also democratic and educational. Readeurs can be very sophisticated in their understanding of writing, on and offline. It’s an extension, a massive, oceanic expansion, of the truth that learning to write, for example, poetry, is also learning to read it.

There was some anxiety in the audience about plagiarism and copying. Plagiarism, said Aigrain, is rare, mistakes (misattributions) common (and far more easily corrected online than off) and if you don’t want to be copied, then don’t put your stuff online. His view, if I’ve understood it correctly, is that with so much content out there, indifference is more of a problem. Being copied, I think he said, is a huge compliment.

(They way I see it, the internet is porous and democratic. You can rub up against the very famous and those who will vanish without trace in your life and everyone in between. This is great, in terms of access, but it can also, in my experience, be enough rope. It’s easy to annoy the famous. They can be touchy, lack a sense of humour and feel very entitled to put over their views as the word of law. The internet is democratic, yes, but not without hierarchies.)

There was some discussion of whether or not digital practice changes output, changes the way we write. No one seemed quite sure. They mentioned ‘immediacy’ and ‘rawness’. They talked about personas. How do we know who anyone is online? There was some consideration of time. Is what we put on the net ephemeral, or there forever? Again, the answer seemed to be er, perhaps. Aigrain did say, interestingly, that the French authorities who are trying to archive online content have to be quick. There’s a lot of revising that goes on.

Anyway, I came home and looked at my blog and felt instantly unsatisfied. I don’t want pictures of leather-bound books anymore. I don’t want to try to write a novel in 10 minutes anymore (10 years is more likely). But I can have a lot of fun online in 10 minutes …

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Posted in creativity, feedback, friendship, links, literature, Poetry, reading, Writing, writing novels

sLINKY SUNDAY friendship is more powerful than racism; spider shock; upworthy

These are the links I’ve been loving this week.

Moving film – if someone sprayed your car with racist graffiti how would you respond? For the two people in this film, it’s taken for granted that they will respond creatively. That’s almost what I love most about this film. The second thing I love is the message, or at least what I took from it which is that friendship can drown out racism. I find it hugely redemptive and comforting that someone wants to assert this and does it in such style, so effectively. I also think the film is pursuing a very interesting genre of faction, which works perfectly here. More from these two please. (11 minutes)

Shocking film - another film I really enjoy watching. It is very shocking and caused my entire writing class to gasp and cover their mouths. So don’t watch it if you’re a sensitive petal or need a pacemaker but haven’t had it put in yet. Very tightly written and shot.

Upworthy - the website that I got the first film from and a couple of other things I’ve watched. I like their liberal sensibility and their taste in short films. Followworthy.


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Posted in links

sLINKY SUNDAY – not safe for work

These are the links I’ve enjoyed this week. Thanks to Laura Dron, Amanda Jennings, everyone on facebook and Sarah Watkinson.

Laura Dron’s pictures

hilarious but very rude blog about cooking

why you should support gay marriage – also not safe for work

Tony Harrison on Poetry

this is so beautiful it made me cry – it’s about mushrooms

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Posted in creativity, film, friendship, links, Writing


I enjoyed reading all of these. Thanks to Nic May, Laura Dron and others.

Amazing story about couple who found their baby on the New York subway

What could possibly go wrong? They’ve really thought this one through



Posted in Writing


Here are the links I’ve liked the most this week. I hope you like them too.

wonderful pictures

interesting corrective

Clare Foster, Gardens Editor of House and Garden has a lovely new blog

Polish poetry from Ravensbruck

strange, ingenious, fascinating



great use of an awful song

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Posted in links, Writing


I follow and am ‘friends’ with a lot of writers, and others, on facebook and twitter. I often stumble across links that they post and I think are interesting or uplifting in some way. Sometimes I’m directed to links on the various poetry courses I take. So I’ve decided to put them on this blog every Sunday that I can, in hopes that you too find them useful or uplifting or sometimes even both.

Billy Collins’ interesting and illuminating essay on poems of memory

Seamus Heaney reading his most famous poem on the Poetry Station

Somatosensory Cortex – not strictly about writing but about perception and so beautiful I couldn’t resist

I am down with the kids, even the excessively talented ones

my top favourite funny

I hope you enjoy them.

Cathy x

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Posted in Writing


I’ve written about fear before I think, even if only on twitter.

Fear drives me to the kettle n hundred times a day.

Fear leads me to write poetry instead of my novel. That’s quite a productive use of fear. But it doesn’t get my novel written.

I read a piece by AL Kennedy the other day about how she decided early on to write as well as she could, to give it everything.

The thought of this makes me feel a bit sick (and in fairness to me seems nearly to have killed AL Kennedy).

When I run I constantly worry about trying my hardest and having nothing left, burning out, being unable to continue. I need to keep a little something in reserve for my own security, for peace of mind.

Of course I worry then that the little piece that I leave in reserve is the best bit, the bit that will make the difference between being placed and being an also-ran, between people wanting to read my work and them not wanting to read my work.

Not that I worry that much about people wanting to read my work. I do have a sense of how a reader might respond to what I write. I try not to bore myself or the imaginary (implied?) reader who is reading over my shoulder. But really I want to write something which I think coheres, which hangs together in a satisfying way. It’s quite a modest ambition, but still looks like Everest from where I’m sitting.

On the other hand, I sometimes wonder whether it is fear that keeps me moving at snail’s pace. Maybe I’m just a snail.

I tried to write part of my novel quickly to a deadline which Christmas threatened to eat the other day and it wasn’t good.¬† Full of errors and things that I didn’t really feel.

Perhaps my work has to be mulched and bedded down a bit on a few dozen furrowed-brow walks when I think to myself I must get on with my novel and I wonder how the protagonist will deal with X or Y.

And I do really like tea.

When you see me advertising my first collection of poetry, you’ll know the fear has won.

[A note on social media. One depressing thing. People are using the 'like' function on WordPress blogs to promote their businesses. So now when I see that someone has 'liked' my post I don't know whether they do in fact like it or whether they just want me to buy one of their pictures or whatever. The 'liking' and commenting has always had a quasi-reciprocal string attached to it. But it used to be just other bloggers trying to raise their profiles by commenting or 'liking', which was sort of innocent as there was only the most indirect or gentle financial link (authors hoping to turn clickers into book-buyers mainly).

One fantastic thing. I've started following the poet @George_Szirtes on twitter and he is producing a series of intensely enjoyable and literary tweets about the Doctor and Langoustine. It's a fantastic use of the medium as it's non-narrative. Narrative suffers in the maelstrom which is twitter because you won't generally see every tweet from any particular author. Szirtes seems to understand this and it doesn't matter if you miss one or ten or twenty of the tweets but they are somehow cumulative, so the more you read the more enjoyable they become. In my view it's the first self-consciously literary use of twitter that exploits the medium in an intelligent and sophisticated way.]

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Posted in Writing

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