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It was so very different for Jane – and Charlotte, Emily and the rest …

All right.

So they had to write their books without access to keyboards.

Without the facility to cut and paste a line, a paragraph or even a whole chapter to shift it into a different position to help the narrative flow.

And the only convenient clouds they had at their disposal were the ones floating past their respective windows rather than those that would and do, evidently (although the concept eludes me) store their precious prose ad infinitum.

Jane Austen, Charlotte, Emily and let’s not forget Anne Bronte, George Eliot – and quite obviously Dickens and the rest – wrote labriously by hand with access only to daylight and to candlelight that no doubt dripped inconvenient wax onto their precious manuscripts.

Even well into the 20th century the basic tools of writing were – well, basic. Paper, pencil and pen – even if the quill and ink well began to give way to fountain pen and biro.

When I started writing fiction, I wrote my short stories by hand then typed them out – initially on a manual, eventually on an electronic typewriter – in order to submit them in the post to magazines with a stamped addressed envelope for Return if considered Unsuitable. Once I had an agent, the process was only marginally shifted in that the story was sent by post to her for submission.

The day I acquired a word processor felt very Brave New Worldish.

And then suddenly, the internet! Emails! Attachments!

Submission had become a very different matter indeed.

But back to those authors of other times, other centuries.

They wrote their books. They submitted them. They wrote some more.

And that was all they had to do. Keep on finding the inspirational spark, sit down in a quiet corner and put pen to paper.

And write!

What a luxury that sounds to authors today.

Because for all the joys that technology brings to our lives – the ease for a writer with a modern computer or lap top, the facilities it brings to producing and saving work – the opportunities it also provides can be quite a curse.

Take social media.

Authors know they have to do it. We are told endlessly that such engagement with our potential readership is vital and the easiest form of marketing – and the only form that comes entirely free. Why wouldn’t we choose to try and connect in such a way?

And the platforms are endless. And endlessly growing too.

So we have our profiles and attempt to maintain them so that daily we find ourselves instagramming, tweeting, facebooking, linkingin – and all the rest of it.

Every time I go anywhere, I am subconsciously – or even consciously – thinking, will this provide a photo for my instagram account? Can I tweet about this? What can I hang on this experience to use as a hook to say something about my novels?

Whereas I really want to be sitting quietly over a coffee, away from the screen for one day, thinking about character development, scene setting, narrative pace etc. Not plotting social media opportunities.

Just imagine if Tolstoy had been forced to spend half his day seeking out relevant pictures to feed his instagram or TikTok accounts – if James Joyce had devoted days to videoing the streets of Dublin to use for a book trailer that he could upload to YouTube. Or as a trailer for his new, innovative podcast he’s about to make. (you will see that I have become marginally obsessed by this podcasting business for a reason …)

Their written output would no doubt have been considerably less, their works left for posterity woefully depleted.

And thanks to lockdowns and the restrictions of the past two years, the potential for engagement in activities that are not limited to producing prose have grown, it seems, exponientially.

Take yesterday when I spent three intense hours learning the basics of podcasting – followed by another three hours next weekend.

Podcasts, it appears, are Big. And it’s a wonderful concept, of course . (if baffling and overwhelming to a novice like me only half way through initial training.)

Choose a subject close to your heart, set yourself up and talk about it.

Whether anyone will listen, download, follow is another matter, but the idea is out there. Another tool for authors, if they wish, to use and exploit.

And I have listened to enough podcasts myself, gained enormous amounts of information from highly experienced experts in the field of independent writing and publishing to know one thing:

These days, it’s not enough simply to write.

Writing, in fact, is one small part of what an author has to do.

I have learnt the jargon now and learnt to say that I run A Business.

An author business.

Writing is at the heart of this, of course.

But I also run – and sometimes delegate – the marketing in its many forms, the networking, typing, speaking, sharing, blogging, podcasting (potentially!) and communicating with anyone who is interested or might be interested.

Jane A could sit in her parlour and write. Emily could wander the moor searching for inspiration for Heathcliff, Charlotte for Rochester, Anne for her Wildfell Hall tenant, and return to the parsonage to work.

Dickens could take his night walks around the streets of London and return to Doughty Street and write the latest installment for serialisation without the need to upload photographic evidence of his wanderings.

But today authors have to do far more in running their author business.

Which, with the aid of myriad technology, they can do.

Or at least they can until that very technology fails, the internet is down, connections glitchy, the printer is stuck and someone on Twitter gets narky.

Then the thought of that solitary, simple parlour, the plain, bare sheet of paper waiting to be filled with mellifluous prose, a pen dipped in sufficient ink, suddenly seem incomparably superior!

Perhaps there’s good material there for a podcast – if I ever learn to handle the mechanisms of the whole thing!

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