Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Advancing with technology: Author profile of Ian Stewart

As part of our Author Profile series, today we meet author Ian Stewart, who writes about Advancing with Technology as an author.

As a foreign correspondent in Asia for three decades - which included fifteen years working for The New York Times - I progressed from writing my reports on a portable typewriter to tapping them into a lap-top computer.

In my early years as a Reuters correspondent in Indonesia, my copy was transmitted by Morse key from Jakarta to Singapore, from where it was relayed to London by Teletype. In 1991, when I returned to Asia after a spell in Australia, I transmitted stories from Singapore to The Daily Telegraph in London direct from my laptop computer via a modem and telephone plug. Now, with satellite links, foreign correspondents can file from anywhere.

I have made a similar technological leap as an author. As a young fan of Ernest Hemingway, I decided at an early age that I wanted to become both a foreign correspondent and an author. It took a little longer to become a published writer than an active foreign correspondent - but finally the day arrived when I was delighted to find in my letter-box a package from Macmillan Inc in New York containing a copy of my newly-published book, The Peking Payoff.

The Peking Payoff, published in 1975, was produced on my portable typewriter. Having to insert three sheets of typing paper, separated by two sheets of carbon paper (in order to have an original and two copies) gave one a sense of being engaged in physical as well as mental labor - especially when you made a mistake or were dissatisfied with a paragraph and had to start all over again. With the arrival of the computer came the marvels (to those who began writing with typewriters) of cut-and-paste and spell checkers.

But even more exciting have been the developments in publishing. For some time I had been planning to write a book which, against a backdrop of historical events in East and South-East Asia at a time when European powers were competing aggressively for trade and territory, would unfold human stories reflecting the tumult of the period. After ten years of research, including gathering information in England and Holland - the leading European powers with colonial aspirations in Asia from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries - and writing, I sounded out agents and publishers about the prospects of having my new work published. But their responses were lukewarm, to say the least.

Accordingly, I decided to take up the opportunity provided by Amazon to self-publish it.

So, six books and 37 years on from the Peking Payoff, I published my epic historical novel, Nanyang - a 200-year saga set in East and South-East Asia with excursions to Europe and North America - as a Kindle ebook. (It is also a 700-page CreateSpace paperback.) Nanyang - Southern Ocean, the Chinese name for South-East Asia - reflects both my interest in the history of the region where I have spent so much of my adult life and my fascination with the emigration of Chinese to South-East Asia, among whom were ancestors of my Indonesian-born wife.

Publishing an e-book was a new learning experience, an interesting exercise, and a technological challenge. But Kindle supplies the tools and lays out the steps precisely. We've come a long way since Johannes Gutenberg and his wooden printing press.

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