Sunday 4 December 2011

Musing and Ranting: The Bright Light of Technology?

“Use Powerpoint!” That was what I’d heard from so many people: writers, teachers, artists and various publicity people.

So I set to work. I collected an interesting set of images to act as background to some of the moments in my book, A BOY CALLED M.O.U.S.E.

The set included photographs old and new, landscapes and people, coloured pictures and black & white drawings. A whole variety of visual images, in fact. I wanted to illustrate, through the range of source material, how many different moments can be gathered together to inspire a book and to show that these were mine.

When I talk about my book, I don’t – honestly! - just show the slides and drone on. And on. I stop to ask questions and involve the children. I narrate some parts of the novel and read short extracts most dramatically. If there’s time, I play a game or two. When the whole thing works clearly - and it has, it has - the sessions are very good.

However, when - once or twice - this hasn’t worked, the feeling of disappointment is for more than myself. I get cross too, especially as the “not-working” has never been because of a faulty memory stick or problems with the computer itself. It’s been a problem that I hadn’t expected, not in schools now, and it has inspired this rant: the quality of the available light

Travelling around, even with advance notice to the organisers, I have at times ended up with projector lamps and lenses so grimy with age that any subtle or complex images seem faint. How do the schools and the pupils manage, now that so much is done via the interactive white-board? Is this wealth creation for the opticians?

I an sure this is definitely not the bright white light of technology. It is the ageing, uncared-for end when the projector beam seems to be drenched with nicotine.

Not only but also there is the matter of the screens. How they vary! I have met vast wonderful double-screen systems as well as some opposites: a narrow section of grubby off-pink wall or a screen made up of paper taped together. And this is without any conflict caused by daylight streaming directly in to the space.

Get a mix of these factors – say, a dim light plus a tiny blemished screen and a large dining hall and the Powerpoint just doesn’t work. It is not wonderful. My carefully illustrative images end up too faded for the audience to see. This is not quite the cutting edge of modern technological provision I’d expected.

Add in another few crinkles in the circumstances. Now I once believed that the organisers know and understand the space they have given me, as the venue may not be free for me to enter until the last moment. This can be when the technology person rushes in to set things up and I glimpse something of what my audience will be facing on the “big” - not the laptop - screen. It can also be the moment when the eager audience is arriving and the point when the Show Must Go On.

When there’s clear, bright light projected and a good wide screen ahead, my collection of images works very well. When there isn’t, both heart and eyes fail.

I have had the wit, at such times, to revert to Plan B and step out of the Powerpoint. Yet it’s not always easy to slip in a flash of light from a talk with a fixed running order into the freer form of author talk.

But, unless those bright lights start shining, it’s back to my old, bold style of session I’m heading.