Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A Field Guide To Getting Lost

This blogpost originally appeared on the Club Inegales website here: Academy Inégales: “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” by Chris Meade

Writer Chris Meade recalls the Academy Inégales showcase which he helped curate through a programme consisting of quotations from Rebecca Solnit’s book, A Field Guide To Getting Lost. Read his afterthoughts below.
A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit is one of those books which for me works a bit like the I Ching; wherever and whenever I open it, there’s an extract that speaks to me. I’m a writer not a musician and when trying to think of a text that could work as the equivalent of my instrument for improvisation with the other members of Academy Inegales, Solnit’s book seemed a perfect choice. I opened it at random and soon found a line to chant: “Nor can I recall what the wine opened up for me.” Singer Nouria Bah echoed the words while I found other passages which felt right to speak with the sounds I was hearing. Until that point I’d known I wanted to be part of Academy Inegales but hadn’t known how I might participate with this talented and diverse group of musicians. Suddenly it was happening.
Afterwards I was asked by Peter and Martin to find a short quote from the book that might inspire each of the members of the Academy to compose three minute pieces working in pairs for our first performance together at the Club. Extracts sprang out from the pages which seemed right for each player. When I emailed quotes to fellow member, violinist Layale Chaker emailed straight back to say: “This is the story of my life in one phrase!”
Her quote was: “The mystic Simone Weil wrote to a friend on another continent, “Let us love this distance, which is thoroughly woven with friendship, since those who do not love each other are not separated.” This is the same section of the book that leapt out at me when I came back feeling sad from seeing my son and his family living happily but far away in Stockholm. It inspired a beautiful, plaintiff duet with George Sleightholme on clarinet.
Other pairings included Martin Humphrey’s tuba and Andy Leung’s electronics recreating lost games of childhood, violinist Joanna Lawrence and tabla player Rishiraj Kulkarni making the sounds of our fear of accident or desertion when visitors don’t turn up on time; George Sleightholme dismantling his clarinet and playing on each section of it. His quote from the book was: “Now it is as decayed as a real book might be after being buried or abandoned, and when I think of the scraps that remain, I wonder what weather in the mind so erodes such things.” The whole evening was a rich mix of sounds and ideas.
I applied to be part of the Academy because I’m always interested in collaboration and this seemed an amazing opportunity to work with some fantastic musicians. I’m a transmedia writer, have recently taken to writing songs but have no musical training, am fascinated by the potential for collaborative writing in the digital age and how writers and translators could improvise live in the way that (some) musicians do, making work for specific times and places. Club Inegales in Euston is an atmospheric basement venue, and to be performing a piece of my novel in progress, creating a soundscape of looped words amidst such pleasurable music was a thrill.
Transmedia fiction involves thinking of a book not as text locked up between covers, but as story orbiting its reader, a landscape that we’re led through by the author who takes us along its sentences and paragraphs, points out good views, sings to us as we walk, hands us keepsakes and clues along the way, leads us to clearings where we can sit and converse about what we’ve experienced and what it’s meant for us. A real life venue like Club Inegales is a perfect laboratory for experiments in ways to make and share poetry and stories. We can put words on the tables, project them onto the screens, whisper them to new arrivals, write on the spot in response to the music, email them later to each ticket holder…
What I like about what (seems to me to be) the Inegales approach is that it uses experimental means to make captivating music. As a writer I’m bored of digital trickery that might look cool but fails to draw readers in. I’ve very much enjoyed the music at Club Inegales as well as been challenged by it.
Words are, quite literally, literal, which means they tend to define what’s going on around them. I slipped in one line from the Field Guide to an improvisation by 12 people and that line soon became the title of the piece. My next challenge is to find ways to include words as a more equal part of our unequal ensemble, so that the spoken word is no more or less important than the piano or the percussion, and for writers to jam together to make something of quality that works in the setting for which it’s made.
I’m looking forward to finding out more about my fellow academicians and the ways they compose and play their music – I know I have so much to learn from them.
Solnit writes: “It is in the nature of things to be lost and not otherwise. Think of how little has been salvaged from the compost of time of the hundreds of billions of dreams dreamt since the language to describe them emerged.”
Since joining the Academy Inegales I notice my dreams often involve a sense of being part of a large group capable of helping to make whatever it is I’m trying to do seem nearly possible.
Chris Meade is a writer of digital fiction, comedy and songs. He’s currently doing a PhD in Digital Writing at Bath Spa University and writing a transmedia novel about how we live with who we nearly are. The novel, to be published as an app, includes music, puppetry and animation. Chris is the Director of if:book UK, a charitable company exploring the future of the book and he gives talks, runs workshops and collaborative writing projects. He was previously CEO of Book Trust, Britain’s biggest literature organisation, and the Poetry Society where he created the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. His digital novella In Search of Lost Tim (2009) was described by the Independent on Sunday as ‘a jeu d’esprit and just possibly the future of fiction’. He’s been published by Penguin, performed on the Edinburgh Fringe and nearly had a sitcom commissioned by BBC 1. In 2012 Chris was a participant inTino Sehgal’s These Assocations installation at the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern. He performs his Nearly Songs with the Ifso Band.
Find out more about Academy Inégales here.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

J R Carpenter on A Picture of Wind

In my submission for the Dot Award I proposed to create a new web-based (tablet compatible) piece called This is A Picture of Wind. This work will expand upon a short text written in response to the storms which battered South West England in early 2014, resulting in catastrophic flooding in Somerset and the destruction of the seawall and rail line at Dawlish. Following the news in the months after these storms, I was struck by the paradox presented by attempts to evoke through the materiality of language a force such as wind which we can only see indirectly through its effect. I began to explore weather, and wind in particular, in all its written forms. I have been collecting language pertaining to wind from current news items as well from as older almanacs, private weather diaries, and past forecasts held at the Met Office Library and Archive in Exeter. I am also studying classical ideas of weather. For example, Lucretius writes: “The wind burst open the cloud, and out falls that fiery whirlwind which is what we in our traditional language term a thunderbolt.” This award would help me develop a simple yet stable web interface to combine these diverse archival and classical materials with my own quotidian narrative of the storm events of early 2014, live weather data and maps, and text scraped from Twitter. I do not know yet exactly what form the final work will take, only that it will attempt to address climate change by picturing through language and data the absences left by wind.  

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


I'm just back from Athens where I was a speaker at the Hack the Book weekend at the Onassis Institute, part of this:

The Europeana Space project is exploring different ways of reusing digital cultural heritage by running pilots in six thematic areas (TV, Photography, Dance, Games, Open and Hybrid Publishing and Museums).  From 22-24 January 2016, the Open and Hybrid Publishing Pilot is organising the Hack the Book Festival in Athens, Greece, inviting designers, artists, publishers, programmers, authors, poets, hackers and entrepreneurs to redefine the book as an evolving, visual and open medium. - See more at: http://openglam.org/2015/11/10/hack-the-book-festival/#sthash.lYcqtUWK.dpuf

Thanks to Theodoris, Theodora and the team for inviting me to speak at such an inspiring and positive weekend. Three of the teams get to come to London to develop their ideas further. I'm not sure if I'm at liberty to disclose more about the winning ideas, but watch this space. 


The New Media Writing Prize has been running for five years now, and if:book has been involved since the start - when the prize was an iPad, a magical new invention then.
This year the award event, held at Bournemouth University and hosted by James Pope who set up the prize, was a special treat with a panel of Kate Pullinger and her two collaborators on the amazing Animated Alice, Chris Joseph and Andy Campbell. Chris is a big remixer and music maker, Andy runs Dreaming Methods and The One to One Development Trust, makers of stunning 3-D story worlds.

The winner of the New Media Writing Prize 2015 is High Muck A Muck, a Canadian site, and a visual and aural delight, an interactive poem documenting the lives of the Chinese community members.

The High Muck A Muck Collective are: Nicola Harwood, Fred Wah, Jin Zhang, Bessie Wapp and Thomas Loh  The People’s Prize was won by two.5 for Recollections: 12 Vignettes of Lashihai two.5 are Viccy Adams and Samantha Silver The Student Prize went to Shaun Hickman for Kindred - See more at: http://newmediawritingprize.co.uk/?p=1190#sthash.8xoLiZOL.dpuf

This year we launched the DOT AWARD FOR DIGITAL LITERATURE, in memory of my mum, writer, designer and struggler with new technology Dorothy Meade. A prize of £500 plus any advice and support we can offer goes to the writer of a proposal for work to be completed within the year and showcased at the next award ceremony.  
And the winner is.. J.R. Carpenter 

J.R makes stunning digital literature. City Fish is a favourite of mine, and all can be seen on her site www.luckysoap.com. The proposal was for a new piece about the wind and the weather.. I don't want to say too much about what is work in progress, but we're confident it will be brilliant.  For more information go to the New Media Writing Prize site. 

Chris, Andy, Chris and Kate talk about Inanimate Alice
photos by Lisa Gee

Friday, 4 September 2015

THE DOT AWARD and other if:book NEWS - Autumn 2015

Made by if:book with the highly talented Jerwood Arvon mentored writers over one week this summer, read our tasty literary picnic at WWW.APICNICHAMPER.BLOGSPOT.COM 
If:book has been working with the Arvon Foundation since this wonderful scheme was set up, making new kinds of work with the novelists, poets and playwrights chosen each year. 

We’re delighted to announce  the launch of The Dot Award, a new annual prize sponsored by if:book UK for a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction or poetry using the web in imaginative and collaborative ways.  It will be awarded alongside the £1,000 NEWMEDIA WRITING PRIZE which is run by Bournemouth University and supported by if:book UK.

The prize is £500, support from if:book uk in developing your idea, and an invitation to speak at the 2017 New Media Writing Prize ceremony (via Skype if overseas) about how your work has developed since receiving the prize.

The prize will be awarded for a project idea which in the judges’ opinion shows promise and practicability – it should be a project that we can see being developed, completed and functional by the end of 2016. We are looking for projects which don’t need to be technically complex but do create original and exciting literary work inspired by the affordances of the web, blogs, apps, social media etc. if:book UK will liaise with the winner to support the project.

The Dot Award is in memory of writer, designer and silver surfer Dorothy Meade.

The judges are Chris Meade, writer and founder of if:book, artist and play designer Hattie Coppard, teacher Jo Klaces and George Palmer, Head of Communications at the Arvon Foundation.
The deadline is the same as the New Media Writing Prize, i.e. Friday November 27th 12 noon GMT

To enter email the following information to chris@ifbook.co.uk
No more than 300 words on yourself and the digital projects you’ve done:
No more than 300 words on the project/area of work you plan to develop in the coming year, and who you think the Award will help you:
1 or 2 links to your work online:

This summer if:book was at the South Bank Centre for the celebration of the 50th birthday of Modern Poetry In Translation, throwing poetry darts and handing out poetry cigars and canapés. Thanks to Mekella Broomburg for joining Chris to dish out the verse. Here’s one we threw earlier.


Chris has been concentrating on his PhD in Digital Writing at Bath Spa University. He’s writing a transmedia novel about how we embody the things we've nearly done, and that’s involved writing songs, holding workshops with a dancer, a theatre director and writers, training in Flash Animation and working with puppet maker Bee Peak. He now has a first draft, an app developer involved. He’s looking for places to run Nearly Workshops, gather stories and present the work in progress. Nearly Days have happened in cafes, pop up shops, conferences and festivals.

The Nearly Pod at the Mix Digital Conference in Bath Spa this summer


If:book’s first Collaborative Writer in Residence Luke Roberts has recently become a father and has moved with his wife Sally to Bath where we’re hoping to make more literary things happen in the future. Luke convened the IFSO Writers group and devised a role play game based on 1984 during his residency. Congratulations to Luke and Sally, and welcome to Leo!

Run by artist Robin Stevenson and set up with support from if:book, the café was a hub for local writers and led to the forming of a Philosophy Learning Circle and the Hornsey Songwriters Collective which both still thrive. Robin’s moved to Brighton to work at a new venue there. We wish him well.

At our base in London N8 we hold occasional writing workshops and salons on literature, playfulness and collaboration, have a selection of books and merchandise for sale. And the IFSO VAN can come to you. We also rent out a small cottage in Suffolk suitable for writing retreats.
Contact chris@ifbook.co.uk for further details.

WWW.IFSOPRESS .COM is the home of a fantastic collection of collaborative writing. Visit the site to find good things to read by established and emerging writers, and links to much more.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

back in action

We have the www.bookfutures.com url working again at last! To celebrate - and while I think how to use this blog in future - here is a photo from an exhibition of poetry machines made by Ken Cox in the 1960s and recently on view at the Chelsea Art Space opposite Tate Britain.  

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

reader by ifbook
This link leads (we hope) to Toni Le Busque's beautiful rendering of Jacob Polley's wonderful poem commissioned for our HOTBOOK project, and also a clip of Kate Pullinger introducing this and other poems from 'Fictional Stimulus', our online new media writing happening from 2009.

Clip 4 Poems and the Reader by ifbook