How to be an unknown literary author (part II)

In Which An Unknown Literary Author Googles Herself

Google ‘Kate Armstrong’ and you will find a multi-millionaire insurance magnate who restored a medieval Scottish castle and is currently reenacting the Highland Clearances on its estate. She hails from Sydney and is an internet tycoon. She and I are not one.

Delve with more specificity into the networked world, and ‘Kate Armstrong Writer’ exposes artists, curators, travel writers, editors. They have engaged in projects ‘focusing on experimental literary practices’. They slaked a childhood thirst for adventure by running away from home, and now inhabit The Lonely Planet. They ‘love the way haikus teach the writer to focus on the briefest, most microcosmic fraction of a moment.’ On this first page of Google results they are, I think, despite their multiple entries, three – like the witches of Macbeth. They are in Vancouver, travelling, and offering global editorial services from no stated location. Google assigns their works to them collectively: one to all and all to one. These are the perils of a common name.

There are pictures of these women, all in a row, unattached to but adjacent to these profiles, as though forming part of a gigantic game of ‘snap’. Some of those pictured have ostentatiously clean, open and normal faces. Others are arty, seated in cluttered rooms. I automatically match the clean and open to travel and insurance advice and the arty to experimental literary practices. I may be wrong but have no way of knowing that. They are universally a brown-haired bunch. I shake my pre-Raphaelite tresses in their various directions, but with little effect: to you and to them I am invisible.

To guarantee me you need ‘Kate Armstrong The Storyteller’ and Google will reward you with sightings in slots one to four. But then some other Kate Armstrong (the Vancouver one, I think) has ‘a panache for new media powered permutational storytelling’ (all sic.) and follows hard upon my heels. There’s nothing except this blog to tell you that she is not the same person as me. And follow the Swedish links to my book and you’ll find attributed to me the Lonely Planet guides to South Africa, Southern Africa, West Coast Australia and Greece.

We internet Kate Armstrongs sidle around each other, blurring our boundaries, making leaps into each others’ lives to steal each other’s achievements. To the outsider we have a composite reality, formed of the assumptions of algorithms.

I have no desire to find these women or to replace them in their hard-earned first page spots. I do not even resent them for buying up domains which are mine in name. I see them as the Unknown Literary Author’s shield. In a world in which privacy is feared to be gone I am sheltered by their presence.

They are a sign of the times that we are known and unknown, that our public face is and is not our own; that the internet deals only in a type of complexity; that it seeks constantly to simplify and straighten out the world.

And such is the nature of inspiration that I may in the future write the permutations of a three-headed storytelling witch cleared from her castle during the eighteenth century for nefarious and illegal literary practices. She will thereafter haunt the internet reciting haiku:

I dream of a land
Solid not ethereal
In which I am Kate.