Tony Ballantyne: Midway

by stephenpalmersf

Tony Ballantyne, author of the new collection Midway, asks: does technology shape art?

Of course. The sound of the orchestra evolved as first clarinets and then trombones were added. It changed further as inventors like Boehm improved the design of instruments such as the flute.

Pop music was influenced by the invention of the electric guitar, the keyboard and, more recently, a whole range of music software.

But what about writing?  Has there been the same change as we’ve moved from handwritten manuscript, to typewriter, to word processor to purpose written software such as Scrivener?

Undoubtedly yes. Midway would never have seen the light if it hadn’t been for technology.  I wrote most of the first draft on my phone.

I didn’t intend to write Midway. I had an idea for a novel set in an old cotton mill near where I live. I was working on the preliminary notes when my father took ill. The next six months, the last months of his life, threw everything into turmoil. Most days were spent driving between my home and my parents house. I found myself sitting in waiting rooms and cafes and service stations, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. I began to record my thoughts and experiences on my phone, using Evernote.  The thoughts began to join up, they got caught up with the mill stories.  I began to rearrange my notes, merge them together.  Gradually, the first draft of Midway took shape.

Would the stories have existed if I simply took notes in my trusty notebook? Yes.

Would they have existed in the same form?

I don’t think so.

I believe that notes are best taken “live”. As Sol Stein said, stories are  about communicating emotion. You’re not describing a landscape, for example, you’re describing your reaction to it. I always had my phone with me in that time, I could do just that. I took notes whilst waiting in queues for coffee, I took notes when out for a walk, I took notes whilst waiting for the nurse to fetch my father a drink. Taking notes became  my way of dealing with the situation.

My normal process when writing a book is to sit down at a PC and type everything into Emacs ([[][you can read about that here]]) 

Midway was different. The first draft was as close to a live recording as a book can be. Think Deep Purple ‘Made in Japan’ or, a better example, Thin Lizzy ‘Live and Dangerous.’ I added the polish in the remix.