April 3, 2015

Authors tidy their bedrooms as #whereiwrite launches


It's not pretty.

It’s not pretty.

Remember when writers wrote books in private? Of course you do! Because it was happening as recently as Wednesday. But things took a turn for the worst yesterday, when Hachette UK announced it was teaming up with Twitter and its new app ‘Periscope’ to launch #whereiwrite, a series of live streaming videos coming straight from the desks of well-known authors.

The idea is that Twitter users will be able to tune into a live video in which an authors shows viewers around their workspace or reads from one of their books. The series will begin with the musician and frontman of Fun Lovin’ Criminals Huey Morgan, and other writers such as Jodi Picoult, Ian Rankin, Joanne Harris, and Val McDermid will also take part.

The point, according to Damian Horner, Hachette’s Brand Development director, is this:

This series of live video broadcasts – and others we already have in the pipeline – will bring readers closer to their favourite authors – throwing light on lots of personal details about where, how and what they write.  We are delighted to be in at the very beginning and look forward to working with Twitter as Periscope evolves.

The ‘Where I Write’ concept is not new, and newspapers and magazines having been carrying such features for a long while, broadly for the same reasons that Hachette and Twitter give. The #whereiwrite website describes how the project will “celebrate writing and the places where the alchemy of creating a book happens”.

The whole idea, of course, is a fallacy but one we must accept. Writers will sit (or stand or lie) somewhere in order to write but really they imagine and compose things in their heads: that’s where the real “alchemy of creating a book happens”, and no converted conservatory, however nice it is, will ever reveal that.

But we must accept the descriptions, images, and now videos, of the writers’ workspaces because writing is essentially a very slow, boring, stationary exercise, not given to exciting freeze-frames or photogenic moments. It’s not a spectator sport. The writers’ desk is all we have to try and visually sum up the work of writing. And sometimes writers have unusual pens or funny, idiosyncratic tat and knickknacks. More often than not they have a cat or other appropriate pet, and it’s the pet who can steal the show and detract from the glassy stare of the writer behind on a deadline.

Converting the “where I write” concept into a live streaming format, however, is a different thing all together. First of all, it’s a motion picture and the writer must act as bouncy, telegenic presenter-of-life. Second, it is live: unlike novels, there will be no first and second drafts. Rooms must be tidied, hair brushed, evidence of meltdowns hidden, an atmosphere of inspiration and creative rigour created out of thin air.

Thirdly and most importantly, can’t we just leave writers alone? If they’re at their desk/sofa/bed writing, shouldn’t we as publishers just be happy with that? We know that when a writer is on Twitter, they are not writing but only #amwriting. Can’t we find the alchemy of creating a book in the actual, finished book? Must writers perform for us in live show and tells?

I know my arguments are futile. Val McDermid’s session might even be fun. I just can’t help thinking that it is exactly because of schemes like this that Elena Ferrante will never reveal her true identity. You win again, Ferrante.


Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.