Mr Neil on piracy, obscurity and slash

by Suw on October 29, 2008

Last Friday, Mr Neil, Patron of the Open Rights Group, gave a talk to 200 fans and ORG supporters entitled Piracy vs. Obscurity (a reference to Tim O’Reilly’s quote, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy”). You’re probably wondering why it has taken me so long to report back – after all, we all know I’m a bit of a fan. Well, the delay is partly because I was waiting for the audio recording of the evening find its way online, and partly just because I’m really just a bit crap. The audio’s finally up, and if this little widget works the way it’s supposed to you’ll be able to listen to Neil right here. Or, if you prefer, you can download an MP3.

The sound is a little faint, and you can’t hear the questions in the Q&A, but you can hear Neil, which is the most important bit. For someone who’d stepped off a plane at noon that day, spent the afternoon doing interviews, the early evening in a graveyard waiting for the light to fail enough so that the photographer’s assistant could run about in the background whilst he stood very still, and had entirely failed to find five minutes to plan what he was going to say, Neil’s talk went beyond merely coherent (a feat in itself with the kind of jetlag you get coming from there to here) and was actually very insightful, intelligent and, above all, funny. Neil’s sense of timing is impeccable – somewhere in a parallel universe he’s known not as a novelist or comic book writer, but the UK’s finest stand-up comedian.

I would particularly encourage any of my not-yet-published author friends to listen, particularly to the question, which you can’t hear but have to infer, about whether or not it’s damaging to put unpublished works online. I agree completely with Neil that you really need to get your stuff out there, that getting read is the most important thing and that the chances of you either having your stuff nicked or putting off a publisher is vanishingly small.

One question I wanted to ask, but didn’t, was whether Neil might one day release something under a Creative Commons license that would allow derivative works. He already has a very generous attitude towards students wanting to make films of his short stories, which is that if they pay a peppercorn fee (he mentioned the sum of one of your American dollars), then they can adapt a story. I think that’s an admirable stance to take.

But I have to admit that I would walk over fields of broken glass to be allowed to record and share an audio book version of something – anything – by Neil. I am currently reading Stardust to Kevin, who has seen the film but not read the book. Indeed, Kev’s never really read anything by Neil – I don’t think he’d even heard of Neil til the first time I started gushing about him – so it’s nice to be able to read Stardust whilst he’s away. We are, of course, having to both time- and space-shift it, so I am recording it in sections of about 10 pages at a time, and then shoving it up on a private wiki that only we can access. It is huge amounts of fun to read aloud, and I really wish I could read something of Neil’s that I could legitimately share with more people than just my husband.

(As a digression, some books are fabulous to read aloud, and some really aren’t. Stardust flows beautifully off the tongue and I hardly ever stumble. I introduced Kev to Terry Pratchett too, and that’s a joy to read out loud. But Neal Stephenson’s Cobweb, on the other hand, is not only the worst thing he’s ever written, it’s also nigh on the worst thing I’ve ever read: long and overly complex sentences turn into interminable paragraphs which leave one wanting to set the damn thing afire rather than continue forcing all those words through your poor, beleaguered brain.)

Finally, if you want to hear more of Mr Neil, then I highly recommend that you watch the readings of his latest novel, The Graveyard Book. Not only is it a wonderful book, it’s also beautifully read and a joy to listen to.

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