International Impac Dublin Literary Award

27 November 2014 in | Comments (0)

I’m on the jury of the International Impac Dublin Literary Award this year. 142 novels for me to read! This is the first time I’ve been a judge on a large fiction prize and I was pleased to be asked; the books on the longlist (all 142 novels make up the longlist) were nominated by librarians around the world. So it’s a good prize to be involved with! The Mistress of Nothing was on the longlist in 2010. The shortlist is published in mid-April, the winner on 17 June. Stay tuned!

Autumn 2014 Update

4 September 2014 in | Comments (0)

A bunch of news, all of it good. I keep the bad news to myself.

Letter to an Unknown Soldier came to a close on 4 August with nearly 21,500 letters submitted to the soldier. I can’t be more precise than that, as we still have the odd letter showing up, like the one I came across in my university pigeon-hole earlier this week. We were thrilled by the success of this project. I’ve never worked on anything so large, so inclusive, and so public before. Thanks to everyone who wrote to the soldier. Neil and I are currently working with William Collins, the history imprint at Harper Collins, on a book of selected letters; we’ll be able to include about 140 letters and the book will be published in November, in time for Remembrance Day.

I’m undertaking two book tours in Canada this autumn to promote Landing Gear: in the last two weeks of September I’ll be doing events at Eden Mills, Halifax, Hudson Quebec, and Kingston Ontario, and then in the last two weeks of October I’ll be in Calgary, Banff, Vancouver, White Rock, Milford Ontario, and Toronto. I’ll put all these events up in the Events section of the website.

Episode 5 of Inanimate Alice is nearly complete, and though we don’t have a date scheduled yet, it should launch sometime in October. As well as that, work is well underway on episode 6. Things are looking good for Alice - in episode 5 she’s 17 years old and still living in Hometown, episode 6, she’s 19 and in her first year at art school - and they are looking good for the overall project as well. We’re working on a new-look website as well - not ‘we’ as in ‘me’, but ‘we’ as in the talented Andy Campbell.

And I’m working hard on the new novel, which Doubleday commissioned earlier this year: working title, Okanagan Lake.

Back to school too with my ten - count ‘em - PhD students, who are all doing great things. And while I always find autumn a little heart-breaking - the nights getting longer, the leaves already beginning to fall, the weather deteriorating - I’m looking forward to it all.

Letter to an Unknown Soldier Marks Halfway Point

17 July 2014 in | Comments (0)

Today we reach the halfway point for the 37 days of Letter to an Unknown Soldier.

The project – to create a new digital war memorial, made of thousands of words written by thousands of people – has gone from strength to strength. The website opened for submissions in the middle of May; for the first week we were getting about 20 letters per day.  We began publishing all those submissions at the end of June and the numbers of letters submitted per day has grown steadily – by Thursday and Friday last week we were getting more than 500 letters per day.  We’ve had a fair amount of press and we’ll be getting more, and word of mouth seems strong – so fingers crossed our numbers keep increasing.  We received our 10,000th letter on Friday last week.

This is by far the largest scale participatory media project I’ve ever been involved in running. And what we are asking people to do for Letter to an Unknown Soldier is not a small thing: write a letter to a long-dead soldier from WW1. Think hard about what you want to say. Ask yourself a few difficult questions – what does that war mean to you? What does it mean to remember something you can’t remember?  What does the unknown soldier mean to you? Put your thoughts into writing and send it to us.  Not a small thing – and yet, people are responding. People are taking that time, they are sitting down, they are thinking it through, and they are writing.  All kinds of people – Neil Bartlett and I, with the help of our team, have achieved mass participation on a scale we have yet to fully appreciate.

As well as the website for the project itself, our team of Editorial Moderators – all students from Bath Spa University where I teach – have created a terrific Letter to an Unknown Soldier tumblr page. We are active on Wattpad, the enormous online writing community, and Figment, a community for younger writers and readers.  We have our Facebook page, and our twitter account, and we’re telling our press and social media story through a series of Storify pages.

And our project is spawning other projects, including writing workshops up and down the country. In Hampshire, 1400 people at Bohunt School took time out of their busy summer term to design and then create an enormous poppy on their playing field – that one made the national news.  At Bath Spa Uni, Anthony Head and Neil Glen have created ‘Oak’ for the Media Wall there, a digital work that collects all the words submitted to the project and adds them to a tree as word-leaves.  On Monday this week Neil Bartlett invited more than a dozen actors to help create a filmed reading of the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker’s letter to the soldier - see the video at the top of this post, or here on the Letter to an Unknown Soldier website.

And, we hope, the letters will keep streaming in.

Landing Gear in UK Summer Reads promotion

25 June 2014 in | Comments (0)

Here in the UK, my new novel, Landing Gear, is now available as part of a Summer Reads promotion, with a price-drop to £4.99, for three weeks.

You can buy the book here, via my website, or you can buy it at all other e-retailers. In the UK, the book is digital-only.

You can read an extract here.

And if you want more e-books to add to your summer reading stockpile - here are the brand new e-book editions of some of my backlist novels.  Hooray! 


On Writing Digital Texts - Pathways Summer School

15 May 2014 in | Comments (0)

I wrote this post for Provocations, the website created for Pathways, the digital fiction summer school I’m helping to run in Vancouver from 9-13 June.

Since 2001 I’ve been writing collaborative multimedia digital stories alongside my work as a writer of literary fiction.  Working in these parallel fields has served me well as writer, mostly accidentally. For example, one unintended consequence of being part of the small team that produces the digital story, ‘Inanimate Alice’, a work referred to elsewhere as ‘the world’s first born-digital transmedia pedagogical blockbuster for children’ (yes, we have a problem figuring out what to call these hybrid works), is that I often get asked to speak at digital publishing conferences. An unintended consequence of that is that I now know much more about digital publishing than I could have anticipated. Yet another unintended consequence is that I’ve recently become a digital publisher myself: working with a publishing consultant, I’ve created new ebook editions of four of my backlist literary novels under an imprint called, yes, Kate Pullinger Books (I suggested Kate Publishinger Books, but that was rejected).  So now I’m a transmedia collaborator, an author of literary fiction, and a publisher. C’est la vie.

One notable change over the past couple of years is that while these worlds which, as stated above, were largely parallel – in the same way that child psychologists observe toddlers engaging in ‘parallel play’: she has her toys, he has his, they are in the same room, occasionally they glance at each other suspiciously, but that’s about it – they have now begun to, well, not exactly merge, but at least they’ve grown up enough to exchange a few toys.

A few examples from my own work: firstly, a mainstream publisher playing in the realm of digital experimentation. My new novel, Landing Gear – literary fiction to the core – grew up out of, the digital fiction I created with Chris Joseph. Doubleday, my Canadian publisher, was inspired by the novel’s pre-existing digital footprint to create a raw API from the first 30 pages of the novel. They then used that raw API to create an interactive map of the novel that pins extracts from the novel to the actual locations relevant to the text.

Second, two government bodies in two different countries investing in digital stories and digital pedagogy: ‘Inanimate Alice’, a project that has been not exactly dormant but certainly quiet for the last four years has just received two new tranches of funding to develop the next two episodes, and to create a companion set of interactive stories for language training in schools.

And lastly, my new digital collaboration, Letter to an Unknown Soldier, has been commissioned by 14-18NOW, a UK body set up to respond to the centenary of WW1 through a series of artists’ commissions. Letter to an Unknown Soldier is an attempt to create a new kind of war memorial, a digital memorial made of words. Open to everyone, it allows for collaboration on a massive scale; with its substantial budget and team of 18 people involved, it’s a far cry from my usual working method of me and a web artist, alone in front of our respective screens, communicating via email and Skype.

So, in conclusion – well, there isn’t really a conclusion. Writing is evolving. Reading is evolving. And publishing is evolving too. I, for one, find it incredibly exciting.

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:

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. 

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