Peer in the door of many publishing houses at the moment and you’ll notice that the onward march of eBooks is shaking up and dusting down what can be a pretty foot-draggy industry. It means that anyone can publish a book and sell it through Amazon, without having to jump through the hoops of finding an agent and getting a book deal. Pale and shaken publishers claim that without their quality control and marketing budgets the internet will become a hideously democratic cacophony of pseudo-literary ramblings, causing everyone to throw up their hands and stop reading books altogether. Of course this assumes that, with the kind of innovative Darwinian solution for which it is known, the interwebz does not come up with some way to sort the wheat from the paff and we all adapt and survive. If you could see my slush pile at work you’d certainly hope so. (Although this will be academic when Amazon eventually takes over the world and all thinking.)
The greater, and often fatuous, debate aside, what eBooks are undisputedly great for is giving talented writers a platform to try out their material and connect more directly with an audience. And what live book events are great for is getting those writers out from behind their laptops and face to face with their readers; preferably in a noisy pub, stuck three intimidating feet high on a stage. And so it was at Brixton Book Jam last night.
Many of the writers at the first Brixton Book Jam did have physical books to promote, but a noticeable number were download-only. The intention of the night, organiser James Wallis announced ambitiously in his opening gambit, is to create ‘a belle époque, a fin de siècle salon in the Hootananny’. ‘Yeah, bon chance on a dark and soggy Monday evening mate,’ you might think. But in piled the audience to drink beer, eat tacos from El Panzon, and hover pleasingly between ‘attentive’ and ‘rowdy’. When asked to ‘stick up a hand if you’ve written a book’ (published or unpublished) about a fifth of the room did.
Perhaps not surprisingly, as all the authors were fairly local, many of the books were set around London. Chris Chalmers opened with a reading from his eBook Five to One, the story of a helicopter crash on Clapham Common. Glen Mehn’s ‘The Unkindness of Ravens’ and Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son both featured a darker, more fantastical London. Zelda Rhiando – co-organiser of Book Jam – read from her novel Caposcripti which is about photography, London, and shrunken heads. Independent columnist Rhodri Marsden spoke about Crap Dates; many of which will have inevitably taken place in London. And the ‘Bard of Brixton’ Alex Wheatle brought the house down performing his poem ‘Uprising’ about the 1981 Brixton riots.
It apparently took just four weeks (although slightly frenzied ones I imagine) to set up this month’s event. The team are hoping make it a quarterly occurence, which, once word gets around, I’m sure will be in great demand from both writers and readers. If this is the future for books then I for one am ready to embrace it. I just need to, er, buy a Kindle.