The N00bz: Canberra Launch

This Saturday I'll be in Canberra to launch The N00bz, capital style. If you're in town, drop in and say hello.

The Noobz: New Adventures in Literature

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Ainslie + Gorman Arts Centres: Bogong Theatre

Bookings not required.

Join Gorman Arts Centre resident Editia Press and literary agent Alex Adsett in a panel discussion on writerly experiments at the official launch of The N00bz: New adventures in literature on Saturday 27 September at 6.00pm in the Bogong Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre. The N00bz is a collection of writing in which authors experiment with their craft and document the quest to continually improve in a rapidly changing industry. The panel features editor Duncan Felton, publisher Charlotte Harper and Manager of if:book Australia Simon Groth.

This is a free event and a cash bar will be available.

More information from the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres.

Thoughts on Memory Makes Us

I'm three quarters through a project for if:book called Memory Makes Us and the good people over at Writers Bloc asked me to pen some thoughts on it for their blog. 


The experience of Memory Makes Us is always personal.

It wasn’t that great a memory, just something that occurred to me when I thought about ‘The Body’. My mind was drawn back to the 1980s and to Coolangatta, to the laughable excuse for sunscreen we used at the time, and to our remarkable lack of concern when, inevitably, our skin would begin peeling. Now, in 2014, here I was in the atrium at Federation Square, staring up at a giant screen which suddenly displayed my words to the hundreds of people milling through the Melbourne Writers Festival site. Without my knowledge, Paddy O’Reilly had at some point in the day taken my words and dropped them into the work she was writing before a live audience. I looked up, recognised my words, then watched on in horror as Paddy highlighted the entire passage and hit delete.

Well, not the entire passage. Just one word remained: sunscreen. Paddy wrote a few more words around mine, taking it in a new direction, but I was comforted by that one word’s presence. That word right there, that one was mine, even if I was the only person who knew it.

Read on.


Willow Patterns at STORY+

The gargantuan complete 24-hour book, Willow Patterns, will be on display from tomorrow at the STORY+ conference, part of the Brisbane Writers Festival. 

Willow Patterns presents an entire book’s database in chronological order across 28 volumes with a continuous spine design.

4–5 September

Gardens Theatre, QUT
FREE Bookings essential

An intensive two-day event exploring the future of writing and storytelling shaped by technology, design and data. STORY+ features writers, transmedia producers, interaction designers, games developers and publishers.

Click here to view the full STORY+ Program

Writing by algorithm

Welcome to AusStories 2.6

In just a few moments, you’ll be writing your very own Australian masterpiece with the help of the AusStories database, which contains over nine hundred million possible novels, short stories, essays and poems.

So begins Ryan O’Neill’s remix of a Cate Kennedy story for if:book’s ongoing project Lost in Track Changes. It’s a story that imagines the setup protocol for software that allows the user to create quality short stories at a whim (the $4.99 Winton upgrade guarantees a Miles Franklin nomination for example).

It’s a clever update to a premise that has been knocking around for some time: that we can imagine the creative act of writing being outmoded, superseded by machines or software. One my first short stories invented an artificial intelligence agent named ‘Hemmingway’ (the additional ‘m’ is never explained by the way) capable of producing any copy asked of him within moments.

Is it possible for our current wave of technological change to drive authorship into irrelevance?

Sure it’s possible. It’s happening right now to a certain extent. The Associated Press along with a host of top tech companies have already begun using Wordsmith, software capable of taking large and complex data sets such as stock quotes or sports results and turning them into readable stories. By all accounts, it works. And it’s uncanny.

But getting machines to spin prefab stories from boring stuff like stock market summaries is one thing. Let’s go to the other extreme. How would a machine go about recreating something like Patrick White’s prose? From an engineering point of view, we work with a finite number of symbols and mostly in broad patterns that can be predefined. Whether an algorithm can produce copy in the style of a sports summary or Nobel Prize-winning literature is just a case of using the right input, both in style and scale. With the right data and enough processing power, the next Voss might well be reproducible at the push of a button.

Not that there’s a great demand for another Voss. On a related point, I have a theory that Clive Cussler is already an algorithm.

But there’s one fundamental problem at the heart of this kind of innovation. We already know White’s style. We can analyse his body of work make inferences from it to construct writing in a way that’s reminiscent of how he arranged his words. Algorithms are great at recreating something known, analysing and reproducing according to a set of instructions.

Imagine if you were to sit down and re-write a story you know well exactly as it was originally authored. It could be anything: Heart of Darkness or The Da Vinci Code. Tell the story exactly as its original author did. You can’t, can you? No matter how hard you try, you’ll never get it the same. Ever tried to rewrite your own work from scratch after losing the original copy? Even when you were the original author, again, it never get quite comes out the same. Sometimes it’s worse. Sometimes it’s better.

What gets in the way of our ability to play photocopier? Memory, sure, but also voice. You can never quite escape your own voice, your own point of view, your own unique way of seeing and recording the world around you or the world in your head. It’s a part of you and only you that hits the page every time you do.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but for now authors can sleep tight. The software still has a long way to go.

Lost in Track Changes
AP's automation software

It was a very good year

I've always had a fascination for the borrowing history of books and every book's list of dates is now made more poignant by the inevitable wall somewhere in the early 2000s. 

If you know the song this post borrows its title from you might think it's pretty schmaltzy, but that's because you haven't heard the version that involves dodecahedrons in a state of quantum uncertainty having sexual intercourse.

The N00bz Launch

I'll be talking literary experiments with fellow n00bz Benjamin Law, Greg Field and Keith Stevenson at the impending launch for the new if:book collection,The N00bz. I was editor and contributor to this essay series throughout 2013 and worked with publisher Editia to bring it to ereader screens and bound pages. The new edition includes a brand new essay on being a digital writer in residence from Jennifer Mills and a mashup of literary adventures submitted via twitter.

If you're in Sydney on 12 August, come along to the launch. It's shaping up to be a lot of fun.

The Noobz: New Adventures in Literature

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Better Read Than Dead
265 King Street, Newtown NSW

RSVP: 02 9557 8700 or

Can't make it to Sydney? No problem. The book is now available all over the place, but the best place to get it is directly from the publisher. Digital editions come without any filthy DRM that will lock you down to any one device and the print edition is...well it's print, isn't it.