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LANDING GEAR published in Canada, with interactive map

16 April 2014 in | Comments (0)

LANDING GEAR came out here in Canada yesterday, and the digital development team at PRH published an interactive map of the first 30 pages of the novel, pinning characters and extracts of text to a series of maps of the locations in the novel. It uses the api the development team built from the first 30 pages of the novel.  It’s a wonderful thing! 

View it here:  http://www.randomhouse.ca/landing-gear

My Backlist Publishing Project

3 April 2014 in | Comments (1)

Since last autumn, I’ve been working with TLP Collective on re-publishing four of my backlist titles as ebooks. This has been a lengthy and complex process. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of Joanna Ellis - lack of time, and lack of patience would have defeated me.

Where Does Kissing End?, The Last Time I Saw Jane, Weird Sister, and A Little Stranger will all come out in ePub and mobi over the next month. You’ll be able to buy them at all e-retailers, as well as directly here from me. Landing Gear will come out as an ebook and hardcover with Doubleday in Canada, Simon & Schuster in the USA, and here in the UK I will add it to my ebook publishing project. The Mistress of Nothing remains in print and ebook in all three countries, as well as in translation.

I’d been thinking about doing this for a couple of years, as more of my backlist fell out of print in the UK. However, the rights were still tied up in print editions in Canada. When my former Canadian publisher ‘ceased trading’ last year and released all the licenses back to me, I decided to go ahead. I planned to have these new electronic editions ready around the same time that new my novel Landing Gear will come out in the US and Canada.

And so, here we are, nearly ready. Turns out there is nothing straightforward about creating good-looking ebook editions. For one thing, several of the books existed as print editions only - I didn’t have word docs for three of them; I think at the time I couldn’t imagine that keeping a final draft word document of a book was necessary, once that book was published. So, we’ve had to go through a lengthy scan and design phase. Of course the books needed new covers, and the covers we’ve got now look great. Getting the ebooks distributed across all the various e-retailers, with the correct metadata, also has proven to be complex and time-consuming.

But the interesting thing is that now I have these titles completely under my own control. Out of print, they existed only in the vast secondhand market - I’ve frequently had to buy secondhand copies of my own books in the past, when I’ve run out of copies. But now they’ll be back ‘in print’ in perpetuity (and I could do print editions if I chose, but that does not seem like a good idea). Getting the four books in order, with a small budget for publicity, and updates to my website so that I can begin to do direct sales, will cost, in total, around £5000. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for me to make that amount back in sales. I’ll write more about the financial side of what I’m doing at a later date.

If you are interested, here’s a piece I wrote about re-publishing my own backlist, in November 2011.

Landing Gear - first reviews pre-publication

16 March 2014 in | Comments (1)

It’s been a hectic few months, with a great deal of interesting work happening at Bath Spa University, as well as with a yet-to-be-announced national writing event I’ve been co-commissioned to create and curate (more on that after the official press launch on 27 March). As well as that, I’ve been going through the final copy-edit and proofing stages with Landing Gear in the US and Canada, and I’ve been working hard on getting ready for the publication of new ebook editions of four of my backlist titles.

In Canada, Landing Gear will launch on 15 April. I’ll be in Toronto for publication and will be doing a few events - see the Events page for more information.  I’ll be returning to Canada several times this year to do more events and festivals, as well as a week-long residency at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver in June.

In the US, Landing Gear comes out in early May.

Pre-publication reviews have begun to appear in both countries. In Canada, the novel was a ‘Top Pick’ in this month’s edition of Canadian Living and in the US, there was a favourable notice in Booklist which is one of the three main industry publications where pre-pub reviews are important for booksellers and libraries. This week there was a fantastic review of the novel in Quill & Quire, which is Canada’s main industry publication, hugely important for booksellers, libraries. It’s a starred review, and there are only one or two of those in every issue, which makes it even better. This kind of pre-publication positive coverage is hugely important - it really boosts the morale and stamina of all concerned, including the publishing house itself, the editor, the publicist, the marketing people - it gives everyone a shot of confidence. Because Landing Gear has had an underwhelming (read non-existent) response from publishers in the UK, these early reviews, in particular Angie Abdou’s in Quill & Quire are more important than ever to me.

At the end of April, I’ll be publishing four of my backlist titles into new ebook editions, working with the wonderful Joanna Ellis and Laura Creyke of The Literary Platform to make that happen. A Little Stranger, Weird Sister, The Last Time I Saw Jane, and Where Does Kissing End? will all be available and these new editions, which will be available wherever discerning readers live, are looking great. We’ve added Landing Gear to that here in the UK only. For the time being, Landing Gear will be available in the UK only as an ebook.

The Mistress of Nothing remains in print and ebook editions in the UK, US, and Canada; in fact, Doubleday Random House in Toronto are publishing a new edition of this novel at the same time as Landing Gear.

So, that’s the news today.

China Trip - Days Seven and Eleven

16 January 2014 in | Comments (0)

In December I visited China on a UK-China university trip, accompanied by people from 9 other UK universities. I had less access to the internet than usual, and no access to twitter, so instead found myself writing offline blog posts, which of course have taken me ages to put up online now that I’m home. Here are the third and fourth posts - scroll down to find the first two if you are interested.

Bus from Shanghai Airport to hotel – Day Seven

Chinese hospitality has continued to be most wonderful; people are very friendly and warm. The UK delegation is convivial, everyone easy to get on with, no one requiring special attention. Travelling with my Bath Spa Uni colleague Prof Hongji Yang has very much added to the trip – he feeds me information about China, its history, its geography, his own family story. I’m learning a huge amount.

I made the mistake of looking at the air quality levels online for Wuhan and Shanghai. Both cities are currently at the highest level on the scale, ‘Hazardous’, which is the level above ‘Very Unhealthy’. The recommendation is that no one engages in any outdoor activity whatsoever. However, this is clearly not possible, not for us, not for anyone who wants to live and work in a normal manner. I have had many conversations about this problem now, and people are mournful about it; one of the university Deans I met in Wuhan said that the problem has become much more acute in the last two years. I could see that the city and both Hubei and Wuhan universities have parts that are very beautiful, with lakes, rivers, parks, gardens, and the mountain behind Wuhan university. There were large blue long-tailed birds in the trees and this morning as we drove to the airport we crossed the enormous Yangtzee River by bridge. But everything is bathed and obscured by dense yellow air. At Shanghai Airport where we just arrived the fog had actually made its way indoors and the air in the arrival halls was hazy.

It seems strange to travel to the other side of the world to talk about digital media and then to spend my time worrying about air quality – both things, equally strange. 

Flight Home to London – Day Eleven

When we arrived in Shanghai the air quality index was at a record high; 200 flights were cancelled or diverted because the air pollution was so extreme that day. Thereafter, we received extensive apologies from everyone we met in the city, but we felt bad for them, not ourselves, as we knew we’d be leaving.

On the Shanghai subway an old man helped Hongji and I find the ticket office when the machines wouldn’t accept our money; this was the first time Hongji had ever seen what he called a ‘professional beggar’ in China.

Did a bit of sightseeing in Shanghai, watched some student films, and went to the 2013 Shanghai Micro-Film Festival award ceremony where, between awards, three dancers wearing candy coloured shirts shimmied to Abba’s Mamma Mia, and a young woman dressed as a young man in a Lone Ranger-style mask waltzed with a limp but life-sized woman puppet. The winning film was a short alarming documentary about what is happening to wild bird life in China currently; our host told us that people are beginning to think more about the environmental consequences of development and this film was a sign of that.

We attended more meetings, and listened to presentations, and discussed ways we could collaborate with Chinese Universities. My favourite new tech platform of the whole trip was Blueberry Mobile Phone Social Radio. I hemmed and hawed about whether or not Simon and I would ever drink the tea if I bought it, and pondered whether my daughter and I need little silk change-purses and lipstick holders in our lives. I looked at the jade bracelets which reminded me of my mother – I can’t remember where she got her jade bracelet, though it was definitely not China. I laid low and monitored the air quality online. As the trip drew to an end, my UK companions headed off in a variety of directions, some going on to further university visits in China, including my colleague Hongji who took the speedtrain to Beijing. Before he left, Hongji and I had spent a morning sightseeing, and saw the Shanghai Pearl - an enormous silver and pink Soviet-style television-aerial skyscraper revolving-restaurant-extravaganza – and a back alley upstairs rabbit warren of fake designer bags and watches. I took many crappy photos and many crappy photos of me were taken (dozens of random Chinese people now have photos of me on the phones – I think it’s my hair that was deemed photo-opportunity worthy).

And now I’m on the airplane home, watching movies. On this trip I learned a bit about life in China today. I came down with a cold and felt a little homesick while I was monitoring the air quality. Turns out Chinese people love their smartphones as much as they love their food – maybe more (we were told there are a billion mobile internet users in China now – can this be true?).

Speed Train from Shenzhen to Wuhan - Day Four

8 December 2013 in | Comments (0)

I’m currently in China on a UK-China university trip, accompanied by people from 9 other UK universities. I have less access to the internet than usual, and no access to twitter, so instead find myself writing offline blog posts, which I’ll post when I’m able. Here’s the second.

So interesting to be in a place where everything is new. The train station in Shenzhen is new, and enormous, a vast open space – the Chinese are good at their vast open spaces, their huge public concourses and gathering places. Shenzhen reminded me of Dubai in some regard – I suppose because that’s the only other place I’ve been to that is so entirely new, and so much about building-bigger-better-now, though of course Shenzhen is ten times the size of Dubai already. Shenzhen no doubt has its bling but I didn’t come across it; instead, the area we were in had a lovely human scale to it. And of course, Shenzhen’s migrant workers are Chinese. My favourite sight: last night as my colleague Hongji and I were driven back to our hotel from Shenzhen Polytechnic where we had given a somewhat shambolic masterclass, we passed through an enormous intersection, building sites all around, where on one corner a large group of women were dancing to blaring music, their arms in the air, moving in unison.  One of our hosts said that this activity – large group dancing – is becoming more and more popular currently. I wanted to join them.

Flying through the countryside now – the train goes 305km per hour (there’s a a digital speedometer at the front of the carriage, next to the sign for the loos) at its fastest – we are passing through lovely hills and peaks and over rivers and fishing ponds. There is widespread development everywhere, with roads and railways and factories and whole cities springing up. But the lovely shape of the landscape, with it’s inhabited plateaus and valleys, land terraced for cultivation, its sudden empty hills and, in the distance, tall peaks, is marred by the pollution, with a dense haze covering everything, forests where you can see the tops of the trees have turned orange. It’s difficult not to feel tremendously saddened by it – with the country’s huge population pressing in on itself. About an hour and a half out of Shenzhen – we are travelling due north toward Wuhan – the air cleared suddenly as we passed through an area with little development. Red soil. Occasional clusters of old buildings with pagoda-style curved roofs. Then we pass through another tunnel and suddenly there’s another village with fifty skyscrapers all being built simultaneously. I find the scale of building and development oddly moving. Human potential, and endeavour, and all that. 

China Trip - Day One

4 December 2013 in | Comments (0)

I’m currently in China on a UK-China university trip, accompanied by people from 9 other UK universities. I have less access to the internet than usual, and no access to twitter, so instead find myself writing offline blog posts, which I’ll post when I’m able. Here’s the first. The photo is the name of Bath Spa University in China.

I arrived yesterday in China so am a total expert already. I’m in Shenzhen, which is only 20+ years old, but has 15 million people in it. It was one of the first enterprise zones opened up in the 1980s, and it really began to grow in the 90s and has boomed over the past decade. It is next to Hong Kong. Where we are staying is - I have no idea where we are really, but there are four theme parks in the area, and it is a kind of garden city suburb. And because we are in the tropics, not far south of the Tropic of Cancer in fact, the flora and fauna is very dense and tropical - flora, that is, no fauna as far as I can see, and it is v warm - 26 today, despite being winter. Tomorrow we are being taken to visit the Shenzhen Virtual University which is a huge science park-style collaboration between industry and academia. This afternoon we had a series of presentations from both British and Chinese academics all talking about digital media projects in education.

Facebook and twitter are blocked, which feels very odd indeed. I tend to use facebook when I travel - alone in hotel rooms in the evenings - and not much when I’m at home, so it feels peculiar to be without it, but more so twitter, which I’ve got so used to using to communicate with people with similar interests around the world. Not having access to these platforms makes me realise two things: first, that my idea of ‘around the world’ is a bit limited, and secondly, how much I enjoy it – how much saying the odd thing here or there online, and having people respond, has become part of my writing and working life.  I tried to open a Weibo account, which is the Chinese equivalent to twitter, which publishes in English now too, but you have to have a Chinese mobile number to join. 300,000,000 people speak English in China now, so I thought I might say hello to them. Ha ha.

It’s actually much less unfamiliar than I thought it would be, on first impressions. To tell you the truth, the Chinese people in Chinatown in San Francisco and Vancouver seem somehow more Chinese than the people here; perhaps that’s because the Chinese people who hang out in North American Chinatowns tend to be old. This part of Shenzhen is full of groovy fashionably dressed affluent young people with laptops. I went to a cafe yesterday that was exactly like a cafe in Toronto or San Francisco or London - good coffee, groovy teas, cakes, exposed brick wall on one side, wireless, magazines, funky chalkboard graphics; it’s amazing to see how that Portland/Seattle design aesthetic has become so dominant all the way across the planet.  But perhaps that feeling of familiarity might change once we get out of Shenzhen - next stop Wuhan, on Tuesday, by speedtrain. Wuhan is up the Yangtzee – toward Central China, colder, and more traditional too - an old city, though of course it has expanded exponentially.

Anyway, tonight they are playing loud Chinese music in the park next door to the hotel. Bring on the dancing pandas! Or maybe not.

Dorian Gray reviews

1 December 2013 in Dorian Gray | Comments (0)

It’s been a few weeks now since ‘Dorian Gray’ had its first two performances in Bratislava; there has since been a third performance. Some reviews have appeared, in the German/Austrian online publications Klassikinfo and Klassik, as well as a piece in the NY Times. We are expecting a few more reviews to surface, and the piece will continue to be performed once or twice per month over the next six months. One of our hopes, ‘our’ meaning the opera house, the publisher, the composer Lubica Cekovska and myself, is that the opera will interest other houses and companies and that other productions of ‘Dorian Gray’ will staged elsewhere.

Attending the final rehearsals and first two performances of ‘Dorian Gray’ was a wonderful experience for me. The National Theatre of Slovakia was very kind to me, wonderful hosts, and it was a huge pleasure to meet the singers, the other performers, and the orchestra.  The creative team, led by director Nicola Raab and conductor Christopher Ward, did a fantastic job – staging an entirely new opera is no simple undertaking, and staging a new opera in English in central Europe was an feat of collaboration and good will.

I learned a few things about writing for opera – one thing that was unusual about this experience is that Lubica and I went from writing the work to a full production; I think, normally, most operas are workshopped or semi-staged before a full production will be staged. We were lucky in that we had the story of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ to provide us with a backbone for the opera – the story is a great driver for the production. With hindsight, I think I would have tried to get a few laughs in there – comedy is tricky in opera, but there is potential for physical comedy, certainly within the first scenes between Dorian and Sybil Vane. The story is so grim – as one audience member said to me, things start out bad, and then get worse – but a few jokes are always welcome. Of course the original text brims with Wilde’s wit and verve, but that’s hard to convey in a libretto; all the text of the libretto comes directly from the Wilde, but another audience member said to me, you can never understand what singers are singing, no matter what language.  The singers did an incredible job with learning to sing the English libretto – but at the end of the day, nobody goes to the opera because of the libretto, because of the words… it’s probably one of those things that you don’t ever think about apart from when it’s done badly.

Again, it was one of the great experiences of my life – both being involved in writing it, and then seeing it performed. And, when so much of my life is engaged with the digital, it was fab to spend a chunk of time fully immersed in a distinctly analogue world.

Speaking of digital, I’m now in China. Actual China. I’m here, though neither twitter nor facebook function here, so I’ll be blogging a bit more than usual, I suspect. 

Dorian Gray - the opera

6 November 2013 in Dorian Gray | Comments (0)

Today I attended a full dress rehearsal of ‘Dorian Gray’ at the lovely old opera house in Bratislava. I wrote my libretto in 2009-11, visiting Bratislava twice to work with Lubica Cekovska, the young Slovakian composer who has written the score. When Lubica came to London in 2011, she had written a fair amount of the music already, and she played it for me then on her computer, via the music software Sibelius. (If you ever need to find an example of a realm where the digital is a pale imitation of the analogue, this is it: nothing can beat a live orchestra.)

Nothing can beat a live orchestra, and it’s not every day you hear a large cast of singers actually singing the words-what-I-wrote. I found it difficult not to feel overwhelmed from the moment the first notes began to play. The artistic team, lead by Nicola Raab directing, and Christopher Ward, conducting, are doing a wonderful job of creating a strong, clear, story-led production - the staging is dramatic and it changes accordingly as the story gets darker, grimmer, and more relentless. As Eamonn Mulhall, one of the two Dorians (the other is Eric Fennell - there are two casts) said during the press conference today, five people die in this story - it’s ‘very intense’.

It was a good decision to have the two Dorians, a tenor role, played by two native English speakers. Singing in opera in English is difficult, but the rest of the cast, mainly Slovakians, is handling it very well, thanks to the guidance provided by the young conductor, Christopher Ward. (Everyone working on this production is young, apart from yours truly… today I found myself described as ‘experienced’ - works for me).

I’ll post some pictures once I have time. The one of the big banner on the front of the opera house with my official Slovakian name, Kate Pullingerovej, emblazoned on it is especially good.

Here’s a nice piece about the production.

Landing Gear - API

30 October 2013 in Landing Gear | Comments (0)

The digital development team at Random House Canada has created an API from an extract of my new novel, Landing Gear. Find it here: randomhouse.ca/landinggearapi

We offered the API (application programming interface) at Books in Browser’s first ever HackDay in San Francisco on Saturday 26 October. I’d very much like to offer the API to other developers who might want to engage with it, play with it, hack it, and see what happens. I’d very much also like to be involved with further hackdays for developers interesting in engaging with my novel via the API. 

Here’s a report on the San Francisco Hackday from Quill & Quire:

At the San Francisco conference Books in Browsers this past weekend, Governor General’s Literary Award–winning author Kate Pullinger and her publisher, Doubleday Canada, launched an experimental digital project. An excerpt of Pullinger’s forthcoming novel, Landing Gear, became raw material for the e-publishing event’s first “hackathon.”

In advance of the conference, Random House of Canada’s digital development team created an API (application programming interface) for an excerpt of the novel, which essentially means creating manipulable tags for its characters, locations, events, and timelines. “[The API] makes the text searchable and re-mixable, which opens it up to other developers coming in with ideas about new ways of interrogating the text other than simply reading it,” explains Pullinger.

Pullinger and Random House of Canada digital projects manager Meghan MacDonald were on hand at the conference to help with the experimental applications. One developer created a Twitter bot that could interact with one of the characters by tweeting his dialogue and collecting responses. Another invention, which MacDonald refers to as an “art project,” featured an iPad “mini-app” that animated a portion of Pullinger’s handwritten text.

Once the projects are complete, they will be posted at www.randomhouse.ca/LandingGearAPI, where the API will remain available for use.

Pullinger, who has been involved with digital storytelling for more than a decade, says, “This is the first time I’ve done anything that looks at the potential for the novel online, as opposed to a book or an ebook format.… I’ve never succeeded in interesting my book publishers in my digital work until now, so that’s tremendously exciting for me that Random House was willing to experiment.”

For her part, MacDonald says the Random House of Canada digital team has approached the online endeavour as research and development. “I don’t know what this project is going to look like in the future, but I think it’s important that we as [a] publisher are experimenting and trying new things.”

Landing Gear - copy editing

9 October 2013 in Landing Gear | Comments (0)

I’m working on the copy-edit of my novel. The manuscript passed from the hands of my Canadian editor, Nita Pronovost, to the copy-editor, Shaun Oakey, at the beginning of September, and was sent back to me last week. Shaun has done a lovely and perceptive read-through of the ms, doing that thing that copy-editors do, saving me from myself.  Despite the fact I’ve been writing and publishing for more than two decades now, I seem to be as confused about commas and semi-colons as ever.  My American editor had already pointed out to me that the third part of the novel used the phrases “she laughed” and “Emily laughed” about a gazillion times - I was using those phrases so often, the novel could have been called Emily Laughed, if I was aiming for a post-modern take on repetition (I wasn’t). This time round, Shaun pointed out that I use the words “he paused” and “she paused” maybe not a gazillion but at least a billion times so, luckily, those have gone as well.  This is the final stage before the book is typeset: after that, any further changes become much more expensive and fiddly to do. So, the book - at least the book that will be typeset and published in various editions - really is nearly done now. Gulp.

The image you see above is of the cover for the Canadian edition - not so different from the American cover, which I’ve added below, but different enough to meet the demands of the Canadian market. Despite the fact that we live in an increasingly global economy, publishing remains strongly territorial: covers for the same book can differ widely from one country to the next, of course, but, perhaps more importantly - and more vexingly - success in one market is no guarantee of success in another. Strong sales in Canada or the UK do not always guarantee strong sales in the US, and vica versa. More on this later no doubt.

I’m off to the US and Canada next week, for a series of speaking engagements, university visits, and a conference. The events are detailed on the Events page of this website. At Books in Browsers in San Francisco I’ll be talking about the project that the Doubleday Random House Canada development team and I are working on with Landing Gear - creating an API version of an extract from the novel that will be offered to developers to play with at Books in Browsers first ever Publishing HackDay. I attended Books in Browsers for the first time last year, and found it a fantastically inspiring and exciting conference - small and intense, one of those rare conferences that enables you to push forward the way you are thinking about things, in my case, fiction and new developments in digital publishing.  I met Meghan MacDonald, a digital publisher from Random House Canada, for the first time at last year’s Books in Browsers, well before her company bought my novel, so it will be fun to be together at the conference once more, launching the API version of Landing Gear, which first occurred to me as a potential approach to publishing at that conference.  There are other novel-as-API projects out there, but ours might be one of the first to create a writable API - an interface that will allow readers to write back into my story.  So while the book itself - the typeset version - is nearly finished, our digital experiment with Landing Gear is only just beginning. More on that later too!

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