‘A Million Penguins’ Five Years On

25 January 2012 in Transliteracy | 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.

Our Stuff and Our Things 1

13 January 2012 in Our Stuff and Our Things | Comments (0)

I’ve been working on my new novel, which is called ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’, for about a year now - had a good chunk of writing time in May/June/July last year, and am embarking on a new chunk of time now.

The story takes the premise developed in my digital fiction, ‘Flight Paths’ and develops it further.  It tells the stories of the two characters in ‘Flight Paths’, Yacub and Harriet, and it tells the stories of a number of other characters as well.  At the risk of over-complicating this description, if not the project itself, the novel will have three chapters that will be published in bound book and ebook format, and one stand-alone chapter, a multimedia digital fiction I’m working on with Andy Campbell of Dreaming Methods, called ‘Duel’. 

The weird thing is that I am finding the writing process fun.  Really a lot of fun.  I have no idea why this time around it is fun.  Maybe it’s because ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ was such an epic research job, and while ‘Our Stuff and Our Things’ does require some research, it’s nothing compared to MoN, where I even attempted to learn Arabic (six months of 1-1 lessons:  I know four words).  The writing process - and this peculiar experience of ‘having fun while writing’ - reminds me a little bit of when I wrote my novel ‘Weird Sister’.  That was the only other novel I’ve ever written where I knew pretty much where to start, where to go next, and how to end, before I started writing. 

Hmm.  Maybe there’s a lesson there.  Or maybe not.

So, doubtless now that I’ve written this blogpost, it will all go horribly wrong.  But I just wanted to put it on record - writing can be fun.  There, I said it.

McGill Drop-Out Gets PhD FOR REAL!

9 January 2012 in | Comments (1)

Back in July 2011 I underwent the Viva exam for my PhD by Published Works.  I passed, with minor amendments, which in the real world means I passed, but they wanted me to make a few changes to the essay, and to show those changes to the internal examiner within six months.  The changes weren’t vast, but they involved re-focussing the essay into three case studies built around three of my published works (The Mistress of Nothing, and and getting rid of some of the more ranty bits where I sounded off about trade publishing vs digital publishing, copyright, etc.

So, I spent time over the autumn re-drafting the essay, posting it off to the university between Christmas and New Year, and have just had word that the internal examiner is happy!  I’m happy she’s happy, and as for all of you, well, now you really will have to call me DOCTOR PULLINGER!!  I’m available for most surgical procedures (fiction only).  HOORAY!!

Two Thousand and Twelve, or is it Twenty Twelve?

6 January 2012 in Mentoring | Comments (0)

A new year.  This week I’ve found the idea of a whole new year rather exhausting.  My family and I went into deep hibernation after Christmas - a full week of doing pretty much nothing at all, blissfully - and I’ve found the whole emerging-blinking thing rather hard.  2011 was a good year; I was still riding the GG wave for the first half of the year (that was a big wave, and it lasted a long time), and the second half of the year washed away swiftly.  What’s with these similes?  See - I’m not really awake.

But now we’re in 2012.  I’ve got a few goals.  I’m going to finish my new novel.  I’m going to work with Andy Campbell on our digital fiction Duel which we’ll launch in November at the ELMCIP conference and exhibition.  I’m not going to travel as much.  I’m hoping my PhD amendments will be passed by the internal examiner so that at long last I can lord it over everyone by making them call me Doctor.  I’m going to figure out how to get my backlist published as ebooks.  The three grant applications I’m involved with will all be successful and then I’ll have work coming out of my ears.  The various Inanimate Alice projects I’m involved with will come to fruition. 

From next Monday I’ll be teaching a weekly class as part of the Guardian/UEA masterclass series.  It’s a six month course called ‘How to Tell a Story’.  I’ve got 12 students for this, and I’m looking forward to getting started.