As part of research for a recent essay I wrote exploring the author’s role on digital, I interviewed a group of writers and publishers. Among my questions, I asked, ‘Which author, who did not live to see the internet, do you think would have had a Twitter profile, or a blog, and how do you think they would have used it?’
I had fun reading the answers. Self promoters are there, but also polemicists, poets, prolific writers with strong political views. Their answers conjured images of an online space where creativity flowed freely with poems, parables and spawning opinions. It all sounded positively romantic. It made me think, perhaps publishing needs a different lens on digital. If the medium was used more widely creatively, rather than as a marketing tool, everyone might feel a bit more like they're winning?
Here are the responses...
Alex von Tunzelmann, Author
M K Gandhi. There are over one hundred volumes of his collected works, and he only had pen and paper.
Naomi Alderman, Author
I'm sure Ovid would have loved Twitter. His beautifully-crafted single-sentence quips would have been perfect for it.
Dan Franklin, Digital Publisher, Penguin Random House UK:
That’s a good question. Imagine John Milton or William Blake online, that insurrectionist vein, their ability to tap into a feeling for social revolution. They’d thrive now, doing what they did with pamphlets and public meetings in the seventeenth century, but the way that the New Left does now. Think Laurie Penny and Owen Jones.
Chris Hamilton Emery, Director, Salt Publishing:
Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope would never have been off it.
Rex Pickett, Writer best known for Sideways
Probably some crypto-fascist, classist, racist, determinist like Ayn Rand. Someone who would have loved to have spouted off with their polarising and idiotic opinions.
Philip Gwyn Jones, Editor-at-large, Scribe UK
Oscar Wilde would obviously have been Stephen Fry and Russell Brand rolled into one mega-trending package on Twitter. And I think Franz Kafka would have done well with his gnomic parable interventions; something like the Betfair Poker tweeting team but with added metaphysical purpose.
James Miller, Novelist and Senior Lecturer at Kingston University
I imagine someone like Oscar Wilde could have been very successful and who knows, perhaps Nietzsche and his aphorisms would have also suited the medium? Of course, most of the great authors would have never gone near such a thing but our civilisation is now dominated by images, not words – the great authors of the past simply couldn’t exist today.