A week in books

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The Independent Culture
The tattooed lines beside either ear of the guy doing the gig are rumoured to represent the cut marks made on a corpse when the brain is removed prior to embalming. Star turn, Richard (X2O) Beard is leaning on the bar, calmly smoking a fag and downing a pint. I am standing in a pool of green light being tutored in mike technique by the DJ, thinking of the story I've just been told about the novelist who was booed off because "he sounded as if he was reading from a book".

It's the launch of the first Brighton Festival Literary Fringe and, although writer-in-residence, I'm experiencing a decidedly unfringe-like nostalgia for the days when such events inevitably took place in bookshops or institutes of higher learning, light shows away from the E-mail inspired concept of the literary gig.

The spoken word circuit is the new review route, however, and the bookshop reading is beginning to lack appeal for the mainstream as well as the street. Two days into the Festival, Chatto cancels historian Stella Tillyard's appearance at Waterstones, due to the shop's inability to guarantee audience numbers. Meanwhile, there's a "world-class line-up" of writers at the Royal Festival Hall. Next week Will Self is playing Filthy McNasty's. A snazzy venue and showbiz-style promotional package are becoming all- important.

"We're lucky. Usually we can couple Tom's Raymond Chandler biog with showings of the films," remarks Tom Hiney's publicist, when he comes down to do a talk. "Otherwise, maybe we'd have to teach him to juggle."

For our Brighton Authors Night I've got to choose a piece of music that "goes with" my novels. Ideally, I'd be multi-media. Chemical generation writer, Q, who's performing at The Lift, refers to his book Deadmeat as a "remix". His publicity accoutrements include a website. Lit gig veteran, Fred, tells me that some writers employ props. Such as? "Well one uses a gin bottle." This, I find I can relate to.

Performance is what it's about though. If much of the vocabulary is borrowed from screen, stage and studio it's scarcely surprising, since the abilities required are those of the rock singer, actor or stand-up - delivery, voice modulation, timing - skills not traditionally associated with prose writers. Pithy, byte-size excerpts are called for. Tricky if you're dealing with plot and causal relationships. Easier if a video-clip approach is there from the start. So many pages written to equal so many minutes. Like the talking book, the gig circuit piece caters to the demands of a vast and burgeoning semi-literate market.

As it turns out, the audience is benign. Maybe they're all stoned. Perhaps the acid-tongued lit crits who terrorize the Brighton Festival venues are otherwise occupied. Or possibly, it occurs to me a few props later, I'm not too bad at this. Which could be crucial, with Literature metamorphosing into Word, and a new oral era giving every sign of dawning.

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