big sky and the space between us

In December I spent time in Australia working on consultation meetings for a Writers’ Strategy for Queensland. Remember those halcyon days when we had strategies about such things in the UK? For Australian literature organisations there are massive benefits to digital tools which can connect communities of readers and authors spread across vast areas, can create appropriate distribution platforms for indigenous oral narrative forms, and  can distribute and promote authors who need an international audience to have any chance of earning a living. Of course there’s a threat to Australia’s small but thriving independent booksellers, but an exciting challenge to adapt to change while remaining true to first principles.

Back in the UK I recently interviewed a cluster of emerging British writers about their perspective on the transformation in publishing that’s taken place over the past few years ago and was shocked at how immersed they still were in a view of literary culture that’s constrained by the technology of printing on paper. 

Creative writing courses and community workshops take on a whole new power in the digital age in which no arbiter can decide from on high who does and doesn’t deserve a wider readership. We can all gain from learning to write better, and while I understand concerns about quality and the pressure for work being rushed into the public domain before its fully cooked, it’s time to embrace at a fundamental level a model for our writing lives which focuses on what the web can do rather than clinging to doing things the way they had to be when a published book was the only vessel for words on offer.

The Literature Sector should be at the vanguard of change, but despite the best efforts of some, many of whom are speaking on March 27/28th at the NALD conference THE SPACE BETWEEN US, the commercial publishing sector feel they own the discussion about the literature of tomorrow, failing to recognise or acknowledge how utterly the space between our words has been transformed.

This year if:book UK will be working closely with the New Media Writing Prize, launched two years ago by Bournemouth University, a spur to encourage more writers to experiment with the new palette of digital possibilities for literature. We don’t need publishers or bookshops or digital start ups to start making work that is genuinely inspired by new means of communication and community. We can find collaborators and tools and business models for ourselves and get stuck in to the really exciting bit: creating compelling, illuminated fiction and poetry, made in the light of how we read, write, see, hear and share now.


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