‘A Million Penguins’ Five Years On

25 January 2012 | Comments (0)

This post was written for the TRG blog, at 

Well, without dipping into too many cliches about the passage of time, it is nearly five years since the DMU/Penguin wiki-novel experiment, ‘A Million Penguins’, took place.  The project ran from 1 Feb 2007 for five weeks, and all of us who were involved with it remember it as a time of chaos and great entertainment.  Yesterday I was down at Goldsmith’s College, in London, where I was the external examiner for a PhD candidate, Amy Spencer; her PhD was on the Networked Book.  She built her thesis around three case studies of networked books that are also works of fiction, ‘Paddlesworth Press’ , ‘The Golden Notebook Project’, and ‘A Million Penguins’. It’s a solid and interesting piece of research.

Reading Amy’s thesis promoted me to look at the current status of ‘A Million Penguins’ online.  We heard early last year that Penguin was going to give up hosting the project, and we didn’t have the time, or the resources, to figure out how to archive the massive wiki, with its many many pages, ourselves.  I regret this, though it is hard to see how we could have saved it in time.  So the original site no longer exists.

However, a good portion of ‘A Million Penguins’ was archived by the amazing people at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, and you can find these pages by searching for it via the Wayback Machine

During Amy’s viva we talked a bit about the phenomenon of the networked book itself.  Amy pointed out that during the noughties there were a significant number of projects that called themselves ‘networked books’, both fiction and non-fiction, my own on-going project, ‘Flight Paths: a Networked Novel’ among them of course.  Amy wondered if the networked book concept has had its day.  I think that we are now seeing trade publishing approaching publishing fiction in a manner that owes much to the networked book concept, although of course, all in the service of marketing.  Social media marketing campaigns are now being built around books; these campaigns include bespoke web content, games, extra content, author interviews, etc.  These campaigns aim to foster reader engagement around a newly published book, whereas the networked books of the noughties all sought to foster creative engagement with text and other forms of media.  The networked book emphasis was on collaboration and contributing, whereas, of necessity, a trade publishing networked social media campaign is about sales.

‘Flight Paths’  featured on Drunken Boat

17 July 2009 | Comments (0)

Jessica Pressman, Assistant Professor at Yale, an academic who is deeply involved with debates and critiques around electronic literature and digital fiction, has published an essay in the online arts and literature journal Drunken Boat called ‘Charting the Shifting Seas of Electronic Literature’s Past and Present’ In this essay she discusses ‘Flight Paths’ as a work of ‘networked collaboration in networked media’. She includes a number of other works as examples; it’s wonderful to have our work highlighted in this way.

Word of ‘Flight Paths’ is also spreading via the Binary Katwalk online exhibition, which has picked up mentions on Rhizome, Grand Text Auto, Turbulence,  and if@book, among other places.

Fiction and that 2.0 thing - ‘Networked’ and Turbulence

7 January 2009 | Comments (0)

Just before Christmas I submitted a proposal to;  they are commissiong five writers to contribute chapters to ‘Networked:  a (networked_book) about (networked_art)’.  Here’s my proposal:

‘Fiction and that 2.0 thing: what the network means to storytelling’

The concept of the networked book of non-fiction is not new and there is a long history of new media fiction works that include user-generated content.  But there are few fiction projects that from the earliest, research phase attempt to harness participatory media and audience generated content in the way that ‘Flight Paths: a networked novel’ is currently, and ‘A Million Penguins’, the Penguin/DMU wiki-novel, which Kate Pullinger led in collaboration with her MA students and Penguin UK, did in 2007. With that in mind, Pullinger would relish the opportunity to write a chapter for ‘networked’ that draws upon her considerable experience in this field.

Kate Pullinger is one of the only well established print novelists in the UK who is also involved with creating born-digital works of literature. She is closely involved with debates and discussions around issues to do with the future of the book, as well as writing and the internet. She helped set up the online MA in Creative Writing and New Media, the first degree of its kind, at De Montfort University in Leicester, where she is Reader in Creative Writing and New Media (a half-time post). At DMU she facilitated a collaboration between Penguin UK and a team of MA students to manage ‘A Million Penguins’, the Penguin/DMU wiki-novel; the wiki opened for contributions for five weeks in Feb-March 2007 and had over 1500 contributors and 80,000 readers. The success of this project, and the tremendous volume of debate it engendered, showed that participatory media is of huge importance to the future of both writing and reading.

Pullinger’s work on the multi-award winning ‘Inanimate Alice’, an on-going digital fiction in episodes, co-created with digital artist and writer Chris Joseph, has demonstrated that there is a desire for good quality interactive online story-telling among readers and educators. With ‘Inanimate Alice’, and the pedagogical community that is growing up alongside it, Pullinger has demonstrated her ability to reach large audiences across the world, covering a broad range of age and interest groups. ‘Inanimate Alice’ shows there is a deep hunger for involving stories, meaningful narratives, and content online that moves away from the promotion of consumer goods.

Pullinger’s other on-going fiction project, the Arts Council England funded ‘Flight Paths: a networked novel’, also co-created with Chris Joseph, attempts to explore the potential for writing, collaboration, reading and viewing online. ‘Flight Paths’ builds upon Pullinger’s established track record; while the world of traditional book publishing has been slow to respond to the opportunities afforded by the internet, ‘Flight Paths’ is a serious literary endeavour that seizes upon the possibilities for participation and inclusion that the network can provide.

Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph began working on ‘Flight Paths: a networked novel’ in November 2007, collecting and creating stories, fragments, ideas, RSS feeds, news items, videos, photographs, sound files, and memories through By opening up the research and creative process to this net-native participatory media project from the outset, they have invited, received, and curated a range of reader-generated contributions, while continuing to create content for the project themselves. ‘Flight Paths’ resides in and on the network; it has no true life away from the network and is as far removed from the traditional print novel as fully-featured instant messaging is from the fax machine.

However, Pullinger also continues to write books; her new book, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, a historical novel set in Egypt in 1864, is coming out in the UK in July 09.

Pullinger has yet to have an opportunity to step back from her experience of these projects in order to reflect upon the act of writing fiction in a networked context. The commission to write a chapter for ‘networked’ would enable her to do that, within a net-native, transdisciplinary framework of peer-review and collaboration. She would examine her own experience as a writer who has made the transition from writing for print to writing online across the network while continuing to write for print; she would look at issues around copyright and curation that arise from participatory projects; she would look at what it means to create a project about refugees, immigration and asylum in the context of crowdsourcing and mash-up; and she would look at what the network can bring to the traditional art of prose fiction.

I have finished my weekly supermarket shop, stocking up on provisions for my three kids, my husband, our dog and our cat.  I push the loaded trolley across the car park, battling to keep its wonky wheels on track.  I pop open the boot of my car and then for some reason, I have no idea why, I look up, into the clear blue autumnal sky.  And I see him.  It takes me a long moment to figure out what I am looking at.  He is falling from the sky.  A dark mass, growing larger quickly.  I let go of the trolley and am dimly aware that it is getting away from me but I can’t move, I am stuck there in the middle of the supermarket car park, watching, as he hurtles toward the earth.  I have no idea how long it takes ?? a few seconds, an entire lifetime ?? but I stand there holding my breath as the city goes about its business around me until??

He crashes into the roof of my car.

From ‘Flight Paths: a networked novel’