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Our Stuff and Our Things: second draft finished

7 September 2012 in Our Stuff and Our Things | Comments (0)

After the great response from the editor to whom I showed the first draft of ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’, I worked a bit more on the manuscript, and then sent it off to my agent here in the UK, Rachel Calder. Rachel’s response was less positive than the editor’s - the things that the editor loved wound up the agent.  Rachel gave me a great set of notes, along with a series of comments made on the manuscript itself.  I showed the notes to the editor, in order to get her response to Rachel’s response.  Doing that helped me a) not panic, b) remember what, exactly, I want this novel to be about, c) find a way through to a new draft.  Then I went away on holiday, carrying the manuscript with me to Scotland and Spain while not even glancing at it once, all part of allowing the discussions to percolate.

I’ve spent the past few weeks working on that draft, and it’s done now, and so I’ve sent it back to Rachel, with some notes of my own.  So, we’ll see.  I’ve also sent the manuscript to another friend, Aamer Hussein - Aamer has basically read everything I’ve ever written, for which I’m eternally grateful, and his opinion is always useful and interesting. I’m in slight danger of too many cooks here, but so be it. 

As well as that, I’m making progress with the website I’ve commissioned Andy Campbell to design for the project overall, a website that will, basically, allow publishers to understand how the digital elements of this project, ‘Flight Paths’ and ‘Duel’, relate to the novel itself.  It’s a simple but good-looking website that, I hope, will act as a kind of calling card as I explore whether or not publishers are interested either or both the novel and its digital companion. 

So, that’s where I’m at.  I’ve got a new job, news of which is still under embargo, and that starts week after next.  Andy and I continue to work on ‘Duel’; over to the ‘Duel’ blog for an update on that.

‘Inanimate Alice’ on Edmodo

30 August 2012 in | Comments (0)

‘Inanimate Alice’ has opened up shop on Edmodo, which is a ‘secure social learning network for students and teachers’.  Edmodo was included on last year’s AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning, and it is a rapidly growing site.  ‘Inanimate Alice’ has established a community on Edmodo.  In that community, it has included a showcase of new IA episodes created by students and teachers - screenshot of that included above.  If you are a teacher or student in K-12, as they say in North America, Reception to A-Level, as they don’t really say in the UK, take a look and let us know what you think.

Our Stuff and Our Things:  first draft finished

4 July 2012 in Our Stuff and Our Things | Comments (0)

I finished the first draft of my new novel, Our Stuff and Our Things last week.  This happened more quickly than I anticipated - the final section of the book was much easier to write than I thought it would be. I finished the draft.  Not without feeling a bit amazed.

The book is odd.  It has a complex relationship with its two companion works, my on-going project Flight Paths, and my new digital fiction project, Duel.  But it needs to be able to stand completely independently of these two digital projects - it needs to work as a novel for people who aren’t interested in media-rich hybrid forms of literature that have to be viewed on computer screens - it needs to work as a book.

I showed an early draft of the middle section of the book to my Canadian agent this past winter; at that time I thought the middle section was the opening of the book.  Her reaction was the opposite of reassuring.  But her rather harsh words of criticism made me rethink the structure of the book and made me realise that one of the many things I was doing wrong was that I was writing the novel as though it was a series of screens, as though I was writing for the computer screen, in fact. (I wrote about this here in an earlier blogpost: ‘first person bad, third person good’.)  So I rewrote and restructured and re-conceptualised.

When I got to the end of this new draft, I thought I had better show it to someone other than my agents first. I didn’t want to make my Canadian agent read a new version of the book until I felt more confident about it.  Most agents put up with having to read many drafts of the same book as it makes its slow progress from total crap to half-way decent.  But it can’t be much fun, and in a world where you need your agent to be as confident as possible about your book, I thought it would be a good idea to do as much work as possible on the book prior to showing it to either of the agents who work on my behalf in the industry, let alone the one who had read the first draft and said, basically, ‘ugh’.

So, I wrote to an old friend of mine who is a respected, experienced, and adept editor; she’s read manuscripts for me in the past.  I’m paying her to read it; expertise like hers is hugely valuable.  And, luckily for me, she had a bit of time this week.

Waiting to hear back while your manuscript is being read is one of the most painful and difficult and entirely inevitable experiences a writer can have.  Combined with the almost epic bad weather we’ve been having here in England this summer, near-continuous rain and cool temperatures, I have felt myself wilting since the day I sent the ms off.  Last night I reached a nadir - while getting dressed to go to my publisher’s annual summer party, I put on my pyjamas and got into bed instead.

Then this morning, an email from my editor friend.  Reader, she ‘loved’ it.  Reader, she had good things to say. 

EBR publishes my Riposte to Curtis White’s ‘The Latest Word’

2 July 2012 in | Comments (0)

EBR - the Electronic Book Review - has published my response to Curtis White’s essay, ‘The Latest Word’.

“In “The Latest Word” Curtis White sounds the death-knell for the possibility of art and literature in the high-tech charnel house we all inhabit now. As a writer who operates in the middle of the margin (I wrote a literary novel that won a prize; I write transmediatric digital fictions – oh god, what to call these things? - that are on syllabi), I am terrified by Curtis White’s erudite damnation, and that terror has the effect of making me lower my head and plough forward like the sturdy ox I know myself to be.

For me the future of writing has to be the future of literature – what else is there to care about, if not literature? And when I look up from my yoke toward the horizon I see endless potential, endless possibility. I see new works appearing online and via apps…”

Read More here and follow the links to White’s original essay.

Flight Paths: A Networked Novel - NEW EPISODE!

8 June 2012 in Flight Paths | Comments (0)

Flight Paths: A Networked Novel, my on-going project with Chris Joseph, has a brand-new, sixth, episode!  Hooray!  This episode, as brief as the others, takes up the story of Yacub, who has landed on Harriet’s car in the supermarket car park, and introduces him to Jack, Harriet’s teenaged son.  Go to the website, and click on ‘Jack meets Yacub’.

As I’ve mentioned in my blog posts about my two current works-in-progress, the digital fiction ‘Duel’, and the novel ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’, I’m continuing to develop the story that begins in ‘Flight Paths’ on other platforms.  Both ‘Duel’ and ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’ have grown out of ‘Flight Paths’; the scene in this sixth episode, ‘Jack meets Yacub’, is also described in the novel.

Kindle Highlights from amazon.com and ‘The Mistress of Nothing’

26 May 2012 in The Mistress of Nothing | Comments (0)

Today I came across the Kindle highlights from ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ via the US Amazon site.  I’d never noticed this before.  The highlights are bits that readers have bookmarked in the text and shared with other Kindle readers.  My plan is to write a version of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ that consists of these highlights and nothing else.

And, in fact, Omar was master of his own household, however infrequently he was able to attend to it, while I was mistress of nothing. 
Highlighted by 11 Kindle users

I was not a real person to her, not a true soul with all the potential for grace and failure that implies. 
Highlighted by 7 Kindle users

“I’m not surprised, Sally Naldrett, to find you capable of this.” At the time I heard one meaning. Now I hear another. 
Highlighted by 7 Kindle users

But while all of this is true, it is a mistake to think that the people are so preoccupied with the Nile and its inundation of the land—an inundation that destroys while at the same time rebirthing—that they will continue to labor under the sun, oblivious to the passing of the centuries. Instead, they lie in wait, like a scorpion on a rock, like a crocodile among the reeds, and from time to time they rise up and they bite. 
Highlighted by 5 Kindle users

I hated her beautifully: my hatred was polished and hard and shiny and, truth be told, at times it sustained me. 
Highlighted by 4 Kindle users

Sometimes now I think that perhaps the disease was more responsible than my Lady herself for what she did to me. But the fact is that I had too much at stake to be quite that forgiving. 
Highlighted by 4 Kindle users

I loved Omar with an unexpected passion that opened the world, but I loved Abdullah in a way that was larger, fiercer, more complete than the world itself could ever be. 
Highlighted by 4 Kindle users

I screamed the night Abdullah was born; I made more noise that one night than I had during the whole of the rest of my life put together. But after that, I fell into silence. And that silence deepened and darkened and grew heavier and thicker, until my days were as dark and silent as my nights. 
Highlighted by 3 Kindle users

It did not occur to me that he might see marriage to me as useful in any way, as part of his plans for his future, an addition to his lengthy list of skills and accomplishments in life. 
Highlighted by 3 Kindle users

Why is the world full of people who see fit to dispense with others as soon as it suits them? But I stop myself from having these thoughts, from thinking these things, and I get on with the task at hand. I’m very good at getting on with the task at hand: it’s what suits me. 
Highlighted by 3 Kindle users

Spreadable Media - Henry Jenkins

16 May 2012 in Future of Publishing | Comments (0)

Last night I went to hear Henry Jenkins give a talk at the University of Westminster.  He’s doing an unusual thing - at least it was a new one on me - a tour to promote ‘Spreadable Media’, a book that won’t come out for another six months, long after this particular tour is finished.  Interestingly, Jenkins is as concerned with spreading his ideas, its seems, in advance of publication, as he is selling the book.  On the other hand, Jenkins is an academic with a full-time, probably very well paid, job, so his attitude toward book sales is likely a little different than mine.

Jenkins had many interesting things to say last night.  He began by discussing why he has rejected the term ‘viral’ to describe how media artifacts pass between viewers/readers, with its connotations of illness and disease, the ‘smallpox blanket theory of media’.  For Jenkins, ‘spreadable media’ is a much more appropriate term, and he’s happy to embrace the fact that the word ‘spreadable’ makes many people think of butter and jam (much better than H1N1 after all).  He talked distribution vs circulation, about how old media or mass media was all about controlling distribution, while networked media is about circulation; ‘circulation is the new moral economy’.  He discussed how media artifacts, like ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ or a video distributed by a group of activists, change meaning as they are passed from one viewer to the next, how meaning is affected by circulation. 

I think that for writers thinking about how to engage with participatory culture, this distinction between circulation vs distribution is very useful.  When a work is widely circulated, what new forms of meaning are acquired?  If you are circulating your work instead of distributing it, will new ways of generating income from it emerge?  Our project ‘Inanimate Alice’ has changed status via widespread circulation among educators; what started out as an entertainment title has become an education title.  My involvement with this project has resulted in my being granted all kinds of additional currency in a wide variety of spheres, including the education sector, the transmedia sector, and the games industry.

When it comes to more traditional forms of media, i.e. long-form prose fiction - the novel - the circulation vs distribution model becomes more difficult to directly translate.  Jenkins highlighted the work of Cory Doctorow in this field, and the way that Doctorow has built a large readership who buy his books by giving away electronic versions of his books online.  But, as far as I know, Doctorow remains an anomaly.  In some ways, his model has been overtaken by the indy-publishing model, those writers who manage to establish themselves via self-publishing online which then translates into big traditional book industry deals.  But these writers - Hocking, Wilkinson, Shades of Grey, etc - did not circulate their works online for free; they might have charged only 99p, but 99p is still 99p. As well as that, these indy-writers publish within the silo that is Amazon’s Kindle epub format.

A few months ago, Dan Franklin, the digital publisher at Random House UK, sent out a tweet that said ‘Sculpt the frontlist, sweat the backlist’.  When I reminded him of this the other day, he gave himself a virtual slap on the forehead and said, ‘I do talk s**t sometimes.’  However, that line, catchy as it is, has remained with me.  My own backlist is stuck in a kind bookish version of hell.  Rights are spread across a number of different territories, some editions are in print, others are out of print - the whole thing is a big mess.  For the most part, these books are accessible to readers via the secondhand market only (AND DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THAT!).  None of them exist as ebooks.  So, as far as the online circulation model goes, they are dead.  ‘If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead’, Jenkins says.  I need to fix this.  That backlist needs to feel the heat and do some sweating. 

In January of this year, Jenkins devoted two posts on his blog to a discussion of transmedia and education, with ‘Inanimate Alice’ as one of two highlighted works.  You can find Part One here, and Part Two here.

‘Inanimate Alice’ is Everywhere

1 May 2012 in Inanimate Alice | Comments (0)

The best thing about ‘Inanimate Alice’ is how it continues to grow and expand around the world as a pedagogical title.

A couple of weeks ago, on twitter, a teacher from St. Joseph’s College, Echuca, Victoria, Australia, posted a great photo of four students with the line, ‘Boys preparing their Inanimate Alice digital stories (cool stuff)’.  Years 5 and 6 at Redhills School in Exeter, Devon, UK, published a whole series of new episode 5s created using Photostory.  As well as that, the American social network for kids, Everloop, which has just won a Parent’s Choice Award , has included ‘Inanimate Alice’ as one of its partners; the Alice team has created a whole set of assets for Everloop, that only Everloop kids can see. 

In Australia, we are about to launch a series of digital photo-novellas, ‘Alice in Australia’.  These stories, commissioned by Education Services Australia, will chart the lives of Alice and her family during a year they spend based in Melbourne.  The stories are set in the time period between episodes one and two - so after Alice and her parents have left China, but before they move to Saudi Arabia.  All the digital assets of these stories will be available for teachers and students for mash-up and remix.  Here’s the url - but note that this will only work in Australia.  Sorry about that, rest of world. ‘Alice in Australia’ 

And, finally, at last, we have now got a timetable for the production and release of our own ‘Inanimate Alice: Episode 5’; after a long delay, this all new episode will appear before the end of 2012.  Hooray!

Our Stuff and Our Things - first person bad, third person good

20 April 2012 in Our Stuff and Our Things | Comments (0)

I’m working on my new novel in the normal one step forward, five steps backwards, I’m a genius, I can’t remember how to write, kind of way.  As always, I have issues when it comes to figuring out voice in these early drafts, in particular, whether to use first person or third person, or a mix of the two.  This was a major stumbling block for me during the writing of my last novel, The Mistress of Nothing.  Turns out that it’s a stumbling block with this new book as well.

Before Christmas I had a working draft of the first part of the novel, an eighty page chapter with which I was rather pleased.  In it, I’d used an almost random mix of first and third person, as well as past and present tense.  Needless to say, on reflection, spurred on by the incredulous horror expressed by one of my agents upon reading it, this didn’t work. So I’ve embarked on a complete rewrite, which I’m about half—way through. 

The story of Our Stuff and Our Things grows out of my digital fiction project ‘Flight Paths’, created by me and Chris Joseph.  When it comes to works of multimedia that reside on screens, like ‘Flight Paths’ and ‘Inanimate Alice’, I’ve found that the first person works extremely well.  There’s something about the intimacy and immediacy of the first person that works well for text on a screen; it’s the voice of the character, speaking directly to you as you click and scroll and navigate your way through the story.  Many of the multitude of episode 5s of ‘Inanimate Alice’ that have been created by students around the world use the first person.  ‘Flight Paths’ uses two first person voices, interwoven to tell a story.

So I suppose it was only natural (read: not thought-through) that when I embarked on writing a novel that takes as its starting point the ‘encounter’ between the two characters from ‘Flight Paths’ - Harriet and Yacub (he falls out of a plane and lands on her car) - that I should continue to write using their first person voices, voices that I could hear very clearly inside my head.

But it doesn’t work.  If there is one thing that long-form prose fiction offers above all forms of story-telling, it is the ability to provide psychological insight, to go inside characters’ heads and bring forth their memories, their perceptions, their ideas.  Writing in the first person has severe limitations when it comes to opening out and exploring a story through an ensemble of characters over time.  So I’ve ditched it. 

Hard work.  As @touretteshero, the brave young woman campaigning to raise awareness of Tourette’s Syndrome, said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this week:  Biscuit.

Writing in the Digital Age - Hollyhock, Cortes Island, September 2012

3 April 2012 in Mentoring | Comments (0)

It might seem like a long way off, but next September I’ll be teaching at Hollyhock on Cortes Island - a remote island off the coast of British Columbia, one of the Northern Gulf Islands.  I’ve never been to Cortes, but I spent my teenage years on Vancouver Island, and we used to visit the more southern gulf islands regularly.  When I was a kid Hollyhock used to be a place called Cold Mountain Institute, where my friends’ parents used to go to find themselves.  But that’s another story… Writing in the Digital Age, 28 Sept - 3 Oct 2012.

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