Back to Basics

. Last weekend I went to the Dickens festival in Rochester, Kent. Dickens lived there for a while, and drew a lot of inspiration from the place – Resurrection House is Satis House, and a lot of Great Expectations is set there. Being a Dickens fanatic (as you may have guessed), I had to go.

It was brilliant. Fantastic to see a whole weekend devoted to honouring a writer. There was a fair, people dressed up in Dickensian costume, events, the lot. And there was a parade – and what was surprising about that is how many of Dickens characters, despite being described only in words, are instantly recognisable. Sikes, Quilp, Fagin, Mr Pickwick – all straight off the page, and the best iss Havisham I’ve seen since Martita Hunt (she played Miss Havisham in David Lean’s brilliant adaptation of Great Expectations). It’s good to know that long, long after a writer is gone, his (or hers – over here in England we worship Austen and the Brontes and Agatha Christie as much as Dickens, Hardy and Shakespeare) words and ideas live on, and are celebrated and read as much as the day they were written.

Anyway, at the festival was a Tudor area (I’m not sure why….) with a knight, and a cook, and a musician (maybe it was a Chaucer thing…) and an itinerant storyteller. These blokes would wander the country, telling stories in pubs and greens and halls, in return for his bread and board. They bought the stories directly to the masses. This storyteller told the kids a story of how the rabbit got his short tail, and long ears, with no special effects, or breaks every five minutes, and yet the kids were spellbound.

Over the past couple of centuries, that direct connection between storytellers and story listener has sort of drifted away. A whole host of editors and publishers and publicists and critics – all usually demanding changes – have come between the first words in a writers head and the person they are telling the story to.

But the internet has brought that back to us. No longer do we have to have our work filtered through other people. We don’t even have to have it beta read if we don’t want to. We think our stories, write them down, and in seconds, the very words we thought are being read. We’ve gone back to telling stories directly to the masses. Back to the story in your head, the words in your voice, and their mind. Back to basics.

Of course, it’s unpaid. But if you’ve ever enjoyed one of my stories, and we happen to meet at a Stargate con, or at a bar, or just in a street, I’d be happy to share a drink with you. Mine’s a rum and coke.

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