It's not a fancy guitar, it's not even a nice guitar, but it has seen a lot.
The Journal of Electronic Publishing has published proceedings from last year's Books in Browsers conference, including a transcript of my talk about the if:book project Memory Makes Us.
Before I introduce the presentation properly, let me first paint you a scene.
On 31 August this year, I was sitting in the large atrium area of Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia. The Melbourne Writers Festival—two weeks of literary events and activities—was still in full swing and my project called Memory Makes Us was a centrepiece of the final day. In front of me three authors were working feverishly to produce a new work on their laptops. Behind me, a few of the hundreds of festival goers were providing inspiration for the authors in the form of memories. To record their memories, they used manual typewriters.
I looked up at the giant screen currently broadcasting authors’ work in progress, at that moment featuring Paddy O’Reilly, and that’s when I saw my memory.
I'll write more about this later, but just before the end of last year, I wrapped my white-gloved hands around an original copy of The Guardian: A Tale by the little-known Australian author Anna-Maria Bunn. Though it is set in Ireland, it is the first Australian novel published on the mainland (Tasmania got there first in the publishing stakes) in 1838.
This copy has been through the ringer, with pages missing and replaced by weird photographs of the pages in its place. Alas, the text has never been digitised and the conditions under which is can be viewed are not entirely conducive to a sit-down read.
Take a look at it. Click on the image below to see more.
As a piece of Australian history, it's a pretty incredible artefact. I'll be doing more with this research later this year at if:book, but I was just flicking through these images and I thought they would make a nice gallery post to the blog.
So this is that.
A few months back, I put the finishing touches to another book. This one was based on another if:book project and asked five writers to remix each other's work in series using a word processor with the track changes feature turned on.
I was pretty pleased with the title: Lost in Track Changes.
The writers featured in this book are all extraordinary and they ably rose to the task of creatively modifying in a riot of forms, genres, and styles. The challenge for me was keeping up with their activity throughout the project, then figuring out how to present the final work.
At the conclusion of the project, I wanted to take the book to print, but the last thing I want to do is make just a book.
I mean, come on.
So, the idea was hatched to do something that brings about the unique qualities of print, something near-impossible to achieve an ePub or mobi file sucked down from a faceless electronic retailer, something that wallows in its own bookishness. Taking a cue from the project's remixable nature, what I arrived at was a published book that looks more like a notebook: wire binding, margins wide enough to park a truck on. It's a book that in its fist line asks you to take up pen )or pencil if you're chicken) and start changing things: cross out, annotate, clarify, illustrate.
And it's now available. It looks like this.
Another thing electronic distribution can't do very well is create the sense of occasion that accompanies a physical object. This is something cannot be easily replicated, or at least, not as easily as ⌘C, ⌘V. So the print run for Lost in Track Changes has been limited to a mere 100 copies. That's it. That's all will ever be made. To emphasise this I sat one afternoon and hand numbered every individual copy. Not the most stimulating job I've ever done, but it does kind of make each copy a one-off. If you've got 67/100, then that number belongs just to you.
When so much regular every-day reading takes place in electronic formats mediated by digital devices, writers and publishers have the opportunity to look more closely at print: to interrogate and explore what it's for and what it can do.
I've never really thought of print and digital as reading formats in opposition to each other, but this project has opened to door for me to to creating books that proudly and unapologetically inhabit their container. So maybe you won't be surprised when I tell you that a digital edition of Lost in Track Changes is on its way. And it's going to look nothing like what you see above.
If you want to pick up and mess around with your own individual copy of Lost in Track Changes, copies are still available from the if:bookstore, via Queensland Writers Centre.
This week I participated in a great panel discussion with Charlotte Harper (published of The N00bz) and book designer Zoe Sadokierski called Where the Book Went Next at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. Audience member. Kenji Walter, summarised the session in sketch form (this must be a thing) and our talks were recorded. You know, for posterity.
So, one thing I've learned is that shaving has no apparent effect on my appearance.
Looking across Victoria Bridge from South Brisbane.
A message from post-apocalyptic Darwin (1974).
A few days ago, I was invited to talk at the Books in Browsers conference in San Francisco.
Produced and sponsored by the New York Public Library and the Frankfurt Book Fair, Books in Browsers is a small summit for the new generation of internet publishing companies, focusing on developers and designers who are building and launching tools for online storytelling, expression, and art.
My talk was about the if:book project I've been running all this year called Memory Makes Us.
Memory Makes Us creates an interface between writers and readers and blurs the boundaries of each throughout the creative process. The project gathers a group of authors to write live in a public space using as their inspiration memories contributed by the audience to a theme chosen by the authors.
This presentation explores the project in detail and challenges assumptions about the book’s place within a wider body of text, the nature of collaborative writing, and the permanence of physical and digital media.
Memory Makes Us takes place simultaneously online and in a physical space. Online, readers contribute memories via a dedicated project web site or using a social media hashtag. The authors write to a publicly accessible document embedded in the project site. The live event sees the authors working in an open location within a literary festival. The audience records their memories using typewriters and notepads, hand-delivering them to the authors at work. However, the complete body of work in Memory Makes Us is the web site where writers’ and readers’ contributions are of equal significance.
Standard online collaborative writing tools define access by editing rights. Instead this project creates a role for readers as influencers and inspiration, while recognising and honouring a singular author’s vision.
All work produced for Memory Makes Us, both physical and digital, is ephemeral, with a deliberately limited lifespan. The project’s legacy will rely on the memories of its participants and readers.