Chair: Janne Teller
Keynote Speaker: China Mieville
China Mieville’s speech was extremely thought-provoking. I am going to sum up his speech but I know I will never do it any justice. At the end of this post I will post the link to the transcribe of his speech and the link to watch the video of the conference.
China Mieville started of his speech by describing himself as an anguish optimist. The translation os non english novels are one of the problems facing the future of the novel. He mentioned the 3% problem and how the profile of the translated novel needs to be improved.
What is literature? What do we want from it? It is inexpressible, you don’t need to be a person of faith to have your breath taken away by literature. You don’t need to be in the Joyce club to enjoy literature. It is the Man Bookers job to salvage something out of literature.
He expressed how much he didn’t want to talk about genre, cause he always talks about it and feels it would be a nerd whining. All books now a days just have a piling up of apocalypses. He mentioned a website called Weird Fiction Review, this is a terrific website for everyone looking for weird fiction.
China then moved on to talk about the automatic novel-writing machine, which he called a terrifying dystopia. He would rather the planet was destroyed than his writing skills being taken away from him. The so-called ‘small of paper’ excuse is a cultural barricade. The future may be enhanced by e-book animation. You can’t get to radically change the distribution of the novel without affecting the form.
People are starting to provide their own cuts of novels. He predicts that eventually we will all be writing as a collective. What if most fiction at best is moderately important? Most of us writers are not special and this is a great thing. The focus should be on the book that is the special bit.
A writer’s work is increasingly undervalued however it is not as undervalued as nurses, social workers, teachers and public transport workers. There is a definite relationship between book sales and literary merit. China then proposed that novelists/poets get a set salary of skilled workers. This would be a raise for some and a pay cut for others. However it would make more full-time writers and it would mean more people could spend time on the craft.
You have to be honest with yourself and accept that someone could improve your work. This may be the way forward and the future of the novel. The pros outweigh the cons.
Melvin Burges then stood up and said he likes the idea of people fiddling with his novel. However storytelling isn’t a conversation, soon as it does become a conversation it dies in the street.
Ewan Morisson was the next delegate to stand up and he expressed the opinion that he feels that China’s novel is naive. He then talked about self publishing and how amazon is doing more harm than good.
Gareth Nick had the opinion that we should make the book easy to find at a reasonable price and this could be one possible solution. Everything is always changing and we don’t know what is going to happen. The novel has a future and we will adapt. The media we read it on may change but it will still be a novel, it will never go away.
Allan Gibbons expressed his support for the public library system. Library’s are necessary places and are spring boards for books. He will defend the Temple of the Book with tooth and claw.
An audience member stood up and expressed the opinion that without reader there would be no novel. Shouldn’t you be discussing how you get readers not how you get paid?
Ben Okri was the next delegate to stand up, he told us that in Africa the novel is still young and is only 350 years old. The real future lies in the fact we writers have not issued a challenge to the format of the novel. The real challenge would be to change the form of the novel. The novel is not dead yet and He felt like he was at a funeral for the novel.
Bernardo Atxaga spoke up next. He told us he was going to talk about time in relation to the novel. Ancient myth tells us we first had a golden age, then a silver age, then a bronze age and finally the iron ore age, this is the age we are currently in. What has changed is the quality of time the reader has to give to reading. Today the reader reads in between two phone calls, before bed, while watching tv or on the bus because of this a novel cannot be difficult.
Jim Calder the organiser of the 1962 conference then expressed his opinions. Literary is an art and as long as there is human life there will be art, the level of enjoyment will go up and down with time. Literature can never be killer, it will always continue. Artists cannot be stopped, they will always be there.
China’s last thought was that we shouldn’t pronounce literature traditions dead until they are dead.
Kirsty Gunn then had the daunting task of summing up what had been said and with that the Edinburgh World Writers Conference 2012 was sent on its journey around the world.
The transcript of China Mieville’s speech can be found here via the guardian.
The video of the Future of the Novel sessions can be found here.