Friday, 31 October 2008

golden notebook is (nearly) go -

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.

Thank you

Bob Stein

"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

Bob Stein

Sunday, 26 October 2008

read all about it takes you to a good review of 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


IF:BOOKGROUP SALON - NOVEMBER 13th venue tbc but somewhere central london


Free - places limited, contact chrisatfutureofthebookdotorgdotuk to book one of them

Monday, 20 October 2008

remembrance of time future

I've just finished my MA in Creative Writing & New Media at the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort. It's been a truly life changing experience and thoroughly enjoyable. This week I'm going to talk to the new intake on the course about Digital Livings, the if:book report on how new media writers make their money and might make more in the future. Meanwhile here's a picture of Sue Thomas and I with the beta version of The Futurizer, built at an Unconference on Transliteracy.


I just happened across this clip on Seesmic of a Canadian librarian, Connie Crosby, talking about all kinds of webby wonders that I haven't heard of and how her fellow library people could use them to 'engage community'. It seems to me absolutely right that the local library should be ahead of the game with these free tools (whatever they do exactly!) and able to guide local people towards whichever ones might be of real value to them.
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

buckets full of words

Here are some hastily scribbled and no doubt inaccurate notes taken during Richard Gameson's fascinating history of the book. Richard is Professor of the History of the Book at Durham University and we appeared together on a panel on Sunday chaired by the wonderful Claire Malcolm of New Writing North and Fiona Gameson, an expert on braille, audio and other non standard format books.

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; 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.

you crane towards this small square of white light...

What's the chance of getting public libraries to make a bold leap into the future, with local libraries becoming genuine local 'myspaces', a meeting point for all sorts of networks and interest groups?

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.

doctorow & momus

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.

laurie anderson

The silence of libraries can be oppressive and intimidating or contemplative and librating. How do we cut ourselves off from the information bombardment of modern life to experience the stillness many associate with libraries, freeing the mind to concentrate and ‘walk around’ artefacts and ideas?

hot debate about the really modern library

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

national poetry day

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

more from the archives

I just came across this article written ten years ago by my mother, Dorothy Meade, now in her mid-eighties and recently mentioned in another blog concerning her London anthology, Lines on the Underground. This short piece was written for the Multiple Sclerosis Society newsletter. Mum's problem with the web as she gets older is that everything changes all the time - no sooner has she mastered what to click on to get through to the site from which she buys most of her food than the browser is updated and the whole screen looks different. Odd messages about system errors and security updates can be very alarming. It'll come to us all. The most tech savvy now will find Windows2020 utterly baffling. Which is a shame, because that's when its magical powers will be of most use to elderly us.

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, 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

gigogne o gigogne

Strip me of secrets- 1st round

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.

while we were out

We went to Kettle's Yard in Cambridge this weekend, a favourite place which feels like the home of an imaginary uncle, wealthy and brilliant, but very welcoming, the house actually full of the private collection of one Jim Ede - many paintings of boats by Alfred Wallis, many drawings and sculptures by Gaudier-Brzeska, and much more besides - a spiral of round pebbles arranged on a bedside table, a big table to sit at and browse an eclectic library of art books.. It's a special place and if you've never been, go.

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

education education (money) education

What makes Bloomsbury Academic really intriguing, though, is what the publisher calls its "radically new model." The imprint will make all its titles immediately available online, downloadable and free of charge, using Creative Commons licenses. It will also sell them as print-on-demand books.

"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.

nwww - new ways with words

Actually that animated Blake below gives me the creeps, so here's another post to push it into the past.

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