Sunday, November 12, 2006

All eyez on me

Private Eye reports that Colin Randall, Paris correspondent for the Daily Telegraph until he was sacked in September, has started a blog of his own. In the early part of October, he picked up over 200 comments: the eight surviving foreign correspondents blogging on the Torygraph site amassed 29 in the same period. Between them. It's further evidence, I suppose, that (Comment is Free apart, but he would say that, wouldn't he?), Brit newspapers have yet to achieve a useful synergy with the blogosphere. At the same time, it does raise the question of what blogs are really for. Are eyeballs a measure of virtual virility? Should Randall hop on the EuroStar back to London and wiggle his Profile Views in the claret-enhanced faces of his former employers? Or would that be to miss the point?

Lord Gnome also provides us with a wicked précis of that One Day In History mass blog thing that has had such a resonant effect on the cultural landscape. Or not:

My Personal Blog

I got up this morning and had breakfast. Then I went to work and talked to some people. Really busy day. Got home in the evening, had supper, watched some telly and went to bed.
Repeat 2 million times and publish on website which no one will ever read again."

While I was picking up my Eye, an expat staple to rank with Marmite and DVDs of Inspector Morse, I noticed a book on the shelf. It was called Covergirl, by Maura Moynihan, and flashed across the cover, in its own little red circle, was the phrase "REALITY FICTION".

Now, we've been here before, with the likes of In Cold Blood, a so-called non-fiction novel. But Capote was taking a news story, and writing it up in a style that we associate more closely with fiction. Moynihan, daughter of a respected American politician and diplomat, and a former Warhol girl (apparently the sort that didn't even get 15 minutes) appears to be offering a thinly-disguised version of her own life - in fact, the raw material for about 90 per cent of first novels. But flagging it up like this strikes me as a little bizarre. Are people more likely to buy or read a book because it's loosely based on the life of someone they've never heard of? Has the deadly duo of postmodernism and Big Brother finally destroyed any consensus as to what reality actually is (and how it's different from fiction)? I look forward to "REALITY FICTION" stickers being plastered over David Copperfield, On The Road, The Bell Jar, Jane Eyre and Decline And Fall. I'm not entirely sure what goes on in the heads of publishers any more, something that's reinforced by the list of suggested changes to my manuscript that I received a few days ago. Oh well, time to negotiate yet another creative compromise. Story of my life. Hey, maybe I should write a novel about it.

Pausing only to note the suggestion that global conflicts can be resolved by a quick bout of scissors-paper-stone, I'm off on another leisurely jaunt, this time a travel story for the Bangkok Post. Will return with edited highlights mid-week.


Anonymous said...

The reality fiction thing really annoys me. Every book published in Ireland at the moment seems to be about someone's bloody awful childhood, being touched up by the local priest and beaten to a pulp by the Little Sisters of Mercy. Yawn, yawn.
We used to have Joyce and Beckett and Wilde, tragic but I suppose that's what increasing cultural freedom does to the standard of literature...discuss anyone?

dh said...

This commenting on blogs business is a whole can of worms in itself. I can never decide if I'm being encouraging or parasitic. Is the commentee obliged to comment on the commenter? Why am I saying this? Mildly confused graemlin.

Spinsterella said...

I do feel sorry for those newspaper blogs that don't get any comments - even the Torygraph. I'm a soft touch really.

Realdoc, I think they're all chasing the Angela's Ashes pound. Or Euro. Nuns didn't beat you up? Daddy didn't rape you? Just make it up.

Molly Bloom said...

Yes, those reality fiction tags are pretty depressing. 'A Boy Called Millionaire' etc. What about a good old STORY? Having said's very interesting to mix fiction, reality and fantasy. Who knows what is real and what is not, especially with blogging. I also wonder how much is 'reality' with bloggers? I think we are pretty much a 'real' crowd. But..are there are people who profess to be real who are not? I often wonder.

Yes, bring back Joyce and Beckett!

There are some really great fiction writers out there still.

But...annoying about your book and the publishers. How irritating. Do you now have to wait for them to edit before they publish? Must be so frustrating.

Sorry, this is waffly..tired and a bit stressed today. Hope you are well and happy Timxx

patroclus said...

Three reasons why Colin Randall's blog might be more popular than those of his erstwhile colleagues:

1. Randall replies to his commenters and involves them in the discussion. If the answer to the question 'what are blogs for?' is 'to have public conversations that anyone can join in', then Randall's blog is a more successful blog than the Torygraph's. Even with CiF I get very irritated that the journos don't engage the commenters in conversation, in fact one journo explicitly said she wasn't going to talk to them. That's not proper blogging as far as I'm concerned.

2. Randall's blog is nicely amateurish - it has a standard blogger template and none of the fancy bells and whistles (Digg this, that etc.) so beloved of the self-congratulating blogging élite. His blog says 'I am just like you' - and that makes people feel they can engage with him on equal terms. People tend to like that.

3. Randall's blog doesn't have to adhere to any editorial guidelines or standards - people know that what he's writing is what he really wants to write. It's personal writing, not journalism (even CiF is journalism masquerading as blogging). People are engaging with Randall as a person, not as a journalist. The best blogs are reflections of the personality of the person writing them, rather than polished bits of editorial.

Oo, I went on a bit there. Anyone would think I cared about this stuff.

Spinsterella said...

"public conversations that anyone can join in"

P - I think you've just answered that ever-so-tricky 'What is blogging' question - I like that explanation very much.

I also don't like the way that comments don't link back to blogs on CiF. As you so rightly say, it's not proper blogging.

I might even go and look at that Randall chap's blog now.

Tim Footman said...

Doc: Well done, you encapsulated the whole thing without resorting to the phrase "lowest common denominator". I blame that Fergal Keane.

DH: There is no obligation. But sometimes a sensation of mutual backscratching can occur...

Spin: But newspaper hacks are used to howling into the void.

Molly: It's no big deal. They're all perfectly reasonable requests. One or two I think miss the point a bit, so I'm holding firm on them. About 15 changes in an 80,000-word text is really very moderate.

Patroc, Spin (again): CiF bloggers can respond, but many of them don't bother, as they get lumped in with all the other commenters (you have to register just like them). So, no, it's not like a normal blog, but I don't think any normal blog could cope with that number of contributors.

I'll do a post specifically on CiF at some stage - it's been quite a revelation.

patroclus said...

Ooh, I'll look forward to that.

Spin: I don't think that blogs are 'for' any one purpose, but the ones that are successful - if you consider the number of comments* to be the yardstick of success - seem to be the ones that are most genuine and conversational in tone, personal in content and inclusive of the audience.

* Technorati counts 'number of links in' as its measure of popularity. But even then, not everyone who blogs wants to be popular. Because a blog isn't 'for' any one thing, but it's simply for whatever the blog owner wants to do with it. You might as well ask 'what is a notebook for?', or 'what is a rucksack for?'.

St Anthony said...

Is the corrosive influence of BB spreading throughout the culture? Such tags as 'reality TV' and 'reality fiction' are such ugly oxymorons.
As you suggest, what a double whammy BB and PM are.
The ever-growing vogue for crappy memoirs and tales of childhood atrocities ... what's that all about? What strikes me as even more meretricious is the fact that a lot of these memoirs turn out to be a complete tissue of lies.

A lot of my favourite fiction is very closely based on biography ... much (all?)of Joyce's work is patterned after his own life, but being a true (and very great) artist, he took the raw material and turned it into elaborate verbal works; that is to say, he used the life as a starting point, not just lazily threw down a catelogue of 'I had it hard, me' gripes.

And I always mistrust anything that follows a fashion - when I see the big parade coming, my impulse is to walk very fast in the opposite direction.

First Nations said...

similar to what happened to popular music when recording technology became cheap and abundant. lots and lots of chaff with a few gems thrown in that, under the old paradigm, would never have shone.
agree with realdoc. irish fiction has gone to hell. it's like the oprah winfrey bookclub has taken over.

Tim Footman said...

FN, Anthony: another reason to mistrust fiction that follows a fashion is that fashion moves much faster than it takes to write a decent book. Anything that seems too Zeitgeisty to be true has either been knocked off in a hurry, or massaged by a PR-driven editor to fit a certain imaginary demographic.

I remember a story about Jenny Colgan at Hay (or Sophie Kinsella at Frankfurt, etc, etc), complaining about her stuff always being dismissed as "chick lit". "Well, ask your publisher not to put it in a pink cover," came the entirely sensible response.

Oh, and Patroclus: Is a rucksack not "for" keeping a notebook in?

Anonymous said...

Hope the Radiohead effort is not too zietgiesty Tim

Spinsterella said...

Note to Jenny Colgan/ Sophie Kinsella et al...

...if you don't want to get dismissed as chick-lit stop writing fluffy, dispensable, formulaic shite about shopping and boys.


Annie Rhiannon said...

Patroclus, I love the rucksack analogy.

However, I also love this "reality fiction" thingy, first I've heard of it. I want a sticker like that for my blog.