Friday, 28 August 2009

welcome to if:book australia!

New Institute for the Future of the Book to launch in Australia 2010

August 27, 2009 · by Kate Eltham, Electric Alphabet

Today at the Melbourne Writers Festival I had the happy task of announcing that my organisation, Queensland Writers Centre, will launch a new affiliate of The Institute for the Future of the Book in Australia in 2010.

if:book Australia will promote new forms of digital publishing and explore ways to boost connections between writers and audiences.

if:book Australia is the third centre of excellence for digital literature in this network after the Institute for the Future of the Book was established in New York by Bob Stein, and if:book London developed by Chris Meade.

From the media release:

The first project for if:book Australia will be a national seminar series delivered next year called Writers and Digital Markets. Supported and funded by the Literature Board of the Australia Council, the program will inform Australian writers about new opportunities to create and publish digital content.

if:book Australia will function as a ‘think-and-do tank’ and QWC is seeking partners from across the publishing, education and media sectors who are interested in collaborative programs and research

Monday, 24 August 2009

san serif

From stencils to letraset to desktop publishing to... this.

I used to own an encyclopaedia of typefaces which I'd browse for hours. Now Typedia, A Shared Encyclopaedia of Type, promises similar joys in online form.

where the sun shines brightly

Need holiday reading for the kids on your iPhone? Try

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

associated talents 2

Another if:book associate doing interesting things. Actor Cindy Oswin has been documenting the history of fringe theatre in the UK with the British Library and annually visits the Edinburgh Festival to gather new interviews. She's also presenting her Salon with Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas which I saw at the British Library and would love to turn into the first of an if:book classics library of literature, food and puppetry - sounds good to me!

Cindy Oswin invites if:book friends to a private salon event
Tuesday 25th & Thursday 27th August 5 – 6pm
Royal Terrace, Edinburgh.
Wine and Alice B Toklas Cookbook nibbles.
To book your place email your preferred date to:
Royal Terrace is 5 minutes walk from the East End of Princes Street.

to read more about her project at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Meanwhile the second leg of Tim Wright's bizarre Kidmapped project starts shortly.
Follow his footsteps as he follows in footsteps!

a digital literary renaissance

This is the text of my article for NEW BOOKS magazine, published this week, which sells to readers and reading groups.

When I told my friends, colleagues and my mum that I was leaving the charity Booktrust to set up a think and do tank looking at the digital future for literature, the response was mostly horror. “But I thought you liked books!” Some scolded me, others pleaded: “But please let me be allowed to keep some books.” As if I was out to single-handedly denude their homes of paper.

Actually I was just fascinated by the changes taking place in publishing as the digital revolution transforms our cultural lives, and keen to try to ensure that these changes benefit lovers of books and reading.

Since the birth of if:book in the autumn of 2008, gadgets like the Sony Reader and Kindle have been much discussed and the message is getting across that e-readers, whether you like them or not, are only another way of consuming what it is we all love: words used to tell stories.

SO what is an E-reader? Well... it’s a handheld device for reading text in digital format (or ebooks), about the size of regular books and using 'e-ink' to simulate traditional print. Instead of turning the page you click a button, the screen goes black for a flicker and the next page emerges. And there’s no back lighting, which makes them easier on the eyes, though no good for using in bed with the lights out.

The device can store hundreds of titles. No, you can’t read them in the bath, (but then paper books dropped into water don’t work very well either do they?), and new things to read can be downloaded – for free from sites like Project Gutenberg if they’re out of copyright, and at various (to my mind too high) prices from publishers, Waterstones, Amazon etc.

The Sony Reader is the gadget that’s most popular in the UK so far. It comes in a faux-leather cover that makes it attractive to lovers of Moleskine notebooks. When I show them mine, I’ve been amazed how quickly sceptics start stroking its cover and desiring one of their own. The iLiad has a larger screen and a keypad for note taking. Amazon’s Kindle hasn’t arrived in Britain yet, but watch this space in the run up to Christmas.

Although the Kindle has wi-fi connectivity so that books can be downloaded on the move and new editions of newspapers etc, can appear there magically (well, not magically - complicatedly digitally), these readers all feel retro, providing less in terms of colour, multimedia and interactivity than we’ve come to expect from a mobile telephone, let alone our laptops. The e-Reader’s limitations may help us focus on the text in question as we don’t have the distraction of emails, tweets and other hoohah to befuddle and distract.

Meanwhile an application called Stanza and others like it allow keen readers to download titles to read on the iPhone and other mobiles. Actually in landscape format Stanza provides a reasonable space for text, and there are some advantages about having one device on which to read, write, watch, take photos… and even make phonecalls sometimes.

Many booklovers seem scared that the book will be destroyed by the electronic reader – but I reckon that the beloved bookgroup has done much more to change the way people read in contemporary society.

What do you like about books? Okay there’s the look and smell and heft of them, but lots of things are nice to hold. Books represent free, independent thought and imagination, stories unravelling in our minds at exactly the speed we choose. Now the arrival of digital readers and ebooks on screen seem to threaten the specialness of books for many. But isn’t it the bookgroup that’s done most to change the public conception of how we read? Once seen as an entirely solo experience, selected from a nearly infinite library of possibilities, savoured at whatever speed in whatever dollops of time we individually choose, now a bookgroup book is
chosen from a relatively small selection of current prizewinners and bestsellers, takes a month to ‘do’ and culminates in a gathering with friends to discuss it.

My first taste of reading a book on my iPhone was a revelation, reminding me that stories aren’t objects but experiences that take place in our minds. Without the reassuring souvenir of the battered paperback as proof of my journey, it dawns on me that a good read is as transient as good food or sex – once it’s done there are only memories.

But look at it another way: what about providing readers with some new kinds of matter to enjoy over a month or so? Sign up to our FICTIONAL STIMULUS at and you’ll be sent emails leading to animated poetry, interactive stories, introductory videos and even a free gift delivered by what is now called snail mail into your real live hands. All we are saying is give it a chance.

The reassuring presence of novelist Kate Pullinger will lead you through. You’ll find amongst other wonders a poem by Jacob Polley, The Reader, which includes all its drafts flickering before your eyes then settling into place, a story by Naomi Alderman set in a future when trees tell stories too. And is my own attempt at a digital fiction with pages to turn but also videos to watch, songs to listen to and all kinds of animated flourishes produced by the brilliant Toni Le Busque, if:book’s creative director.

if:book has been creating a new kind of illuminated book online inspired by the work of visionary poet William Blake, the kind of personality who would jump at whatever means were available to elaborate and distribute his message, working with them to find what imaginative possibilities they can provide. At a time when so much debate about books is defensive and backward looking, we want to help writers to seize the time and experiment joyfully with the amazing new ways available to tell great stories.

I have nothing against books, or e-Readers either, but what gets my juices flowing is the potential of new media as a means to allow writers and readers create and consume new kinds of literary content.

Monday, 17 August 2009

associated talents

This film of the wonderful poet Yemisi Blake is by if:book associate Sasha Hoare whose new website is an excellent showcase of her talents.

Meanwhile associate Toni is in Florida making beautiful drawings of the blistering heat she's enjoying there.

So there I was sitting at a desk at the British Library a few months ago when I got chatting to the student next to me who was doing a project about why people hung out there. All very relevant to if:book's interests in libraries - and unlibraries - of the future. Anyway, Elli recently sent me this link to her project,
which she intends to develop next term. I hope she'll keep us in touch with it.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Go to
to read a new networked book about networked art curated by Jo-Anne Green and Helen Thorington (Co-Directors, New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. |


High Pitch London is a group of script writers focused mainly on film and TV screenplays (but also some writing for the stage) ranging from high farce to gritty drama. It was formed in 2007 from graduates of screenwriting and acting courses at the City Lit.

They meet regularly to critique each others’ scripts, discuss technique and swap information on upcoming opportunities. Take a look at their new website and episodes from "Hollywood, We Seem To Have A Problem", Chris Lakeman Fraser's take on the writers' strike. They'll also be serialising new film scripts, so screenwriters can communicate directly with their audience without the bother of actually making a film at all.


Oh, and then there's, a start up which merges books and video to make something that from what I've seen so far I don't much like the look of... but I'll keep an eye on what they're up to.

Monday, 10 August 2009


Eoin Purcell has been thinking about if:book's READ:WRITE research for Arts Council England. Read his post HERE. He wonders why we don't say more about making money online, a big subject which deserves a more thorough response than I can give now, but a starting point for us was that while the business models of the publishing and bookselling industries have been thrown into turmoil, most writers make so little money from sales of their work on paper that the web can only be seen as giving authors more direct means to promote themselves and their work to whatever markets they are interested in.

Friday, 7 August 2009

a place for silence

As I try to get my head around the article I'm writing for Becta on the history and future of books, I find, thanks to Mr Furtado, a beautiful essay on reading, by David L Ulin from the L.A. Times, which manages to talk about its importance without assuming only paper books can deliver this. Here's the conclusion:,0,4905017.story

" Here we have the paradox, since in giving up control we somehow gain it, by being brought in contact with ourselves. "My experience," William James once observed, "is what I agree to attend to" -- a line Winifred Gallagher uses as the epigraph of "Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life" (Penguin Press: 244 pp., $25.95). In Gallagher's analysis, attention is a lens through which to consider not just identity but desire. Who do we want to be, she asks, and how do we go about that process of becoming in a world of endless options, distractions, possibilities?

These are elementary questions, and for me, they cycle back to reading, to the focus it requires. When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13, my grandmother used to get mad at me for attending family functions with a book. Back then, if I'd had the language for it, I might have argued that the world within the pages was more compelling than the world without; I was reading both to escape and to be engaged. All these years later, I find myself in a not-dissimilar position, in which reading has become an act of meditation, with all of meditation's attendant difficulty and grace. I sit down. I try to make a place for silence. It's harder than it used to be, but still, I read."

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

I thought I'd already posted this, first found on the if:book USA blog. The future of the book never looked so chic.