Reaching Authors

When I was little, I adored The Famous Five. I wrote a letter to Enid Blyton to tell her so. This was quite a big deal. I can’t remember if I actually found some sort of address or if I just sent it to “Enid Blyton, England” in the certain knowledge that she was so famous it was bound to find her but I wrote her a fan letter.

I gushed about how much I loved The Famous Five and how wonderful she was. I took time and wrote very neatly in my best writing and sent it off, shaking with excitement because I was writing to a real author and of course she would reply and I would treasure it for the rest of my life.

She never wrote back.

Of course, the fact that she’d been dead for about 20 years may have been some sort of excuse, but still. Anyway, although my love of her books remained and I went on to devour more for years, especially the St Clare’s series, I didn’t try to connect with any more authors. Maybe some little part of me decided that she hadn’t written back because authors just don’t do that – they are mystical creatures who must be kept on pedestals. I kind of equated authors with pop stars; in fact they were even more amazing because I wasn’t really ever into pop music but books were my best friends. I think my parents did try and tell me that Enid Blyton was dead but by then the damage was done; I was SCARRED for life (well, ok that might be a slight exaggeration. But only slight *sniff*).

Anyway, I was thinking about it all the other day. I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of a fantastic book, which I’ll be reviewing soon (if you’re interested, it was Bloodstone by Gillian Philip, the sequel to Firebrand which I reviewed on here last year as well as interviewing Seth MacGregor, the main character). There were frequent occasions when I picked up my phone and tweeted a message to Gillian to say how much I’d enjoyed a particular part. I didn’t even think about it until one really heartstopping moment after which I sent her a private message telling her how that one passage had made me feel. Then out of nowhere I remembered my Enid Blyton debacle and the contrast really struck me.

It was nothing to send an author a quick message, not just about how much I liked her work overall, but about one particular passage of one particular book. And Gillian messaged me back. This was nothing unusual, we frequently chat on Twitter but that in itself is quite amazing when you stop to think about it. I think it is amazing, actually, on many levels. As an aspiring author myself now, I dream about fan mail, who doesn’t? And things like Twitter and Facebook Pages and this blog make it so much easier to get that fan mail and feedback quickly. I reckon if I get published feedback like this will keep me motivated and and reassured that people are enjoying my writing (hopefully anyway…). And for the reader, especially younger readers perhaps, that sense of authors being mystical beings who must be worshipped from afar might be broken down as they can reach them way more easily than I could. It’s another little endorsement for the Wonders of the Internet and a reminder that we are very lucky to have the technology that we do.

I do wonder what Enid Blyton would have made of it. Would she have been on Twitter? Not likely, from some of the things I’ve heard. Maybe she is an author best admired from afar, I don’t know. But it’d be great fun to think of what her twitter name would be. @gingerbeer maybe?

The Changing Face of Friendship

I read a short article in Psychologies Magazine the other day about friendship.

Apparently new research has suggested that being able to predict how a friend would react in a given situation is a sign of how strong your friendship is.

Now, if you know me at all you know that in Real Life I’m not the most sociable, being chronically shy and having only a few close friends rather than a large group. By far most of my contact is online with friends I have made through Twitter and Facebook, with some existing relationships BF (Before Facebook) being strengthened through the confidence boost I get by not having the pressure of face-to-face contact (Funnily enough, in a professional capacity eg when I was working as a nursery nurse or a guide at Beamish Museum, this pressure was actually relieved. Will blog about this in its own right I think). And you do wonder, every now and then, whether the doom-predictors and nay-sayers are right and that our relationships are becoming more shallow and suffering through not having more face-to-face contact. Until now I’ve rather timidly disagreed but this research is making me stick my neck out and disagree more emphatically.

If this is a good guide of friendship, then I have made some very real, lasting and solid friendships and I have a big network of friends. I can say that there are many people I count as online friends that I could confidently predict their reactions to a whole range of situations. Up until now, I may have mentally categorised these friendships as Online Friendships (other than a few), or had an argument prepared in my head in defence of these relationships for those who’d say they were less valuable than real-life ones. On the contrary, I cannot think of many Real Life friends that I could do a similar exercise with with the same confidence.

Of course, this is assuming that you accept this as a good test of how well you know someone. I’d say it’s an extremely good test, as it indicates an empathy with someone. I might not know where someone went to school or who their first crush was but I’d bet I could tell you their reaction to a piece of news or a government policy. I’d say that was far greater depth of friendship and understanding than most people have with some of their work colleagues who they see, in the flesh, every day. It’s merely a shift in understanding of the concept of friendship. A computer doesn’t have to be a big clunky tower and monitor, a book isn’t necessarily a bunch of paper within a cardboard cover. Friendships don’t need face-to-face contact to thrive and blossom.

So, to all my online friends reading this, here’s a toast to the changing face of friendship. And to you.

Horseless Carriages in the 21st Century

I’m in a reminiscing mood at the minute. It could be new-mother-hormones, or it could be due to the fact that this year I’m officially old (in October I turn 30 – I shall be posting a gift list soon). Whatever it is, I got to musing on technology this afternoon.

I daresay every generation thinks this, but it seems to me that there have been not developments in technology during my adulthood, but explosions. Things are part of our everyday life that would have been unimaginable, to me at least, when I was finishing school. And no, I don’t just mean an oven or an iron. Computing, for example – I remember a big, cream computer when I was in my last year of primary school, with a black screen and big, black square floppy disks, and you had to type in instructions in a certain format. This was replaced by a PC which used diskettes; still called floppy disks for some obscure reason. I would never have thought of the capacity that our computers today have, even the most entry-level netbooks. Entertainment – I grew up with VHS, and CDs were just taking over from tapes when I was a teenager. Now they are antiques, and space-age-like silver discs store not only the programme or film but hours of extras, interactive features, trailers…it’s really quite bizarre when you take a step back.

Mobile phones have taken a huge step forward. Towards the end of my teens, slightly behind everyone else as usual, my parents got a family mobile phone which was a large black machine pretty much the size and weight of a regular household cordless phone. It was for emergencies only, I knew that there was something called SMS messaging but never used it (you had to pay by the character for Pete’s sake!), and the first time I tried to make a call I got extremely frustrated because I didn’t realise you had to use the dialling code. Things advanced a couple of years later in my first and only year at university, when my boyfriend (now husband) and I got a mobile each instead of a landline in our flat – little Ericsson ones, I think on BT Cellnet? They were still only used for calls, though, and we started to text a little. Now I have a lovely Sony Ericsson with a 5MP camera and my husband has an iPhone. IPhones! I admit, I was sceptical when my husband got his. How could a phone do all the stuff it claimed? It would be more like a little computer. Well, yes, it is like a little computer, and that was definitely my Luddite brain talking when I tried to convince him that the iPhone wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I’m now, needless to say, a convert. It’s one of the things that irritates me a little about a certain kind of iPad sceptic, to be honest. No, it’s not just a big iPhone. No, it’s not just a funny kind of laptop. It’s a new product, in the same way the iPhone was a new type of mobile phone, or even more so. Maybe in the same way a car isn’t just a horseless carriage. Yes, it’s difficult to get your head around, and you can try to place it into the categories we already know, but at the end of the day it’s a new invention, and well done to Apple for it. It takes a certain kind of arrogance to assume we’ve already invented everything there is to invent and therefore anything new must fit into a pre-existing category.

I think the thing that really got me started on this theme this afternoon, though, was thinking about the internet. I remember being in Sixth form and hearing about the internet. If we were lucky and the teacher had spare time in an IT lesson, we could access the internet, although it was a little secret anti-climax as although it was amazing to think of connecting with someone on the other side of the world, there wasn’t really much interesting to see. I remember getting my first email address, at university. I don’t think I got more than ten emails on it. But over the course of the ten years since then, the internet is not only a regular part of everyday life, it’s essential, and in ways that would have just seemed weird ten years ago. Yes, research and information are a huge part, and that was always on the cards – isn’t it why it was invented, after all? Maybe it’s taken off more than expected – self-edited sites like Wikipedia for example. And ‘ordinary’ information – things like cinema listings, directory enquiries. Council services. Online learning. These are all things for which you would turn to the internet without a second thought despite not even having access to the internet a decade ago. But I would not have dreamed of things like BBC iPlayer. Or sharing links via Twitter. When did it become intuitive to think “I missed that programme, but never mind, I’ll just catch it on iPlayer”? Cue shaky voice: In my young day…we would have set the timer on the video recorder. And that’s after we got one with a timer – before that you either checked if you had enough time to just set a tape away recording then painfully fast forward till you found the thing you were looking for. Or you missed the programme. What about “I want to know what people thought of [insert reality TV show of choice] – I’ll check on Twitter”. Because Twitter gives you the chance to search for concise opinions on specific subjects from people all over the world from almost any walk of life. But you aren’t even conscious of that thought process, because, well, it’s just Twitter. We all know what it does.

The internet has even created thousands of new careers. Web designers, hosting companies, programmers, new media gurus…and thousands of other jobs that I don’t even know exist. It’s now at the stage where people plan holidays based on their destination’s internet access, and practically go into meltdown at the prospect of the ‘net being down for any length of time. I’m not passing comment on this, I’m one of these people myself. I even Tweeted when I went into labour with my second child. But it’s strange, on reflection, that something that seemed almost futuristic when I left school a blink of an eye ago is such an integral part of life.

The internet, and things like the iPad, are the horseless carriages of my generation. I wonder what the horseless carriages of my children’s generation will be?