Tuesday, 29 December 2009



HERE'S news of a new e-book format that's not limited by e-inkiness and could be perfect for the iSlate coming soon. Kurtzweil's BLIO sounds good to me.

2009 high points

Find more videos like this on 24 hr book

This 24hr Book video gets across the atmosphere of the weekend a group of us worked together on making A Vauxhall Chorus, a collaborative book which left all involved feeling excited by the potential of this way of making fiction.

Monday, 28 December 2009

piracy 3D

..and thanks to Bob for this link

Happy Nearly New Year

Thanks to Pat and Trevor for finding this wonderful music machine by Felix Thorne.

Monday, 21 December 2009

future of the book tv

Canadian TV debate including the Institute's own Bob Stein

Friday, 18 December 2009

urban feb

Blue skies for a snowy day

Sarah Butler writes about two forthcoming UrbanWords events:

Know Your Place
First of all, a heads up about Know Your Place, a panel debate discussing the role and value of writing residencies, hosted by UrbanWords and Spread the Word on 2nd February 2010. Writers-in-residence can now be found in many places: at airports, bus stations, in shops and even on the Tube. But what impact do these residencies really have on the people, places and organisations involved, and how do they, in turn, shape the writing that's created? What are the objectives of those who employ writers this way, and what impact do these have on the writers themselves? What role do writers have - and what role could they have - in regeneration and place-making?

Join writers Lemn Sissay, Kat Joyce and Sarah Butler, plus Tamsin Dillon (Head of Art on the Underground), Charles Beckett (Arts Council England) and Emma Hewett (Director of Spread the Word) for a lively debate in the fabulous German Gym, a Grade II listed building in King's Cross, now redeveloped as the visitor centre for the King's Cross Central Development, one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe.
The event runs from 6.00 - 8.00pm on Tuesday 2nd February. Feel free to join us at 5.30pm for a free, short introductory talk on the King's Cross development.
Find out more and book tickets on Spread the Word's website.

Writing in Three Dimensions
UrbanWords has commissioned the poet, Linda France, to share her experience of and ideas about writing and public art. Writing in Three Dimensions is an engaging article, discussing the difference between writing for the page and writing for a place. You can download it for free from A Place For Words.

Meanwhile I'm delighted to be guest blogging for the next few weeks at Apples & Snakes' splendid website www.myplaceoryours.org.uk

pow zap kablam

Pablo Xpectro pointed this out. Comics arrive on the screens where their spin-off games already reside.


Eoin Purcell on The Gutenberg Revolution

Thursday, 17 December 2009

short sentences

“Lydia Davis's “The Cows” is like a story Ludwig Wittgenstein might have written about cows after first going insane.” – James Warner, identitytheory.com

The Electric Literature present the 6th installment of their video series, “Single Sentence Animations.” Authors choose their favorite sentences from their stories in Electric Literature who give them to 'brilliant but unhinged animators'.

Here artist Donna K.’s riff off a sentence from Lydia Davis’s “The Cows”

Electric Literature was founded by writers. Our mission is to use innovative distribution and new media to keep literature a vital part of popular culture.
More at www.electricliterature.com.

picture post

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

Thanks to Apt / Enhanced Editions for this elegant essay on magazine-yness

palely loitering

La Belle Dame Sans Merci from David Soden on Vimeo.

On the Transliteracy.com website, Sue Thomas writes that she had challenged students with computer science backgrounds to memorise a few stanzas of Keats. She was "very surprised when, a few days later, Dave Soden, one of those students, sent me this link. He had set La Belle Dame Sans Merci to music and performed it himself with a guitar accompaniment. The result? This haunting and memorable song." And it is.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

unlibraries - a vision

Once upon a time books were made of parchment and carried around in buckets. Then came the codex, designed by early Christians as a means to fix the canon and make sure no one glued extra bits onto the end of scrolls. The first books, hand written by teams of monks, cost a fortune. Gutenberg invented the printing press but went bankrupt when his invention failed to catch on. It took the Reformation to make publishing commercially viable, when every faction going was producing new tracts and pamphlets. The paperback provided cheap portable fiction for the troops and the workers.

The e-reader briefly bridged the gap between page and screen, but soon every laptop and mobile was a platform for prose. Far from killing literature, new devices led to a renaissance of artworks mixing text and images, sounds and conversations. The book was no longer defined as an object but as an experience, a unit of meaning, some of which were produced in beautiful, customised printed form, others in lavish online editions. But perhaps surprisingly the term remained—thanks to Macbooks and Facebook, Audiobooks, Digibooks, Skybooks, ifbooks etc, but the term was used to include events, performances, recordings, websites which demanded a certain level of attention. And all books were also communities, though mostly quiet ones, like library users silently sharing the same virtual space.

Libraries used to contain copies of works that were otherwise inaccessible to people without parting with their cash. Books were chained to desks, then loaned out for short periods, then after culture went up to the cloud, their role became really important, providing a safe local space in which to meet real people with the expertise and ideas to help us each explore our particular interest.

Where once people had been intimidated but uplifted in places of culture such as theatres and libraries, now all content emanated from the same devices. There was no longer any need to differentiate much between movies, books, ifbooks, pop music and opera. Whereas once these commodities were sold and performed in completely different places for different prices, now all was stuff, funded from the licence.

So we needed to create new means to uplift the spirit and encourage deeper attention and focus. Unlibraries flourished—designed to inspire and intrigue through displays, events and atmospheres which helped minds to expand; they sold and loaned out souvenirs of intellectual journeys undertaken there, were havens for debate and the simple, basic pleasures of social networking.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

'knowledge is porridge' - the thick of it

HERE is the Department of Culture, Media and Sport's new review of public libraries, presented in a format based on the Institute for the Future of the Book's CommentPress, and featuring an article by me!

Rachel Cooke wrote in the Guardian, "The document has a title so hilariously nebulous, not even the writers of The Thick of It could improve on it. "Empower, Inform, Enrich" – sounds like a scented candle"

I was involved in the DCMS consultation process much earlier on, then sent in my piece on a vision of the Unlibrary of the Future when I heard they had commissioned articles. It didn't cross my mind that it would actually be published. so when I was invited to the launch as an author, I assumed it was an administrative error. Imagine my surprise...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

FIL 09 - "El mundo del libro en el futuro"

HERE is a short film about the Future of the Book, from FIL, the Guadalajara Bookfair.
"There are still four hundred books on how to make a salad..." - Michael Kruger

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

guadalajara bookfair

we are not gadgets

Wonderful Olly Moss cover design for Penguin - more information HERE (via read 2.0 list which i've recently joined and is now pouring into my inbox)

nouvelle vague

Thanks to Mike Cane for pointing out this English subtitled version of this French film on our bookfuture.

good night

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

gigogne's kitchen

I was so sorry to miss the MAC exhibition in Paris this November where my friend Julie Dalmon de St Gast showed these amazing glass objects, props from the performance piece she involved me in writing many years ago, my first online collaboration. Gigogne's Kitchen was very well received I hear and may be travelling to other venues - and maybe one day the whole work will be brought into existence.

Saturday, 28 November 2009


An excellent review in the Guardian for Peter Forbes' new book. Peter was editor of the Poetry Review when I was Director of the Poetry Society, and also plays lead guitar with the Bettertones.

and the winner is...

Pictures here from the inaugural if:book English/English Translation Challenge Prize, held in London's glamorous South Bank Centre, at the Hide & Seek Sandpit event this week.

The 2 winners were asked to 'translate' and sex up a paragraph from The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. Winning entries were tweeted live from the award ceremony where cheques for £6.80p (10p per word for 68 words) were handed to our two deserving winners, pictured below. Both chose to keep the cheques uncashed as a memento of their success in this significant literary award. Ben Moor and a second winner who was keen not to reveal her true identity are pictured receiving their prizes from the CEO of if:book London, the award's sponsors.

Me Me Wang (nom de plume) accepts her prize

Ben Moor (rumoured to be his real name) accepts his

The cheque!
Ben and competitors seek inspiration

Here's the original text of paragraph one of C H A P. VI.

IN the beginning of the last chapter,
I inform'd you exactly when I was
born ; -- but I did not inform you, how.
No; that particular was reserved entirely
for a chapter by itself ; -- besides, Sir, as
you and I are in a manner perfect stran-
gers to each other, it would not have been
proper to have let you into too many
circumstances relating to myself all at
once. -- You must have a little patience.

First Winner: Ben Moor with:

"The last tweet infosmacked you with the timestamp of my launch into life, but the how was redacted. That stuff gets its own update. We're not BFFs so don't diss me for the remiss!"

Second Winner:

Me Me Wang (nom de plume) with:

"Sex Scandal: Shock Horror: Peter and Jordan were never born. Find out how by calling 087012345 where ALL your dreams will come true and a chance of winning £10 million!"

(celeb version)

And here are some highly commendeds:
"I don't know you so I won't say how I was born, only at what hour" - Ari
(Perec-style no e's version)

"I'm not just gonna tell a geezer I never met before how my old lady got up the duff" - Ivo
(Regional accent)

"I told you of my coming to the dark side but not how it happened.NO, that I am withholding until after dark... besides sir, you and I are not well acquainted.. move a little closer.. and I will tell you more." (Shandy with Vampires) by Celine Llewelyn- Jones

And the final text on the shortlist by Sophie Whitehouse:

IN the beginning of the last chapter,
I inform'd you exactly when I was
born ; -- but I did not inform you, how.
No; that particular was reserved entirely
for a chapter by itself ; -- besides, Sir, as
you and I are in a manner perfect stran-
gers to each other, it would not have been
proper to have let you into too many
circumstances relating to myself all at
once. -- You must have a little patience."Said the Vampire"

pop up and away

This is a beauty from the New Zealand Book Council
Production: Andersen M Studio
Design and animation: Line Andersen, spotted by the discerning eye of Alain Pierrot who found it at...



Friday, 27 November 2009

seizing the time

So as I keep telling everybody, I'm away next week at the Guadalajara Book Fair. I was asked to speak to a group of Arts Council England staff and, as I can't be there in person, have made a You Tube video for them. It's fifteen or so minutes of me, divided into two chunks, but that's what they requested, and so, with some trepidation, I'll share it with you here, Dear Reader. That flip camera dangerously encourages this vloggy kind of thing. The theme is how literature organisations need to seize the time.

dear mandy

three raps and you're out. This is by Dan Bull, not me. And it's nicely done.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

talking haringey


I met up with Crouch End Library's official social networker the_anke this morning for a fascinating discussion about possibilities for pop up unlibraries and such in my vicinity. Anke audio-booed us, starting with the famous Crouch End Dylan story.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

events dear boy

Thanks to Pete Law, if:book is to run a game at
Hide & Seek Sandpit http://sandpit.hideandseekfest.co.uk/southbank-sandpit-november-2009/ next week. We'll be holding our first English to English speed-translation prize involving a chapter from Tristram Shandy. Great foreign novels are re-translated into English regularly, always with the intention of being an authentic version of the original yet refreshed for a new generation of readers. The same doesn't happen with fiction in our own language which may get abridged or adapted for screen, but there's no equivalent process of re-rendering. And so books like Sterne's Tristram Shandy become ever denser to contemporary readers despite their wit and relevance to our times - until eventually they'll get old enough to be given the treatment that Heaney and Armitage have recently provided for Beowolf and Gawain. Anyway, our game next monday will be a start.

I've been zipping about a lot and tweeting rather than blogging thoughts from the UNICEF round table discussion last week, the Society of Young Publishers' conference in
Oxford at the weekend, and recent meetings with Winged Chariot, Pete Law, Timo Hannay and friends... I'd like to put some longer thoughts together on all of these, but there's just too much to do right now...

Meanwhile here's a link to a good article about artist Eames Demetrios, a participant in the Institute's roundtable on the Really Modern Library some time ago, and in town recently to launch new Kymerian plaques at the Frieze Art Fair.

Friday, 13 November 2009

what vookery is this

oh god and this Vook promo makes me want to run away screaming. If this is the future of the book, god help us.

popping up all over

So, is this dad smuggling a screen into a picture book so undermining the booksharing experience by turning it into trainee computor gaming, or is it a beautiful and elegant enhancement of the joys of picture books in the tradition of pop ups and peekaboo? Sticking a phone into the pages of a paper book is not unlike recreating the page turn online. It feels a bit naff, a bit retro - but is also for the moment an effective means to signify to readers that this material should be given a certain kind of attention, should be treated 'like a book'.

Wingedchariot.com (whose product this isn't) are exploring very delicately and skillfully how to retain and improve the very best things about books and the atmospheres and relationships they engender. It's a fascinating area which needs serious - and playful! - exploration.

Meanwhile the imminent arrival of tablets that are more like giant iTouches than mini laptops is very important to the future of the book. This is surely the gizmo that will allow us to focus in depth on immersive content that fuses literary and multimedia elements.

Monday, 9 November 2009

i-poet you-poet

Take a look at POETRY SPEAKS, a new website set up by Dominique Raccah, CEO of Source Books in the USA, who I met up with recently.
It's an attempt to create an iTunes, and thus a new economic model, for poetry.
It's a topic we'll certainly be exploring at the next
ifsoflo event, early in 2010.

Meanwhile in the UK if:book associate Sasha Hoare and ex-Children's Laureate Michael Rosen have launched the wonmderful PERFORM A POEM, a safe poetry place for schools, supported by the London Grid for Learning.

Monday, 2 November 2009

many stories

Chimamanda Adichi talking TED in Oxford

digital focus

HERE are the contents of the DIGITAL FOCUS section of the Bookseller magazine guest edited by if:book. Cartoon by Toni

In the digital age the book can no longer be defined as a stack of paper glued together at the side—it's a unit of culture, a container of ideas that requires a certain kind of attention from its consumer. Reading on iPods and e-readers reminds us that however we receive it, fiction happens in our imaginations, the book is a souvenir of that experience.

Digitisation is a huge challenge to industries engaged in making and selling books made of paper, but what are its implications for writers and readers? These are the questions if:book exists to explore.

if:book has already undertaken research for Arts Council England on digital possibilities for literature organisations, and is setting up a network to support them through changing times. The organisation has also been involved in a range of experiments with new forms of writing and publishing. Projects include Songs of Imagination and Digitisation, an online illuminated book inspired by William Blake. Thegoldennotebook.net put the entirety of Doris Lessing's epic novel online with comments of readers alongside the text. With completelynovel.com and a team of writers, if:book recently made the 24hr book, collaboratively written, edited and printed over one weekend.

The HOTbook is if:book's schools project, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Trust, which imagines how literature might develop over the next thousand years.

For this month's Bookseller Digital Focus, if:book asked some of its 21st-century experts to use their time machines and then report back from the near and far-flung future.

Bill Thompson, journalist and expert commentator on the BBC World Service's "Digital Planet" pictures the world beyond Google; Timo Hannay, publishing director of Macmillan's Nature.com, imagines the intelligent book; Naomi Alderman, winner of the 2006 Orange Award for New Writers for her novel Disobedience (Viking) and writer for games such as alternate reality game Perplex City, looks forward to new hybrid forms of writing; performance poet Ross Sutherland muses on the future for his artform; if:book's director Chris Meade visits the Unlibrary; and Sasha Hoare, who has worked on literature and education projects at the South Bank, for Booktrust and with Michael Rosen during his children's laureateship, explains in detail how HOTbook may develop present and future writers in schools.

Bill Thompson reports back from a post-Google world

Burning the books to keep power running to the servers had seemed like such a good plan in the dark days after the grid failed, but the librarians soon came to regret it once the last vellum-bound manuscript had joined the law journals, parliamentary records and works of 21st-century fiction in the ever-hungry furnaces of the power room.

After six months it was clear that the grid was never coming back, that the post-industrial world would be a post-electrical one. They would rebuild, of course. People always rebuilt, though the new society would not simply be a replica of what had gone before, the com'era, dov'era (how it was, where it was), that the Venetians insisted on as they rebuilt the campanile in St Mark's Square in 1901. It would be different, perhaps even better.
But it would have no printed books. The great scanning had seen to that, especially after Google persuaded the US courts to amend copyright law and allow it full rights to digitise and exploit any printed text, and authors realised that under the final Book Search settlement it made more sense to abandon publishers and simply send their finished manuscript to the Googleplex.

No books had been printed for a decade, with every bookshop now operating as an advertising-funded GoogleZone. No books had been read, it seemed, except as pixels on the screen of a networked device that was connected straight to the Pagebrinary—all the world's knowledge at only a eurocent a page. And the books that remained were now mostly gone, a final burnt offering to the gods of the data centres.

And then it began to happen, first a trickle and then a flood. People arrived at the library clutching carrier bags, or boxes or in one case a massive traveller's trunk, all packed with books that had been put to one side, left unopened on shelves or simply lain undisturbed among discarded computers, phones and indestructible CDs and DVDs.

The people emerged with their books, and offered them to the library, restocking the city's memory with textbooks and poetry and works of fiction. Not everything, not enough, and rather too many trashy airport novels and books about mystical intrigues involving the Catholic Church and western powers. But enough to offer a chance of rebooting one corner of civilisation a bit faster than the others, enough to get things started.

"If there was hope", the librarian muttered, "it lies in the pages". He was sure he'd heard that before, somewhere.

Chris Meade imagines the ‘Unlibrary' of the future

Once upon a time books were made of parchment and carried around in buckets. Then came the codex, designed by early Christians as a means to fix the canon and make sure no one glued extra bits onto the end of scrolls. The first books, hand written by teams of monks, cost a fortune. Gutenberg invented the printing press but went bankrupt when his invention failed to catch on. It took the Reformation to make publishing commercially viable, when every faction going was producing new tracts and pamphlets. The paperback provided cheap portable fiction for the troops and the workers.

The e-reader briefly bridged the gap between page and screen, but soon every laptop and mobile was a platform for prose. Far from killing literature, new devices led to a renaissance of artworks mixing text and images, sounds and conversations. The book was no longer defined as an object but as an experience, a unit of meaning, some of which were produced in beautiful, customised printed form, others in lavish online editions. But perhaps surprisingly the term remained—thanks to Macbooks and Facebook, Audiobooks, Digibooks, Skybooks, ifbooks etc, but the term was used to include events, performances, recordings, websites which demanded a certain level of attention. And all books were also communities, though mostly quiet ones, like library users silently sharing the same virtual space.

Libraries used to contain copies of works that were otherwise inaccessible to people without parting with their cash. Books were chained to desks, then loaned out for short periods, then after culture went up to the cloud, their role became really important, providing a safe local space in which to meet real people with the expertise and ideas to help us each explore our particular interest.

Where once people had been intimidated but uplifted in places of culture such as theatres and libraries, now all content emanated from the same devices. There was no longer any need to differentiate much between movies, books, ifbooks, pop music and opera. Whereas once these commodities were sold and performed in completely different places for different prices, now all was stuff, funded from the licence.

So we needed to create new means to uplift the spirit and encourage deeper attention and focus. Unlibraries flourished—designed to inspire and intrigue through displays, events and atmospheres which helped minds to expand; they sold and loaned out souvenirs of intellectual journeys undertaken there, were havens for debate and the simple, basic pleasures of social networking.

Novelist and digital writer Naomi Alderman pictures fiction in 2059

Human beings never change as much as we imagine. Technologies change, but human needs remain: food, water, companionship, sex, shelter and—a constant among all civilizations—stories.

We need stories as much in 2059 as in 2009. "Traditional" forms never go out of fashion. Live theatre remains exciting. Beautifully-made books are still prized. The linear story, the novel, short fiction—these forms aren't going anywhere.

But the fiction audience of 2059 has more options. For one thing, computer game stories have become richer. Even 50 years ago, games like "Portal", "Shadow of the Colossus" and "Grim Fandango" had thought-provoking, engaging stories. And novelists were already exploring fiction with multiple endings: from The French Lieutenant's Woman to Leila Johnston's Enemy of Chaos. Authors now often work with a programmer—like the time-honoured musician-lyricist partnership—to produce fiction that's interactive, games that are literary. These partnerships shy away from defining their work as story or game, coyly calling them "experiences".

Our new generation of writers grew up with the internet. Though some value printed books, for others print would mean that their work was instantly irrelevant. Some authors use their audience as a test-bed, a source of encouragement and inspiration. While writing, they post new chapters online to reader-subscribers who give suggestions. If the writer takes on a reader's idea, they might get a small fee—or just kudos. Other authors release their work to be "remixed" by the audience; some remixed works are more popular than the originals. And authors have discovered the joy of live improvisational writing: creating an instant story by writing in character in response to readers.

The ubiquity of mobile devices with clear, readable screens has created a phone-fiction subculture. Like soap operas, these novels—no longer limited by physical print—can continue for years. Some of the best known have multiple authors; they could carry on being written forever.

Mobile devices also mean that stories can take place in unlikely venues. Using augmented reality tools, you can watch a story that seems to be taking place around you while you're queuing in the supermarket or at the dentist. Or if you have 20 minutes to spare in central London, why not play a chapter of the new James Bond story? Disney's "Kim Possible Epcot Adventure" was already using this technology in 2009.

But these technologies haven't changed the fundamentals of good storytelling; in fact, they may have brought us full circle. Campfire stories were always interactive—the audience shouted out suggestions, acted as a community. Interactivity hasn't been an innovation as much as a rediscovery.

Poet Ross Sutherland on poetry in the near future

Here's a quick story about the death of poetry. It starts in the not-too-distant future with Poetry4All.com, a reasonably-priced, comprehensive, cross-publisher retail platform for buying poetry.

I think that sounds like a pretty good idea, but then again, I just invented it, so of course I like it. My original business plan is to attract customers to Poetry4All.com through the audio functions. You can download The Birthday Letters, turn on Ted Hughes, and let him read along with you. Then, if Hughes becomes dull, I've installed Brian Blessed on the other side. With my audio in place, I produce weekly podcasts, featuring highlights from new collections, plus well-known poets presenting their favourites.

However, despite being the country's one-stop shop for all your poetry needs, Poetry4All still isn't making me enough cash. I feel like I've barely tapped into the colossal online poetry community, which churns out thousands of poems every day onto the message boards of Britain. I decide my website needs to accommodate these poets too. I need to turn these eager producers into eager consumers.

I relaunch the website and throw the doors wide open. It's one big poetry house-party, and because I'm really popular, everybody comes. However, many of my new poet friends don't seem to have any connection with my old friends. Operating outside the publishing industry, these new poets are strange adjuncts from other artforms. They're mutant poets: cybertext authors, installation artists, poet-filmmakers, a capella rappers, unpublished page poets born in the wrong century.

Trawling through my website soon becomes like walking into an incomprehensible bar-room brawl. If you knew little about poetry before coming in, you'll know even less when you leave. It's hardly a cohesive community. My published poets threaten to pull out now that my website's top five most popular poems are all limericks about cats.

Forced out into public, but frustrated at their inability to distinguish their own work, the poets start to become increasingly inventive with their self-labelling (even poets are savvy with branding in the not-too-distant future). With help from the press, micro-movements emerge, emulating the quick turnover of fashion and music industries. They even start to write manifestos again.

It turns out, by forcing the community together, I'd inadvertently shown them how much they hate each other. And seeing as they're either all poets, or none of them, they decide its best to remove the word "poetry" from their sales pitch altogether. After decades of hybridisation and misappropriation, the term gets quietly killed off and replaced with a glut of sexy subcategories instead.

And despite this sacrifice, I think that's pretty much a happy ending. Readers are happy. Sales increase, so the writers are happy. The publishers are happy. Here at Poetry4All, we've got a nightmare rebrand ahead of us, but apart from that, we're pretty happy too. And sure, it's sad that poetry had to die, but in doing so, we might have just ensured the content inside has the best chance of survival.

Timo Hannay on a whodunit from the era of the Intelligent Book

There are, I discover, still books in the world. Not just those bundles of bits we all carry in our personal devices (PDs), but what some people used to call "real books": blocks of paper and ink and glue. Until my recent adventures I had thought them extinct.

My life as a literary secret agent began with a call, the voice at the other end flustered and incoherent. There had been a murder, that much was clear, but I couldn't catch the names of either the victim or the perpetrator before our one-sided conversation came to an abrupt end with a crack and a strangled cry.

"Hello? Who is this?" I demanded, tapping with my earpiece as if to coax it to speak again. Since my lenses were in I switched on the display, but there was no video or caller ID.
Then—ping!—a text landed before my eyes bearing only two words: "General Scholium". A search revealed this to be not a Roman military leader, but Newton's addendum to the Principia. I grabbed a copy from the Internet Library and skimmed the text, but saw nothing significant until I got to the end. The phrase "a certain most subtle spirit which pervades and lies hid" formed a link.

And so on down the rabbit hole—via other classics (Melville, Dickens) and sections of my own library (Borges, Wiseacre). In each place there appeared messages in the form of marginalia, animated illuminations or entire rogue passages. Gradually I pieced together a vast and astonishing conspiracy. Locations were significant too—an abandoned library was a hideout for pirates, a local pub a cyber-schemers' den. And where my PD detected an old-fashioned paper book (though whether by RFID tags, image recognition or some other magic I cannot tell), then that too turned out to be part of the plot. Indeed, I hope this is not revealing too much to say that my principal discovery so far is that the codex did not die—it was murdered.

The phone rings again. My trembling hand reaches for the switch. But this time it's my wife wondering when the train will arrive. Any minute now, I tell her as my pulse slows.

This is an Intelligent Book in the modern sense that it responds to its surroundings and the reactions of its reader, but also in the old-fashioned sense that it makes you think. The plot will seem far-fetched to those who don't remember a time before storytelling became sexy, when publishing was still paranoid and parochial. But it is in its own way a landmark, for the team that created it has built the most convincing transmedia work to date. We now live firmly in an age when literature itself has become the canvas on which stories are painted. The messages have become the medium.

Sasha Hoare on the HotBook: past, present and future writers in schools

The HotBook, if:book's groundbreaking project for secondary schools, invites students to engage with literature in digital forms in an overarching story context. Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The HotBook is aimed at year eight and nine students, and was conceived as a way to help less confident readers stay interested in literature at an age when many young people start to switch off from books.

The poems and extracts from plays, novels, non-fiction texts and broadcasts in the HotBook are presented as short films, Flash animations, podcasts and HTML web pages. They range from Macbeth's "Tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech to Christina Rossetti's poem "Spring", from Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales to "Talking Turkeys" by Benjamin Zephaniah. They also include new commissions from contemporary writers such as Daljit Nagra, Cory Doctorow and Naomi Alderman, who were asked to write examples of the literature of the future.

Feedback from the four pilot schools spread across the country is encouraging—all the schools intend to run the project again this academic year, and 82% of students at Queensbridge School in Birmingham rated the project as good or excellent. Teachers have found the project works particularly well with lower ability groups. Although digital provision—including hardware, software, home access to computers and teacher confidence in delivering learning through Virtual Learning Environments—varies considerably across the country, the digital learning revolution is slowly gathering pace in schools. The ways in which students encounter literature is already changing.

if:book is now developing the final version of the HotBook, which will be available to all secondary schools in January 2010.


Saturday, 31 October 2009

Friday, 30 October 2009


Hand from Above from Chris O'Shea on Vimeo.

I'm sorry to be missing today's Playful conference where amongst many other delights, if:book associate Tim Wright is talking about his Kidmapping activities. Here's a video of a lovely project by Chris O'Shea, another speaker there today. And talking of play...

Thursday, 29 October 2009


Author and new media experimenter Alison Norrington has launched the site she will use to explore ideas about digital fiction for her PhD.

And then there's this interesting article on the Art of Digital Storytelling which talks about the Institute for the Future of the Book's CommentPress amongst other things.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

the day it all changed

"Tonight, Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive Founder and Chief Librarian, introduced what he calls his “BookServer” project. BookServer is a framework of tools and activities. It is an open-architectured set of tools that allow for the discoverability, distribution, and delivery of electronic books by retailers, librarians, and aggregators, all in a way that makes for a very easy and satisfying experience for the reader, on whatever device they want."

So starts this rave review of the launch of this impressive project which Open Library's George Oates told us about on her recent trip to London. It's also featured on the US if:book blog www.futureofthebook.org/blog.

Monday, 26 October 2009

word torrent

I put this video of Julius Popp's wonderful bit.fall water sculpture on this blog soon after I started it. I was reminded of it last week talking about exciting possibilities for live writing events. I welcome news of other marvels of digital literary public art.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

reading round up

The Carrier, a complete original graphic novel by author Evan Young, is now available worldwide. This marks a watershed moment for the American comic book industry: The Carrier is the first graphic novel to be published exclusively on the iPhone.

"For the first time, a complete original graphic novel has been published exclusively on a mobile device in the United States," says Evan Young, creator of the story and co-founder of StopWatch Media, the company behind The Carrier. "This is not simply a single-issue comic book or a graphic novel that has already appeared in print and been repurposed for the iPhone. The Carrier is a complete, original graphic novel published first and only on the iPhone, integrating the iPhone's core technological capabilities into a creative storytelling experience," he says.

I was kindly sent a code to get a free download but sadly it won't work on my stillunupgradediTouch, which is a shame as it sounds right up my street.


I have just downloaded the iphone app. for children's books produced by Winged Chariot, which looks exciting.


Then there's some interesting work being done by what will sadly be the final crop of MA students on the Creative Writing & New Media course at De Montfort.

"Gizmo the Geek is an eco-freak. He loves all things green, even jelly beans. He is mad about reducing waste and together with his friends, Yolanda and Bertram, he goes round collecting up materials from rubbish bins which he then recycles or up-cycles or just hoards until he can find something useful to do with it.

The Gizmo the Geek project is aimed at teenagers and takes advantage of the power of social networking to spread the word about the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ habit.

Gizmo’s first major project is to publish a book of eco-tips. The unique thing about Gizmo’s take on being green is that all his tips cost nothing – absolutely nothing. Green living shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be the norm, and it is not right that choosing the green option is so often more costly than the non green alternative. Gizmo wants to spread the message that going eco can be done for free."

Take a look at the site: http://gizmo-the-geek.net

Terry Gibson's site is an intriguing memoir of a movie-loving life.

"My Escape was a twelve screen multiplex, purpose built by cowboys to be a cinema with major design flaws. From the front doors you entered the foyer where there was a small island of a Box Office in the centre of the room, adrift in a sea of blue carpet."

floing on

We've just moved the FLO White Paper, written three years ago by the FLO group of leaders of Friendly Literature Organisations.
It's worth reading - see it here:


..and do put a link to it on your websites if you wish.

Meanwhile we're in the process of revamping and relaunching the ifsoflo network
for literature organisations exploring their digital possibilities, and we're on the look out for ideas to bring the community alive. Please let me know what issues you face, what we could do to help, and what keeps a network like this vital and thriving.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


The Bookseller today reports that new research by Booktrust reveals that:
"Children admitted they were distracted from reading by sedentary habits including watching TV (54%) and playing on the computer or video games (41%). In fact, 56% of all parents and carers, and almost half of all parents of four to five year olds (48%), said their child spent more time facing a screen, playing computer games and watching DVDs than reading."

So does this research assume that facing a screen doesn't involve reading - or writing?
And did they really "admit they were distracted" by Tv and games, or do they just like doing them?

I hereby admit I was distracted from sleeping last night by the book I was reading.

virtual frankfurt

Now that we're funded to run the ifsoflo network for literature organisations, I'm going to use this blog to keep track of digital developments relevant to our sector and hope others will be prepared to contribute links, information and comment.

I didn't go to the Frankfurt Book Fair last week, but tried to do it virtually, keeping track of the stream of tweets emanating from the hall, mostly about parties and deals involving zombies. The jist is: it was quieter than usual, which was good for independent publishers; everyone's talking about e-books, nobody knows quite what to say about them.

O'Reilly's Tools Of Change held in Frankfurt included presentations by Sara Lloyd of Pan Macmillan, revisiting her manifesto (which quotes if:book), Cory Doctorow railing against Digital Rights Management, Dominique Raccah of Source Books (who I was delighted to meet up with in London recently) and Timo Hannay of Nature.com.
Actually I'm really sorry I missed this chance to meet up with Alain Pierrot, Virginie Clayssen and other innovators I've been getting to know via digital means.

Here's a classic talk by Clay Shirky (with too much droning on about what's cool and smart, but hey)- and here are 11 Axioms of 21st Century Publishing

And thanks to Pete Law for spotting this on James Bridle's excellent blog.

I really will be speaking at the Guadalajara Book Fair in November - which I'm very much looking forward to.

Monday, 19 October 2009

blue skies

It's one of those moments when there's lots of thinking to be done, brainwaves required.
A walk by the sea is always fruitful in these circumstances.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

transliterate, multi-dimensional, cardboard

Thanks to Tim for spotting the cardboard photoshop

and Bob Stein and Dave Pescod for this classy 360 degree storytelling by HBO:


Meanwhile, following the closure of the Creative Writing & New Media MA, Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger have set up The Transliteracy Research Group, a research-focused think-tank and creative laboratory. They define transliteracy as the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. www.transliteracy.com

Monday, 12 October 2009

if:book in:print

To read Naomi Alderman, Bill Thompson, Timo Hannay, Sasha Hoare, Ross Sutherland and Chris Meade, plus a Toni Le Busque cartoon in the Bookseller's digital focus section this week,

if:book have guest edited this edition, which will also be on sale at the Frankfurt Book Fair and Frankfurt Tools of Change conference held this week.


Click the middle video first, then come back to...


Please explore our website, www.futureofthebook.org.uk for a full list of our associates, board members and details of our activities so far.



We want to build on the success of if:book's First Fictional Stimulus and the recent 24hr book project to create new kinds of writing on line.

We have Arts Council England funding for three years to run the ifsoflo network exploring digital possibilities for literature;

In January 2010 we launch the HOTbook package to all secondary schools, supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Trust, and intend to offer more resources and training to schools.

We are developing plans for residencies and digital publishing projects with some very important and exciting organisations.

Friday, 9 October 2009

happy day after national poetry day

My first poetry hero, Roger McGough, was one of those performing at the South Bank Centre on National Poetry Day. At the party afterwards I met up with old and new friends, remembered some excellent times back when I was Director at the Poetry Society and toasted its good health after one hundred years. The knitted poem, current Director Judith Palmer's brainwave, is a wonder to behold. Film includes me blabbing on about my new flip camera.

shot dead by a revolver concealed in the binding

Holly Gramazio of Severalbees.com sent us this wonderful passage from Christopher Isherwood's "Lions and Shadows":

"We discussed all this at great length, but I don't think we had ever any serious intention of literally sitting down to write the book. Quite apart from mere laziness, it hardly seemed necessary: indeed, it would have spoilt all our pleasure. As long as "Mortmere" remained unwritten, its alternative possibilities were infinite; we could continue, every evening, to improvise fresh situations, different climaxes. We preferred to stick to the Hynd and Starn stories, and to make utterly fantastic plans for the edition-de-luxe: it was to be illustrated, we said, with real oil paintings, brasses, carvings in ivory or wood; fireworks would explode to emphasize important points in the narrative; a tiny gramophone sewn into the cover would accompany the descriptive passages with emotional airs; all the dialogue would be actually spoken; the different pages would smell appropriately, according to their subject-matter, of grave-clothes, manure, delicious food, burning hair, chloroform or expensive scent.
All copies would be distributed free. Our friends would find attached to the last page, a pocket containing banknotes and jewels; our enemies, on reaching the end of the book, would be shot dead by a revolver concealed in the binding."

Thursday, 8 October 2009

coffee break

Find more videos like this on 24 hr book

It's National Poetry Day and time for coffee.
HERE is the 24hr book ning with all kinds of snippets from the day.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Next if:book salon

On tuesday october 13th at 7pm we're meeting at the Betsey Trotwood, next to the Free Word centre on Farringdon Road, for our next if:book salon, an informal gathering to talk about digital literature and things.

The wonderful Kate Pullinger will be there to answer questions about if:book's first Fictional Stimulus, the month-long digital reading experience which ends next week. If you haven't already, do log on and see what's been revealed so far. We can also discuss the 24 hour book, begun last saturday and launched on monday night!

Places are free. Do email me at chris at futureofthebook dot org dot uk to let me know if you're coming... or just turn up on the night.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

twentyfour hour book

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of writing the 24hr book with a team of writers including Kate Pullinger and a number of our students from the Indigitalisatio course Toni and I ran for Spread The Word.
The Society of Young Publishers provided a team of editors to shape our fragments, dozens contributed to our google doc open allotment, Toni filmed and documented (see www.24hrbook.ning.com, Completelynovel.com promoted and printed, and Spread The Word's Ben stayed up all night.

Using Googledocs to collaborate was eye-opening and left us all excited about the possibilities for this kind of working. Making a book in 24 hours was fun, but working with a cluster of writers for as long as it took to make something we were pleased with could be extremely rewarding.

Friday, 2 October 2009

fast fictions & translatathons

Chinese Literati Crowdsource Translation Of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

While we're working on an attempt to create a collaborative work of fiction over this weekend in London, Book 2 Book reports that "In a fascinating illustration of crowdsourcing (and piracy) in China, Yeeyan, a collaborative translation website, has posted the prologue and first two chapters of The Lost Symbol. The goal: organize Chinese netizens to produce a Chinese version before its official 2010 release by the People's Literature Publishing House." Well - they can only improve on the original.

Go to www.24hrbook.com to follow our progress - and contribute yourself.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


what vookery is this

cartoon by Toni

"For more than 500 years the book has been a remarkably stable entity: a coherent string of connected words, printed on paper and bound between covers.
in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube, the notion of the book is becoming increasingly elastic as publishers mash together text, video and Web features in a scramble to keep readers interested in an archaic form of entertainment..."

Read the whole of this article from the New York Times HERE

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

clerkenwell tales

Poet John Hegley outside the Marx Library, one stop on a walking tour around Clerkenwell this lunchtime, organised by the Arvon Foundation as part of the opening festival of the Free Word centre, of which if:book is now an associate.
cartoon by Toni Le Busque

According to the Bookseller, a survey by the Frankfurt Book Fair on how e-books should be priced has proved very inconclusive.

Here are the findings.

The price for an e-book should be:

More expensive than the printed book: 4%
As expensive as the printed book 15%
10 per cent cheaper than the printed book 11%
20 per cent cheaper 17%
30 per cent cheaper 14%
More than 30 per cent cheaper 16%
A standard price as with Amazon ($9.99) 15%
Other price model 6%

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Liz and Toni

Anna Completelynovel and Tim Moongolfer Wright

Photos by Chris Joseph from the Moors Bar event.

if:book salons bring together fascinating groups of people from either side of the web/literary divide. Whether we run more of these depends on whether there's a bigger tribe of punters who might start to make it theirs. It's a lovely bar with wi-fi, dvd screens and the potential for data projection onto walls. I envisage a cross between an Amplified discussion and a digital book group, with lots of mingling and tweeting, plus some presentations, readings and performances. If you'd like more of these or something similar but different, either in Crouch End or elsewhere...let us know.

Brown and Obama

Despite the woes of her husband, Sarah Brown's rise to prominence on Twitter (where she's now more followed than the beloved Stephen Fry) has been spectacular. Sarah has been a good friend to if:book, as she has been to Booktrust and many other charities and causes, showing considerable interest in if:book's mission and activities. A few weeks ago I sent her a message via Twitter asking if she would like to hear more about what we're doing for digital Britain. She replied, personally and positively, within five minutes.

Monday, 28 September 2009


Week two of our fictional stimulus kicks off today, and we're now selling mugs, bags and tee shirts adorned with this funky design wot I did, in a futile attempt to create new income streams for this format of publishing which we're getting VERY excited about.

And talking of exciting things, I'm pleased to see there's a free trial NickCavelite version of the impressive Bunny Munro Enhanced Edition, available now from iTunes. Mind you, at if:book we've already forked out the full fifteen quid, so it's not such good news for us.

monday beats

A wonderful essay on percussion and copyright Thanks to toni for sending me this.

Friday, 25 September 2009

remembering ian norrie

I lost my diary last week and have just realised to my horror that I missed the funeral yesterday of my first and bossiest boss, Ian Norrie. I loved working in his bookshop when I was a teenager and it gave me great pleasure to find, when I took on the job of Director of Booktrust, that Ian had written the history of the organisation in a book called SIXTY PRECARIOUS YEARS, describing a typical day of its then Director, Martyn Goff.

The High Hill in Hampstead was an amazing bookshop and Ian was an amazing man to work for. He loved arguing with his customers, an intimidatingly literary clientele, gleefully refusing to take cheques without credit cards from even the most eminent of authors. A few years he held a reunion of past employees and the turn out was impressive.

I still don't quite understand how he generated such loyalty and warmth, despite being such an impossible character, but he did. I will really miss him - and am so sorry I didn't get to his funeral which I trust involved lots of good anecdotes and gossip and tears and maybe some wine after.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

twenty four

Press Release

Something is growing in South London … Spread the Word challenges writers to write and publish a book about London in just 24 hours

In collaboration with if:book, The Society of Young Publishers and CompletelyNovel.com, Spread the Word has commissioned The 24 Hour Book, a groundbreaking project to challenge a group of writers to write a new story about London in just 24 hours.

The book will be written by a group of experienced writers working together using online collaboration tools around the clock between 10am on Saturday 3 October and 10am on Sunday 4 October. On the Sunday, a group of volunteer editors and publishers will move in to make the story ready for publication.

As well as making the book available to read online, CompletelyNovel.com will link directly to Print-onDemand printers to enable hard copies of the book to be available for its launch at 6pm on Monday 5 October.

Using digital technology, the public will also be able to follow and to contribute their ideas to the story online as it develops. Based around a group of city centre allotments, the story will explore ideas of shared and private space and the real and imaginary barriers between a range of different city characters

The lead writer for The 24 Hour Book will be Kate Pullinger and writers participating will include Sarah Butler, Aoife Mannix, Dean Atta, Cath Drake, Ben Payne, Chris Meade, Toni Le Busque, Saradha Soobrayen and Shamim Azad. The final book will be published under a Creative Commons license and available to buy on CompletelyNovel.com.

For more information please visit http://www.24hrbook.com or contact Ben Payne on 07974 155312, ben@spreadtheword.org.uk.

ficstimming in fin de crouch

We had a very good evening at the Moors Bar launching the Fictional Stimulus. Thanks to Andy for inviting us, Sasha and Toni for managing to make the technology work in time, Kate, Chris, Cindy, Anna for their brilliant contributions - and Tim who came all the way from Sarf London to give a great account of Kidmapping activities. And thanks to everyone who came along, especially those who wrote us some garden stories in preparation for the 24 Hour Book more news of which very soon. The film is a sweep around those present at 10.30ish.
We'd like to do more in that venue so would love to hear from those who might attend future events there.

It's Day Two in the Fictional Stimulus and the conversation is developing. Over 100 housemates and rising.

Today I spoke at one of the Guardian's regular Reading for Pleasure conferences for teachers.

We were asked (unexpectedly) for 3 TOP TIPS from our workshop. Ours were:

1) Don't obsess about how to work the technology, but get to grips with what it makes possible. If you know what you want to do with it, you can find someone to help you.

2) Shake off old habits and go back to first principles about what you think really matters about books and reading

3) Talk to your students about all this - they know more about how to make the web work, and you need to understand how they access information and approach the world in a digital way.

The session and contacts made there were really useful for me as we plan the launch of our education project, The Hotbook, for next January, and we work to create a network of champions for it in schools. My worry is that many schools will like the idea, think they ought to use the free digital resources we're producing and then not quite get round to using them! All advice on this very welcome.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

can buy me love

I bought a Beatles album this week. It took me ages to find a shop that sold CDs. Borders on Charing Cross Road, a bookshop with music too, had run out of all copies.
HMV on Oxford Street was the first place I found where the remastered Beatles were on sale - which felt like going to Selfridges for a pint of milk.

Buying things from real places can be very thrilling, and I think the most exciting purchases of my life were certain records of my youth. The Small Faces' Ogden Nutgone Flake purchased in Golders Green in its cover of linked circles, designed like a tobacco tin; Uncle Meat by Frank Zappa, Tubular Bells and, before that, the Monkees, all bought from a shop on the Finchley Road whose name escapes me... each purchase promising hours of listening and all kinds of new style tips. A Beatles record was the ultimate, a opening a whole new chapter in youth culture, the baroque psychedelia of Sergeant Pepper bleached out by the cool spaciousness of the White Album.

Buying online has its pleasures too, but there are profound changes hitting our highstreets and I'm worried that too many interesting shops are closing.
We neeed public places to go to for cultural products, and we need the thrill of purchasing stuff that really matters to us. I'm quite impressed by the remastered album, but being able to re-live the immensity of owning it is the best bit.

Friday, 18 September 2009

flippin eck

Using the latest in digital "flip" camera technology, if:book's mighty marketing machine goes into operation to promote next Tuesday's Crouch End bash

roll up roll up for the mystery tour

Our first fictional stimulus is launched on Tuesday - we've already got a mass of interesting people from all over the world signed up. It's an experiment for us in a method of publishing which we want to develop. For the time being we're using a Ning, a simple means to build a small social network; it does what we want within a fixed format and is fine for our purposes, but punters need to sign up to Ning before they get into the site. The Stimulus is aimed primarily at book readers who may be less confident on-line, so we don't want this to put them off. One friend on Facebook said she wanted more of an explanation before signing up, so here is the text they'll also find on the front page once they're logged in at www.fictional-stimulus.ning.com:

Can this package of poems and stories in digital form boost global confidence in literature's future?

Fictional Stimulus is a reading experience for people who like books and are curious about the future of literature in the digital world.

It's an introductory taster for those new to reading online, and its form is inspired by the bookgroup where everyone reads the same material then gets together to discuss it at the end.

Fictional Stimulus starts on 22 September 2009, when we will email you a link to your first batch of literary stimuli. The experience will run for four weeks, over which time you’ll be sent twelve emails, each taking you to a concise selection of material including new work and commentary, plus links to a few other sites you might be interested to look at.

Fictional Stimulus culminates in a live chat with Kate Pullinger and the if:book team on 13 October when you’ll have a chance to ask questions and join the debate on the future of the book. The complete Stimulus will still be available to read here after that date.

As well as reading the new content on the site as it is posted, you can if you want to start and join discussions in the forum, post information about yourself on your profile page, chat live to other participants online and leave comments on each piece.

Fictional Stimulus is free to access, so do invite your friends to come and join in.

Fictional Stimulus is produced by if:book, the London-based think and do tank exploring the future of the book in the digital age. It includes material funded by Arts Council England and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

We hope you enjoy the experience. It's an experiment for us all.

The if:book team


And for those based in London, there's a launch event at the Moors Bar, Crouch End on Tuesday 22nd September and a final if:book salon and online chat on Tuesday October 13th at the Betsey Trotwood pub in Farringdon.

Email chris at futureofthebook dot org dot uk for more information or go to the Future of the Book group on Facebook.