Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In a hole in the ground

They say that for years before he started work on LOTR Tolkein carried around the image, or maybe the sentence: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. In the same vein, I walked about with the first few paragraphs of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe in my head. And most uncomfortable it was too! Why was it there? What was I going to do with it?

But when I settled down to produce my magnum opus, it slotted right into place and I’ve never looked back. The only thing I’ve since done is to preface it with a few sentences of explanation that would help random readers work out where they’d arrived. I had Internet surfers in mind, you see. It was always my plan to make the thing available online, never dreaming that it would become such a roaring success in the real world of publishing—ha ha!

(I’ve always struggled with the issue of commercialism. In the sentence ‘I promise to make it readily available’ I had originally included the phrase ‘and freely’—and may do so again. I’d love to opt out of the capitalist world, but there aren’t many other options.)

And so, yes, I put it out as a blog. And I had a lot of fun finding suitable illustrations. The chapters are very short—as befits the medium. They also made (make) it easier for me to find my way around the body of my work. There was such an awful amount of repetition, detouring, numerous false starts and so forth. It was as if I was stacking a deck of cards.

With the subject matter that I intended to cover, I knew that I risked sounding presumptuous—something to be avoided if I could. I wasn’t at all interested in presenting facts, laying out logic, or substantiating claims with quotes and references. I would not plod an academic route.

I felt that the best approach was to leaven my output with a bit of tongue and cheek. No brow-beating. No insidiousness. No arguments. You just put people on the defensive (I’ve been on the receiving end of such treatment more than once). I meant to be up front and on the level. So that bring us up to Adams’s extract, which, all in all, I felt was the right way to go.

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