All you need to get access to the Internet is a computer, a modem and a telephone line. In order to understand the Internet, it might be useful to imagine it as a vast telephone exchange - so that when you turn on your computer and dial the number you need to get onto the Net (and there are specific companies and groups which will sell you this access), you can then contact any other computer linked to the Net simply by 'dialling' the number.
I myself have recently been corresponding with British crime writer Val McDermid whom I interviewed last year and she informed me via the Internet that her recent book, The Mermaid's Singing, has won the prestigious Golden Dagger Award of the Crime Writers' Association [in Britain].
|Also available on the Net are e-mail lists or bulletin boards to which you can subscribe (usually for nothing). The list I subscribe to is called DOROTHYL (after Dorothy L. Sayers) and has over 2000 subscribers, Kerry Greenwood being one. Every day all the letters (or postings) to this list are collected together by the system's operators, who moderate the list at Kent University in the US, and then redistribute them to all the members of the list.
So on a daily basis, you can receive up to a hundred postings from people you have never met face to face but talk to regularly in that electronic space which William Gibson has called 'cyberspace'.
And here we should make it clear that cyberspace as a place does not exist except as an abstract idea. It is what might be called a virtual world and as such is perhaps more common to readers of science fiction than crime. But we all know how prophetic science fiction can be - so we might just suspend our disbelief here tonight - and imagine cyberspace as the place where we can all meet and talk when we're on the Net - and as a site for possible crime.
One other point of information. Access to the Internet also gives you access to the World Wide Web which is that network of 'sites' created by individuals, groups and corporations where they 'publish' various sorts of information. For example, you can 'dial' the World Wide Web address of mystery magazines and even mystery writers such as Jenny Pausacker's' favourite Barbara Paul where you can see the covers of all her books and maybe even read a section of her latest book in progress if she feels inclined to put it there.
All in all - for fans of crime - never mind the writers of crime - the Internet is a resource of infinite possibilities. But before we get onto that, let's begin at the beginning. Most of us (I know it's true in my case) got a computer in order to write. I'll let Kerry Greenwood tell the story here.
Being of an archaeological age, I have a confession to make. I began writing with a pen and ink. It was pale, watery blue-black ink and in seconds I had a permanent stain on my index finger and more ink splattered over my person than I had person to splatter it over. I also found that I has a talent for attracting dirt, and a lifelong bitter envy of one of the Susans in my class who I saw with my own eyes slide down a mud bank at a school picnic in white jeans and come up without a mark on her.
This may have coloured my attitude to ink. So, also, may have the fact that my long plait had a tide mark at the end where the boys behind dipped it into the inkwell.
But I was enchanted with the idea of putting words onto a page. The first whole sentence I wrote was "The world is round and spins in space" and I stared at it fascinated by the concept that someone who did not know me might read it when I wasn't there and learn this important fact. It was magical. I was addicted from that time - Grade One.
In all, what with the fact that I was continually dyed a pale blue-grey for the first three years of school, it was a relief when they relented and let me use a biro and I, after a time, reverted to a natural colour.
The boys behind me took to tying my plait around the seat instead, which might have nearly torn my neck out by the roots but didn't damage the hair. I was writing longer sentences by then and the words flowed from the coordination of the pen and eye. I remember being stricken when my first biro ran out, worrying that there wouldn't be any words in the new one.
When I was about fourteen, I discovered typing. I failed, of course, partly for plastering slogans like 'Make Love Not War' and 'Fighting for Peace is Like Fucking for Virginity' all over my typing folio but partly because they made me try to touch-type in four-four to a terrible music typing tape in three-four and you can't do that unless you've got tin ears.
|I had a manual machine called Gabrielle Adler - I did wonder why she had that name - and we fought furious battles. She would jam all her keys and I would either unlock them very painstakingly or, if it had been a bad day, thud both fists on the keyboard to show her and then unpick them very carefully. Then I found out that the design of a keyboard was deliberately invented to make sure that no-one could type fast without jamming the keys, something to do with printing and typesetting machines, and decided that I'd just go on writing books by hand.|
|And that was the problem. It was all right when I was just writing for me - but no-one else can read the untidy scrawl that passes for my handwriting, not if they are expecting meaningful communication.
My mother could manage it but that was because she really wanted to know what I was saying - is it a another note, "Gone away with the circus, back February" - and partly because she is keen-sighted and clever, with a discernment for fine detail which could have made her an excellent forger or keeper of cursive Egyptian at the British Museum. She isn't ordinary, my mother.
I needed an audience - all writers need an audience - so with loathing I returned to Gabrielle. On my own and without the hideous music I managed a little better but the words did not flow. There is an intimate communication between the pen and the hand and the mind which isn't there if the technology is not as automatic as the biro.
Gabrielle could not spell and familiar words came out like Finno-Ugric. 'The', for example. 'Nad'. And it appeared I had a friend called 'Lousie'. . .The keys required a rather hard strike, which broke my fingernails, and I had to keep hauling the machine across to make it write another line.
The struggle was Homeric and deserves an epic. Me sweating over Gabrielle, trying to make her do what I wanted. Gabrielle gnashing her steel teeth, setting her ears back, and snapping her ribbon when she was feeling malicious. I got more besmeared with indelible ink than I had been with school ink and I began to feel that technology and writers would never get along.
I brought an electric typewriter, spent a week reading the instruction manual, and found that it, too, had its little ways. It used carbon ribbon and always ran out at a crucial moment, sharing this attribute with sewing machines I have known. As I always sew faster to get to the end of a seam before the cotton runs out, I used to type faster to get to the end of the page before the ribbon ran out. A sad superstition. It NEVER works.
|But it had a wonderful talent. It could blank out errors. I swear that some of my pages were laminated with white-out or equivalent. I still couldn't type. Then, like all physical skills, somewhere during my fifth or sixth novel, I realised that I wasn't looking at the keyboard. I was, in fact, combining the two absolutely essential writing skills - typing and staring blankly out the window - at the same time and I could touch-type. I was delighted. The fingers had, just by dint of long practice, learned where all the keys were, as a pianist learns where the keys on the piano are.
And learning on a typewriter had its advantages because paragraphs cannot be rearranged without cutting up the ms (manuscript) - and I've done that in my time - or retyping the whole bloody thing, so I was careful to order the paragraphs in my head before typing them. This accounts for the amount of time I spent staring out the window, into a brick wall or with my eyes closed.
This was fine and good and my first three Phyrne books were typed; then the editor added bits and cut the ms to rearrange it and stuck it back together and the whole untidy bundle of pasted overwritten pages was sent off to a typesetter, who misspelt my French.
I got letters from concerned Francophiles when the ms developed errors in proof after I'd seen it because the typesetter, an illiterate Peruvian monoglot, applied accents both acute and grave by throwing them at random over the letters and assuming that some of them would being the right place. By astounding coincidence, none of them were. Tired of receiving French dictionaries anonymously in the post, I remonstrated and they employed a proof-reader who criticised my uses of twenties Parisian slang. This was sort of an improvement but not much.
Then my electric typewriter decided as a final act of malice to spit the 'E' key past my ear like a wasp. I later found it buried in the wall. I did wonder what would have happened if it had hit me. I would have been branded permanently with an 'E' on my forehead. 'A' was for adulterer. What was 'E' for? Elector? Eremite? Echinoderm? I typed a whole page before I noticed that it was gone, and a page of English without 'Es' is not English.
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Filed: Oct 1996 Last updated: 15-Apr-1997 Last tested: 15-Jan-2009 Last Compiled: 31-Mar-2010
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