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

Adrian Mitchell from Neil Astley on Vimeo.

Monday, 15 December 2008

festive networked we stand

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

poems for...

I''ve recently become co-chair with poet Debjani Chatterjee of the POEMS FOR... project, run by Rogan Wolf of the charity Hyphen-21. POEMS FOR... puts poster poems into waiting rooms and all kinds of healthcare settings. Rogan approached me about the scheme when I was running the Poetry Society - probably about ten year ago now - and he has been developing it ever since, commissioning poets from many different cultural backgrounds to write poems, some on the subject of waiting, and organising events like the one in advance of the AGM with poems being read aloud in their original language and in translation. The website has all the details, and lots of beautiful poetry to read, download and perhaps display.

Debjani Chatterjee, Andrew Motion and ifbookman at an earlier POEMS FOR... event

if all the sky was paper and all the sea was ink

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

- - - -

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.

legion of superheroes

This week we've had great meetings of if:book's board of management and the Steering Group for our Esmee Fairbairn Foundation funded project, New Ways With Words.

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!!

if:book associates pose for a group photo at the Christmas party

new writing universe

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

shoot 'em up sherlock

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

far sight in sight short sight

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

come into poetry, sit down and put your feet up

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


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

writing re:connected

These are the notes I wrote for my introduction to this excellent seminar in Norwich, aimed at literature organisations and hosted by the New Writing Partnership - discussed below. They're notes still, heavy on the CAPITALS, and only nearly make sense, but I hope this clumsy manifesto may be of interest. I had a stinking cold that day, so opened by saying:

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?


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, 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…



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.


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,, 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.


OR…. OTHERS WILL RUSH IN – writers, digital makers, publishers…

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 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.

tweets and chatter

I spoke about the future of the book at Amplified08, a gathering of the network of networks at NESTA last week. The session, organised by Annie Mole, London Transport blogger, has been written up on the London Geek Girls Dinners blog. It was an enjoyable event with crowds of tweeting networkers mingling true to form and debating such topics as: where next for online video, how should mainstream media such as the BBC interact with the blogosphere, has anyone ever got a job through the LinkedIn network, and so on. The question I asked myself on the way home was, what was it all for? With recession not just biting but munching its way through many cultural industries, suddenly all those chirpy tweety comments about what's cool are beginning to sound a bit thin. Can amplified individuals really reach out to help each other through hard times? I certainly hope so. Anyway, I enjoyed the event very much and met some fascinating people.

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.