While writing has already started, I have tried to come up with a scheme, a kind of grid of headings, to cover the diverse books – a grid that may well need updating or modification for the non-fiction titles. The idea is to cover all the books used in terms of my personal reading experience, plot, characterisation, tropes, structure, style, language, and reviews by others. I have done this now for the titles by David Wickes and Frank Tallis.
I have already received direct permission from a number of ‘Killing time’ authors. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles had referred me to her publisher, Little, Brown Book Group. They are now the first to respond and officially grant permission:
Little, Brown Book Group have no objection to granting non-exclusive, World English Language print & electronic quotation permission for the use of approx. 100 non-continuous sentences from KILLING TIME by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. (…) We will accept that this falls under the terms of “fair dealing” and we will not charge any permission fee for this use.
Many thanks to Little, Brown Book Group and of course Cynthia Harrod-Eagles!
Where and how to start, and whether to start before all books are in, whether to start before permission has been granted, has been on my mind for a while.
I’ll try an as-if start by browsing through one of the books the title of which you will know (the latest to arrive, today, signed by the author, David Wickes, who I suspect is currently still unaware of this project):
- “We are only interested in the last twelve hours or so.” [22-230-1]
- By eight-thirty he had showered and tucked in a healthy breakfast… [22-116-3]
- “Christ”, said Jack. [22-222-2]
- …, and his artful skills on the connubial couch,… [22-213-13]
- His long hair, full beard, and moustache gave him a new look. [22-213-4]
- In the country the snow was pure white. [22-213-24]
This is not an attempt to put anything in any order – since all these are from the same source, they should not link up anyway (see rules). Having added position mark-up [book no. – page – line] after the sentences, I am a bit worried that it will break up the flow – but I guess later it can be shown and hidden with CSS.
The strange thing, when re-reading these sentences put here apparently in no particular order, is that something gels, regardless – is that down to some common plain tone of the common source, or was I unknowingly picking and ordering sentences in a way that would create a sketch of sorts?
Assembling a text from other texts is a lot of work. I have gone through this process before: it took me about five years to put together ‘Secret ballet‘, and I had precious little feedback when the book was finally finished and published. Was all that a waste of time? Possibly. Will it be any different with ‘Killing time’?
What is different now is that I reach out to the ‘Killing time’ authors and their publishers. A multi-thread conversation has begun that makes me more acutely aware of the implications of my approach. The copyright question is not the main issue. Work resulting from appropriation, cut-up, collage, mash-up or aggregation usually tends to pay little attention to the relation of the result to the sources and their originators (many of whom will never even become aware that their work has been re-contextualised). The sources are used as mere raw material, as a pile of disused text to be re-fashioned. It is perhaps fair to say that some texts deserve no better. It can be argued that the new context produces new, often unintentional meaning, and that de-familiarisation can turn a cliché into something more interesting. It can also be argued that the immateriality of text means that any recycling leaves the source intact. But it is the gesture that counts.
I understand the gleeful, forthright attitude of appropriation, but I don’t like it anymore, at least not in my own work. I (intend to) have a lot of respect and appreciation for the sources, even the self-published, maybe awkward mysteries, and I don’t like the idea that by re-contextualising sentences I implicitly devalue the original context. It is this tension between appreciation and appropriation, and the apprehension it causes, that at the moment is the real topic of work as I embark on this project.
The Wikipedia editor has marched right in and thrown out half of the extra ‘Killing time’ entries I added this afternoon to the ‘Killing time’ disambiguation page as if they did not exist, or did not matter. The rule of disambiguation is likely to be that only those entries shall remain that link to an already existing Wikipedia entry.
Is it really a service to Wikipedia users to spare them the awareness of other books of that title for which no one has yet cared to create an entry?
An entry without a link may spur users to create one. Deletion just serves to maintain the threshold where things only exist when they are in Wikipedia. I do not believe the editor went to the trouble of checking whether the books by, say, David R Dow, Sandy Fawkes, Noel Fellowes or Wade Hemsworth are worthy of coverage in Wikipedia. I am curious if adding an entry with a link yet without target would meet an editor’s inclusion criteria.
I just updated the Wikipedia ‘Killing time’ disambiguation page which under ‘Literature’ had only shown a few of all books with that title. I wonder if some bossy editor will now march in and weed out those entries that he or she thinks are not worthy of remaining in there.
Looking at Wikipedia I realised that I have actually omitted a title, Killing Time, a 2003 novel in the series The Invisible Detective by Justin Richards, probably on the grounds that… I can’t remember – maybe because it is a children’s book? I have ordered it now and will update the list of books.
I had hoped to have traced Paul Melia to Staffordshire University’s art history department (if there is such thing), but enquiries have now written back that they have no such name on the staff list. So I studied the book’s imprint and found that Patricia Prater holds the copyright on the cover illustration. It was then just a matter of seconds to find her web page. It shows paintings done in a very similar style. Luckily, the site has a contact form, which I have just used.