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Academic ‘publishing’

12 January 2009 in Future of Publishing | Comments (0)

There are some aspects of academic publishing I find totally baffling.  First off, they don’t seem to pay anyone for anything, secondly, they demand you give up your copyright for whatever you write for them, and thirdly, the books they produce are insanely expensive.

For example, I contributed an article to the fabulously titled Handbook of Research on Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies.  The article in question was co-authored by a small research group I’m part of, transliteracy.com.  We weren’t paid for the article, and I scratched out the bit in my contract where they asked me to give up my copyright forever and a day.  The book, which will come out next month, costs $265 US Dollars.  $265!!!  Clearly only university libraries will be able to buy it.  In the world of academic publishing, this is common practice.  What’s this about?!  What does this mean?  Where does this kind of publishing fit in with the Future of Publishing?  More importantly, where’s my free copy?

Look away, while I boast

12 January 2009 in The Mistress of Nothing | Comments (0)

This came in from my editor just now, about my final rewrite of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’:

‘What a superb job of rewriting you’ve done!  I’m terrifically impressed with how your changes/ new dialogue has fleshed out the whole, and added immeasurably to the characters, and the dynamics between them.  I’ve had to read a speed and have about 40 pages to go before taking it to the copy-editor in Muswell Hill this afternoon.  But I much enjoyed living with Sally and Omar and Lady D this w/e.  So - give yourself a massive pat on the back!!’

I’m aware that this sounds like something I wrote myself, but it really did come from Ruth Petrie, my editor at Serpent’s Tail.  Yippee!!!  Does this mean I can stop worrying now, fourteen years after embarking on writing this book?  Probably not, but still, it’s a relief.

Fiction and that 2.0 thing - ‘Networked’ and Turbulence

7 January 2009 in Flight Paths Future of Publishing Transliteracy | Comments (0)

Just before Christmas I submitted a proposal to Turbulence.org;  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 www.flightpaths.net. 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’

Finished - again!

6 January 2009 in Future of Publishing The Mistress of Nothing | Comments (0)

I finished my novel, again!  This time, I think it really is finished - I sent it off to my agents and publishers, so let’s hope they agree with me.  At Serpent’s Tail they’ve started to work on the cover - I’ve tried to upload the image here but wordpress won’t let me for the time being. I will have one more opportunity to read it, and make changes, when I get the proofs sometime this spring, but the book is pretty much done and dusted now.  I started working on it in 1995, which is 14 years ago now.  Getting it right, or, at least, getting it to work as a readable text, has taken me… some time.  The fact that it took me so long to write isn’t a virtue, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing either - for the book itself, of course, not my bank balance.  I lost all objectivity and sense of proportion over it years ago; I alternate between thinking it’s sad that someone could spend so long on something that’s so crap, and thinking that it’s a work of genius that will win prizes and sell mountains of copies.

So the next phase with this book, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, involves a lot of waiting.  Waiting for the cover, waiting for the proofs, waiting to hear what my publishers want me to do to help publicise it, trying to come up with publicity ideas myself, waiting to find out if I’ll be giving readings from it… Publication dates are July in the UK, October in Canada; haven’t made any other territorial sales yet, so we’ll see. Publishing a book is such a weird anti-climatic but nail-biting thing to do - so much time and hope invested in those pages.  I’m very glad I have such a huge juicy pile other stuff on my plate, especially the on-going digital projects which are, in a fundamental way, so much more immediately rewarding in terms of reader-writer interaction, so much less loaded with literary expectation. It still surprises me to find that most aspiring writers focus entirely on the book and don’t look toward the digital or the electronic in any meaningful way.  Our literary book culture is horribly complex and, in many ways, debased now.  But many many people - and I meet them on writing courses all over the country, in many countries in fact - still feel that having a book published represents a solid, unassailable achievement.

Still, I was cheered up yesterday by reading in the paper Clay Shirkey’s simple maxim for the future of publishing - print on demand, with one ‘browsing copy’ of a book available in the bookshop, for those among us who still like to browse an actual shelf.  Bring it on, soon please.

Writing in 2009

5 January 2009 in Flight Paths The Mistress of Nothing | Comments (0)

I’m not very good at New Year’s Eve but I do try to spend some time thinking through my hopes and plans for the forthcoming year.  I don’t come up with resolutions but I do have ideas about what I do want and don’t want to have happen… sounds vague, and it is.  This year I’m going to spend more time on my own creative projects - writing - and less time on administration.  I’ve got a couple of immediate deadlines to meet.  Here’s a little list of what I’ll be working on over the next few months:

  • the final final draft of my new novel, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, which is due on Thursday
  • the final final draft of a short story called ‘Public Image Ltd’, which is due yesterday
  • a new draft of my children’s book, ‘Daisy’, due end of the month
  • five story hotspots for ‘Flight Paths’ which I meant to do before Christmas

Chris and I are hoping to get a big commission for a series of multimedia stories which will require lots of work over the forthcoming year; we will know whether or not that’s going ahead by the end of the month.

I’m in discussion with a software artist called James Coupe about a new project for an LED installation in Seattle; that would be fun.

There is more stuff, but this list is making me start to panic about everything I need to get done!

Any my colleague Sue Thomas is off to California for four months.  We shall miss her!

Immigrant Song on Flight Paths

17 December 2008 in Flight Paths | Comments (0)

The poet Simon Perril gave us poem ‘Immigrant Song’ to put on ‘Flight Paths’ recently.  Since then, he has recorded a podcast of himself reading the poem for the website PoetCasting.

Immigrant Song by Simon Perril

If you want to find it on the ‘Flight Paths’ site, where it resides with a copy of the text, click on the link and go to the Chapter Two tab.

I and me

16 December 2008 in The Mistress of Nothing | Comments (0)

I know I said I was finished revising my novel, but it turns out not to be true.

Anyway, at the moment I’m obsessed with when is the right time to use ‘Omar and me’, and when is the right time to use ‘Omar and I’.  I was always confused about this, but I’ve become more confused because people use ‘Omar and I’ when they are trying to talk proper, when in fact, the correct usage is ‘Omar and me’.  ‘People’ in this case means my main character Sally, who is a Lady’s maid (I can’t believe I wrote a whole novel about a Lady’s maid, but that’s another story), and she likes to talk proper, so she’d be the type of person who would confuse ‘Omar and me’, with ‘Omar and I’ and use it incorrectly.  But in a novel where, generally, the rest of her English usage is perfectly fine, trying to get away with an incorrect ‘Omar and I’ to show that she doesn’t really talk proper, but just thinks she does, can’t work.  So now I’m completely confused about the whole thing, and will have to rely on a patient copy-editor to help me sort out the mess.

Happy days!

Flight Paths update

10 December 2008 in Flight Paths | Comments (0)

I had a mail on Friday from Carolyn Guertin, Director of the eCreate Lab at the University of Texas at Arlington, asking for some guidance for her students who want to contribute to ‘Flight Paths’.  It’s great to have her interest in and support for the project, but it is slightly alarming that these media arts students, doubtless highly web-savvy, are a bit baffled by how to contribute.  This supports the conversation that Chris and I have been having about finding ways to make the project more accessible, and more inviting to contributors.  I sent Carolyn the following as a reply:

“Chris and I are actually in the midst of rethinking the overall structure and approach as it is clear that people find it hard to find a way in to the story.  However, unconnected fragments are often very fruitful we find - so feel free to send us those as well.  We are going to create five little flash story hot points over the next few weeks and maybe if I run through those for you, this will help your students:

1)  Yacub before he stows away - working in Dubai in construction, alongside many other Pakistanis.  He’s a young man working hard to try to get ahead.

2)  Yacub at the airport at home in Pakistan before he stows away.

3)  Harriet in London on her way to do the weekly shop for her family.  She’s a middle-aged woman with a radical political past that she’s put behind her - has tried to forget in some ways.

4)  Harriet as she watches Yacub fall from the sky.  Yacub as he falls.

5)  Harriet and Yacub after his fall:  Yacub wakes up dead, but to Harriet he is alive, and a story develops here as he follows her through her life.

These might change, but we are thinking if we create five little flash stories around these points, people can then add their own bits and pieces.  It might be useful for them to enter the story via the point of view of either Harriet or Yacub.  Any kind of media is good for us. “

Hopefully, this will help her students and, once we get these little stories up and running, help make ‘Flight Paths’ more accessible in general.

Mistress of Nothing rewrites

4 December 2008 in The Mistress of Nothing | Comments (0)

I’ve managed to get through the rewrite of my new novel, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’.  My editor, Ruth Petrie, had gone through the manuscript and made a series of excellent comments and suggestions, both large and small.  Nothing too large, thankfully, nothing structural; it’s the structure and voice and point of view of this novel that has given me such grief over the past 13 years or so. Luckily, by the time Ruthie saw it, I had solved most of those problems and am left with tightening things up, elaborating some points, adding dialogue, clarifying, making minor cuts and adjustments.  I hadn’t read the novel since Feb of this year, and having had a good long break away from it has enabled me to come back to it with a degree of freshness I wasn’t expecting.

At the moment I am typing in the corrections to the manuscript, having made all my changes to it with red, black, and blue pens on the printed manuscript.  Once I’ve done that, I’ll print it out once again and read it through one more time before sending it off to Serpent’s Tail here in the UK, and McArthur & Co in Canada.

Let the foreign sales pour in!  Let the prizes and accolades rain down! Let the supermarkets place mass orders!

Yes indeed.

Tunis day-dream/ banned sites on the internet

1 December 2008 in Flight Paths Future of Publishing Online MA in CWNM | Comments (0)

Just back from Tunis where I spent a couple of days working as part of the Medi-Cafe group for the British Council.  We had a productive time, mixing discussions about the art and craft of writing with discussions about the Maghreb, in particular, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria.  As always, the Tunisians were great hosts - we spent our working sessions in a palace on the sea in Carthage.  Seriously. A palace on the sea in Carthage.  I sat by this window for a while during one session - I could hear the sea outside and the sun shone on my legs.  Sun!  In November!  Why do I live in northern Europe?  Why did that seem like a good idea at the time?

An issue that arose during some of our discussions was this:  the Tunisian government has taken to banning websites, including You Tube and the Daily Motion, two of the most important sites world-wide for sharing videos. One of my students was telling me that she can’t access most of the videos on ‘Flight Paths’ and we wondered why… but of course many of those videos are hosted on You Tube and linked to from there into the Netvibes Universe that hosts ‘Flight Paths’.  Chris and I will need to rethink the strategy of keeping videos on You Tube.

Banned sites has been a bit of a feature of my teaching of late, as on the online MA in Creative Writing and New Media we’ve discovered that our students in Oman and Ethiopia can’t access Skype - banned by the gov’ts who have done deals with phone companies to prevent access to free telephony.  We use Skype a lot in our teaching, but will find alternatives now.  Also, Oman bans googlegroups. Banning You Tube seems particularly draconian.  But that’s the Tunisian gov’t for you.  Maybe being allowed to live in northern Europe isn’t such a bad thing after all…

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