WMD - A revision

22 March 2010 in Books Written by Me | Comments (0)

I am beginning to make progress with ‘WMD - a revision’, my project to republish and annotate my first novel.  Click on the link in the menu above if you are interested.  Each number represents a section of text.

It’s an odd project, to revisit a book that I wrote twenty years ago.  The writing is often very bad - it just is, there’s no two ways about it.  But that’s not why I’m revisiting this text (although it’s easy to forget this and get bogged down by the problems in the writing).  Is it possible to create a type of memoir through annotating this text?  Or is this a bit of self-indulgence, a kind of middle-aged silliness?  I don’t know.  Time and text will tell, I guess.  But it isn’t an easy project.  Examining the problems in this text is not going to make me rich or happy. 

If anyone out there lived in Vauxhall in the 1980s, in particular Vauxhall Gardens and Bonnington Square, and has photos or scannable mementos of any kind, please get in touch.  I’d love to be able to include your photos in WMD - a revision.  E-mail me at hello (at) katepullinger (dot) com.

Five Provocations - Banff In(ter)ventions Manifesto

12 March 2010 in Future of Publishing | Comments (0)

I wrote this manifesto prior to attending ‘In(ter)ventions’; it reflects my concerns as a writer who works in both print publishing and digital fiction.  At Banff the focus of the conference was primarily on the avant-garde and poetics; as a fiction writer my concerns, in this context, felt more mainstream.  This itself was interesting – in the world of book publishing I’m often seen as the futurist, the digital advocate.  At Banff my concern with narrative and story positioned me as a member of the non-avant old guard, a traditionalist.  This is an observation, not a complaint – I found the conference hugely useful and completely fascinating. 

1.  We need to talk about money.  Some of us reside inside the academy, some of us reside outside the academy; some of us get grants for our work, some of us do not.  Writers need to be thinking hard about how to protect our revenues across all platforms.  As publishing is shaken up by the new technologies, writers need to be proactive, involved in the on-going discussions about developing fair terms and new business models.

2.  Writers, publishers, and teachers need to get their heads out of the sand:  the digital future is already here and we risk becoming dinosaurs, as well as ostriches, if we don’t engage with the multitude of possibilities for storytelling offered to us by the new technologies. 

3.  Stop talking about ebooks. Ebooks are boring.  Convenient, practical, destined to become one of the ways we read, but boring, as counter-intuitive as placing the text of the latest blockbuster novel on a television screen.  The Google Book project, which sees the world’s leading libraries collaborating in secret with a giant corporation, effectively pulling the copyright rug out from under our feet, is either our best friend or our worst enemy or both; however, the Google Book project, along with rapid developments in ereaders, has ensured that the book, as a digital file, will remain at the heart of our culture for the foreseeable future.  So stop talking about ebooks.  There’s a new world of media-rich literature around the next corner; reading on screen has huge potential to enhance the way we tell stories, and to expand our audiences in new directions. 

4.  Always remember that human culture is highly visual.  The first non-oral form of storytelling was cave-painting – the original powerpoint presentation.  The dominance of film and television as storytelling forms in the twentieth century demonstrate that as soon as we are able to use pictures to tell stories, we do.  Literature must reckon with this fact.  As technology enables us to carry rich media in our pockets we need to find ways to make writing - good writing - relevant to new generations of readers.  If we take the long view of the history of storytelling, are plain old words on the page – fixed-type print - an historic anomaly? 

5.  Good writing – and by this I mean writing that demonstrates the love of language, of a good sentence, a well-turned phrase, the power of words, writing that rewards re-reading – must survive, regardless of platform or media.  It’s up to us to make sure that happens. 

A (S)Creed for Digital Fiction

9 March 2010 in Future of Publishing | Comments (3)

Yesterday I sat up and took note when an e-mail from the Electronic Book Review (ebr) arrived in my inbox.  Listed in its brief summary of the articles in the most recent volume, was this:

A [S]creed for Digital Fiction” by Alice Bell, Astrid Ensslin, Dave Ciccoricco, Hans Rustad, Jess Laccetti, and Jessica Pressman.

I took myself over to the url in question, and read the screed. 

It’s an elegant piece of writing.  For me one of the most important aspects of this anti-manifesto comes in its title - ‘A (S)creed for Digital Fiction’.  Not that tricksy ‘(S)Creed’ (I’m tired of words broken up by brackets, though I can see the point they are making in the Introduction), but digital fiction.  Does this mean that, at last, we have agreed on a name for the kind of media-rich, screen-dependent, born-digital, works of fiction that folks have been creating and disseminating for the last fifteen years or so?  ‘Digital fiction’ is definitely my preferred term, and I’ve found myself using it freely of late, with less obligation to explain what that might mean.  So, hurray for the Digital Fiction International Network for this not-so-simple act of naming.

DFIN’s list of what the screed includes is generous and rich; while it ticks the theoretical buttons that, as a writer, I find less interesting, it also foregrounds ‘readers’, ‘reading’, and ‘re-reading’.  Its broad inclusiveness is inspiring, and I like this approach to defining a set of concepts, by listing what is ‘embraced’.  Over at TRG we are continuing to work on a definition of transliteracy and DFIN has provided us with a useful model here. 

The list of what the screed embraces is followed by a list of what the screed ‘deliberately neglects’ and this too is thought-provoking.  However, I think they have jumped the gun a bit by including ‘e-books’.  I know why they have included e-books on their list of exclusions - when I gave my talk at Banff In(ter)ventions (those pesky brackets again) one of my manifesto points was the bad-tempered ‘Stop Talking About E-books; e-books are boring’.  However, despite my own weariness with the subject, I think e-books are undergoing a rapid and soon-to-snowball set of changes and advancements and the ‘paper-under-glass texts’ analogy DFIN uses will soon no longer hold true.  ‘Enhanced editions’ and single-book apps where the author provides a wealth of extra digital material that is embedded in the text, from audio recordings of the author reading to music composed by the author, are already beginning to appear;  children’s books are undergoing a rapid revolution as the games industry giant EA collaborates with publishers to create works like ‘Artemis Fowl’ for Nintendo DS - fully interactive, with games, puzzles and a whole wealth of extra material for the reader to explore, embedded in the text.  Both these examples are still a considerable distance from what I consider to be ‘digital fiction’, as both are still pretty much a traditional print book with a bunch of e-extras added on.  However, e-books will doubtless continue to transform, especially as e-readers become more sophisticated and people really do want to get the most out of the potential for reading a story on a screen. 

Personally, my current anxiety around the form is that the kind of work I’m involved in, digital fictions like the latest iteration of ‘Flight Paths’, will be completely swept aside and obliterated by the Great Machine of Corporate Publishing as it discovers the huge potential for digital fiction, and that works of this type, with their hand-made and very personal aesthetic, will soon look like a movie I made on my mobile phone when everything else looks like ‘Avatar’.

American proofs of The Mistress of Nothing

9 March 2010 in The Mistress of Nothing | Comments (0)


The copyedited manuscript of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ arrived from Simon & Schuster yesterday.  When I opened it up I was amazed to see how heavily the text was annotated -  numerous red copy-editing marks on every page.  But then once I began to look more closely, I realised that most of the marks were instructions to the typesetter and not corrections to the text itself.

All the spellings have been changed from British to American, and some of these made me gulp a bit:  can ‘skeptical’ really be correct?  Doesn’t it look too much like ‘skool’?  This Americanisation of the text - which doesn’t worry me, fond as I am of the British and Canadian spellings - was complicated by the fact that the novel uses 19th century Arabic transliterations as well, some of which were Lucie Duff Gordon’s own;  for instance, one of these,’hakima’, or ‘healer’, does not correspond to any Arabic dictionaries’ current spelling.  The copyeditor also came across a number of small errors in my text, things that we did not notice here in the UK when we copyedited the book, ‘elder’ instead of ‘eldest’, ‘more’ instead of ‘most’, etc.  So that was interesting, if a little embarrassing as well. 

Many tiny red marks were devoted to my use of the em dash.  At first I misunderstood and thought that they were trying to deprive me of my beloved em dash (though before yesterday I didn’t even know it is called an ‘em dash’).  But no, the little hieroglyph actually means they are keeping the dashes but allowing less space on either side. 

So, I’ve gone through it now with my own blue pencil and added to the general mark-up mayhem of the text, and am posting it back to NY shortly. Yippee!!

Home again

1 March 2010 in | Comments (0)

Toronto Slush

My Canadian book tour went well.  I had a good audience in Canmore at Cafe Books, despite being on at the same time as a major Olympic hockey game;  I had a great audience in Calgary at the Memorial Park Library (with Pages bookstore) despite being on at the same time as a major Olympic hockey game;  I had a wonderful audience in Montreal at the Jewish Public Library, despite being on at the same time as a major Olympic hockey game; and I had a decent audience in Toronto at the Downtown Reference Library, despite being on during a snowstorm.

It snowed while I was in Montreal as well as Toronto, thus fulfilling my sad little ex-pat desire to experience a proper Canadian city winter once again;  however, the snow in both cities turned out to be very wet.  Instead of pristine snowdrifts covering up the cars and houses and city streets, we got epic piles of slush and huge slushy puddles where, really, the only appropriate footwear was knee-high rubber boots.  Hideous.

But I’d go back again tomorrow for more of it, happily.