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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!

Libraries in a Digital Age: Books as a Service

25 August 2013 in Future of Publishing | Comments (0)

I attended Media Evolution in Malmo, Sweden last week. It’s only the second time I’ve been to Sweden. I like Sweden. This was a lively and wide-ranging conference, with sessions on topics as diverse as Space Hacks and How We Learn. I’d been invited by Jonas Lennermo of Publit.se - to speak during a two-hour strand on Libraries in a Digital Age. Publit published a manifesto for the conference, also called Libraries in a Digital Age, which isn’t online yet, but which contains their plan for The Swedish Model, a new digital platform where libraries and publishers can collaborate on the provision of e-books to readers – (there’s a summary of The Swedish Model here on The Literary Platform. What follows is a mish-mash of thoughts and ideas sparked by the conference.

The panel was very interesting – much of the conference was live-streamed an then archived, including James Bridle’s elegant keynote: you can see all the sessions, even mine, here. Richard Nash, editor and publisher, now of Small Demons, was also on my panel. His talk, ‘On the Business of Literature’, was a version of a piece he wrote for the Virginia Quarterly earlier this year, (also included in the Publit manifesto), where he argues that the ‘publisher is an orchestrator in the world of book culture, not a machine for sorting manuscripts’. In his talk he took his arguments a few steps further. When we buy an e-book, we don’t actually buy it, we license the right to read it; if we are licensing our reading material, e-books are no longer artefacts, but a service.  Nash quotes Peggy Nelson, who states that readers and writers aren’t types of people, but that reading and writing are types of behaviour. And once you begin to think of reading as a behaviour, and supplying e-books as a service, you can then begin to think about reading in terms of current developments around life-logging and ‘the quantified self’ – the business of people measuring, logging, and assessing their own data. I know a lot of people now who wear armbands that collect data on how many steps they take, how many calories they burn, and how well they sleep. Would it be useful or interesting to be able to add data on how we read, what we read, how we discuss what we read, to this dataflow?

Data and privacy is a rather large subject at the moment (!). In his keynote Bridle discussed how public discourse and debate around data and privacy is a decade behind the technology itself; he used the recent example of the rubbish bins in the City of London that turned out to be capturing data from the phones of passers-by.  The idea that people might not want their private data captured in this manner doesn’t seem to have occurred to the technologists and city planners involved in implementing these bins; Bridle said he thought the bins would be removed but that, in a way, he’d prefer it if they were not, but instead, became a focus for debate. 

Amazon captures a vast amount of data about how people read the e-books Amazon licenses to us; it would be an interesting thing if readers and writers – or those among us who exhibit reading and writing behaviours – could access that data. Damian Walter’s recent piece in the Guardian, Who Owns the Networked Future of Reading?, states, ‘Readmill and other indie developers might yet deliver the future of reading back in to the hands of readers and writers. But if this utopian ideal is to become a reality, we’re going to have to rethink what it means to own a book, or any kind of information, even if you created it. Issues such as piracy and filesharing suggest the principle of ownership and the highest potential of our information revolution are not compatible.’

Piracy came up over and over again at Media Evolution, in particular the Swedish tribe, Pirate Bay. Peter Sunde, one of the founders of Pirate Bay, spoke via Skype from a secret location; he claimed that sometimes more than half the traffic on the entire internet is going through Pirate Bay. His talk was entertaining and not without controversy (he stated that ‘copying’ is not ‘theft’ and that ‘Disney are the real content thieves’). He talked about Flattr, a platform Pirate Bay has developed that simplifies paying creators for their work, enabling people to make micro-payments to creators whose work they ‘like’ online; he said that ‘distributing money online is as difficult as distributing content’. Sebastian Posth, another speaker on my panel, told us that there is a German e-book pirate site that is so successful they’ve begun offering a monthly paid e-book subscription service; a librarian from Stockholm’s Digital Library said that he has 5000 DVDs in his collection that no one ever borrows because ‘why would they when they can get everything more quickly, more easily, from Pirate Bay’? 

Some of the most interesting experiments in libraries have been around local, or community, publishing. For me, the most interesting approach to the extraordinary rise of self-publishing is to think of self-publishing as a new form of participatory social media, and self-publishing as part of the quantified self movement. In this context, rethinking books as a service, and the book data we generate as readers, as part of the quantified self, could be fruitful territory for writers and publishers (or people who exhibit writing and publishing behaviours!). Is the role of the library of the future to move beyond containing content to helping people develop themselves as readers, writers, and, perhaps, publishers; is the library also an orchestrator in the world of book culture?

This Writer’s Life

25 June 2013 in Landing Gear | Comments (2)

I’m off to Australia next week, to speak at the annual teachers’ conference, Brave New World AATE/ALEA, to spend a day visiting QUT – Queensland University of Technology - and to run a workshop for the Queensland Writer’s Centre.  As well as that, on Tuesday 9 July, I’m participating in a day-long live writing event, in collaboration with if:book Australia, and QUT, called Memory Makes Us.  We will be harvesting short and long term memories from the good people of Brisbane and anyone else anywhere in the world online via social media.  If you are in Brisbane, pop down to the State Library to say hello and lend us a memory or two.  If you are not in Brisbane, watch out for a flurry of activity online, centred around the hashtag of #memorymakesus. You’ll also be able to watch me write, live, via a url that we’ll be sending out on the day.  Live typing!  Live deleting!  Maybe even some live procrastination if you are really lucky.

This will be my second visit to Australia; I was at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival in 2011, again with if:book Australia.  On that visit, I took the tram from downtown Melbourne to the beach at St Kilda, but that was the extent of my exposure to the physical landscape of the great island-continent.  This time I will see a tiny bit more of the country, a small stretch of the coast north of Brisbane.  Here’s hoping I won’t be bitten by an enormous spider or attacked by a jellyfish or thumped to death by a kangaroo.  Hooray!

Apart from that, I’m seriously enjoying my new job at Bath Spa University – I figure I can still call it a new job, as I’ve been in it for less than a year.  I’ve been able to involve myself in a bunch of exciting things, including teaching undergraduates on the remarkably innovative Creative Writing and Publishing programme, teaching on the wonderful Creative Writing MA, and generally enthusing about things digital.  My colleagues have been hugely welcoming and I’m involved in a couple of new research projects as well as developing a cohort of Digital Writing PhDs, via the fee waiver studentships the university has created for October this year.

And my new novel, Landing Gear, is moving toward its May 2014 publication date.  I’m very excited to be working with Doubleday Random House in Canada, and Simon & Schuster in NY.  I’m working on a final edit of the manuscript, and am hoping to have a digital strategy worked out in collaboration with these publishers, working with ‘Flight Paths’ and other digital assets around the novel.  One of my goals is to get my backlist in working order, available as e-books as well as print editions, before that May 2014 publication date. 

In Canada, my publisher for many years, Kim McArthur, has ‘ceased trading’.  For the past year and a half all my Canadian publications, not to mention all of my Canadian royalties, have been in a state of limbo as McArthur & Co struggled to sort itself out financially.  I’m not going to say much about that here, apart from noting that, when it comes to publishers and their financial difficulties, writers are the first to lose.  Much has been made of the struggle to pay printers, to pay tax bills, to pay creditors; little is said about the fact that writers do not get paid.  McArthur published a host of terrific writers; the company’s demise is not good news for anyone. 

And so it goes.  Onward.  If you are interested in the digital transformation of reading, writing, and publishing, take a look at The Writing Platform; I’m Editor of this site which is just coming out of Beta – if you have any ideas for pieces you’d like to write on matters digital, get in touch with us.

Landing Gear - Doubleday Random House Canada and Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, US

19 April 2013 in Landing Gear | Comments (0)

Hooray! My new novel, Landing Gear, is beginning to find its way in the world. In Canada, Doubleday Random House has bought it; at Doubleday I’m working with the wonderful Nita Pronovost. We had a great editorial session on the manuscript, and she sent me her copy of the edited manuscript through the post, pictured here with its ragged pages and detailed comments and suggestions in pencil. It is thrilling to work on a manuscript in this way, and wonderful to be given the actual hand-edited manuscript, and not a digital equivalent - the paper itself seems a thing of beauty to me, Nita’s editorial intelligence made physical on the page.

In the US, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, who published The Mistress of Nothing, have bought Landing Gear. This is great news for me, and terrific to have that continuity. My new editor there is Heather Lazare. Heather and I met when I was in NY for TOC in February; she’s about to go off on maternity leave, so it is terrific to have her feedback on the novel before she heads off for a few months. I’ll do a new draft of the novel over the next month or so, though the changes at this stage will be minor.

The book will come out in both countries in May 2014. Traditional publishing still has a long lead time - if anything, it has got longer in recent years - and this is fine with me. I love this stage in the publishing process; I find working with editors very inspiring, and the business of deciding on covers, thinking about marketing, planning events, is also really interesting. Of course, Landing Gear has its digital companion pieces as well, and figuring out how to make the most of the already existing storyworld for the book - Flight Paths and my work-in-progress, Duel - will be part of the discussion over the next year.

Hug a Technologist - #TOCcon NYC

27 February 2013 in Future of Publishing | Comments (0)

Am just back from NYC where I attended Book2Camp as well as #TOCcon – O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change conference.  I say, ‘just back’, but of course, owing to time passing more quickly than it should, I’ve been back a while now.

I had a great time in NYC.  Book2Camp was an interesting afternoon of discussion, though I’m tiring slightly of the unconference format, where topics for discussion are suggested by participants; while timings of sessions are pre-determined, there is no set agenda.  Sometimes this works well, sometimes not so well.  In NY the discussion was interesting, but not quite fresh enough for me, not quite radical enough.  Ever since hearing John Naughton talk at the AHRC Moot Day I went to in the autumn, the idea that we are only at the very beginning of a long process, that the digital will transform every single institution we hold dear, from libraries to universities, let alone bookshops and publishers, far beyond our current imagining, has stuck with me, making me impatient with discussions that dwell on where we are today without taking a more trenchant look at where we might be heading. 

The High Line

TOC itself worked better for me as a format for thinking about how to transform writing and reading in the digital age.  First off, I was lucky enough to have been asked to speak at TOC’s first ever day aimed at writers, the Author (R)evolution Day.  This was a great day, where a big range of writers’ organisations, and writers themselves, got the chance to talk about how writing, reading and publishing are changing, and what kinds of opportunities this presents for writers.  The writer as entrepreneur was a theme that emerged during the day, and while it isn’t a mode I see myself employing (ahem), the notion of writers taking control of their own publishing apparatus applies as much to established, traditionally published, or emerging writers as it does to the self-published, and this is something we’re trying to facilitate at The Writing Platform.

One of my favourite talks was given by Laura Dawson, from Bowker (this link takes you to her talks and slides at TOC).  Bowker are the people who are in charge of issuing ISBN numbers among other things (Laura was also at Book2Camp where she was one of several people knitting during the sessions – knitting!). Laura talks in a clear and urgent way about the need to improve metadata for books, the way that this information, this data, accessed by search, is one of the main tools that readers use to find books online, and so this data – the words, keywords, and tags, used to describe the book – needs to be as accurate and as all-encompassing, and as reader-centric, as possible.  Writers need to understand metadata.  Her most startling slide included the following information, gathered from Nielsen UK: 

- Titles that meet the BIC Basic standard see average sales 98% higher than those that don’t meet the standard
- The addition of an image (to a book’s metadata) has a strong impact on average sales, of 268% in comparison to titles without an image
- Split into offline and online sales, offline sales see an increase of 35% for titles which have all enhanced metadata elements present, whereas online sales see a massive 178% increase

The current writing economy is very complex and the day reflected that.  My talk was the final talk of the day.  I took the opportunity to launch The Writing Platform and, as well as that, given the revolutionary theme, I came up with some exhortations for writers.  Here’s what I suggested:

hug a technologist:  for many writers, myself included, the only way to move into the sphere of creating work for digital platforms is to collaborate.
make your work spreadable:  for your work to have a meaningful life online, you need to create work that is spreadable.  ‘Spreadable media’ is a hugely useful concept that Henry Jenkins and his team are exploring. 
look at what’s out there, and start thinking beyond the book: this is an exciting time to be a writer - get out there and start experimenting.

The rest of the conference had numerous highlights, terrific keynotes, and many many great conversations in corridors and over lunches and drinks.  I met Eve Bridberg from Grub Street, a very dynamic centre for writers in Boston, and renewed my acquaintance with journalist and writer Porter Anderson (whose conference twitter stream and Writing on the Ether column are both must-reads) and Meg Vann who now runs the Queensland Writers Centre, a focal point for local/global, online/offline writer-centric activity in Australia (and who I’ll be visiting later this year). Hugh McGuire’s talk on the book as API was galvanising in terms of opening up new ways to think about how books can become more webby (a version of this talk exists here); in my dreams, we’ll create a version of my new novel Landing Gear using this approach.

And, as always, being in NYC was exciting enough in and of itself.  I had a couple of meetings with editors, outside the conference, to talk about my new book.  I met my new Canadian publishers and drank a glass of Californian bubbly with them to celebrate. I rode the subway and took taxis, and talked to people about Hurricane Sandy. I wandered around the city’s streets – surely wandering around New York City is one of life’s greatest pleasures? – and, early one morning, 8 a.m., a cold and sunny February day, I went for a walk on the High Line.  There were few other people, the planting was snow-blasted and brown, and the boardwalk was slippery in places, but what a gorgeous re-imagining of a post-industrial urban space, strangely moving, simultaneously affirming and melancholy. 

I was lucky to be there.  Thanks again to Kat Meyer, Joe Wikert, and TOC.

Off to TOC NYC

4 February 2013 in Future of Publishing | Comments (0)

Next week I’ll be heading to NYC for O’Reilly Media’s massive Tools of Change digital publishing conference.  I’ll be giving a talk at their first ever Author (R)evolution Day on Tuesday, and I’m on a panel on the Thursday as well - Creators and Technology Converging.  TOC NYC has been on my radar for a number of years, but I’ve never been; I haven’t spent more than a day in NYC for ages, so I’m really looking forward to this.

I’m also attending Book2Camp, so it will be an all-out future-of-publishing extravaganza for me.  As my novel, Landing Gear, goes out to publishers in Canada and the US, it will be hugely interesting for me to get a snapshot of where things are, at the forefront of where technology meets publishing.

Phew!

22 January 2013 in Landing Gear | Comments (0)

My agent in Toronto loves the new book!  So, watch out all you publishing people, ‘Landing Gear’ is lifting off!  Hooray!

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