HHhH

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it

Winston Churchill

After a period of relatively consistent writing I’ve recently been in a little bit of a slump as the blog is concerned.

I’ve not been sat around doing nothing though. I’ve been messing around with Medium, and have written a couple of things on there. One about social media and how attitudes toward it are changing, and another about increasing worries around our personal data and how that is being used.

It’s an interesting platform, and one which I think it will be interesting to watch grow and change.  It feels like it demands from the author a different sort of writing to a traditional blog, personally feel like it’s easier to deliver short scrappy missives – ideas that are just beginning to form – rather than the more fully formed work which I aspire (but often fail) to deliver on this site.

The social editing, feedback and sharing functions are great and like all good design – it gets the technology out of the users way, and lets them focus on writing rather than the niggly details and tools that blogging platforms tend to place front and centre.

I’ve also written something for Gareth Kay’s Account Planning School Of the Web, but more of that later.

I’ve also been reading, and have just finished Laurent Binet’s HHhH.

As with Hawthorne & Child, it sort of defies categorisation. Part Historical fiction, part diary, part guide for aspiring novelists.

It is, to use a horrible phrase, the most meta of meta fiction.

The narrator’s voice is that of the author. He spends the novel telling us how he came to recount the very true tale that constitutes the narrative. He explains how he has researched it. He explains what is wrong with the genre, historical fiction, that he has chosen to work in. That, at some point, the decision to put something on the page leads the author inexorably to do exactly what they set out to avoid. To fictionalise.

He admits when he strays from the rules and practices he has outlined. The story – that of the assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich’s life during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia – is brilliantly interesting, but it is the examination of narrative that is delivered around this tale which was truly brilliant.

Chatting to a friend on the way to work this week we discussed the way a book like Frankenstein works. The narrative is constructed as a story being told by one character and recorded by another. The narrative is almost justified – it came into existence in print because it was written down. Dracula, recounted as a set of diary entries, does a similar thing.

The conclusion we came to was that an audience at the time of these works being published, would still be unfamiliar with fiction and that maybe this helped them to suspend their disbelief in some way, shape or form.

This is why Binet’s narrative fascinated me so much. It is an achingly modern – post modern, even – novel. It deconstructs how they are created, it removes the artifice, it draws attention to process. Unlike Medium, it brings the design to the fore – makes it explicit.

Novels, as works of art, are the product of the context in which they are created. I wonder how, in our world of screens, our approach to narrative will change, how we construct them, how we interpret them. Using a fresh example, screens radically alter the way a narrative is constructed for the viewer in a ‘story’ such as Glastonbury. They act as omniscient, third person narrator – getting all 150k people as close to the action as possible. Narrative, and the way we interpret narrative may be radically changing – reacting to our context like everything else.

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