Tag Archives: news

Reality too close to home

Police at scene in Enfield

Candice:  I like reading ‘police procedurals’ – I love the mystery and trying to work out who done it, often with some downtrodden main character leading the charge.  The gore, the horror, what happens next, the twists; they are all part of a good story.

However, the other week my local area became part of its own police drama which made me think about things a bit differently.

Monday morning I’m getting text messages from friends, ‘hope you are ok’.  Ok, ok in relation to what?  We are out with the in-laws in a park an hour away from home.

I reply – what do you mean?  They respond to say that there has been a double murder not far from our house!  Shocked to say the least. I log on to the web and discover that the night before, while we’d been tucked up in bed, a young man had decided to stab his ex-girlfriend and her mother.  It comes out later that he has a history of violence and she’d been calling the police earlier in the evening because of problems but one thing led to another and he decided to step over the line and viciously murder these people.

Reading this story in a book it would have been a great opener; screams heard in the street, two people lying dead outside their house and a van seen driving off at speed.  But this isn’t a book, its real.

For the next week, if I drove around the area I’d find my route blocked by TV crew vans and police tape. It was most surreal, like being in a show.  There were times when it felt like you do on the motorway when there is a crash,  you can’t help but look.  But I also thought of the people involved and the horrible impact on their lives in having someone taken away.  It made me hug my daughter a bit tighter at bedtime.

The experience won’t stop me liking my reading material but it will make me think about how fiction can become fact and how different that is for those involved.

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Character flip sides

Phil: From last weeks news:

Person A – A man who he couldn’t adapt to working life. He just couldn’t comprehend everybody moving on and he was struggling to leave behind his school days. He has a vague hatred of  society and a general social inadequacy with his place in it. If he ever managed to find a women who would have him, his anger with the world may eventually go away.

Person B – A committed, passionate extremist with a real intention to kill and maim as many people as he possibly can.

I picked all this up from the BBCs report on a group of Birmingham men plotting terrorist activities. Both phrases refer to the convicted men. They are in effect, the same person.

This is cause and effect. If you treat the perpetrator as a character in a story, much like those in the film “Four Lions” then you see that an inadequate individual who feels that he is backed into a corner can come out fighting, grabbing hold of the most preposterous cause to channel his anger. They can pervert a belief system that many millions of people follow peacefully every day to help justify their cause. It’s one of the great joys of writing that you can provide an internal dialogue for your character as well as showing the face they present to the outside world.

All this allows you to tell the story. Interestingly (in my opinion)  this is what is happening in the media generally. Scary stories sell the news so they collude with the terrorist by taking them desperately seriously. This isn’t to say that the planned acts weren’t serious but imagine how much harder it would be to recruit converts if they realised the root of your anger wasn’t a logical disagreement on the policies of a government but simply that you couldn’t grow up and find a girlfriend.

If you want to use this as a starting point for a story, imagine if in the 1920s, people had looked at a failed Austrian artist with slightly mad eyes and laughed at him instead of listening to what he said…

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The death of print?

The Crystal BallPhil: There’s a bit of buzz around the story that the magazine Newsweek is going to give up its print edition. Rumours abound that the Guardian will ditch the print edition soon and go on-line only.

Many commentators suggest that days of big news corporations are over because we can all get our updates free of charge from bloggers and “citizen journalists” rather than well paid hacks.

They then look beyond expensive news production and into the magazine world confident that you’ll soon abandon buying anything printed on a dead tree in favour of downloading it onto your iKindleslab.

Sadly (for the commentators) this proves why they are wrong. Magazine sales may be slipping but e-publication isn’t making much of a dent. With only 1.7% of sales being electronic any loss in circulation is down to other factors.

The point is that just because you say something doesn’t make it true. Even if lots of people are saying it, that doesn’t make it true. Proper journalism, the stuff people don’t want to pay for, involves going back to original sources, fact checking and other boring stuff that takes time. If you want the news according to an Idaho basement living nerd, well you can have it for free but in truth that’s all it’s worth. Just because something is loaded on to YouTube doesn’t mean it’s accurate either. Chances are that when you are seeing is only one side. Balanced reporting takes time and money too.

Of course, “big media” doesn’t do itself any favours sometimes. When you report stories happening outside your door by watching Youtube and Twitter rather than dispatching someone with a camera to go and have a look then those paying for it will begin to wonder. Likewise, some of us don’t think that the opinions of people you find wandering around the streets during the day are a substitute for cold hard facts, even if they are cheaper and more colourful.

“What has this go to do with writing a book?”, I hear you ask.

Well, the same commentators predicting the death of newsprint also tell me that e-books are the future. I’ve played with a Kindle and it’s very nice. You don’t want to kill flies with it or use it prop up a wobbly table leg but for reading it’s lovely.

The thing is that I can write a book to appear on it easily. Possibly too easily. No need to get involved with “big publishing”, they are as much of a dinasour as the big news corporations. Ignore the basic tenets of plots, character development, grammar and spelling – just write and be free!

Is this too easy though? Some numpty keeps e-mailing me something about how quickly you can write for Kindle etc. without bothering to do research. The messages clutter up my Spam folder daily. I think the idea is to churn out unreadable book after unreadable book, sell them for a tiny price and hope that all the sales will bring in a substantial income. (Feel free to correct me as I never read them properly never mind waste my broadband allocation watching the embedded video).

We have looked at e-publishing and technically, it’s not that difficult.

Is it the right way to go?

Is it the future?

Should we just assume that “big publishing” chooses its authors based on the number of weeks they stay in Strictly Come Dancing rather than how much they have to say?

There is a Self Publishing Conference in Leicester in 6 months time. Should we go?

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Filed under Phil, Publishing