The link below is to an article that looks at how male named authors earn more than female named authors.
The link below is to an article that considers how authors can use YouTube to their advantage.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at how to visit dead writers, or better still perhaps, on how to find them.
Glasgow’s annual book festival, Aye Write!, is getting underway. Now in its 11th year, big name writers making appearances include the philosopher AC Grayling, broadcast journalist Robert Peston, crime writer Val McDermid and the mountaineer Chris Bonington.
The name of the festival is a play on “aye right”, a sarcastic Scottish way of saying no. This encapsulates much about the literary outlook in this part of the world – a vernacular defensiveness, a strident overcompensation in the face of imagined English snootiness about Glaswegian speech. A neutral might conclude that the arts in Scotland exist in a state of perma-froth at presumed metropolitan condescension.
If support for Scottish independence can be considered a proxy for such froth, there is certainly much in evidence. At the time of the 2014 independence referendum, the Scottish literary scene was near unanimously in favour of a Yes vote – nowhere close to the 55-45 split among the wider population.
This normally disputatious crowd felt overwhelmingly that the Union was inimical to Scottish culture and that the literary tradition would best flourish with independence. Little has changed since. Don’t expect much enthusiasm from them about Theresa May’s Britain at this year’s festival.
This mood didn’t begin in 2014, it must be said. In the Thatcher-hating days of 1988, the pro-devolution Campaign for a Scottish Assembly gave this starkly black and white assessment:
The Union has always been, and remains, a threat to the survival of a distinctive culture in Scotland.
Is this right? Most great Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, for example – thrived within the Union between Scotland and England. Indeed, most Scots will know much more about their nation’s literature since 1707 than about previous eras.
If the Union was such a problem for Scottish writers, why was it invisible in what they had to say? Why is there no tradition of anti-Unionist invective? Aside from Burns’s well-known 1791 poem condemning the “parcel o’ rogues” who “bought and sold” Scotland “for English gold”, the Union is at best an absent presence. Even today it receives little attention from Scottish writers – why?
Scottish literature’s relationship with the Union is the focus of a new book of essays which we have edited, Literature and Union: Scottish Texts, British Contexts. The most compelling explanation for the lack of literary attention to the Union is that until recently, other questions were more important to Scottish writers, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In particular, partisanship and religion long trumped national identity. Indeed, they were deeply interwoven, shaping two distinctive mythical representations of Scotland.
One was Presbyterian and democratic, the myth of Scotland’s godly Covenanting tradition. The other was Episcopalian, royalist and Jacobite, the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Forty-five Rising. Each reached back to earlier periods – the Covenanters claimed to be the true heirs of the Scottish Reformation; Jacobite sympathisers were entranced by the romantic plight of Mary, Queen of Scots, imprisoned and finally beheaded by a Protestant queen.
Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) might be the classic example of the Jacobite representation, recounting many of the events of 1745 from a perspective very sympathetic to the Highland rebels. It was followed by a long stream of Jacobite literature – and Scott himself returned to the theme both in Rob Roy (1817) and Redgauntlet (1824).
Depictions of Covenanters are variously positive and negative in Scottish literature. Many 19th-century novels present them as heroes for their democratic outlook, with their roots in the culture of ordinary folk. John Galt’s Ringan Gilhaize (1823) is one example, telling the story of three generations of rural people.
Other writers are repelled by the illiberal and philistine totalitarianism they discern in the tradition. The most notorious example is James Hogg’s 1824 satire, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, whose lead character considers that having attained his place among God’s saved, he has carte blanche to commit terrible crimes.
Nationalism took hold on the Scottish literary scene over the course of the 20th century, primarily under the enduring influence of Hugh MacDiarmid. Even so, he and others held to a view that Scotland’s Reformation had been just as bad, if not worse, than the Union. For McDiarmid, it was the founding of the Protestant church – and not the merger with England – that was the beginning of the repression of Scottish folk and their authentic culture.
Novels and poems about Covenanting and Jacobitism still abound today. James Robertson, for example, who is appearing at this year’s Aye Write!, makes sport with Covenanting fanaticism in The Fanatic (2000) and The Testament of Gideon Mack (2006). Robertson has also written the only novel that has brought Scottish nationhood into focus in recent years: And the Land Lay Still (2010). More generally, the Union remains a submerged and largely invisible feature of the Scottish literary landscape.
While it is true that the Union never enjoyed much of a fanfare among Scottish writers of previous generations, it was rarely if ever the focus of their work. Several even made conspicuous contributions to British – indeed to English – national identities. How else do we account for the fact that the figure of John Bull was the coinage of a Scottish doctor, John Arbuthnot, and Rule, Britannia the work of the Scottish poet, James Thomson?
It is hard to imagine a Scottish writer expressing a similar sentiment in their work today. Yet the reluctance to write about independence has continued, despite writers’ enthusiasm for the cause. It is as if the literary tradition weighs heavy on their shoulders and encourages them to look elsewhere for inspiration.
In sum, the relationship between Scottish literature and the Union turns out to be much more tangled, ironic and surprising than might have been expected. Today’s nationalists do indeed dominate Scotland’s literary scene, and will undoubtedly be in force at Aye Write!, but they do not have all the best tunes. It will be fascinating to see to what extent this changes in future.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at ten authors who are best known for their posthumous works.
Women’s writing has long been a thorn in the side of the male literary establishment. From fears in the late 18th century that reading novels – particularly written by women – would be emotionally and physically dangerous for women, to the Brontë sisters publishing initially under male pseudonyms, to the dismissal of the genre of romance fiction as beyond the critical pale, there has been a dominant culture which finds the association of women and writing to be dangerous. It has long been something to be controlled, managed and dismissed.
One of the ways that publishers, booksellers and critics use to “manage” literature is through the notion of genre: labelling a book as “detective fiction” becomes an easy way to identify particular tropes in a novel. These genre designations are particularly helpful for publishers and booksellers, with the logic running something like this: a reader can walk into any bookstore, anywhere, and go to the detective fiction section and find a book to read, because s/he has read detective fiction before and enjoyed it.
What complicates this is who makes the decision of which genres are deemed to be appropriate, and which books are put into which category. Genre is also complicated by the idea of women’s writing. Can we have a genre that is designated solely by the sex of the author? What if we turned this around, and rather than a genre, women’s writing was a term we used to simply celebrate writing about women?
Here are five novels by women – and about women – from across the 20th century. These novels all grapple, in very different ways, with women and independence.
Agatha Christie, The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)
Anna Beddingfeld, a self-mocking heroine, who is very aware of the conventions of gender and genre, impulsively buys a ticket to South Africa because the boat fare is the exact amount she has left in the world. She ends up taking down an international crime syndicate with aplomb and panache.
Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Blue Castle (1926)
Doss is the expendable unmarried older woman in a Victorian novel. But in this story, she walks out on her largely uninterested family to move into a cabin on an island with a man she has met only briefly. A fantasy of the Canadian wilderness, the novel was one of Montgomery’s few novels for adults.
Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting (1958)
A rewriting of Jane Eyre, the novel contains all the tropes of the Gothic romance – a castle, a family secret, murder – but these are challenged by one of Stewart’s finest protagonists, Linda Martin. Martin is employed as a governess by an aristocratic family, but rejects the trappings of romance to protect her charge, and her own integrity.
Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)
Edana Franklin wakes up in hospital with her arm amputated and the police questioning her husband. It is revealed that she has been travelling back to 1815, where she comes into repeated contact and conflict with Rufus, one of her slave-owning ancestors. A novel that raises important questions about masculinity, power and violence.
Shirley Jackson, Patchwork Girl (1995)
One of the earliest pieces of electronic fiction, this retelling of Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Baum’s The Patchwork Girl (1913) places the narrative in the hands of the reader, who pieces together the story through illustrations of parts of a female body.
Often popular novels by women have a narrative arc that is visible from the outset: the protagonists will find a romantic partner in the end. In some of the above books, some of the women do, and some of them don’t, find a romantic partner. For those who do, the romance is secondary to the work they do, and the choices that they make about their own lives.
What unites the novels is an exploration of the choices that some women have to make as a result of their sexed and gendered embodiment, whether travelling to South Africa on a whim, being jolted unwillingly back onto a slave plantation, or making an explicit call to the (woman) reader to make choices about how the electronic story develops.
Writing about women (and often by women) gives us some examples of how to challenge the status quo, if only for a little while. Each challenge, however, provides another example of how to effect change in a patriarchal culture. Here’s to the writers about women who have done this – from Jane Austen to Shirley Jackson, from Frances Burney to Josephine Tey, and from Angela Carter to Val McDermid.
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The link below is to an article that takes a look at authors who grew to hate their own books.
In Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, a collection of nine short stories about robotics, Asimov explores the possibilities of human-computer interaction. How can humans and computers co-exist? How can they work together to make a better world?
A research group from the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam and the Antwerp Centre for Digital Humanities and Literary Criticism recently introduced a new digital creative writing system. Using a graphical interface, an author drafts a text sentence by sentence. Then, the system proposes its own sentences to continue the story. The human and the computer work together to create what the system’s developers call “synthetic literature”.
The paper detailing this project describes the text generation system as an attempt to:
Create a stimulating environment that fosters co-creation: ideally, the machine should output valuable suggestions, to which the author retains a significant stake within the creative process.
How to train your robot
To learn language and sentence structure, the system has been trained using the texts of 10,000 Dutch-language e-books. Additionally, the system was trained to mimic the literary styles of such renowned authors as Asimov and Dutch science fiction author Ronald Giphart by generating sentences that use similar words, phrases, and sentence structures as these authors.
As part of this year’s annual Nederland Leest (The Netherlands Reads) festival, Giphart has been trialling the co-creative writing system to write a tenth I, Robot story. Once Giphart’s story is completed it will be published at the end of a new Dutch edition of Asimov’s classic text. Throughout November, participating libraries throughout the Netherlands will be offering free copies of this edition to visitors to get people thinking about this year’s festival theme: Nederland Leest de Toekomst (The Netherlands Reads the Future).
As Giphart types new sentences into the system’s graphical interface, the system responds by generating a selection of sentences that could be used to continue the story. Giphart can select any of these sentences, or ignore the system’s recommendations altogether.
The point of the system, its developers explain, is to “provoke the human writer in the process of writing”. Giphart says he still considers himself “the boss, but [the system] does the work”. One article even described the system as being ideal “for those who have literary aspirations, but who lack talent”.
Can a computer be creative?
The “synthetic literature” referred to by this system’s developers implies a combined production effort of both human and computer. Of course, the human still guides production. As co-developer Folgert Karsdorp explained: “You have numerous buttons to make your own mix. If you want to mix Giphart and Asimov, you can do that too.” The system follows its user’s direction, responding by using its own capacity for creativity.
But can a computer ever be truly creative? This is a question that the field of computational creativity has been studying since computers were invented. The field generally accepts that a computer can be called creative if its output would be considered creative had it been produced by a human.
Computational creativity debates are all rooted in one underlying question: is the computer merely a tool for human creativity, or could it be considered a creative agent itself? In a discussion about computer-generated art, creativity scholar Margaret Boden noted that:
It is the computer artist [the developer] who decides what input a system will respond to, how the system will respond, how unpredictable the system’s output will be, and how transparent the system’s functionality will be to users.
Even the most unpredictable output, according to Boden, results from choices the computer artist has made. While a developer may not be able to predict a system’s exact output, the output nevertheless reflects the choices the developer has made while programming.
The co-creative writing system Giphart is using isn’t able to produce an entire book by itself, but it can produce paragraphs that continue Giphart’s story for him. Giphart, though, ultimately has the power to choose what computer output he uses.
But does this mean that Giphart alone will be credited as the author of his Ik, robot story, or will his computer be given credit as a co-author? It’s still unclear. Although it could be hotly debated whether the creative writing system is just a tool for Giphart’s vision or could be considered an agent itself, we won’t be seeing the demise of human authors any time soon.
One Nederland Leest blog post compares this new method of writing to the evolution of the electric guitar. It may have existed for nearly a century, but it wasn’t until Jimi Hendrix showed us how to really play the instrument that its potential was realised. Similarly, we still need to discover how to “play” this writing system to get the best results, whatever they might be.
So is synthetic literature the future? Maybe. Keep reading to find out.
A video explaining the project is available here, in Dutch.