Man out of time

Echo Foundry no date old ref number 3 - 374
Newspaper printing, photo: Sunderland Echo

Sometimes I feel I was born in the wrong century – not in terms of technology, (I like iPhones and I’m looking forward to a car which drives itself) but professionally. I’m a man out of time.

I spent years as a print journalist and then newspapers suddenly and unexpectedly imploded into a puff of dust. When I started as a reporter, and even later as a news editor and editor, it was a reasonable profession akin to others such as teaching in its pay and prospects. These days it seems a dying trade, it’s a children’s crusade and those lured into it often end up desperate either to hang on or to get out. I’ve moved into PR now, there’s plenty of life in that thankfully!

But I also write books and that too is a profession which feels based more in the last century than in this one. There was a time when the novel was a roaring powerhouse of the creative economy. Now, not so much. It is still an important and thriving source of great works of art, wonderful books are still written. But, sad as it is to admit, the novel is not as central to the culture as it once was.

People are much more likely to take their hit of fiction these days in the form of movies or a TV box set, even video games employ a form of story telling. Writers so often are script writers, not novelists and certainly not short story writers. These days, if a book becomes famous, it is often because it has been adapted for the screen. There’s a danger this might change the way books are written, it seems to me that novels are at their best when they reflect the inner life of the characters more than when they describe the physical world.

The market has changed, the world has moved on. But I stubbornly cling to the written word – and I know I’m not alone in that. There are lots of other writers and thankfully plenty of readers, who aren’t ready to give up on fiction delivered the old-fashioned way, on the page, even if this page is often an electronic one these days. Is there a chance novels could become a thing of the past as print newspapers surely will soon be? It could happen I suppose – but not for a long while yet, there are too many people, like me, who love them.

Still it feels a quixotic business this scribbling on a paper with a pen, if not a dying art then one which is changing fast and in ways we can’t quite predict.

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14 thoughts on “Man out of time”

  1. ‘Born in the wrong century’? Sometimes I fear that too. I’m often told that my favourite books wouldn’t have been published if they were new in the market now. Which means I had my time … a few decades ago.

    I shrug, and carry on writing and reading what I like! Nice post, Chris!

    1. Can you imagine James Joyce’s Ulysses being published in the current environment? Hardly a crowd pleaser is it? Wrong size, doesn’t fit into an established genre. I’m guessing he would have self published.

    1. I’m not really thinking about print so much here as the novel and long form reading in general – seems to me it has less of a place than it used to, though there are more books being produced than ever before.

  2. I’ve often felt out of time. And that includes the technology side. I love computers, but I like back to the basics: digging in the ground to grow a garden, paddling a boat, kneading bread by hand and exploring the forest on foot. I’d rather sit by the fire and read instead of watch television under fluorescent spiral lights.

    I hope, as you do, the novel never disappears. I’m going to believe it won’t simply because there are too many people like us who not only enjoy writing them but reading them too. They may not always be the large chunk of the market, but they will exist in their own corner of the market. People will seek them out just as we seek out our favourite genres, our favourite authors.

    As a columnist since 2000, I too have seen the slow death of newspapers. When they started putting everything online for free, I wondered how the industry would survive. The short answer is they won’t in their current form.

    1. I think there’s something about being willing to put time and effort into an activity and knowing that brings it’s own rewards which links the things you have mentioned. Certainly that’s true of reading a novel and I would hate to lose that long slow enjoyment you get with the unfolding of a great story well told, it’s not something one can get from a movie, or anything else really.

  3. I too am glad people still like to read as much as I do, Chris. When I was about ten, I was given three paperbacks for Christmas and I still remember the thrill of receiving them. It’s still like that for me today. Books are many people’s entertainment still and I don’t feel they are about to disappear yet, but you’re right – the younger generation is very image focused. Who knows what the future will bring.

    1. I know just what you mean Val, I still get that feeling buying a book and opening a new book – long may it continue, personally I think there’s nothing to replace it, but society seems to disagree.

  4. I suppose I must be a woman out of time then too. Here in Italy people have always read less than in the UK. You hardly ever see anyone on a train with a book or paper here and book shops are few and far between. I feel lost unless I have a book in my bag and one or two by the side of my place on the settee. My most treasured presents as a child (apart from the record player which was my absolute top pressie of all time 🙂 ) were books and recently I have moved my old childhood and uni books from my parent’s loft in England to Italy. Opening the boxes and unpacking the books will seem like welcoming old friends to my home. First I will need new shelves though!

    1. That sounds like me – I still have my books from uni and even before, shelves and shelves of them – I could carry all that information round with me on an iPad of course, but that just isn’t the same 🙂

  5. If people are going to ‘consume’ books (a horrible phrase) on the screens of their phones, as I’ve heard suggested many times, they’re probably not going to want to read a novel and that will, apparently, mean the death of the novel. I’m not sure that someone who wants to read this way was ever going to read a novel; it would be too much effort.

    I too love books. Radio was supposed to kill them and then TV and then video games. Personally, I think I’ll die before the novel does.

    1. Yes, that’s the sort of thing I was thinking of April, technological change leading to cultural change. Who knows what will happen? Predicting the future is a mug’s game really, nobody ever seems to get it right. I too hope books and novels will survive as I feel they offer an altogether different experience from other types of ‘content’ (another awful word).

  6. Very touchy & topical Article/Post this is. It’s not as much a matter of Print vs E-page as it is NOW the matter of Book in general (& Novel in particular) vs the other ‘Content’. It is also seeming that that the exact Future is now left for no one to visualize, no matter whatever we hope about the Industry. In the early days, it seemed that the E-page was an artificial thing. But now with growing technology, this is becoming also natural (if not even superior) to us! Thus the Consumers are quite comfortable again, no matter print survives or not!

    But the bottomline boils down to the case of the Producers. That is, whether they can sell the Novels & Books (anymore) vis-a-vis the Cultural change brought about by the Technological change.

    Someone opining here that the ‘Smartphone consumption’ of Books – a future trend projected -most likely does not mean reading a Novel, I find myself shivering really. At least for now. And I suddenly just ask: If the reader is really interested, can they not repeatedly use the Smartphone to finally finish the Novel – albeit at a discreet manner as discreet as the way the Author had generated the Manuscript itself?

    1. Thank you, yes – these are the sorts of changes I’m talking about rather than a shift from print to screen. It’s more whether novels and other long form books will survive the cultural and technological changes which are ahead, or whether they will be replaced by something else.

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