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Andrew Oldham
Interview Date: Wed 1 Sep 2010
Writer, poet and journalist, Andrew Oldham, gives his take on the new digital climate, where writing might be going and a word about what he's been up to.

Your Questions Answered:

In what ways has the industry changed over the past few years? Is it easier to be a writer since the internet boom?
Question By: Admin
With the advent of new technologies, social networks and e-publishing it would be easy to say the industry has changed. The truth is, it hasn’t changed. The industry will always want writers who are professional.

The problem we face with the internet boom is that hobbyists whose only outlet back in the 90s was to submit to magazines now set up their own websites, declare themselves great and slate anyone who won’t publish them. Many of these hobbyists seem to think that the ‘anonymity’ of the web allows them to slag off anyone they don’t like. As an e-publisher and writer I have been a victim of this and by doing this these hobbyists alienate themselves from a growing and exciting industry. We all get rejected, it is part of the industry, make it a positive, keep submitting. Restrain yourself from sending a publisher an email explaining why they are idiots. Just because they rejected your work doesn’t mean they never want to read you again. Slag them off in an email or on a blog and they definitely will not read you again.

 If you want to be a writer then treat people in the way you would like to be treated. The web is a great promotional tool read by millions. Network on the web, write for the web, socialise on the web but don’t forget to do this in real time.

Back in the mid-90s when I started writing the internet was tiny, largely dial up and used in universities. Most writers I knew of any standing saw the internet as a place to reprint sections of their published work. Many thought the internet wouldn’t ever amount to anything but then they thought that of the mobile phone too. No one was writing for the web. I saw my chance and took it. I was fortunate to be amongst the first wave of writers who wrote for the web, I penned Neuter, a whodunit that utilised the precursor to what was called flashmob. I went from a few hundred readers to twenty-seven thousand readers a week. My readership was suddenly international and I started to get commissions.

I am not and have never been a household name but the web meant that I could suddenly be read by a very different reader. Micro-fiction became my watch word. I was fortunate to work with trAce, who did more for online writing in the UK then any organisation has done since. I worked with writers in the USA, Europe, Australia to create multi-platform projects, precursors of social networks and online writing workshops. I could not have done this by snail mail, technology was moving fast and we had to keep up with it. I am a writer who started with a typewriter, who in ten years became a publisher, then an e-publisher, journalist, an online editor, a blogger, and a director of one the biggest online resources for publishing and reading, Incwriters. My generation saw the world change to a digital age, what amazes me is that my son will live in a world where everything is click away, where the digital revolution will expand to new frontiers that we cannot even imagine. It is akin to the first printing press. The internet hasn’t necessarily made my job easier but it has made it more accessible. Email is the greatest revolution for me. It has made my job easier but I do miss real letters.

As a writer in these times you have to be focused, professional and remember the web is a tool when you’re working and it not an excuse to do no work. It is easy to be distracted and use the web for procrastination. If you spend your days surfing and not writing, maybe you have to face the fact that you will never be a writer and that can be a bitter pill for some to swallow.
What is the Save Our Presses campaign and what role does it play in this new digital landscape?
Question By: Admin
I have been watching the new digital debate unfold at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. It seems to be focused around e-books and Kindle. I nearly choked when I heard a group of writers on the BBC 2 Review Show completely miss the boat on what the new digital landscape will be about. One of my favourite writers Jeanette Winterson was on this panel and stated, “What really worries me, most of all, is, it’s not writers, it’s readers....the digital revolution is going take books off the shelves. So how’re you going to find them, if you don't know what you’re looking for?” She seemed to forget the fact that the sales of her book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, increased after it was adapted for TV. The TV revolution is part of the digital landscape that some writers, such as Winterson, seem to have forgotten about. It annoys me when individuals look at Kindle and believe that is the only future of publishing. Writers are guilty of this more than publishers, it is scaremongering, they need to realise that the future of publishing is wider than the web, wider than Kindle and e-books. Publishers are beginning to realise this, take TTA and Route, these are two publishers with limited budgets embracing reader power through their websites. Readers are not incapable of finding a book even if Winterson seems to thinks so. If that was the case Amazon would go bust. Readers are influenced in ways that we cannot even begin to quantify but what always wins out is good writing. Hype just floods the market and these writers never stand the test of time.

The digital landscape is so much more than written words on pages either on screen or printed out. There should not be a rush to abandon books, the library or your computer and you are taking a narrow view if you think reader cannot find what they want to read. Word of mouth is still a powerful tool and social networks are an extension of this.

SOP (Save Our Presses) is in response to narrow views by writers and publishers who wish to isolate themselves, bury their heads in the sand, and ignore the digital landscape. SOP is still in its infancy and is co-ordinated by Adele Ward of The Written Word. Adele runs The Written Word as an impartial project for writers, publishers and booksellers on Second Life; she extends this into other social networks and broadcasting sites. SOP will work with publishers from traditional and new formats. SOP highlights the excellence of these publishers in an impartial way by promoting them through traditional press, including review and advertising. SOP marries this with established e-publishing, blogs, mobile technology and video. SOP will grow to promote excellent publishers by using multi platform technology, linking to social networks and YouTube. SOP is impartial, we do this voluntarily, we do this as readers but if we believe Winterson we don’t know what to look for. It just shows how wrong many writers are about the digital landscape and how progressive many publishers are. Writers, publishers and readers need to embrace the changing landscape, they do not need to abandon the past but they cannot live in it.
Why do you think writers and publishers can be reluctant to get on board with digital and be open to the landscape? Surely Winterson doesn't really believe digital will create a literary black hole?
Question By: Admin
I don’t think Winterson believes there is a black hole. I have a feeling that this may have to do more with ownership and money. There have been several cases in which books have been distributed via the web before physical publication. This is a real shame as it gives the whole e-industry a bad name but we must remember that this has happened in the physical world. J.K. Rowling’s proofs and books were stolen before distribution a few years back. If your book is due for physical publication and is first distributed illegally via the web, the belief is that the publisher will lose money, and the writer will lose royalties. There are still readers who prefer the comfort of a book, I’m one of them but I like reading online too. There is another problem for the publisher of who distributed the illegal copy around the web. It’s hard to legal action against online communities. There is no precedent. At present the web is a democracy but it will change, as it did in real time publishing, big boys of the web will tighten up the security and see the real potential of the web as a money maker.

Part of me feels sorry that this will happen but I do embrace a code of conduct for e-publishing and the tightening up of e-security. I believe that the web is a positive thing for publishers and writers. The problem is there is still snobbery amongst a minority of publishers who find the idea of the virtual as distasteful. They believe the physical world of distribution, festivals, book launches and readings as a tried and true model.

These models give you audiences you can see and real money ringing in the till. Often or not, they cannot afford to embrace what they do not understand. Sometimes they cannot embrace the e-world because their time is already overstretched. It is sad because they cannot stop the inevitable, they cannot get involved in the changes that are happening and they are working harder and harder in the traditional avenues of sales and distribution that are being squeezed by e-sales. It is a vicious circle that will see them become dinosaurs. I want to see an embracement of the traditional publishing via print on demand, which sits side by side with e-publishing. The walls are coming down between writers and readers and this is leaving the publisher feeling like piggy in the middle. There will be an explosion of writers, similar to the explosion seen in the seventeenth century, and that also threatens the likes of Winterson. I think that may be here fear that she vanish down her own personal black hole.
You write fiction, non-fiction, poetry and scripts. Where does your energy come from? Do you find any genre particularly favourable?
Question By: Admin
I don’t write twenty-four seven! I do live my life and I suspect my energies come from this. I have been a TV writer; I spent these years isolated, going mad, working eighteen hour days. It was not healthy. I like the company of people. I ended physically ill, as I took no exercise, spent too long at my computer and a disc blew in my spine. It was the worst agony I have ever felt. It hurt so much that I ended up laughing as my legs failed me. It took twelve months to learn to walk again and five years to come to some sort of recovery. Lying on your back day after day drugged up against a wall of pain gives you time to rethink your priorities. My energy was sapped by TV. I was effectively chewed up and spat out. It isn’t a nice feeling to be forgotten by producers so quickly. I remember being told that they’d heard I was dead. I knew then that life was too short and that energies should be spent doing what you love and writing what you love. I don’t want to write on anything that doesn’t interest me, I have done that and they end up hollow pieces. It is hard for many new writers to do this when money is dangled in front of them but in the long term they will regret it. I did. I was young but should have stuck to my guns. It took me a long time to recover that voice. That is my energy, it is a combination of my past, present and future, it is what if and what was. I don’t question were my energy comes from, if I over analyse it, it may simply leave me; some Genie’s need to be kept in the bottle.

I love SF but I suppose the core genre for me still, is poetry. If you love imagery, the lyrical, you will make a good film writer, if you’re a good film writer, you will make a good fiction writer. I have a passion for imagery and a desire to tell odd fantastical stories.
What's Inc Writers about? And what's next for Andrew Oldham?
Question By: Admin
Incwriters (International Network & Community of Writers Society) was founded in 2004 by myself, William Park, Bixby Monk and Ian Parks. It was created initially as Inc. in 2002-2003 by me to promote poets. However, in 2004 a few of us started to explore the potential of being e-publishers, promoters and using the internet. Incwriters started on free web space and worked through growing social networks and email to widen audiences for publishing and reading. Publishing and reading has stayed at the core of Incwriters and has seen us work with many publishers in the UK, take writers to the USA and Spain, and have a series of e-residencies that continue to this day.

Incwriters now has a firm home on the internet and all those early disparate explorations have solidified into a multi-user platform. Incwriters will always seek to raise the profile of publishing and reading, both in the digital landscape and in real time. In 2004 we had around 3000 readers a year, in 2009 we had over 25,000 readers and in 2010 we have already had over 33,000 readers. This is the power of the web. All content on the website is generated by users and driven by users. You can view more at www.incwriters.co.uk.

Well, 2010 for me has been exciting. I have had fiction published in the USA and I have had a short story in The Sunday Times magazine. The next few months are even more hectic. One of my poems will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please in October. My first poetry collection, Ghosts of a Low Moon, is due out in the same month from Lapwing, Belfast and I will be reading at Speakers Corner, York in November 2010. You can visit what I do on a day to day basis at www.andrewoldham.co.uk and subscribe to my Facebook group.
Who do you think's going to win the Booker? And do you care?
Question By: Admin
This is a hard one, there are some good writers on the list this year and my money is on Rose Tremain, Lisa Moore or Emma Donaghue. It is hard to gauge what the judges may be looking for but purely on good writing then I think Lisa Moore is the strongest contender. I’d like to say I read the Man Booker long list every year but I have to draw the line somewhere. If I read the Man Booker long list then I have to read all the other award long lists out there. There are simply too many long lists to tackle, I am but one reader! I do care about awards as they give a snap shot of the industry but remember not every award winning writer goes on to write again.