Twittering towards the end

I’ve reached the penultimate chapter in my twitterisation of my novel A Gentle Axe.

I don’t seriously think anyone will have followed the twitterisation all the way through. As a communication channel, twitter simply doesn’t suit the transmission of an extended text. Not only is the story broken up, but if you come into it late, you have the problem that everything that’s already been published is in reverse order. Not very satisfying to the reader.

All of which, of course, begs the question, why I bothered publishing my book in this way in the first place, as I promise you I was well aware of these flaws before I began the experiment.

Each tweet would necessarily be seen out of context, which would deny it much of its meaning. Or rather, the context it would be seen in was not that of the story – of all my previous tweets – but of all the random tweets published by everyone else any given ‘follower’ was following at the same time. My tweets about Porfiry’s investigations in 19th century St Petersburg might well be sandwiched between Stephen Fry‘s latest dispatch from Luvviedom or a daily twittascope (horoscope on twitter).

So twitterisation changed the text from a continuous story to a series of isolated fragments. I found that interesting. My hope was that a reader, or follower, would too; that torn from their original context, these fragments would take on a mysterious and intriguing charge. That even if they didn’t contain the full meaning that the sentence would have had in its original context, nevertheless they would hint at some meaning, some other story, that perhaps the reader was compelled to supply themselves.

Take a tweet like:

“‘But I can’t believe it’s him,’ said Porfiry. ‘I’ve looked into his eyes. They were not the eyes of a murderer.’”

Viewed out of context, by a reader coming fresh to the twitterisation for example, it’s impossible to know who the subject of Porfiry’s speech is. Even someone who has been following the tweets on and off (the most I could possibly hope for) would be hard pressed to remember. But if you don’t worry about that, and allow yourself instead to respond to the suggestiveness of the tweet, then I think you begin to enjoy it in the way I intended. The tweet invites you to supply your own him with the eyes of a murderer. To start creating your own story, in other words.

Without doubt, some tweets worked better than others. Personally, I prefer the ones that were most oblique and therefore enigmatic:

They shivered with grim excitement in threadbare coats.


For an instant, he wanted to drag her out of the carriage and manhandle her over to where he knew the dead man lay.

And, of course, I liked the gory ones, all the more disturbing (or so I hoped) because they had no context:

Inevitably, his gaze went first to the head, which had exploded like a trampled fruit.

In the process of twitterising, I have become reacquainted with my own book – the first in my series of Porfiry Petrovich novels – which was useful to me as I wrote the third in the series and began work on the fourth. I think I’ve learnt a lot about writing. I’ve been made to reassess my own prose, which has forced me to think about what works – and what doesn’t – in my writing. I think my writing has changed as a result.

I have now reached the point in the story where the identity of the murderer is about to be revealed. And I am wondering whether this is a good thing to do. I don’t want to cheat people who have been following the tweets, but as I say, I seriously doubt that anyone has faithfully followed the whole story from beginning to near-end, tweet by tweet. But I do have enormous reservations about putting the ending out there. It is after all a spoiler, which means it would spoil the enjoyment for anyone who might want to read the book as a book.

So I don’t know. I’m thinking about it. There will be a temporary break in transmission while I decide what to do. Any views will be gratefully received.

4 thoughts on “Twittering towards the end”

  1. Hello, Roger.

    I think it’s been worth your while, just to have a regular little, ‘Ah yes, must read A Gentle Axe at some point’ reminder. I knew the general premise before I started following, and the tweets have reinforced that this is a historical Russian detective procedural. For what it’s worth, I don’t think you should tweet that final chapter.

  2. Thanks Neil. Glad there’s been someone there paying occasional attention! I think I will not reveal the ending, but I will offer some free hard copies of the book. Just working out the details…

  3. I was wondering how this was going for you – having tweeted some flash fictions as part of a community arts project I worked on some time ago and been disappointed with the response, I did wonder how appropriate micro blogging was for this kind of thing. I’m really glad it’s working for you though. 🙂

  4. Well, I’m not convinced it’s been a total success. But perhaps just sticking with it for so long achieved something! Twitter is a weird phenomenon though. I’m not sure I understand it, or even like it that much. On one level, it’s just another massive distraction from the actual writing!

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