Twitterature at the London Book Fair

 

Trains and coffee. Hot sky. Kensington Olympia: a greenhouse labyrinth, a pleasant Hell.

Barcoded enthusiasm. Stands, displays, declarations, theatre. I wander. 

I’m soon lost. The floor plan creases up. Everyone else seems to know where they are. They exhibit the smiling purposefulness of the comfortably off. 

OUP offers trustworthy sources. 

Omnibus Press offers three masked men.

The London Stereoscopic Company offers 3D Adventures in Hell. 

Miraculous stairs lead me to the first floor. Author HQ. I’m early. I tweet about the fact. #interesting

I bide my time with etcetera.

  
 
—–
 
A phantom has materialised. Warm grin, tweed jacket. “Are you James?” @Elhombredetweed is Mauricio Montiel Figueiras. He is affably real, as is his girlfriend, Ana Luelmo. 
 
Now the stairs bring @george_szirtes, struggling with a trolley suitcase that wants to be elsewhere.  
 
We’re all here. 
 
—-
 
Julio Trujillo is chair. Words of introduction: Internet, social media, reading and writing habits. Short literary texts posted on Twitter.  
 
We start with readings of our work. 
 
George stands and reads some selections of linked tweets. The London Book Fair curls up, licks its paws, watches little birds circling just out of reach. 
 
Mauricio introduces the Man of Tweed, who takes up residence in our skulls, rearranging some of the furniture so he can sit by the window and look down at the Street of Dreams. 
 
My turn. I cough up the Bird King. He flounders on the floor, wings wrecked, head a mess.  
 
The people in the audience seem to like us. Their faces are friendly. Some take photos or tweet.  
 
Then the serious business of discussion. A mic is passed round. I’m reminded of the conch in Lord of the Flies. But this is a civilised colloquy. We talk about the characteristics of Twitterature, its liberation of whimsy, the power of masks, the creative dialogue between reader and writer. Julio asks how Twitter affects the way people think. Big question, little time. Questions from the floor. 
 
Our allotted time is up.
 
  
 
George, me and Mauricio 

—-
 
I can’t provide a comprehensive or objective account of the discussion George, Mauricio and I had at Author HQ. My memories of the event won’t stay still. They scuttle under chairs. Some of them seem to have escaped. But then, who can say for certain what happened last year or yesterday or one minute ago?
 
—- 
 
An Italian restaurant. Mauricio, Ana, George, me. Shared starters. I struggle to cut up some prosciutto. Red wine. The conversation ranges widely. Sátántangó. W G Sebald. Samuel Beckett. Cats. Wrestling. Children’s books. Maurice Sendak. Twitterature (of course). Mina Polen. Viviana Hinojosa. Aspects of Mexican culture. Film noir. Nosferatu.The Vampyr. Pink Floyd – The Wall. Sam Riviere. My companions wear their intellect and erudition lightly. They are interesting, likeable, generous. I am among friends.  
 
Mauricio insists on paying the bill. He had invited George and me to the London Book Fair, to speak at today’s event. I cannot thank him enough. 
 
  
 
Me, Mauricio, Ana and George 

—–
 
The day stretches and looks around. It needs to move on. George has a flight to catch and I’m meeting my brother near Paddington. The two of us head for Kensington Olympia Station. Along the way, we chat. George’s trolley suitcase objects to being dragged across London, and it digs its heels in whenever it can.
 
—-
 
Another train. Night. Home bound. A gift from George: Uncle Zoltán, a book of tweets. I’m tired. I close my eyes between chapters. Reading in short bursts. The little book sketches a world.  
 
The train clatters into tomorrow.

 

This is not an essay: fragmentary reflections on the experiences of reading and writing on Twitter.

Twitter is a gigantic, unstable cut-up text. Tweets jostle, create striking juxtapositions. The banal, the poetic, the humorous, succeed each other with mercurial rapidity. Shifts in register resemble The Waste Land. Occasionally something memorable and lasting emerges. 

—-

We don’t read an ever-lengthening time line, a text forever in the process of being written, in the same way we read a novel or a newspaper. Reading is hasty, happening in short bursts. We scan, skim, sometimes pausing for half a second to fav or RT. And then we move on, like restless toddlers, to the next bauble. 

—-

Twitter infantilises us. Colourful treats are presented to us. Buy this product, buy this idea. We react intuitively, emotionally, often irrationally. We don’t think too hard. This is why so many people get themselves in trouble with the police when using Twitter. 

—-

As a result of a polemical tweet, one of my followers accused me of having made an assertion. Of course I have, I retorted; Twitter is not conducive to substantiated argumentation. 

—-

Twitter is an environment that favours monsters of the id. 

—-

Be bold and unreasonable, gain followers. Be sensible, lose them. 

—-

I’m not bemoaning our infantilisation by social media. It has dangers, certainly, in encouraging our uncritical acceptance of consumerism and its root cause, capitalism. But it also gives us an opportunity to indulge our sense of whimsy, to enjoy the mad ideas streaming down our smartphone screens, maybe even to experience a child’s enchantment in an online world that is perpetually surprising.

—-

Tweets are retweeted because they have provided a moment’s entertainment or struck a chord. Common feelings and prejudices flourish. But there’s still room for minority interests. The internet connects the disconnected, those who believe themselves alone in their philosophy or interests. A Twitter readership is a community. 

—-

On Twitter, the reader becomes the writer’s collaborator. In retweeting, the reader expands the distribution of the author’s material. Sometimes, a reader might respond to microfiction by tweeting the author a continuation, variation or pastiche of the piece. The author, flattered or amused or impressed, might retweet this response to his work, and in so doing partially blur the distinction between himself and his readers. Creativity becomes a shared experience, a game in which anyone can participate. 

—-

Authors who have Twitter accounts and proclaim, “I am the Author!” are missing the point of Twitter.

—-

Twitter is a dismal marketplace. It’s up to us to invade it with music and laughter.

—-

Interactivity is one of the most interesting aspects of Twitterature. Many of my fiction tweets, particularly those to do with the Bird King and his grotesque world, have stimulated responses from my followers in a similar vein. At first, I was ambivalent about this: I enjoyed seeing the Bird King develop outside the nest I’d made for him, but I also felt a little insecure, as if the character I had created was being appropriated by others. But I soon realised that some of the most productive creativity on Twitter comes about via this challenge to the traditional categories of author and reader. 

—-

There’s a danger that writers of Twitterature are crafting their microfiction too carefully, making exquisite, perfect, predictable, bland work. 

—-

Too much short-form fiction is neat and rounded. What a wasted opportunity to challenge, annoy, agitate, enchant!

—-

Microfiction should be no more bound by conventions of structure, narrative, characterisation and genre than the novel is.

—-

Once upon a time, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to sign up with Twitter and tweet, not about my life, but in the third person, narrating the surreal adventures of a fictional character. So, on 1 October 2011, I created my @badbadpoet account (@badpoet was taken), and began tweeting the continuous narrative that I was later to collect into a piece called “Still Life.”  In the process, as I started exploring Twitter and following other users, I realised that hundreds of other people had beaten me to it, and were tweeting microfiction, micropoetry and all sorts of inventive lunacy. Among them was Jeff Noon, an author I’d admired since the 1990s. Jeff and I struck up a rapport online, and in March 2012 I was very lucky to be one of the eleven writers who made up Jeff’s collective Twitter entity @echovirus12. Echovirus works like an online version of the surrealist exquisite corpse, the rules being simple:

1. Write a fiction tweet. 

2. Echo the previous tweet. 

3. Don’t follow your own tweet. 

Writing for Echovirus is a game, ludic and competitive. Through playing it and setting up another group called Chimera I have met some of the most talented and original writers and artists on Twitter. 

—-

Everyone who has ever tweeted is a published author. 

Bespoke oneirographs

Today, I invited Twitter users to tweet me pictures to be incorporated into oneirographs (pictures of dreams). I received an interesting variety, from selfies to photos of flora and fauna. Poet and creative powerhouse Bid sent me a disturbingly sexy photo of some balloons. What follows are the results of my day’s work in the dark room of my imagination. All of these oneirographs were made on an iPhone (using Photoshop Touch and other image-editing apps) and tweeted from my Twitter account, @badbadpoet. The final image was based on a selfie taken by Viviana Hinojosa, my House of Mirrors collaborator.

   

             

The wooden man: 12 fragments for Easter

The wooden man came to her in a cloud in a vision in a dream in a story. When he spoke, his tongue clacked against his teeth.

—–

As soon as she woke up, she knew the wooden man was in her belly. She felt heavy with him, fatigued. All she wanted to eat was sawdust.

—–

The wooden man was born on the night of a storm that felled a thousand trees. He fell from his red confinement and jittered across the floor.

—–

The wooden man had no time for childhood. He set to work immediately, splicing humans with sheep in an underground laboratory.

—–

The wooden man slept in a coffin. Every morning was a new life. The broken animals he fabricated bleated and cheered every time the lid flew off.

—–

The wooden man lay down on the sea and floated. Seagulls perched on him, shrieking with laughter as the waves swelled.

—–

The wooden man made enemies fast. They feared his stiff authority. When they grudgingly shook his hand, he gave them splinters.

—–

On the 13th of every month, the wooden man stepped into a wardrobe, to commune with his father. His heart glowed. Words fell like ashes.

—–

One day, the wooden man’s enemies caught him breaking the laws of physics by being in two places at once. He was sentenced to burning.

—–

The wooden man requested lamb chops as his last meal. He washed them down with human blood. Then they stuck him on a bonfire and partied.

—–

The day after the wooden man’s burning, the wind puffed his ashes into a cloud. The sheep-men swore it made the shape of a fish.

—–

The factories closed years ago. The city belongs to the rats. The wooden man’s ghost sits in a skip, carving forgotten names into his arms.