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  • Eliza Chan

Not everything you read is true…

I was doing some procrastination/ career research that involved google searching the words “Glasgow” and “publishing” and came across what I thought was an informative blog, notesfromtheintern . At first I read it from a purely scientific point of view for ideas about what the publishing world is like, but I soon became engrossed in what I believed was the author’s very open confessions. Thirty minutes on I realised I had been duped and I would like to applaud this experimental author. The first sign was perhaps when she admitted a secret love of chicklit and apparently spent 400 pounds buying clothes for the job.

Here’s why I think it’s fake:

1. She is an idiot, and makes work and life mistakes  that only heroines of chicklit and chickflicks can get away with (forgetting assignments, showing up late for work etc.)

2. The people she interacts with are caricatures: the bitchy older boss; the debonair older man (who will turn out to be an arse); the geeky unnoticed work colleague (who will become the unseen male lead); the crazy flatmates.

3. The writing shows a great familiarity with the publishing world, agents and the processes however the knowledge of Glasgow, the city she has apparently moved to, is sketchy and slim to none. She apparently could only find a flat in the Shawlands!

4. She acknowledges that friends will be reading this blog (and I would assume in this age of technology that includes friends and boyfriends) and yet openly discusses her sex life and other embarrassing exploits.

5. She blogs with too much frequency for someone with a full-time day job.  There are also extensive links, tags and pretty pictures for each entry that a new graduate with no blogging experience and self-depicted as a bit of an airhead, would not be able to achieve in four short month.

Anyway despite all these issues, it has the makings of a decent chicklit that could be easily be converted into a novel. It is probably a marketing ploy and I half fell for it! Which of course made me realise we must be so careful of things we read on the internet.

I’ll readily admit I am the type of person who reaches for Wikipedia at the slightest confusion and I take its articles as the gospel truth. However I remember around the time of the Blair Witch hype, someone I knew arguing vehemently with me on the authenticity of the film based on the fact that the behind the scenes book was written as if events were factual. Said person could not get their head around the concept of a fictitious non-fiction. And I can understand where that naivete stems from.

Until I studied English Literature, I didn’t fully grasp the meaning of an unreliable narrator. It was only reading books like Jane Eyre, Pale Fire and The Key that allowed me to understand that people don’t just manipulate in real life, they can do it on page too. Journalistic bias of course cannot wholly be removed and yet we to tend to accept the media as the bringers of truth. I only really read the BBC news with any frequency. I use to also attempt to browse the electronic editions of The Japan Times, New York Times and The Independent but with so much repetition and local interest news, I couldn’t keep it up. It’s unfortunate in an age where so much information is available to us, that people end up frittering hours on YouTube and Facebook but not the same on brushing up their news or science general knowledge (well, I don’t).

Coming back to the written word, having been out of the country for so long, I was not aware of the extent of decline in the publishing world. In Japan the majority of publishing (in my eyes) appears to be for manga which continue to be read as they are cheap and serialisations are followed with the same avidity of Hollyoaks and Eastenders in this country. I didn’t realise HMV and Waterstones are rapidly losing money. I didn’t realise that the government has been closing down hundreds of libraries. It saddens me because I was brought up in a book-borrowing household and one of my favourite high school haunts was the Waterstones on Sauchiehall Street (specifically the window seat in the SF&F section on the first floor). However for me, I have stopped buying books for altogether different reasons. It was difficult to access books in Asia: they were expensive and there was a very limited selection. Also the travel bug has convinced me that the Kindle is worth the investment. However I know most of the British population has neither lived in Asia, nor been forced to live out of a backpack longterm so it saddens me that they seem to have withdrawn from books also.

Also, and this is scary to admit, I am failing to get the same buzz from books these days. Of course it’s difficult to compare to my teens, when every fantasy I read was immediately my RPG where I got to escape from mundane life and become a sword-weilding dragon-elf lady. For one, straightforward fantasy struggles to hold my attention these days. And I am not saying new books are bad. However when I peruse a bookshop and read the jacket blurb it all sounds so sameish. A terrible past/murder brings out secrets in a family. Someone in a mediocre life goes on an emotion and physical journey. Looking at war/apartheid/holocaust/genocide from the hindsight perspective of the survivors/older self. Some older woman learns about life, love and friendship. Or, as  the above blog fiction, a young businesswoman who likes fashion, falls for the wrong guy when the right one is beside her all along.  I am broadly stereotyping here and this is just mainstream fiction. Science fiction, fantasy, horror and other genre fiction have their own stereotypes.

Given the number of people writing novels and dreaming of being this next JK Rowling, I refuse to accept that there is a lack of talent or ideas compared to 50 years ago. Which means perhaps it is that the publishers are looking in the wrong places. It is a business after all.

Books I would like to see:

Something like Watchmen: taking and working within an established genre, and then twisting in round entirely to devastating effect.

Unreliable narrators with open-ended fantasy/SF versus insanity scenarios

Chick Lit where the heroine doesn’t work in PR/media and doesn’t have to buy a 100 pound dress and drink 10 Cosmopolitans to impress her guy. Seriously, we don’t all live in central London/ New York. Also, how about mixed race/ same sex couples as opposed to this white on white rubbish. (An aside, in Japan a genre of manga called yaoi is very popular with a readership of mainly women. Yaoi is man on man romance.)

More translated works by authors from small countries. All we seem to get is China, Japan and a smattering of South America. I want to read great Hungarians, Thais and Peruvians.

I probably read about 50 books last year. However the only book  that has left a long-lasting impression was The Slap. **spoiler**

I have to say I hated every character in the book. They were self-serving and seemed to be doing drugs and having sex every five minutes. However despite this, I loved the way a single incident spiralled out of control and how each character’s reaction was so wrong from one perspective, and entirely justified from another. Tsiolkas has something there, an ability to capture so many different voices in one novel which has stayed with me even though I can’t say I enjoyed the novel.

**end of spoiler**

#newspapers #internet #unreliablenarrator #wikipedia #library #notesfromtheintern #Kindle #blairwitchproject #theslap

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