Friday, 28 November 2008

the notebook continues

There's still time to join the Institute for the Future of the Book's online reading group, a collaboration with Apt Studio. Read this article by Graeme Allister from The Guardian to find out more, and then go to

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

new media writing MA to end?

I heard today the shocking news that De Montfort University will be closing the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media which I've just completed. The course, devised and led by Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger, trailblazers both, has been quite literally life changing for me, and pretty damn influential in newmediawritingland. How shortsighted of DMU.

'The Spindlers'- some freshfaced students from the first intake for the Creative Writing & New Media Masters, 2006.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

mobile sci-fi

According to, the digital sequel to the defunct Publishing News, Pan Macmillan has concluded a deal with Lexcycle, the maker of "the highest rated electronic book reader for the iPhone", which will see a range of titles made available for download by users of Lexcycle's Stanza ebook reader for the Apple iPhone and the iPod touch.

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."
I'm back from an interesting week teaching on the Future Write course at Lumb Bank, the Arvon Foundation centre near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, a beautiful place, a fascinating group of people who got on well together, lots of time to talk and think about how to make stories for the web.

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, 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

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.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

the golden notebook 2.0

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

losing it

Tonight is our latest if:bookgroup salon, this on the topic of Reasons To Be Cheerful in the Face of Slump. I need to think about what to say, other than thanks to Somethin' Else for kindly hosting this one.
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 site to guide them. Now there's another R2BC.


Artist Richard Shed's version of the digital book! Read more here.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


Artworks by Tom Bendtsen


Amazon's new department for literature in translation is an excellent idea, and good to use in conjunction with Booktrust's reviews of translated fiction.

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.

Claudia says:

"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

Sunday, 9 November 2008


if:book associates include the wonderful actor, writer and director Cindy Oswin whose Salon with Gertrude and Alice can be seen at the Toynbee Hall studios this thursday, 13th Nov 2008 at 7.30pm
(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 project.

Friday, 7 November 2008

up up up

More poetry on-line at Poems For..., the excellent organisation which puts poster poems into hospital waiting rooms, schools, libraries etc. The organisation held a wonderful event at the Brompton Hospital last night where I met up with my good friend poet Debjani Chatterjee. There was an Obama-fuelled optimism about the whole event.

Meanwhile in these crunched times, it's good to see a graph of U.S. e-book sales pointing in the right direction:


Bloodaxe Books have set up a very nice, simple collection of poetry videos on their site. Here's a clip of Fleur Adcock reading two poems. I have insomniac tendencies myself, and the second poem,'Things' is a personal favourite.

Fleur Adcock from Neil Astley on Vimeo.