Ever since the first men sat around their camp fire, people have wondered about the meaning of life. Who am I? Why am I here? One of the ways we answer these questions is to tell stories… ‘LifeWorks’
In the beginning was the Word… and it was Good. Mmm. Nice. Followed soon afterwards by Ugh! That’s yuk! At first, these were the only words that people had. Then someone combined them to make a suggestion. Umm? How about it? You and me, babe…?? And that was when things began to happen.
For a long time, no-one bothered to write words down. Eventually the Ancient Sumerians started to scratch marks on clay tablets. This was just to keep track of their trade transactions: how many sacks of grain for how many camels? Then some bright spark thought of putting pictures on the tablets too: it was worth getting your sacks and camels the right way round. They were pretty basic markings, made with a reed stick. If you look at a Sumerian tablet, it looks as though a bird had walked over the wet clay. But this was the first time that words had been written down.
So, strictly speaking, accountancy is the father of literature.
The earliest cuneiform (‘wedge-writing’) tablets date from around 5,500 years ago. Early scribes had to memorize hundreds of signs used to represent common words. At last someone had another good idea, and developed a system of phonograms. This meant you could spell out strange words, like foreign names, from their sounds. Our modern alphabet is based on a system of twenty-two letters used around 1200BC in the Phoenician city of Gebal. It became known to the Greeks as Byblos, the Place of the Book.
Early books were written on papyrus or vellum. The invention of paper came much later, and even then, books had to be laboriously copied out by hand. This was thought to safeguard the transmission of knowledge. When William Caxton set up his printing press in 1472, he was accused of corrupting the public by distributing bawdy ballads.
After this protracted start, the printing trade began to speed up. In 1525, William Tyndale published his English translation of the New Testament. The Church tried to suppress it, but to no avail. Across Europe, knowledge was no longer the preserve of the educated few. Classical works in Latin were replaced by writing in local languages. By the nineteenth century, steam-powered rotary presses made production possible on an industrial scale. Scientists could share their discoveries through academic journals. Reading became a popular pastime for the emerging middle classes. In 1935, Allen Lane was stranded without a good book in his pocket, and Penguin paperbacks were born. By the late twentieth century, personal computers provided printing technology in private homes.
Nowadays, if you are a writer, you have a huge range of options to get your work into print. From the gilded behemoths like Oxford University Press to innovative independent publishers like John Hunt; from ponderous leather-bound tomes to Kindle and e-books. The publishing world is changing at lightning speed: the internet means that the smallest minority interests can find their target audience.
But there is no substitute for a real book: slightly dog-eared, the pages turned down at the corners, scribbled comments in the margins. A date and place on the fly-leaf, to remind you where you were. The dry weight of paper, balanced in your hands.
And that’s the story of writing. My book ‘LifeWorks’ was launched on 12th January 2012. Celebrations!!!