Sylvie Nickels, writer
Brave new world ..... ?
Finland has always been a special part of my life, not least being responsible for my marriage to George. Its complex history has given it a rough time: many centuries under Swedish domination, and then about a century under Russia. It was under Russia at the outbreak of World War One, and took advantage of the overthrow of the Tsar to declare its own independence in 1917. Still independent at the outbreak of World War Two, it became our 'enemy' when Soviet Russia (our ally) invaded Finland.
It was this fact that triggered the idea for my novel The Other Side of Silence, which incorporated many of my own experiences of spending a winter north of the Arctic Circle and some of George's war time experiences as a Bomber Command pilot and prisoner of war. During our years together, we retraced some of the events of World War Two, visiting a couple of the remains of p.o.w. camps where George had stayed and, not least, the horrors of one or two concentration camps. In fact the book, which began as a mystery, also evolved into a retrospective view of 20th century history.
But before this expansion into the self publishing world, there were other even more major happenings: the barriers created by the cold war began to tumble. Europe was no longer divided between East and West, and the three Baltic States bravely - and bloodlessly - announced their independence. Clearly they, too, needed exploration and we set off on a major tour with our camper van. It turned out to be quite an adventure as much of the rest of the European world seemed to have the same idea and the wait at the border from Poland into Lithuania was prodigious. From the Baltic States we crossed into Russia for a visit to St Petersburg before turning back west for Finland. There were a lot of formalities as we left Russia to cross the no man's frontierland into Finland. The Finnish immigration officer took our passports then looked at us and smiled a slow smile. "Did you have a nice time?" he asked.
Over around the same period, telephones became part of digital technology, in the form of mobile or cell phones developing into smart phones on which you could do almost as much as on a computer. And then, of course, there was the computer itself which has gradually and alarmingly entered the realm of artificial intelligence.
So, as we approached the end of the 20th century amazing things were happening in the world, not all of them welcome. On the technological front, you could be in touch with anyone on earth - or even in outer space - by means of some gadget. This meant great advances in the speed and potential for disseminating knowledge, though developments were at such a speed they rather often outstripped the skills of those using the technology. Initially these were very large gadgets, but gradually they become smaller until you could fit one in your pocket. In the process of these developments, something called Print on Demand came into being. By means of one of the gadgets, variously called personal computers. laptops, tablets, smart phones, you could create a book as a long word document, send this to a website which would return it to you for checking as a pdf, and finally turn it into an eBook, a paperback or hardback. Wherever you looked people of most ages were glued to a screen and modern communications were reduced to pressing buttons. Perhaps one of the more regrettable sights was mothers so mesmerised by their smartphone screens that they could not tear their attention away in order to greet their children when collecting them from school.
Sometimes self-publishing was referred to less flatteringly as Vanity Publishing, but in the former case you did everything yourself, from writing the book and editing and proof reading it to often providing the cover and promotion. George had a very successful talk on our canoe journey down the Mississippi, and it had been my intention to publish a book, but traditional publishers - despite encouraging remarks about the story and the writing - did not make an offer. I began to wonder about self-publishing? Research eventually led me to a small publishing firm in Wiltshire who offered print-on-demand, meaning that you did not need to order many thousands in advance. I settled for 1500 copies, which proved quite enough as we were moving at that time
So, we were approaching the end of the 20th century and amazing things were happening in the world. Suddenly you could be in touch with anyone on earth - or even in outer space - by means of some gadget. Initially these were very large gadgets, but gradually they become smaller until you could fit one in your pocket. In the process of these developments, something called Print on Demand came into being. By means of one of the gadgets, variously called personal computers. laptops, tablets, smart phones, you could create a book as a long word document, send this to a website which would return it to you for checking as a pdf, and finally turn it into an eBook, a paperback or hardback. Thus was born self publishing.
And then there was the approach of the 21st century and, far more more world-changing, the events of 9/11 and their aftermath. George and I celebrated the Millennium with a world tour: Christmas in Nepal, a Himalaya trek for George while I travelled to my sister's family in Australia, where I was joined by George, a month exploring New Zealand by camper van, and a brief visit to Canada and New York on the way home.
We had chosen an inexpensive b&b off the Internet and the cab driver did look a bit doubtful when he pulled up at the door, but we were assured it was the right place - and it has to be said that the interior was rather more prepossessing than the exterior. One of our more memorable excursions was a harbour trip looking out to the city's iconic skyline, at that time including the Twin Towers.