Sun, Jul 24, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Internet opens up new opportunities for writers

Despite early fears that the Web would kill the art of reading, it has become another weapon in the writer's arsenal, offering authors a way to communicate directly with their readers

By Bobbie Johnson  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

More people online

The benefits are spreading. Even just a few years ago, the Web was dominated by early adopters and tech-heads, but these days the subject matter and quality of sites are widening, as more people discover their interests can also be pursued online.

This has been helped by the widespread increase in Web access. In the past five years, Internet connections have more than doubled in Britain, and they are getting faster all the time. And despite the closure of chat rooms from high-profile providers such as Yahoo and MSN, social spaces on the Web have continued to evolve and grow. A mixture of bulletin boards, forums, weblogs and social networking sites all help people draw connections with each other. A Stanford University study reveals that about a fifth of Internet users now communicate with people they have never met -- and not just as part of their work.

"People bring to the Internet the activities, interests and behaviors that preoccupied them before the Web existed," wrote researchers Lee Rainie and John Horrigan in a Pew Internet study earlier this year.

"Still, the Internet has also enabled new kinds of activities that no one ever dreamed of doing before -- certainly not in the way people are doing them now," they wrote.

Novelist Jasper Fforde has built up a substantial personal Web site since publishing his first book in 2001, with content dedicated to the alternate-reality Britain that provides the backdrop to his stories. He runs a selection of Web sites with his partner, fleshing out the world of his main character, the time-traveling literary detective Thursday Next.

"I don't remember being particularly Web savvy," he said about the origins of his online endeavors. "When we started jasperfforde.com, it was a curiosity: Web sites weren't a new thing, but they were new enough. I thought about the world I created, and I liked the idea of visualizing it. I thought that would fit in well with the idea of a Web site; help blur the edges between what's real and what's not."

New communities

Fforde sees the site as a kind of "after sales service." With fans all over the world entranced by his storytelling -- which was described by the Guardian as "the morning after a particularly delirious dream" -- the Web allows them to congregate, mingle and speak with the author.

His Web site's discussion boards (and the aptly named independent "ffan club") have proved fertile ground for those wanting to continue their delirium. This September sees the first community-organized convention dedicated to his fiction -- the "Fforde Ffestival" in Swindon, England, (an important location in his novels) -- with fans from around the globe. And all of it was conceived, created and organized over the Web.

"We have a thriving community of people who talk, organize outings and even fall in love," Fforde says. "We now have three couples who met on the forums, I think, and a baby named Thursday. It's a strange feeling."

But he is modest about his role as the Cilla Black of fiction.

"All I'm doing is creating little beacons for people with a similar interest. If they didn't meet on the Web site, they might meet somewhere else," he said.

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