Jan 28th

Fear And Loathing In South East London

By BrianK
I’ve been writing books for twenty five years and in that time I’ve written sixteen novels as well as a lot of non-fiction, so writing is pretty much a bread and butter activity to me. I don’t often get stuck when writing a first draft. I can get very frustrated trying to think up the story and seriously bogged down knocking the first draft into some shape; but I don’t generally begin the first draft without knowing where I’m going and I usually find that it is the most straightforward part of writing a book. 

During the last fortnight however, I have been getting slower and slower until finally, a few days ago, I came to a complete standstill. There I was, sitting on the floor, surrounded by printed pages, with my head in my hands convinced that I was no good as a writer at all, never had been, never would be.

I was reminded of the time when I was at university and a friend of my flatmate came to stay with us. Let’s call him Malachy. He was an enormously likeable guy with a great sense of humour but he was seriously screwed up. He’d grown up in Northern Ireland and a bomb had gone off very close to him when he was little. Perhaps that had something to do with it, I don’t know, but the fact of the matter was that he was a nervous wreck. He was on anti-depressants from the doctor and he liberally self-medicated with alcohol and recreational drugs.

After he’d been with us a few weeks. it was clear that he was heading for some sort of crisis and right on cue it came. One night we came back to the flat from visiting friends and as soon as we opened the door of the apartment we saw slices of white bread lying in the hall. The further into the flat we went, the more bread we saw. Finally, we entered the living room and there was Malachy sitting on the floor in the middle of the room crying, and he was surrounded by bread. It looked as if there had been an explosion in a bakery.

‘What happened?’ we asked him. He shook his head, barely able to speak. Finally he whispered, ‘The loaf of bread attacked me.’ And that was all we could get out of him. He went away again not long after this. I have no idea what he’s doing now.

Well that was me a few days ago, except that it was my story that had attacked me and I couldn’t seem to fight back, no matter how hard I tried. Fortunately, my wife Rosie,w ho is very experienced in these matters, came back from work and decided to take matters in hand. We went through the story together and she identified two chapters that simply had to go, suggested a couple of incidents that could be developed and pointed out that one of the central characters had no real story of his own. He was, in effect, merely a kind of accessory for the protagonist. Finally, she showed me that I needed to develop the logic of the world I was describing in greater detail. Suddenly I saw how simple it could be. 

So now I’m a recovering narrative-phobic. The first draft is back on track and hopefully there will be no further episodes of despair and self-pity. That’s the thing about writing. It’s a solitary business. Ninety percent of the time you just need to be left alone to get on with it but every now and then, you need someone to point out where your'e going wrong. Otherwise you can’t see the loaf for the bread.

Brian's regular blog can be found at http://www.odyllicforce.blogspot.com/
Jan 27th

Intellectual Property Rights at the Palazzo Ducale

By Cat

Intellectual Property Rights at the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)

(Venice, Italy) Ten years ago, when I first arrived in Venice, I was fortunate enough to score an Access All Areas pass to the Doge's Palace. I had permission to roam unrestricted wherever I wanted for an entire week, so Palazzo Ducale is magical to me. I imagined myself straight back into the past, and wandered with the spirits through the great halls and chambers. I gazed upon Titian's fresco of St. Christopher and Veronese's Victory Against a Sinner, and trembled in front of the Council of Ten. I mounted the Golden Staircase, and danced under Palladio's ceiling in the Anti-Collegio. I stepped into Tiepolo's Neptune Offering Gifts to Venice, her seductive finger holding back the yearning of the Adriatic, and never quite stepped out again.

In addition, the first press conference I ever attended was held in the Sala del Piovego, and I found myself in that very room a few nights ago for the Fifth Annual Venice Award for Intellectual Property Rights ceremony. As a writer, it is a topic close to my heart.

Alison Brimelow, the President of the European Patent Office was there, as was Paolo Baratta, who, among many other things (as you know if you've been reading this blog), is President of La Biennale. Kevin Cullen accepted the award given to the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) for their work in bringing together universities, research institutions, government agencies and innovative enterprises. In other words, they connect research to the market, and spin thought into gold.

Long, long ago in 1474, Venice herself passed the first written law to grant and protect patents. Paolo Baratta said they probably signed the law in the very room where we were seated, the Sala del Piovego. Although most of the Palazzo Ducale is now a museum, there are a few rooms that function in a contemporary way, and that room is one of them. Just think -- 534 years ago Intellectual Property rights were a topic of discussion here in town, and the Venetians were wise enough to understand that ideas and thoughts should be protected.

What is Intellectual Property? This is from Wikipedia:

"Intellectual property (IP) is a legal field that refers to creations of the mind such as musical, literary, and artistic works; inventions; and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce, including copyrights, trademarks, patents, and related rights. Under intellectual property law, the holder of one of these abstract properties has certain exclusive rights to the creative work, commercial symbol, or invention by which it is covered."

It is amazing that this battle has been going for 500 years, probably much longer. I have spent most of my life in a creative environment, so it is difficult for me to understand how others fail to recognize the worth of original thought, and the tremendous time, energy and effort it takes to produce it. It is what I encourage in the books I write, and I have been fortunate enough in the past week or so to be surrounded by like-minded people. These days, Venice is teeming with discussions and conferences about how to be creative and productive, not stagnant and destructive; it is a very exciting time. There is a fascinating dynamic that erupts when you bring contemporary thinkers into ancient venues; you can almost feel the thoughts still floating in the air from centuries ago mingle with present-day brain waves. (That's Canaletto's version of Palazzo Ducale, though he is only about 300 years old:)

Here is the text from the ancient law:

19th March, 1474

There are in this city, and also there come temporarily by reason of its greatness and goodness, men from different places and most clever minds, capable of devising and inventing all manner of ingenious contrivances. And should it be provided, that the works and contrivances invented by them, others having seen them could not make them and take their honour; men of such kind would exert their minds, invent and make things which would be of no small utility and benefit to our State.

Therefore, decision will be passed that, by authority of this Council, each person who will make in this city any new and ingenious contrivance, not made heretofore in our dominion, as soon as it is reduced to perfection, so that it can be used and exercised, shall give notice of the same to the office of our Provisioners of Common. It being forbidden to any other in any territory and place of ours to make any other contrivance in the form and resemblance thereof, without the consent of the author up to ten years.

And, however, should anybody make it, the aforesaid author and inventor will have the liberty to cite him before any office of this city, by which office the aforesaid who shall infringe be forced to pay him the sum of one hundred ducates and the contrivance be immediately destroyed. Being then in liberty of our Government at his will to take and use in his need any of said contrivances and instruments, with this condition, however, that no others than the authors shall exercise them.

After the ceremony, I wandered out onto the Loggia and gazed at the imposing courtyard below... the bronze well-heads, the Giants' Staircase... and I think I glimpsed the Doge!

Ciao from Venice,