Monday, 31 October 2011

A Story that Never Ends: How it Happened that I Joined The Piracy Project

I am going to tell you a secret.
Come closer, for I will say it softly and never repeat what I said again. My words might melt like fresh snow in the sun; they will be as fragile as isinglass, as slippery as images forming into water ripples. One moment they are there, and suddenly they are gone. You will never remember what you saw.
So, listen carefully, for I am about to tell you of a story that was forgotten, that got lost between the lines. The lines of another story. One, I am sure, you already know.

These are a character's words.
Perhaps one, or two, or none of you might remember this post and my confuse babbling about "characters kidnapping" or "destroying" me. Well, at least now you will have an explanation - and a reassurance that my mind is still here and I need no rehab. Possibly.

Everything started in February this year when I had a chat with artist Eva Weinmayr, whose studio I was visiting with one of the MA course mate. She told me about AND Publishing and The Piracy Project, something she was working on with other people in order to save a library from being shut down because of politics' recent measures of austerity. And here I can't help but wonder why it always has to be creativity and entertainment that are deemed useless in a time of crisis? What a question.
Anyway, Eva illustrated to me the joys of being a Pirate.
The Library she and her crew put together is a very peculiar one, as it is made of books that deliberately infringe copyright laws. Not just illegal reproduction of books, which is an already developed phenomenon in emerging countries where books aren't always available. We're talking about emerging authors beginning to interfere with the content of "closed" - or rather, "complete" - literary works. Borrowing here or there. Improving. Changing. Erasing.
Suggesting a different interpretation.
Using literary material, or the object-book itself, as a ready-made. Period.

"Have you ever read a book twice? Books change, every time you read them." 

And so it happened that I confessed.
I told Eva that, when I was about twelve, I took my favourite book of all times and re-wrote part of the story, inserting a new character in it. This meant copying entire paragraphs from the original book and just slid additional ones in, without changing anything too much. Like an improved clockwork or the falling bricks in Tetris, the two parts ended up matching. However, nobody ever read that because I thought it was a subtle form of stealing. You know, using someone else's characters to make up a story within a story...
'Sounds great!' Said Eva. 'We are calling for contributions.'
'Splendid!' I replied, in my boring academic English. 'There's just a tiny little hitch.'
'What is it?'
'The story is written in Italian.' I explained.
'Oh. That's fine, we're also interested in the issues of language...'
'But I can translate it.' I said, not knowing what I was getting myself into.

Back home in Rome, I dug into my personal belongings until I found the manuscript, buried under a pile of photocopied books from college's times. The plastic spiral binding holding it together showed its age signs by falling off bit by bit whenever I tried to turn a page. I recalled writing it using one of the first Macintosh computers, one as huge and square as an old telly and with the coloured apple emblazoned on it. That meant that the original file surely is lost forever, or perhaps saved on a God-knows-its-current-whereabouts floppy disk.
The story is written in two colours; green for the parts taken from the original book, red for those that I added. On the cover, printed in a curvy font that is no longer listed in Word, the title sits floating on white background in the middle of a frame-like square: A Story in The Neverending Story.

Now, there are lots of people out there who unconditionally love that book, The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende. Me being one of them.
I am sure you know the story or have at least seen the movie(s). Ende managed to write one of those evergreen masterpieces that stay with you even long after you have turned the last page. Not to mention the unforgettable characters in it. Heroes and villains so poignant you almost believe they are real.
But another reason for the book's popularity is that many stories in it are left unfinished, with the author unofficially inviting you to take over and continue - not finish, them. So I hope you will forgive me, Mister Ende, for starting a new story within your book.
It's just that there is a hidden character there, just under the reader's nose. She is like a silver shadow, a whisper between the pages, the secreted song at the very end of a CD.
All I did was just helping her come to life.
However, all a character is made of is just ink on paper, therefore her existence begins, and ends, in the space of a eighty-something pages. She is part of the story, yet she isn't. But if her story will ever be read, you will understand why it was worth writing it.

You are now looking at the final result, once the - not easy - task of translating was done. I have even involved an artist friend who, after having read the story, kindly agreed to illustrate it.
The result is so amazing that I have to show you some more:

Who doesn't want to ride a Luckdragon? 

The Ivory Tower. As you have never seen it.

All watercolours are by lovely Marianeve Leveque.
Also, I pleaded in two languages to other people to have a look at the unmistakable mistakes, and help me correct them. Well then, if I have managed to spark a little of your curiosity and you want to know what this story is all about, or want to learn what other Pirates created, you will have to chase up The Piracy Project Library, currently touring around the world.

I look at the picture of my little manuscript, figuring among more illustrious entries on the Piracy Project on-line catalogue, and smile. It is a great satisfaction indeed to finally seeing it making sense in this new dimension.

Tell me now, my friends: what is your favourite story of all times? 

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