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The Fitzrovia Festival with Stephen Oram

Published: 8 Jul 2016   updated: 30 Sep 2016

The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour might not seem like the obvious venue for a literary event, but when the festival is local and the event is about the future of writing it starts to make sense. The event was billed as a panel of writers from a range of disciplines sharing their personal perspective of what they see as the ups and downs ahead for their craft. And that’s what we got.

The evening opened with the host, SilverWood author Stephen Oram, explaining how, as a near-future fiction writer, he’s fascinated by new technology and its cultural impact. Does it bring a democratisation of publishing with potential to unleash all sorts of writing not yet imagined or might it simply unleash an orgy of trivia? To answer this he suggested we consider the future of the content (the story), the delivery mechanism (paper, electronic) and the experience (linear, non-linear) as different but connected.

The panellists were an interesting mix of writers with different but often coinciding opinions.

Helena Halme, a contemporary Nordic author talked about the future of the eBook and the disparity in its popularity with the big publishers and the smaller independents - eBook sales are increasing for indies and declining for big publishers. eBooks of course are also perfect for mobile phones which are being used for reading more and more, especially in developing countries.

Allen Ashley - a writer, editor, critique and poet with an impressive bibliography talked about his speciality, themed anthologies. He gave many examples of a buoyant short story market in the world of online magazines and small specialist publishers, suggesting that it’s a "likely fact" that the big publishers are dying.

Hannah Kowszun, Director of Marketing & Comms at the Science Council, with her tongue slightly in her cheek, presented herself as a manipulator of souls. She speculated that artificial intelligence and our increasingly trackable lives will mean the marketeers of the future will be scripting our lives via their mass produced personalised messages. A scary world perhaps, but as Hannah pointed out it could be used for good as well as selling you stuff you didn’t know you needed.

The audience Q&A was insightful, ranging from observations about the big publishers having their place alongside the smaller independents through to a heartfelt question about how to find the more experimental and less mainstream writing. Interestingly, the answers from the panel varied, but the overwhelming sentiment was that if you want something that’s not mainstream, you’ve got to put some effort into finding it. A fitting conclusion that tied together the threads of a future that makes writing more accessible, enables independents freedom to be exciting and tips on how to swerve the soul manipulators using your data to put you in their personalised pigeon hole.

What’s the take-away message? There’s a lot happening on the fringes of writing and you can’t and shouldn’t rely on marketing experts to give you those wonderful surprises that make living worthwhile.


Want to know more...?

Fitzrovia Festival is organised by the Fitzrovia News.

Stephen Oram is the Author in Residence at Virtual Futures, has published two novels Fluence and Quantum Confessions and several shorter pieces of work: stephenoram.net

Allen Ashley is a British Fantasy Award winning editor, writer, poet, creative writing tutor and critical reader.His latest book is a revised updated version of his novel The Planet Suite (Eibonvale Press, 2016): allenashley.com

Helena Halme is a Finnish author based in London. Her books include The Englishman, a best-selling romantic novel, which won an Awesome Indies badge on publication: helenahalme.com

Hannah Kowszun makes a living as a professional geek, currently as Director of Marketing & Comms at the Science Council.

Photo curtesy of Etienne Gilfillan.

Video clips of the event are available here.