Monday, 22 December 2008
I'm sorry to hear of the death of Adrian Mitchell who I last saw this summer at the Latitude festival looking well and laughing loudly. His energy and committment will be missed. I first saw him read when I was a kid in the Sixties and my dad took me to thrilling underground events at the ICA and he's been crying out against lies in Vietnam and Iraq ever since. Adrian also wrote an amazing William Blake musical called 'Tyger'. He'll be missed. I've posted his Lullaby for William Blake on www.songsofimaginationanddigitisation.net
Adrian Mitchell from Neil Astley on Vimeo.
Monday, 15 December 2008
Waking up to yet more economic gloom this morning I feel it's time to get serious about how we can work together to use our new networkedness to help each other through difficult times.
The web makes it possible to remain connected to fellow members of whatever we consider our community of interest whether or not we're making a living in it, and to think laterally and internationally about different ways to earn a crust. So it helps us to think collectively and competitively too, which makes for some contradictions, but keeps us all in contention rather than divided into haves and have-nots.
Reasons to be cheerful; new ways to look at books; digital futures for writers, readers and literature organisations; how schools can develop transliterate readers.. these are some of the themes we've touched on over the past year, if not with the academic rigour of the US Institute's if:book blog, now back in action and as stimulating as ever.
A growing number of people are coming to this blog every day, which makes me wonder who you are, what you get from Bookfutures and how you'd like to see the blog develop.
In the run up to new year resolutions, why not leave a Christmas comment here, Dear Reader?
Friday, 12 December 2008
Debjani Chatterjee, Andrew Motion and ifbookman at an earlier POEMS FOR... event
This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.
Congratulations to Apt Studios for producing this lovely thing for 4th Estate. AND in the week that a Year of Reading 'survey' showed that boys were impressed by girls who 'read' Facebook, here's the HAMLET
(FACEBOOK NEWS FEED EDITION). BY SARAH SCHMELLING from MacSweeney's
- - - -
Horatio thinks he saw a ghost.
Hamlet thinks it's annoying when your uncle marries your mother right after your dad dies.
The king thinks Hamlet's annoying.
Laertes thinks Ophelia can do better.
Hamlet's father is now a zombie.
- - - -
The king poked the queen.
The queen poked the king back.
Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends.
Marcellus is pretty sure something's rotten around here.
Hamlet became a fan of daggers.
- - - -
Polonius says Hamlet's crazy ... crazy in love!
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet are now friends.
Hamlet wonders if he should continue to exist. Or not.
Hamlet thinks Ophelia might be happier in a convent.
Ophelia removed "moody princes" from her interests.
Hamlet posted an event: A Play That's Totally Fictional and In No Way About My Family
The king commented on Hamlet's play: "What is wrong with you?"
Polonius thinks this curtain looks like a good thing to hide behind.
Polonius is no longer online.
- - - -
Hamlet added England to the Places I've Been application.
The queen is worried about Ophelia.
Ophelia loves flowers. Flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers. Oh, look, a river.
Ophelia joined the group Maidens Who Don't Float.
Laertes wonders what the hell happened while he was gone.
- - - -
The king sent Hamlet a goblet of wine.
The queen likes wine!
The king likes ... oh crap.
The queen, the king, Laertes, and Hamlet are now zombies.
Horatio says well that was tragic.
Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, says yes, tragic. We'll take it from here.
Denmark is now Norwegian.
There's a lot to do in the first half of next year and I'm very much looking forward to working with filmmaker and project manager Sasha Hoare and artist and web designer Toni LeBusque on our current projects, plus a network of other hugely talented associates.
Do we want to build if:book into a bigger business? As I still feel hugely relieved to have given up the level of management responsibilities I had at Booktrust, with a staff of around fifty people, I am loathe to recreate the model of a team of employees, and in a time of recession that's not easy to do, but I love working alongside the likes of Sasha and Toni, our amazing board members, associates and friends.
My prefered business model I realise is to build a league of superheroes: to gather a cluster of extraordinary freelance people, each with their particular skills - and of course their own quirks and kryptonite equivalents - amplified individuals uniting to take the book into the future and beyond!!
Thanks to Christine Wilks for sending us the link to this.
"New writing universe.
Is the literature game over or about to begin? Step inside this
interactive 'New writing universe' and find the answer! "
if:book's downloadable booklet, DIGITAL LIVINGS, can be found
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Today was the last meeting of the DCMS Public Library Modernisation Review 'Digital Services and Information Literacy' reference group. I've thoroughly enjoyed meeting and brainstorming with an interesting cluster of librarypeople. For this session we were each asked to come up with our 5 minute pitches on an idea for future innovation. Here's mine.
Let's face it, the Web IS the library of the future. And public libraries are unlikely ever to be at the forefront of developing new web resources. But libraries ARE trusted places in real communities.
So... let's create a different kind of Information and Imagination Service where you BRING YOUR OWN LIBRARY in the form of a laptop.
Of course you can also borrow a laptop from the library, and books and other materials including e-Readers and downloads for them.
But most importantly what you get is a SPACE to access the web from - a stimulating, playful, experimental environment with lots of browsing materials and displays, lots of different kinds of seating and spaces to sprawl, browse, chat or concentrate...
with LIBRARIANS to guide you - showing individual users what tools and applications might be most useful to them and how they can install them, what relevant information sources can be most trusted, how you can use the web to learn, to meet your aims and feed your enthusiasms.
with places to meet but also places to MINGLE. Users could position themselves in quiet zones or talk zones where they would be open to interaction with other users.
Rather than set up a seperate library network, all users would be encouraged to tag themselves in certain ways on existing social networks so it was easy for users to find others with similar interests, contact them on line and, if they wish, meet one to one or in groups in the safety of the library.
Library staff could help users create a front page for their laptops, with RSS feeds, applications and links which accurately and helpfully reflected their interests and purpose.
Cafes like Starbucks, or preferably the independents with free wi-fi, are also popular venues for laptop users, but the staff there are aiming only to sell coffee and you never know what everyone else is working on at their private screens.
But outreach work could include librarians going into cafes and other venues where people use the wifi and offering their skills to them.
AT the national level, public libraries should be co-ordinating annual awards given to those sites and applications deemed to be helping to make the web a better library.
AND they are well placed to comment critically on what they think is damaging the web.
SO at local level and national the library would be the place to check out the trustworthiness of sites, their best uses, their strenghts and weaknesses.
Some of these ideas are influenced by the Institute for the Future of the Book's meetings last year about the Really Modern Library; and they also link back to the work we did in Sheffield in the 1980s, well pre-web, to promote libraries as your local point of access to world culture and creative reading.
Now - where can if:book get some funding to do a pilot!?
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
Liz Thomson at BookBrunch reports that HarperCollins and Nintendo have collaborated on a scheme to make a Nintendo DS into a portable library with the launch on 26 December of the 100 Classic Books Collection. "Holding the Nintendo DS horizontally, like a book, means the device can be transformed into a handheld reading device for nothing more than the cost of the software, which is around £20."
Titles include the 'classic' (ie. out of copyright) usuals, like Sherlock Holmes and Gulliver's Travels. "A synopsis mode details the story and themes of each title, while readers with no idea where to start can tell the device what mood they're in and be offered a range of options. The software also offers an electronic bookmark and adjustable text sizes. Ten additional novels can be downloaded using Nintendo’s Wi-Fi Connection service."
Friday, 5 December 2008
Last night I went to NESTA for the launch of 'Attacking the Recession - How Innovation Can Fight The Downturn', a report by Charlie Leadbeater and others. It argues that the current crisis can focus our minds on finding innovative ways of tackling the big issues for the future, in particular climate change and services to the growing number of older people. (Time to launch that solar powered wheelchair business then). Public and private partnerships, social as well as commercial entrepreneurs, can exploit the benefits of our newly networked society. As the Minister for Science and Innovation said, "Be bold and get on with it."
It struck me that in the last recession those who lost their jobs found themselves instantly out in the cold, cut off from colleagues and their area of expertise. Now via the web we can play an active part in the culture of our nation on very limited means. With a blog and a search engine we remain fully equipped to investigate and comment on the world. Even in an age of massive economic contraction, much of our digital abundance looks set to continue. I wonder if we've grasped the implications of that for society.
Good to see the Government embracing innovation then. Meanwhile here are two of the many comments received concerning the shortsighted thinking at De Montfort University which is planning the demise of the Creative Writing & New Media MA. Please keep your comments coming.
"The sad thing for me, about all of this, is that there is a very real cultural revolution underway, partly ideological/political, partly technological, but definitely an extraordinarily deep sea-change - from the canons of classical and well-defined literature and discipline (in both senses of the word - power engenders it) - to an electronic communality with radically new ways of thinking - if not new forms (and possibly so many forms that one might think of formlessness or non-form or something to the effect that 'form' no londer rides on the back of tradition). Almost nothing reflects this in the university system - sure, there are new media courses coming out of art/theory area, but very little from within literature itself, and this MA, not to mention trAce in the past, has been far-sighted and pioneering. I'd beg the university to reconsider, but given the current world economy, I doubt they'd listen. It's upsetting and depressing; I wish something could be done about it.
- Alan Sondheim
Wait! This makes NO sense. As I understand it, DMU has been making some really well thought-out moves to bring the university and Leicester into the 21st century. I've been a guest in this course on more than one occasion via online participation -- something students ought to be learning today -- and saw worlds open up to them. Isn't that what a university is for? Something strange about this. I fear DMU will regret this.
- Howard Rheingold
Thursday, 4 December 2008
The State of the Art with Charles Simic
The Poetry Society's Annual Lecture
Thursday 5 February • 7.00pm
“For me a poem is a place where one invites someone in. You build a little house, fix it up real nice. Inside you’ve got a painting on the wall, a new couch, some knick-knacks and souvenirs, a swell meal all laid out on the table, and you open the door and hope somebody comes in…” Charles Simic, Poetry Review.
To mark the celebration of its centenary in 2009, The Poetry Society invites Charles Simic to give The Poetry Society’s Annual Lecture.
Drawing on his experience as Poet Laureate of the United States, Charles will deliver a playful and provocative lecture about the shifts in today’s poetic landscape from Belgrade to Boston.
Venue: Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH. Time: 7pm
Tickets: £12/ £8 (concs and Poetry Society members). Bookings on 020 7392 9220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This image is from a very impressive digital fiction made by three participants in the Future Write course we ran at the Arvon, Lumb Bank. It's a moving piece made over a couple of days, and still a work in progress, created by Stefan Alexa, Dave Pescod and Jo Tait, featuring Greg Ward. Read Silent Voice HERE
Thanks to Sasha for sending me the link to this Guardian article about living libraries; a fantastic example of the library as a space for actual social networking with real live people.
Monday, 1 December 2008
Sorry about the cold. If only we were in Second Life and I could be replaced by a young, fit, hunky superhero. Sadly you’re stuck with spluttering me.
Technology hasn’t cured the common cold BUT what has been and will be the impact of technology on reading and writing?
THE IMPACT FOR READERS
In libraries in the 1980s we began to talk about CREATIVE READING
Look at all those date stamps in library books – what if we could get those people together to talk!?
And we put up a WRITE BACK notice board in community libraries where local people could post their writing, putting their words amongst the collection of global literature and culture.
NOW creative reading is a day to day activity – every site wants feedback, readers can seek each other out across the globe via social networks and applications like Shelfari, Librarything...
ANYONE can ‘publish’ their work for free in the public domain – and promote it, gradually, virally, by word of mouth..
either on their own blogs or websites OR in online journals, fanfiction or sites like AUTHONOMY and youwriteon.com, which turn the old slush pile into a socially sifted league table of talent.
(LIBRARIES which not long ago thought of themselves as local stores of content desperately in need of better content, now need to see their future as hubs for REAL social networking - the perfect place to meet your local social network.)
AND OF COURSE this year READERS can now buy a new kind of screen to read books on. Actually an excellent means to read text, but it only points the way to much more interesting experiments in transliterate reading, on mobiles and laptops, at live events and gatherings, on books printed on demand…
THE IMPACT FOR WRITERS
The keyboard now includes SOUND, PICTURE, SPACE FOR READER INTERACTION AND COLLABORATION WITH other writers
COMPUTER GAMES AND ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES
NEW MEDIA WRITING using blogs, wikis…
do literature organisations know enough about them??
And meanwhile PAGE BASED writers with a reputation don’t need to rely on publishers to distribute their work.
Build a community of followers and you can talk to them - and sell to them – directly.
I recently met a novelist whose site includes ‘deleted scenes’ - to the horror of her publisher and editor.
Another prizewinner talks jokingly about selling holidays to the setting of their hit novel.
Plenty do talk to their fans about their events and ideas.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT OF THE DIGITAL ON LITERATURE ORGANISATIONS??
FOR READ:WRITE, written with Mary Harrington, we talked to dozens of them. For all, the landscape around their activities is changing radically. Whether they’d noticed it or not, their roles were being turned inside out.
THE LONGSTANDING ORGANISATION with building, publications and website, finds its site is the core of itself in the public’s mind if not its own.
A longstanding PROVIDER of information may receive less hits than a blog written for fun by one enthusiast,
THE LITERATURE FESTIVAL puts podcasts on their site – when do they become a BROADCASTING COMPANY whose studios are tents in a field?
THE AGENCY for new writers which once offered ACCESS TO A SHOWCASE
Now finds that everyone can show their work for free, what people want is A CURATOR with a REPUTATION FOR QUALITY and a certain brand.
AND when does a PROJECT become a PUBLICATION?
This is an EXCITING AREA. A scheme like the Lottery funded Poetry Places, run at the Poetry Society in 1998 and involving lots of commissions, workshops and interaction between poets and people, could now be designed to grow into a networked anthology rather than a documented report.
When Mary and I wrote the READ:WRITE report for Arts Council England earlier this year, we worked very well together, but on some things we disagreed:
I like to think Lit Orgs are ideally placed to seize the digital initiative:
Passionate about communication, light on our feet, used to a kind of gift economy, operating in a mixed economy of subsidy and selling
Mary was more inclined to feel there was no need anymore for what could be seen as a patronising mediation between literary culture and popular engagement.
And we both saw exampls of citing digital innovations AND clunky old thinking
- for instance long term strategies to introduce web services that could now take 5 minutes to set up with easy to use free services like skype.com, ning.com, blurb.com etc. And if these sites mean nothing to you, then now's the time to find out more about them.
There's an alarming lack of understanding on both sides.
LIT ORGS need to PROVE THEIR SKILLS AS CURATORS OF ACTIVITY BETWEEN READERS AND WRITERS, MAKERS OF NEW KINDS OF PUBLISHING, TAKING THE RISKS THAT PUBLISHERS WONT
OR…. OTHERS WILL RUSH IN – writers, digital makers, publishers…
SINCE WE WROTE READ:WRITE, THE RECESSION HAS HIT
Actually the recession may give us a break – as other industries retreat into their comfort zones, we can be bold!
SEIZE THE TIME or we’ll be swept away
be made redundant.
In which case we’ll still find we can read:write for as long as we can afford wi-fi and a laptop. Being out of work no longer slams the door on participation. There is at least that digital reason to be cheerful.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO prepare us for this challenge?
WE DON’T NEED LOTS OF NEW MONEY OR KIT.
WE NEED TO MAP OUT where our activities sit in THE REAL WORLD – which is thoroughly digital.
WE NEED Training, conversation – we don’t need too much technical support, though of course we need some; we need the skills which give us the IMAGINATION & VISION to think beyond the digital divide.
Today I'm working with Snug & Outdoor on a project in primary schools exploring the relationship between narrative and play. This clip from the BBC's Outnumbered is a pretty good example of how children mix media in their make believe.
Friday, 28 November 2008
Please help us to spread the word by promoting this site to networks you're part of that would be interested in this.
Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook 2.0
The Nobel laureate's classic novel is the focus of an exciting new web project.
Given that Doris Lessing used her Nobel literature prize speech to rail against the inanities of the internet, it's unexpected to find her at the centre of an intriguing online project. Her classic novel, The Golden Notebook, has been made available as part of an "open, free, worldwide re-reading of the book, lead in public by great readers and writers of the current generation".
Simply put, it's a website which offers a page of Lessing's book on one side, and some critical analysis and insight on the other. These comments come from seven "invited readers" including author Helen Oyeyemi and Guardian contributor Naomi Alderman (none of the invited are men). Their comments are by turns chatty, informative, intelligent and tangential and provide a jumping-off point for the rest of us to have our say, with discussions continuing in the website's forum. It's all pretty easy to use, with corresponding page numbers from British and American editions for those who want to physically read the book.
A unique concept, floating somewhere between Project Gutenberg and a book group, it's the brainchild of Bob Stein, director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, and brought to life by design agency Apt. If you don't know, Stein is geek royalty (or a "a pain-in-the-ass Maoist", depending who you ask) who founded Voyager, the first CD-ROM publisher, as well as the Criterion Collection, famed for its authoritative editions of classic films on DVD. He describes his Institute as a "little thinktank that tries to understand (and hopefully influence) the ways in which intellectual discourse is changing as it moves off the printed page".
This is fuelled by a passion for literature; as much as Stein wants to change how we read, he also just wants us to read and felt that a book as good as The Golden Notebook wasn't getting the attention and readership it deserved. It's often considered a difficult book, tedious and overlong, making it a good choice for this experiment (as those responsible humbly call it), in terms of both prompting discussion and aiding understanding.
Having only launched at the start of the week, it's too early to judge its success but certainly it looks promising. It combines the collaborative and social elements of web 2.0 and, though the complexity of The Golden Notebook makes it a perfect fit, it could easily be used for other books, from book club favourites to classics (the latter having the advantage of being royalty-free).
If nothing else, discussing The Golden Notebook will put you in good company; this week Barack Obama selected the novel as one of his favourites."
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
'The Spindlers'- some freshfaced students from the first intake for the Creative Writing & New Media Masters, 2006.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Stanza users will have access to free excerpts from selected bestsellers, with more titles coming on stream during the course of the next 12 months. Sara Lloyd, Digital Director of Pan Mac, said that she and her colleagues had been keeping a close eye on App Store, noting that Lexcycle's Stanza "emerged very quickly as a clear leader in its category. We immediately made contact to ask about developing a strategic partnership to bring our ebooks to readers through this new channel."
Fellow Arvon tutor Conrad Williams and I (with Will Self in background).
On my way there I was contacted by The Bookseller who ran this story about our Songs of Imagination & Digitisation project.
And yesterday I spoke at Writing Re:connected, a seminar organised by The New Writing Partnership in Norwich. Naomi Alderman, currently a reader of The Golden Notebook at www.thegoldennotebook.org, our other ACE funded Experiment in Reading, curated by Bob Stein. Naomi told me she kept checking the site during the day to see what response her latest posts were provoking. Naomi, Tim Wright and Alison Norrington each spoke inspirationally about their different versions of multi-platform fiction. the massive Alternate Reality Game Perplex City; Oldton, Tim's semi-fictitious hometown, and Alison's energetic promotion of Staying Single Sophie, a feisty piece of digitalchicklit involving Second Life, Bebo, Facebook, YouTube and Uncletomcobbley.com.
The main theme of the day, organised by Chris Gribble and including an excellent presentation by Hannah Rudman, was how Literature Organisations can learn from projects like these to make creative networks of writers and readers.
And I did my bit, which I may write up and post here, urging such organisations to seize the time while there IS still time to seize, and reconfigure their work in relation to the web.
if:book will definitely be running training workshops and events for the literature sector from the new year, building on the work done by the FLO Consortium. Reader comments on what this should cover would be most appreciated.
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Click here to read a good piece from The Guardian on The Golden Notebook project which is currently underway. I'm delighted that my book group (all male) has been persuaded to read the book online and on paper over the next weeks. It will be interesting to hear how non-webby readers get on with the site, and thoughts about the process that they might not communicate to the public forum. The news that this is one of Obama's favourite books is promising too on a number of fronts, and as good a reason as any to feature the cover of his book, prequel to the Quantum of Solace.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
I don't feel very cheerful today, though. Too much sad news from friends. And on a mundane level, I think i've lost the lead for my laptop and, like everyone else in the world, I'm worried about the recession.
So, what's the good news? Well, despite the ludicrous price of new power leads for Macbooks, the digital life is cheap and, if there was no work to be had, you could get up to lots of interesting things - writing, reading, making, mixing, watching, networking, chatting... all this can be done on line for next to nothing.
Actually I just wrote a very upbeat piece for the Writers' Services website,
Here's a chunk of it:
"The web has transformed the cultural landscape for writers. While the small number who earn a living wage from royalties are concerned about whether their incomes will fall, all the 'lesser published', including the emerging and the doing-it-for-pleasure, have been liberated from the demeaning hunt for any means to get heard. Where once rejection letters rained down and vanity presses prowled, now writers can put their work for free on the virtual shelves of the blogosphere. And now that our laptops allow individual authors to embed links, graphics, sound and video in their texts, and provide the potential for all kinds of collaborations and interactions, there are plenty of new directions opening up for the written word in a multimedia environment.
Last night I convinced my (all male) book group to read The Golden Notebook this month, using our www.thegoldennotebook.org site to guide them. Now there's another R2BC.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
By the way, this morning I finally reached the end of re-reading Anna Karenin on my Sony Reader. Actually I read chunks of it at night on my backlit iTouch. As I've said before, the screen only emphasises the experience of reading over the object, the ability to 'turn up' the font is fantastic as a means to heighten concentration. Meanwhile Tolstoy takes you inside the consciousness of such a range of vivid characters in the way only great fiction can. Love, death, childbirth, politics... it's all there. In one chapter he even takes you into the mind of a hunting dog.
The Gutenberg text is littered with misprints and imperfections, but that only proves the resiliance of the vision which shines through translation and digitisation.
Monday, 10 November 2008
The Creative Writing & New Media MA at De Montfort involves plenty of collaboration between students with different skills, as much digital fiction does.
Claudia Cragg, journalist and student on the course, has contacted me to ask if I'd post something about a project of hers in the hope she might find someone out here in the big wide world who would be prepared to help her on a voluntary basis. It would be great to create a skills exchange on Bookfutures for makers of this kind of work.
"Part Two of my CWNM Fiction workshop will be to take my script in reduced form from the cellphone novel and parlay it into a multimedia work for my Fiction2 workshop. This is where I need collaboration as I am crap at Flash and while I think I-stories and Sophie are great tools which I will use if I have to, I am looking for a wider multimedia approach focusing on sound (this is v important to me). So flash and vision are what I need. I need to get this sorted soon as the deadline to present my Fiction2 is Sunday Dec 1st."
If you're interested, please email Claudia at email@example.com
Sunday, 9 November 2008
(phone 020 7650 2350 to book tickets). Stein and Toklas were hosts to numerous significant writers and artists including Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. Drinks and refreshments from the Alice B Toklas cookbook will be served during the performance.
Cindy Oswin is a writer, performer and director who has worked with many innovative theatre companies, as well as writing for opera and film. Her long term project, On the Fringe, a personal history of British experimental theatre from the sixties to the eighties, will be shown again at the British Library in 2009. if:book is hoping to work with Cindy on a related web project soon.
Another if:book associate is Toby Jones, currently to be seen as Karl Rove in Oliver Stone's W and as Swifty Lazar in Frost/Nixon. You can read about the FOUND project here, and in this week's Times Educational Supplement.
Here's Toby with Bill Thompson, Lisa Gee and Sue Thomas at the launch of if:book's www.songsofimaginationanddigitisation.net project.
Friday, 7 November 2008
Meanwhile in these crunched times, it's good to see a graph of U.S. e-book sales pointing in the right direction:
Fleur Adcock from Neil Astley on Vimeo.
Friday, 31 October 2008
Have you actually read the Golden Notebook? Have you tried it but never quite made it through to the end? Did you love it way back then and wonder what you'd make of it now? Did you hear some of it on Radio 4 recently and think, "I must read that book" but then didn't? Well, now you can read it along with the comments of an international team of readers and an online community around them.
if:book London and Apt, the design and marketing consultancy with specific expertise in planning and producing web and new media projects for clients in publishing and the arts, have collaborated on a groundbreaking project devised and curated by Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book.
Bob Stein writes:
"On November 10th, The Institute for the Future of the Book kicks off an experiment in close reading. Seven women will read Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook and carry on a conversation in the margins.
"The idea for the project arose out of my experience re-reading the novel in the summer of 2007 just before Lessing won the Nobel Prize for literature. The Golden Notebook was one of the two or three most influential books of my youth and I decided I wanted to "try it on" again after so many years. It turned out to be one of the most interesting reading experiences of my life. With an interval of thirty-seven years the lens of perception was so different; things that stood out the first-time around were now of lesser importance, and entire themes I missed the first time came front and center.
"When I told my younger colleagues what I was reading, I was surprised that not one of them had read it, not even the ones with degrees in English literature. It occurred to me that it would be very interesting to eavesdrop on a conversation between two readers, one under thirty, one over fifty or sixty, in which they react to the book and to each other's reactions.
"And then of course I realized that we now actually have the technology to do just that. Thanks to the efforts of Chris Meade, my colleague and director of if:book London, Arts Council England enthusiastically and generously agreed to fund the project. Chris was also the link to Doris Lessing who through her publisher HarperCollins signed on with the rights to putting the entire text of the novel online.
"Fundamentally this is an experiment in how the web might be used as a space for collaborative close-reading. We don't yet understand how to model a complex conversation in the web's two-dimensional environment and we're hoping this experiment will help us learn what's necessary to make this sort of collaboration work as well as possible. In addition to making comments in the margin, we expect that the readers will also record their reactions to the process in a group blog. In the public forum, everyone who is reading along and following the conversation can post their comments on the book and the process itself.
"I'm writing you now with the hope that you will help spread the word to everyone who might be interested in following along and participating in the forum discussions.
"p.s. One last note. This is not essentially an experiment in online reading itself. Although the online version of the text is quite readable, for now, we believe books made of paper still have a substantial advantage over the screen for sustained reading of a linear narrative. So you may also want to suggest to your readers that they order copies of the book now. Whichever edition of the book someone reads (US, UK or online), there is a navigation bar at the top of the online page will help locate them within the conversation."
The Golden Notebook is a collaboration between if:book London and Apt Studio supported by Arts Council England
Sunday, 26 October 2008
http://snurl.com/4pmyn takes you to a good review of www.insearchoflosttim.net from the bookgeeks
"...Tim of the title is actually Tim Times Two: one going through boyhood in the sixties, and one in the future, where everything has gone a bit Austin Powers (proving that everything comes around again eventually) and he’s a big noise in the the government. Future Tim communicates with Young Tim by means of the Futurizer, giving him missions to prevent the course of history being corrupted - the sort of thing every boy should have!
"We see young Tim as a puppet, voiced by Meade, and read his accounts of his dull home life and crappy school life. The video segments, delivered as YouTube clips, are surprisingly touching given the simplicity of the puppet being used, while the diary passages are well written. Future Tim, along with his sidekick, known only as… Sidekick, is drawn in an engaging cartoon style. There’s also a genuinely bloggy-looking blog for a girl called Jenny, who seems to have stumbled across Tim’s time-spanning communications by accident, but turns out to be very central to saving the universe!
"Meade is adept at giving his different characters distinctive voices, both on the page and via video and song, and the drawings add a psychedelic edge to proceedings. The use of the Internet for delivery is not ideal, as I think the creator knows - because asking users to work through 30 web pages, albeit some of which are relatively brief, is a challenge when all the other paraphernalia of our digital lives can intrude. Having said that, if you can clear an hour of your life, and avoid tabbing off to check your e-mails or see whether the world economy has exploded yet, I think you will find In Search of Lost Tim to be a charming and enjoyable tale, and proof that there can be more to short stories than just words and picture on a printed page."
Friday, 24 October 2008
Monday, 20 October 2008
Tell me if I'm wrong but I don't think that spirit is abroad much in UK libraries. But I do hope I am wrong. This clip had been up for 11 mins when I found it - there may be more to come from the conference in Monterey on Seesmic.
Getting ready for Internet Librarian talk
The word book comes from the Old English word for Beech, the wood on which you write runes. Scrolls were the normal form until the 3rd Century A.D. Each scroll contained 1,000 lines of verse and a bucket of 12 of these was the equivalent of a paperback.
In the 3rd & 4th Centuries scrolls were superseded by the codex. Binding together individual pages was preferred by the early Christians wishing to create a permanent canon of texts - scrolls could have bits glued onto the ends of them; books were finite, fixed.
For the next two and a half centuries books were mostly written by monks. One monastery apologised for their failure to finish transcribing a book saying, "the hand of the scribe is frozen." And books have been found containing notes of complaint from bored monks.
Up to the 12th Century books were essentially a meditative tool. In the 13th Century the piece system sped up production by farming out books to teams of scribes - an early form of print on demand. In the 15th Century printing using movable type was the big technological breakthrough, but Gutenberg's Bible was no best seller - his backer went bust and sued him.
Caxton did better commercially, and was not only printer but editor, explaining why he'd chosen to cut out the boring bits in books he produced.
Then the debate skipped a few pages and arrived at... NOW, when the printed page is being converted into more fluid forms. Where once oral culture was fixed and bound by the book, now it frees itself again. The everchanging wiki novel echoes the evolving stories of wandering storytellers, different each time they're declaimed; lulu.com replaces the chilly monk making copies on demand; bloggers stand in a virtual and global Speakers Corner pronouncing on their favourite topics; and the big questions arise again about what constitutes a book.
I've been asked to join one of the teams currently being consulted with by DCMS to draw up a plan for public libraries in the UK. That invitation led me to look back at my notes from last autumn when, thanks to support from the Mellon Foundation, three high level meetings on The Really Modern Library took place in London, Los Angeles and New York, organised by the Institute for the Future of the Book with the goal of shedding light on the big questions about accessibility and usability of analogue culture in a digital, networked world. I attended the London and New York meetings and these are some of my notes from those sessions.
The starting point was the idea of a design competition around ways of making digital archives.
In London, Kerry Facer of Futurelab compared the idea with the search for Longitude in the 18th Century when thousands of lives were being lost at sea due to the inability to determine an east-west position. The quest to find a solution to this problem was long and complex. In the 21st Century the internet offers the opportunity for all to freely access the richest storehouse of knowledge, but what needs to be done to ensure that the web creates free thinkers not passive consumers?
As Clive Izard of the British Library put it, if the Internet provides access to a global digital library, what constitutes the reader’s ticket - what toolkit of training and/or technology will empower readers around the globe to use this astounding resource with confidence and seriousness, on their own terms? Search engines help us locate items, but there may be another axis by which to map intellectual journeys which could lead to real discovery.
The range of suggestions forthcoming shows what powerful questions we were discussing. For a digital author like Cory Doctorow the answer was bound to be some kind of web based tool that might give an extra dimension to our exploration of the digital, for instance a plug in application for the Firefox browser that showed exactly who owned each site visited was one inspired idea.
A recurrent theme was the issue of copyright and how producers are monetised in the age of free information and imagination. Cory Doctorow’s solution was a tax to be levied on the cost of an internet service provider which would fund the writers and makers of non commercial content.
Another participant, performance artist and musician Nick Currie, aka Momus, wrote in his blog: “Basically, my argument was that, while I appreciate the internet, I can't forget McLuhan's idea that the medium is the message. I worry that our windows on the world are getting increasingly ephemeral, and that each one of them is just a series of circular, self-legitimizing metaphors. While I appreciate the net and especially Google's ability to answer just about any question we have, it's the (largely unseen) framings that come with our current metaphor set -- the proscenium arch of the computer screen -- that disturb me. Imagine a cat or a rabbit watching you surf the internet: your body is rigid, you crane towards this small square of white light. For the rabbit, you're being very stupid and boring.”
In New York the presence of artist Laurie Anderson and several key figures from the library community led to further discussion of the essential nature of a library. If it will soon be possible to carry all written knowledge on a memory stick in your pocket, do we need a new kind of public space where we can go to focus on our area of interest.
Will the young owners of $100 laptops receive the portal to a shopping mall or the keys to freedom of thought and expression? This is as important a question for our times as the problem of longitude three centuries ago.
Thursday, 9 October 2008
It's National Poetry Day today, the theme of which this year is Work, and I'm off to our workshop on Songs of Imagination & Digitisation at The Poetry Cafe. Meanwhile Sue Thomas pointed me at this Rilke quote, from the poem The Man Watching, translated by Robert Bly, used by Tim O'Reilly in his THOUGHTS ON THE FINANCIAL CRISIS.
"I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming...
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names."
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
Or will a point be reached when consistency is more greatly valued? I'd love to see how something like Facebook or Friends Reunited would mature into an archive of depth over several generations, and dread an endless migration from one snazzy app to another, with communities never getting deeper. Mum's piece pinpoints what remains amazing about the web: that you can find information in a trice and make friends across timezones and continents for nowt.
Here's mum's article. The wonderful site mentioned still exists.
"The millennium looms ahead, heralded by a torrent of new computer technology and a mysterious language of bytes and rams and mice and cursors, v.d.us and modems. The only way ahead for me, I'd decided, is a quill pen. Then my son asked me to supper. "Come and see my new toy," he said, and proudly showed me his computer, with all the sophisticated extras. "Not for me," I said hastily,but he insisted on a detailed explanation in 'mumbo jumbo'. Ten minutes later, weary and uncomprehending, I suggested hopefully that it was time to eat. "When you have had a go," he said firmly, and tried to tempt me with interesting web sites and news bulletins. Another ten minutes and I was at last released, having reluctantly agreed to send a message into thin air on an MS web site. That clearly wasn't for me - the only messages were from pop and disco enthusiasts about 50 years my Junior, so I escaped by sending a message: "Anyone out there , diagnosed with MS at over seventy?" and finally it was time to eat. I forgot all about it.
"Next morning my son rang me. "Mum. There's a message on the Internet for you." That was from an entertaining lady in Seattle. Next a grandmother in Ibiza . Then a new friend from a small village in Ireland. Then I discovered lots of younger friends and relations were on the Internet in Australia, America, Canada. . So to my surprise I borrowed and then bought a computer. And though I can't easily travel, the world is my oyster.
"Do I understand how it works? No. Can I work it properly? No. But I can write to friends without moving from my desk, without hunting for envelopes and stamps, without setting off to find a post office, and a reply can come back in seconds from the other side of the world. A converted sceptic, I now recommend access to a computer with E-mail to anyone who wants to spread their wings without moving from the chair. And a lifetimes' challenge to try to master it.
"Here is the magic website which converted me - try it! JOOLY'S JOINT Find out if your local library has a computer you can use, or try at your local cybercafe.
- Dorothy Meade. 1998"
Monday, 6 October 2008
I just came across this, the film made two years ago by Paris based artist Julie Dalmon de Saint Gast as part of a project she's been working on for a long time, and for which I supplied the text. Julie contacted me through the web looking for a collaborator who could write a script for an idea she had for a performance piece inspired by a gigogne or Russian doll.
It was my first web collaboration and involved email exchanges of words and images, meeting up for real in London and Paris, plus long instant messaging chats, the transcripts of which remain a fascinating record of the development of an idea and a friendship.
I was originally sent the tune for this song as a sound file, emailed back lyrics, received a message from Julie saying she couldn't quite make them fit the tune, then I phoned her number and sang the words into her answerphone.
I met artist Paul Coldwell there, preparing to give a talk (which sadly I had to miss), about his residency there. He's produced a range of sculptures to dot amongst the permanent collection, bronzes inspired by the house and conjunctions of the objects there. On a bookshelf is a screen showing a looped video of a poem/text over footage of the breakers at Aldeburgh. The show's title is 'I called while you were out'.
We're talking a lot about publisher as curator, so it's good to look at some stunning curation, and these artworks which come out of an appreciation of the collection, which act as tangible conversations about and between different items.
In these disquieting days, there's a need to go back to the home and make it safe to cope with whatever storms are on their way to engulf us. Arranging our things, hopefully not like deckchairs on the Titanic, but more like worry beads or talismans, held close and rubbed to bring luck or, if not, reassurance.
Thursday, 2 October 2008
"What I believe—and this is what we're putting to the test—is that as you're putting something online free of charge, you may lose a few sales, but you'll gain other sales because more people will know about it," said Frances Pinter, Bloomsbury Academic's publisher.
Sasha and I had an exciting meeting yesterday with Jo Klaces from Queensbridge School, and Viv and Harriet from Booktrust who will be evaluating NEW WAYS WITH WORDS, our project to make digital literature resources for Year 8 pupils.
This will build on both the FOUND fiction we ran this spring and the many educational uses of the CommentPress application in the USA to provide a diverse collection of free resources for schools. We'll set up a blog to document the project which will involve lots of consultation with teachers to be sure the end result is of real use and complements what else is already available in this field.
We are setting up a steering group to oversee the project, have two schools signed up and feelers out for 2 more. If you think your school would be interested, or if you have specialist knowledge of this area and would like to get involved (on a voluntary basis), please let me know.
toby jones signs autographs at the end of the found project
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
Shirley Dent of the Institute of Ideas and co-author of RADICAL BLAKE has kindly agreed to be an advisor on if:book's Songs of Imagination & Digitisation project and sends news of this very relevant event:
POETRY AND RADICALISM: MOUTHING OFF OR MAKING A DIFFERENCE? with Penned in the Margins
A new generation of poets seems to be reclaiming poetry as a political, not simply cultural, ‘way of happening’. And often it is explicitly associated with calls for political change, from Poets Against War to last year’s Love Poetry Hate Racism events. Is poetry reclaiming its radical roots? Or is this just self-flattery, with too many modern bards mouthing platitudes? Are we neglecting the genuine potential of great poetry to subvert and unsettle the way we see the world, even if as Auden said, it ‘makes nothing happen’?
These questions about poetry and politics today will be tackled by a panel of poets, critics and political journalists, as well as the famously lively Vibe Live Battle Satellite audience http://www.
editor, spiked; weekly blogger Comment is Free; regular writer for New Statesman, Christian Science Monitor and BBC News website
international poetry activist, anthologist, editor, and poet; editor of the best-selling British poetry CD, Life Lines: poets for Oxfam.
novelist, poet and reviewer; author, Instruments of Darkness (forthcoming).
poet and joint librarian, The Poetry Library; author, Zeppelins
assistant editor, Opinion, The Times; regular contributor, Times Books
Dr Gary Day
fellow, Royal Society of Arts; Secretary, British Society of Eighteenth Century Studies; author, Eighteenth Century Literature and Culture
poet and playwright, MA Creative Writing student
Dr Shirley Dent
communications director, Institute of Ideas; producer Battle Satellites programme, 2008; development editor, Culture Wars; columnist at Guardian Unlimited Arts; co-author Radical Blake
Tickets are available here:
Bookkake, at http://bookkake.com/, is James booktwo Bridle's seductive new publishing initiative, with a neat teasing home page and a good list of out of copyright erotica to kick it off.
When at Booktrust I got excited about plans for a project called Booklust which would open up debate about sex in books. It seemed a good way to reach out to VERY different kinds of readers and could promote an amazing range of good fiction. The response from colleagues at the time was a simple, "no way!", but now I no longer work with the organisation that gives books to babies, perhaps perhaps perhaps...
Sunday, 28 September 2008
"Firstly I want to be ably to tag the readings - even if it’s something simple like an “add to favourites” but a more complex arbitrary tag would be great. This might be achieved using external services like delicious. For example one could imagine audio engineers being interested in tagging all the recordings produced by Richard Carrington, or listeners tagging aspects of the reading itself (slow, dry, romantic, …). It’s impossible to second guess what categories such folksonomies would produce, but I bet they’d be interesting and useful.
Secondly I’d want the public to be able to add their own recordings. It is fascinating to hear poets read their own work but theirs are not the definitive recordings. Just this weekend a presenter on Radio 3 was commenting that the recordings of Stravinsky conducting his own works are not the best interpretations of the pieces, and I expect that the same is true of poetry. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear the same poem read by the poet, other famous voices, and a host of people who just enjoy it?
Thirdly, and perhaps most extravagantly, I think this might be a great place to re-use Tom Coates and Tristan Ferne’s project Annotatable Audio / Find Listen Label, an idea I’ve long wanted to rebuild. Since discussion and comparisons of different readings of the same poems would sometimes look at particular lines and the meaning implied by the reader a wiki that allowed listeners to narrow in on fragments of the audio to annotate and discuss them would be ideal."
Friday, 26 September 2008
It's been a good week for hearing from people doing interesting work. In fact I'm feeling quite overwhelmed by the richness of the new world I've arrived in, digital convert as I am.
Fee contacted me from Australia, interested in if:book's work and telling me about her work:
"Eight years ago I launched an ultra-short story project and dare I say, a new genre of literature: the-phone-book.com, so called because it quite literally turned your mobile phone into a book. As producing artists the fascination was in taking a technical challenge (max 150 words of text to a WAP page) and turning it into a creative limitation for 'the talent'. With little funding behind us promotion was viral; even back in 2000 this was enormously successful; we received thousands of stories each quarter from all sectors. People who didn't consider themselves writers thought 'hang on, I could do that'. Teachers used the model in creative writing classrooms and sent in whole rooms-worth of submissions.
Writers loved both the innovation and skill required to craft the perfect 150 word, 50 word or 150 character story, as well as the delight of receiving a cheque for their labours on publication. It ran quarterly for 3 years with a total of 935 stories written by 330 writers from 24 countries with a web site containing both text and audio recordings of each work and a WAP site with just the text versions.
Offshoots into the 'physical world' included four mini anthologies, a 3 disc CD of recordings, an interactive audio installation and a DJ scratch battle tool. It can currently be found in its third content management design at http://www.tpb.mobi.
That project spawned a company, the-phone-book Limited, which is sadly now being shut down and all the projects archived (I've now moved to Australia to continue the mobile legacy with an ongoing partner, the Australian Network for Art & Technology). But before we closed we had educated a new generation of mobile content producers and ruffled a few traditional publisher feathers en route. In 2006 the inaugural Manchester Literature Festival commissioned us to develop a new, live-literature project for their festival.
The Burgess Project was the result, a live-literature promenade performance with new local writing inspired by the life and work of Anthony Burgess. Narratives were delivered as live spoken word and performance poetry, two-way text messaging, bluetooth broadcasting, VJ remixing, filmed storytelling, public screen intervention and a good old sing-along. You can see the blog and the trailer for the accompanying doco/film at http://www.theburgessproject.
I'd heard about this excellent project from Chris Gribble, now at New Writing Partnership in Norwich, so it's good to find out more.
Then Jay emailed me about his Loose-Fish Project: "using the conceits of ARGs as a platform for adapting and updating classic literature. The first piece was a sci-fi adaptation of a Herman Melville short story, written for and published via Twitter <www.goodcaptain.com>. The current piece is a modernization of Spoon River Anthology, published as a group city blog, in partnership with Metroblogging <http://spoonriver.metblogs.
And via Tim Regan's website I found Book Art All-Stars and the photos of book art reproduced here. O, what a web we weave!