Saturday, September 2, 2006

Hear’s a new novel
Arifa Akbar

The modern novel has often clashed with literary tradition but never before has it eschewed the written word altogether. Audible., an Internet supplier, has launched the world’s first audio-only novel, Sex on Legs, by Brian Luff, in the hope that it could herald a new path for fiction and the publishing industry.

The 75,000-word novel, which has been described as a ‘comedy sci-fi thriller’ by Luff, takes minutes to download and just under six hours to complete.

While an audio-only book can reach a far bigger audience on the Internet, some in the industry question where this leaves the written word and if it might discourage younger generations from reading.

Others fear the written novel could be supplanted by its digital rival, which can be downloaded on to an Ipod, an MP3 player or mobile phone, and savoured on the way to work or even in the gym.

But Luff, a former journalist and broadcaster, said he hoped it would encourage people to consume literature in any form.

“There has been the rise of the Ipod as a way of entertaining yourself on the way to work instead of reading a book. There is an advantage with this kind of book in that some people will listen to a book when they would not have read one before. If this means that people ‘read’ books on an Ipod, surely it has to be a good thing?” he said.

His novel’s lead character is a black athlete nicknamed ‘Sex on Legs’ for his speed, who is taking part in the London 2012 Olympics.

Luff, who originally worked as a sports reporter during the 1980 Olympics and set up the popular podcast, Comedy 365, said Cruise was inspired by the Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson, who was stripped of a gold medal after drug allegations, and the plot involves a challenge to run the 100 metres in zero seconds.

“When Ben Johnson was stripped of his medal, I began to think ‘how fast can sprinters go’? In the novel, athletics overlaps theories that Stephen Hawking has come up with about the possibility of appearing and disappearing, although it is all entirely fictional,” he said.

Chris McKee, managing director of, said the concept of the audio novel as an impostor in the world of literature was an inaccurate one.

“The spoken word predates the written word. The written word is just a means of recording these things. So the oldest form of entertainment is now the newest,” he said.

He added that customers who downloaded digital books tended to be reading enthusiasts, and that they liked the written book as well as the audio version.

— By arrangement with The Independent