Monday, 30 July 2012

thus thus thus thus

I'm feeling very fortunate to be a participant in Tino Seghal's piece at the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, and will try to write more about the experience soon. For now here are two reviews which I found extremely moving.
Do come and see it and engage with it. Don't expect every encounter to be ideal - life's not like that, but enjoy playing with it, watching it etc. Thanks to Bob S for getting me involved. I'm loving it (and am the bloke with a tale of talk in Sheffield (actually the murmur of voices on the bus into town) who is mentioned in the Observer review.

"Within an hour, on the first day, visitors are already joining in. Children run with the pack of performers and snake through Sehgal's milling throng. Soon, I am sure, visitors will be mingling with performers and tell their own stories. We're all participants now. A bystander said: "This is Tino's opera." We're on stage too.
I could barely drag myself away to write this, and I cannot wait to get back. These Associations is a great antidote to the ever more spectacular, large commissions the Unilever Project has produced. It is also a rejoinder to all the brouhaha and corporate fascism and jingoism of the Olympics.
These Associations is one of the best Turbine Hall commissions. There are no objects: we are the subject. It is about communality and intimacy, the self as social being, the group and the individual, belonging and separation. We're in the middle of things. It is marvellous."
- Adrian Searle, The Guardian

Tino Sehgal, These Associations
'A most profound work': Tino Sehgal and participants in These Associations. Photograph: Johnny Green
They walk slowly towards us, a rival crowd approaching out of the darkness at the far end of Tate Modern. What will happen when we come face to face with all these strangers? Just as the tide of figures is about to surge around us, or perhaps overwhelm us, a young man detaches himself and begins to tell me about the great error of his life, which was to send an email instead of a handwritten letter and how it altered everything. I was so enthralled I fell in step beside him, unable to tear myself away.
  1. Tino Sehgal
  2. These Associations
  3. Turbine Hall, Tate Modern,
  5. London
  1. Starts 24 July
  2. Until 28 October 2012
But soon he seemed to cede to a girl who told of a party thrown to celebrate her sister's recent recovery – from what? We were immediately deep in conversation about the swiftness of cancer in the young. Next, a wise woman recalled the jar of dolly mixtures that sat on top of the classroom cupboard as a reward for good behaviour when she was a child, and the fear of never receiving a handful. A fourth stranger who had migrated from London to a new life in Sheffield found himself amazed to hear the sound of voices everywhere: people actually talking to one another. His story is emblematic of this whole marvellous project.
These Associations is the latest iteration of the Unilever Series. Conceived by the Berlin-based Tino Sehgal, it is by far the most radical and humane of all the Turbine Hall commissions to date. There is no object, as with Louise Bourgeois's giant spiders or Carsten Höller's spiral slides. There is no installation, as with Miroslav Balka's apocalyptic black void. There is no fixed image or sculpture or outcome.
Sehgal's event – as always with this 36-year-old artist – consists entirely of encounters between living people that are as potent, ever-changing and unique, minute by minute, as they are in the world beyond this museum. Except that they might never happen out there.
For the connections are sudden and immediately open. There is no preamble and the register of the conversation is quite extraordinarily frank. Yet these strangers are full of respect in forging this vital sense of connection. There is no social barter; you feel no pressure to divulge anything in exchange. It is like the best, and least demanding, party.
The crowd walks faster, breaking into a sprint or suddenly slackening and losing formation. It looks at times like a game of tig, or a football match without a ball. There is a sense of starlings mysteriously gathering or shoals of fish somehow darting in the same direction without any obvious leader. Above all, it looks atomic, especially as the participants spin away from the group to talk to the rest of us. It is like a microcosm in reverse: Brownian motion enacted by full-size people.
And into this benevolent force field we visitors are drawn, welcomed from all over the world. One man tells of a love affair gone wrong. Another shares his experience of vertigo with a colleague who discovers something vital about his own condition. I had a piercing exchange about fathers with a man I will never see again, so that its contents remain sharp and intense in that isolated moment but have unfolded with new meaning in my memory ever since.
I imagine that Sehgal has asked his volunteers to talk of life-changing moments, of feelings of belonging or its opposite, but each story is altered by the mutual dialogue. Whether you do or don't talk back is up to you; indeed you might reverse the exchange. I still wish I had talked to the woman in red, or had longer with the American in the black and white stripes. They move away – they have to because time passes, after all, and the museum will eventually close. But there is an immense freedom in Sehgal's orchestration, given how hard it might be for some of the volunteers to speak of their lives to total strangers and how wary those strangers may be. They don't approach the reluctant or defensive, as it seemed to me, but I have no idea how it works precisely because these figures manage to appear and disappear out of the blue.
But how could one not be interested? It is almost a test of human solidarity.To call the experience Sehgal has set in motion life-affirming would be no more than platitude. This is a profound work and at the same time riveting; a new form of art somewhere between theatre, performance art, dance and memoir and yet based on an immense gathering of humanity that includes all of us as live participants. Life art, I suppose.
If you are able to visit Tate Modern during These Associations, give them as much time as you possibly can. The cycle lasts for an hour or so, and you could easily stay all day. Attention is what it is all about, this precious thing we scarcely give one another and which is both the substance and the object of Sehgal's work. We often speak of art as life-changing; this event truly has that potential in all its fullness and humanity. One learns about other people, and one learns about oneself. I shall never forget it.
- Laura Cummings, Observer 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

new media writing prize media release

The 2012 New Media Writing Prize is now open for submissions
Shortlist announcement 01/11/2012 at an event in London
Prize Ceremony 28/11/2012 at Bournemouth University.

Bournemouth University and if:book UK are delighted to announce
    that the New Media Writing Prize 2012 is open for submissions (deadline: midday GMT Friday 12th October 2012).
    the 2012 judging panel

Now in its third year, the New Media Writing Prize is awarded for
    excellent storytelling (fiction or non-fiction)
    work written specifically for delivery and reading/viewing via digital media
  entries can include work in the form of short story, novel, documentary or poetry using words, images, film and/or animation with audience interaction.

In addition to the main prize (open to all), there is a student award and, new for 2012, a People's Choice prize, sponsored by Arts Bournemouth as part of Bournemouth Arts Festival.

The winner of the main Prize will receive an iPad donated by if:book UK

The student winner can choose between a paid internship with if:book UK and an iPad

Winning entries will be published on, high profile new media web-hub The Literary Platform, the Bournemouth University websites, and will be showcased at the Awards ceremony, to be held at Bournemouth University on 28 November 2012. 
The judges
Chair: Dr James Pope
Sarah Butler
Lisa Gee
Sam Missingham
Louise Rice

Chair: Dr James Pope.
 Jim is co-founder of the New Media Writing Prize and senior lecturer at the Media School, Bournemouth University. He has a particular interest in how digital media may be changing narrative forms as well as reading and writing practices. the teaching of creative writing in digital media environments, and children's literature. As well as several recent publications around his research into readers' reactions to interactive fiction, Jim has also published six novels for children and teenagers.

Sarah Butler 
is a novelist and founder of Urban Words, a consultancy running literature-based projects that engage with the process of regeneration in innovative ways. She’s been writer in residence on the Central Line and was lead writer on LEAP! the International 24 Hour Book produced with Spread the Word. Her first novel Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love will be published in February 2013 by Picador and rights have already been sold in eleven languages and the USA.

Lisa Gee 
writes on books and new media literature, is an if:book associate, is the author of non-fiction titles Stage Mum and Friends: why men and women are from the same planet and the editor of Bricks Without Mortar: the selected poems of Hartley Coleridge. Her current writing project – HayleyWorld: the story of a nice man, a proposed biography of not-terribly-good, long-dead poet William Hayley – can be viewed/pre-purchased on the Unbound website. @LIS4G33

Sam Missingham
Sam Missingham is head of events & marketing for The Bookseller Group. This includes FutureBook, The Bookseller and We Love This Book. She is responsible for audience building, events and awards management, programming and all areas of marketing.

Working to ensure The Bookseller is considered the essential brand for the book trade and to establish FutureBook as THE resource for all things digital publishing. She thinks the world is full of exciting possibilities thanks to the meeting of technology and  the publishing industry.

She can mostly be found on Twitter @samatlounge or drinking wine at some book do.

Louise Rice 
has over 30 years' international publishing experience in educational, trade and reference publishing, and now works as a Producer and on Business Development at Touch Press, renowned for their award-winning apps such as Elements and Waste Land. She is currently immersed in the production of War Horse: A Novel by Michael Morpurgo. Prior to that she was Publishing & Merchandise Director at the National Gallery . @louise_rice

if:book UK & the New Media Writing Prize 

Together with Dr James Pope at Bournemouth University, if:book UK will be involved in managing the Prize, appointing the judging panel, seeking further sponsorship and promoting the Prize across international media, as well as providing a (paid) internship for the winner of the student prize.

if:book Director Chris Meade, said “This is a fantastic opportunity for if:book to contribute our resources,network and ideas to the only international Prize focused specifically on new media writing creativity. We are delighted to be working with Jim and Bournemouth University to support this terrific initiative.

Dr James Pope said: “There’s tremendous synergy between if:book UK’s aims and those of the Prize. My colleagues and I are looking forward to a productive partnership.”


For more information contact: 

Chris Meade 

07968 018115

Lisa Gee
07973 435040

Notes for editors

1. Diary

 The 2012 New Media Writing Prize is now open for submissions
The shortlist will be announced on 01/11/2012 at an event in London
The winners will be announced at the Prize Ceremony on 28/11/2012 at Bournemouth University.

2. History

 The New Media Writing Prize was introduced in 2010 by Sue Luminati and Dr James Pope as part of the Poole Literature Festival at a launch event chaired by Chris Meade
Dr Pope took over the running of it in 2011
In 2010 it attracted 60 entries to the main prize and 10 in the student category
in 2011 the numbers were 120 and 20 respectively

3. Previous winners

Main Prize

2010 Christine Wilks for Underbelly
2011 Serge Bouchardon and Vincent Voickaert for Loss of Grasp 

Student Prize

2010 Lorenza Samuels for Evidence
2011 Simon Kerr for  5Haitis

4. Previous judges


Dr James Pope

Tim Wright

Andy Campbell

Tracey McGerrigan


Dr James Pope

Sophie Rochester of the Literary Platform

Christine Wilks

Andy Campbell

b: About if:book

if:book uk is a small think and do tank exploring digital possibilities for literature. 
We are linked with an international fellowship of organisations exploring book futures, including the INSTITUTE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE BOOK in New York,  IF:BOOK AUSTRALIA in Brisbane, and IF:LIRE in Paris.

Monday, 9 July 2012


After some pondering I've posted the first part of Nearlyology, the fiction piece I'm currently writing, onto a new site: in the hope it might attract some readers prepared to engage with the Intro and FIRST PART, amounting to about 20 pages of A4, and give me their comments.

To some extent I'm hoist by my own petard - as my granny used to say. Having spurned traditional formats and publishing routes, I have to decide for myself how where and when to present it and to whom. It's a story which includes songs and asks for some reader response, but for all that I see it growing into something akin to a novel, though I did also start work on a script version for performance. Anyway, I'm enjoying writing it and have had some very positive responses so far from people whose opinions I value highly.

I'm certainly not averse to being commissioned by a publisher or other producer to complete this piece to fit a defined format, but as a writer I love the freedom online to define my own boundaries and the ability to mix media at will. However, when I wrote my digital novella Lost Tim, the word count I realise now was dictated by the rules of the M.A. I was taking at the time, tutored by the amazing Kate Pullinger. Without academic strictures, how do I decide what shape it needs to be now? A workshop at the University of Edinburgh last week, on research being undertaken into digital manuals, got me thinking about how to devise a tool for designing and describing collaborative and multimedia fictions. Until we create that nifty gadget, what's to do? 

Well, perhaps I can ask you, dear Reader. 

I'm also seeing how it feels to write in public in this way, and reserve the right to take the site down again and work on it privately. I've always banged on about writers' freedom to take use which new keys they choose on the digital typewriter and not feel bullied into going further than they want. So it's an experiment - and the first lesson will be how few people are prepared to put time into concerted reading of unproven text online. I'd be delighted if you gave it a go, though, and went beyond the Intro to read the FIRST PART of the story itself.

Thanks in (realistic) anticipation!  

Sunday, 8 July 2012

every cloud has a story lining

Here's a good cloud for a rainy day

THE STORY CLOUD made by Winged Chariot with the Discover Centre and funded by LOCOG is a marvel of a site featuring stories for children by some of our top writers and illustrators, plus more by children themselves. if:book UK ran an initial workshop exploring ways to encourage active engagement with the site which asks users to send in their own stories in response.

DO TAKE A LOOK and encourage children and parents to explore it.
This image is from Michael Rosen's story, illustrated by Kristyna Litten.

A new story will be released each Monday from the 18 June – 3 September for the twelve weeks of the Cultural Olympiad.  The third story is now live, Strange Things Happen by Malorie Blackman and illustrated by Chris Riddell. Come and take a look
If you've written or drawn something for our StoryCloud Gallery please go to

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

poetry parnassus

A photo from the launch of Poetry Parnassus at the South Bank...
and a lovely idea elegantly executed
               ...and a picture from Bilbao where I gave a talk at the amazing Mediateka.

on being a nearlywriter

I wrote this for another site I'm setting up, but I'd like to post it here too as it received a positive reaction from people whose opinion I value very highly, and it related to my work with if:book as well as my creative writing.

There are all kinds of nearlywriters; those who are forever on the point of writing a novel, the ones who write for themselves but don’t like to make a big thing about it; emerging writers who haven’t actually emerged yet; people whose writings have been published in a few places but who for one reason or another wouldn’t describe themselves as writers.

And then there’s a new kind, someone who blogs and writes online, expresses themselves in written words as part of their everyday lives and puts this work on the web for a readership which accrues around their work.

These Nearlywriters know they’ve not been selected for publication in the conventional way, but they do have a critically engaged readership, and are spreading their words in a way that until very recently could only be done through a printed book – or a lot of photocopying.

Up to now I’ve called them Amplified Authors, using social networks, self publishing and the blogosphere to go into print without the mediation of a conventional publisher, but without conventional gatekeepers to tell us whether or not we deserve publication, those who write must shoulder responsibility for quality control and the route of their learning journey. Nearlywriters, in common with all the best authors, have the humility to know they’re not there yet.  
However there’s no need to accept the parameters laid down by conventional publishing. Digital books don’t need a certain number of pages to be economically viewable or glueabletogetherable. My first digital included text, photos, video, songs and cartoons. None of this increased the price of production (which was nil). It’s as long as I wanted to be - and could be expanded or refined whenever I feel like it. 

I reckon I’m a particularly well qualified Nearlywriter. At school I was good at English (as in useless at everything else), won various poetry prizes, drew cartoons, acted in plays, had a poem published in Puffin Post which was then copied by a schoolboy my age whose teacher entered it for a Guardian poetry prize and won, so by chance I’d been published in the Guardian, albeit under pseudonym, before I was 12. 
In my teens I produced with friends two small ‘underground’ magazines, assembled with cow gum, electric typewriter and Rotring pens then printed offset litho. Way back in the 1980s and 90s I lived in Sheffield, worked in community arts and performed poetry. Writing sketches for The Friday Show at the Leadmill in Sheffield, a weekly satirical cabaret, I created a character called Betty Spital, ably performed by Jane Baker, and a book of her thoughts was published, first by the Yorkshire Art Circus and then - oh happy day! - by Penguin Books. The best bit of being ‘really’ published was the run up to publication day when I could bask in potential fame. After that I was either annoyed that bookshops didn’t stock it or they did and still had copies left unsold. I was delighted when the sub editor told me he’d fallen off his chair laughing at my writing, depressed when I heard my designated publicist had left the company.   

I wrote a play which we took to the Edinburgh Festival; it won the George Orwell Prize, now an award for political writing, but in 1984 (of all the years to win it!) open to all kinds of literature. I reviewed books for the Ham and High and the New Statesman. Since then I’ve accumulated loads of experience of the ancillary activities of writers: I’ve run workshops, including a course on New Media Writing at the Arvon Centre in Yorkshire, written reviews, sat on panels of judges for writing prizes including the Forward Poetry Prize, the Asham Short Story Prize, even the Buddy Holly poetry competition funded by Paul McCartney, when my fellow judges were Roger McGough and Tim Rice. I have great writers as friends, I even know Andrew Motion – oh but everyone in literature knows him. I’ve been  a guest at Orange Prize and Booker prize givings – not because of my writing, but as Chief Exec of the organization, Booktrust, which helped to administer these.

I once dreamt that I’d won the Booker. “But I haven’t written a novel!” I cried as the judges pushed me out in front of the awaiting diners to accept my award. But they all reassured me that didn’t matter.  

But I’ve never quite counted myself as a ‘proper’ writer, and early in what could be called my career, found my interest in the way that books happened in peoples’ lives was as strong as my desire to write books of my own. It seemed to me that there were plenty of quite good writers in the world, a few unsurpassable geniuses, and lots of exciting work to be done to bring great stories and poems to new readers. Which led to a career in what is known as  literature development, working as arts officer in public libraries in Sheffield and then Birmingham, promoting libraries as an imagination service, a hub for creative reading, a cultural breathing space.

Then I went on to run two major literature organisations: The Poetry Society and Booktrust, both of which were at a low ebb when I arrived and I’m pleased to say were thriving by the time I moved on. And yes, I worked hard, am proud of what the teams I led achieved, and so always rather resented how many assumed that all we really wanted to do was write poems and books ourselves.

An MA in Creative Writing and New Media changed my life. Prof Sue Thomas and author Kate Pullinger at De Montfort introduced us to blogs, wikis, twitter, skype et al, words so strange and new to me way back in the distant days of 2007.

I think I picked this course over ‘pure’ creative writing because it allowed me to write in a way that didn’t put me in contention with the writers I worked with. I could justify it as useful for work and then creep up on my creativity unawares. Fellow students included the amazing Toni Le Busque, artist, if:book associate. Through Sue I met Bob Stein who invited me to New York for one mind blowing week at the end of which he asked me to become co-Director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, an eminent institution based in his kitchen, which led to the foundation of if:book UK which is based in mine.

And with if:book we’ve been exploring all the digital possibilities for writers to make new forms of literature, the word set free from its conventional bindings allowing stories to be told in all sorts of interactive, mixed media, collaborative forms.

So perhaps the emerging definition of the book is a piece of writing that’s fully cooked. No longer set in stone or hot metal, but complete and fixed (until its next edition) In which case I want to make nearlybooks, still brewing, porous, infiltrated by readers.

I’ve just been re-reading Don  Quixote for my bookgroup – reading it on paper, on Kindle and iPhone, even a graphic novel version and a children’s animated iPad app., a reminder that the first novel was all about the nature of fictiveness and the parameters of this emerging form.
I’ve run workshops on Nearlywriting and Nearlyness, one with poet Saradha Soobrayen at N4 Library, the other with digital artist Mushon at a conference organised in Shenkar College Tel Aviv. Both were liberating for me and I think for participants too.  

I’m writing something, called the Nearlyology, and want to do this in public, or at least in a place where public might find it if they wish. Whatever you read there is only the beta version. Sections may be re-written, re-organised as I go along. I may decide to write privately for a while, or tear it all up and start again, And I don’t know yet if I’d want it to end up as a complete work, printed or otherwise. It’s an experiment, which is what if:book does. Keep in touch if you’re interested. I’ll understand completely if you’d rather wait to find out if the experiment turns out to be any good.