Dangerous ideas

Yes, unless it’s dangerous an idea does not really deserve to be called an idea. But these days where every little thought gets shared online and shredded, most new ideas are about as dangerous as a small and rapidly evaporating puddle on the pavement. Why is that? Is it because all the exciting ideas have already been had? Is it because ideas in and of themselves become less dangerous, the more widely they are shared? Or is it because truly exciting ideas engender fear, and the world’s got far too much scary stuff already?

There is no way that all the dangerous ideas have already been had. Rather it seems we just don’t seem to embrace much radical thinking these days, perhaps because there is so little bandwidth for thinking things through with any great depth. Our worlds and headspaces are filled with trivial superficialities, reality television and a miscellany of horrors. From politics to climate change, from identity confusion to sex, processing all the data is quite exhausting and there’s always more information, and less focused indepth debate.

Ideas about who and what we are, what we share and our societal roles and identities are hard to express in a world where news bulletins range from the deeply depressing to vacuous and cheesy, deceitful. There’s a weird new scale for understanding how we are expected to relate to each other, ranging from abject confused victimhood to glittering fantastic stardom. There’s a creepy and even desperate need to place the individual, the self even, somewhere on that scale, to make it conform to some external construct. And yet most of the scale is about not conforming, about coming up with a category that no one else should be allowed to share. Yet they want to.

Of late this has provided quite a rich seam for fiction writers in all formats, but particularly works highlighting some of the horrible stuff that’s always been a fact of life, but that now people want to understand better. Yet apart from the human tragedy themes, in fiction the range of truly new ideas in début works is limited. The classic stuff about identity and the fear of change, of struggling to deal with new experiences, new people, the quest thing, it’s all pretty available if not terribly original. And perhaps readers understand that they should not expect truly original ideas, original writing. They can buy the book as an object, buy its packaging and the comforting familiarity of the themes the blurb summarises. Maybe they don’t much care about its originality.

The bright exceptions are those stories that have often taken a long time before finally reaching the light, and when they do their individuality gets lapped up: think Harry Potter or His Dark Materials. Then a torrent flows and washes around the reading universe, swamping everything else and turning the creators into megamillionaires, stars even. This is a good thing for originality, but it sets a very high bar for all the up and coming writers who lack a champion or the means to keep pushing their books for twenty years or whatever, before a publisher is willing to take a punt.

Moaning aside, it’s a great time for fiction because there is so much technology aiding writers new and old. Technology has also cut the risk of diverse publishing projects and created a host of new channels, making fiction available to global audiences. Once we all get over this and once expectations for what’s new and exciting shift, we can expect to see more brave, bold thinking. And that’s when we can look for truly dangerous ideas again.

What Would Laurel Lindström Say, As A Critic, About The Draftsman?

What would they say?
In reading and critiquing Best First Novel Award contenders it occurs to me that I am too harsh, too demanding and way too mean to these brave writers. It makes me wonder what would I say about the Draftsman if Unbound puts it forward as a candidate? There is certainly lots to say about this book, starting with its basic premise: it’s about a brilliant but damaged man and is the story of his genius, his healing and a forgotten mystery. Well yes it’s all of that, but it took me ages to come up with this tight little distillation. Unfortunately it makes the book sound quite interesting, which I am not sure that it is.
It’s all about …
The Draftsman is about Martin Cox an untrained draftsman of 24. He’s accidentally rich, a heavy smoker, damaged, obsessive, binary. He buys a house in the country as an investment and to get away from his squalid London flat. The country landscape surrounding Shadowhurst Hall confuses and beguiles Martin, who obsesses with black and white contrasts and binary expression, facts, numbers, in a world of shades and shadows. The desolation and the twin lakes on his property exert a peculiar pull that he doesn’t understand, but which attracts him. He doesn’t smoke in his new house. Let’s face it, he’s weird.
The story slowly unfolds in a series of flashbacks which explain how the man came to be so wealthy, why he’s strange and how he might get better if only he would learn to be at least a little bit nice to people. Except that he cannot, at least he cannot until he starts getting interested in his new house and its history. Gradually he moves towards renewal, but not for any particular reason and this is perhaps annoying for readers.
This is the bit that the critic in me hates in the Draftsman. He moves so damn slowly from thing to thing and there are way too many words cluttering up his aimless meanderings. His friends are nondescript and his relations mostly dead. How can you have a central character who is so closed up and strange? Why would a reader want to know more about Martin Cox? Unless you want to categorise him somehow, which seems to be a popular sport these days.
Reading it as a critic this is what I would say. Of course as the author I have some power to fix it, but here’s a thing. Once something is written and finished it is really hard to go back and restructure it, rewrite it so much that it turns into something completely different. The only way I can correct my own omissions and errors, is to revisit Martin Cox and put him into a new and different context. This context will have to be Martin Cox as the intrepid brain, searching for the answers to the mystery that is only uncovered at the end of the Draftsman. Giving his razor wired brain something to unravel will give me some structure within which to elaborate the whos, whys and wherefores of Martin Cox without using imagistic flashbacks. One to think about.

Invention is the mother of necessity

This is about the importance of reinvention, especially of yourself. It was originally published January 2020.

Where to start. Is it with what’s happening with the Authors’ Club and my reviews of Best First Novel Award contenders? Or is it where the Draftsman is in the Unbound publishing process (their doing design and edits)? Or who Laurel Lindström is (nobody really knows)? Or is it the familiar territory of graphics production technology? Ultimately that’s where I am most comfortable, but it’s also the world I am slowly turning away from, slowly and with considerable anxiety. Or is that world slowly turning away from me?

Starting in Malibu and ending in Eastbourne (yes, Eastbourne)

The beginning of this long and rewarding writerly career was on Cliffside Drive, Malibu, California, deep in the heart of the graphics industry way back in 1980. It started with a police car and a three month assignment for Jonathan Seybold and turned into a fourteen year spectacular before going tits up. Thank you to Agfa Graphics’ Marc Tinkler (now someone terribly important with Epson) for then commissioning me to write a 1000 word article for interface, their inhouse magazine. I can’t remember what the piece was about, but I do remember the £250 I was paid for it (freelancers always stay hungry). And thanks too to top trade mag Printing World’s Scott Beagrie, the then features editor and now a successful freelancer himself. Scott commissioned me to write 5000 words on colour repro systems. It took me an agonising and unnecessarily long six weeks to research and complete. But the end result earnt a lavish sum: £700+ I think. More importantly, it gave Laurel Brunner a profile in the printing and publishing industry as a freelance writer and journalist. From 1994 to date, I have been paid to write about graphics industry technology. Much more importantly I have had a life that has been and remains nothing short of amazing.

From wow to blah blah

Over recent decades the graphics industry has changed dramatically, so much so that now there is little challenge to understanding how stuff works, how well it works or whether it’s worth the investment risk. Today, with a handful of exceptions, there is pretty much no great investment risk especially in software. Hardware is cheap and plentiful, foundation technologies are proven and robust, and apart from a few renegade recidivists, inventors who might once have served the graphics industry are busy elsewhere.

Technological advances have been astonishing since well before 1994. Those colour repro systems I agonised over and finally wrote about a mere 26 (magic number, I’ll explain one day) years ago cost upwards of £10,000 a pop for the basic system. And they were cheap compared to the £100,000+ proprietary systems that preceded them. Today most, if not all and more, of what they did can be done in Adobe Photoshop. And for the £50 monthly subscription you also get InDesign for page layout and Acrobat for making perfect PDFs, plus Illustrator, Premiere Pro and XD (it’s for user interface design). Yes you might struggle at first to use these tools, but the online support ecosystem will sort you out for free. Quite a departure from the costs associated with the publishing front end systems way back in 1980.

Eyes front

Looking back risks a cricked neck and a stumble off the edge, so my view remains ever forwards, ever broader and ever wider. It’s about keeping up with technology and writing about it whenever there is something interesting to say. And it’s about inventing my own interesting stories, starting with now, here on this site, where someone called Laurel Lindström is telling new tales, while holding very tight to Laurel Brunner’s clammy inkstained hand.