On Monday, 11th June 2012 at around 11:00am, nine writers, ten editors, about a dozen support staff, one designer, a coffee machine, and a bucketload of Tim Tams came together with the purpose of creating a book. We were to begin working at midday. Like all books, ours had a publishing deadline. Unlike a lot of books, ours was precisely twenty-four hours after we began.
This was the 24-Hour Book.
Over the next twelve hours, their stories were written live, with work in progress posted online to allow readers to watch the story unfold and to submit ideas, suggestions and contributions across media. One by one, the stories were completed and the clock neared midnight. At this point, a team of bleary-eyed editors took the text from manuscript to book.
Each chapter has a single writer and editor. Though a few basic rules were established to ensure the book has a cohesive quality to it, each writer was free to tell whatever kind of story they liked. The result was not a 24-Hour novel, but more than a loose collection of short stories.
There were a couple of 24-Hour Books prior to this one—most notably in 2009 and another in 2012—both organised from the UK and involving if:book UK. Each project is different in its focus and end product, but the common thread between them is the use of the timeframe to demonstrate the capabilities and explore the possibilities of working in a digital environment. Each iteration of the idea produces something unique to its process, something that couldn’t be reproduced in a more traditional environment.
Our pithy reasons for doing this were “because we can” and “because it’ll be fun”. As slight as that sounds, in most cases that was enough convince some of Australia’s best writers to get involved.
What we hoped to achieve is an exploration of how a digital process informs and influences collaborative writing and editing in a combination of face-to-face and screen-to-screen. There were three collaborations taking place: author to author, author to editor, and book to audience. the authors either wrote directly to the web or cut-and-pasted regularly, allowing the audience to see the work unfold on screen and interact with it via comments. Comments and suggestions were filtered back to the authors, potentially influencing the direction of the story as it was being created.
At midday on 12 June, 2012, the book Willow Pattern was made available as a free digital download from the if:book web site. The free edition was available for another twenty-four hours before making its way into the standard retail environment.
A few minutes before midday on the same day, the first print edition of Willow Pattern rolled out of an Espresso Book Machine at the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City. To the best of our knowledge, this project was the first to produce a printed copy of the book within the twenty-four hours.
Even today, the future of the book is often reduced to the false (but easy) dichotomy of 'print vs digital'. The print edition of the 24-Hour Book is a reminder that physical media has a place in a digital world and that some of the most interesting work can emerge from the interaction between the digital and the physical. Willow Pattern is a book born from a combination of face-to-face collaboration and digital technology.
Collaboration and data is really at the centre of this project (the timeframe was really just a convenient way to get both).
Digital and online writing tools are at heart collaborative tools. Every blogging platform is built to handle multiple authors and editors (our tech for the project is based on a blogging tool). Although collaborative writing often lies at the heart of other media like film, it’s relatively underexplored in narrative fiction. I suspect writers are far more gregarious than popular perception would have you believe. Writers love working together and bouncing ideas off each other and this is the kind of atmosphere we hope to generate.
In this case, the digital environment is merely a system to help us navigate a more traditional idea of collaboration: writers physically together and discussing their stories. Where digital really comes into its own is the ability for collaboration to go much, much wider. Opening the text up as it unfolds allows us to seek feedback on the fly. Sure, we’ll have no filter and no idea whether such feedback will be constructive or even welcome, but hey that’s the web for you. Digital writing is expected to be flexible: bloggers respond to their readers, readers expect to be heard and acknowledged. Why should we be any different just because we’re writing in a different form?
On completion of original project, we made Willow Pattern available in electronic format from the if:book web site for another twenty-four hours only.
The edition we would later send to retail platforms and make available in print is subtly different (mostly tidying up errors and omissions).
The file available here, however, is the original deal, date-stamped 12 June 2011 at 11:14am. It is available here for the first time since that day and is exclusive to this site.
Enjoy the typos.
Nick Earls is the author of twelve novels and two collections of short stories. His books have won awards and appeared on bestseller lists in Australia and the UK. Two of his novels have been adapted into feature films and five into plays. He sometimes appears sideways in images.
Steven Amsterdam was born in New York and has worked as a map editor, producer's assistant, and a pastry chef. Since 2003, he has lived in Melbourne, where he works as a writer and palliative care nurse. His debut novel, Things We Didn't See Coming, won The Age Book of the Year and was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award. His second book, What the Family Needed, has been called "Wonderful" by the Sydney Morning Herald and "exhilarating" by The Australian.
Krissy Kneen is a bookseller and writer. She has written and directed documentaries for SBS and ABC TV. Her short fiction has been published in The Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings, The Griffith Review and The Big Issue. She is the author of a short collection of erotica, Swallow the Sound, a memoir Affection (Text 2009) and a collection of interlinked erotic novellas, Triptych (2011).
P.M. Newton’s first novel, The Old School, was released in 2010 and described as “an arresting debut: astonishingly accomplished and as authentic as a .38 bullet wound” by Andrew Rule. The Old School won the Sisters in Crime Readers’ Choice Award and the Asher Literary Award. In 2011 published two short stories, one in the Sc-Fi edition of Seizure magazine, the other in the Review of Australian Fiction, and is working on the sequel to The Old School.
Christopher Currie is a 30 year-old writer from Brisbane. His first book, The Ottoman Motel was published in 2011 by Text Publishing. He also maintains the barely-tolerated literary blog Furious Horses.
Rjurik Davidson is the author of The Library of Forgotten Books. His first novel, Unwrapped Sky will be released by Tor books in 2013. His script The Uncertainty Principle (co-written with Ben Chessell) is currently under development by Lailaps films. He is the winner of a number of awards and is an Associate Editor of Overland magazine.
Angela Slatter is the author Sourdough & Other Stories (Tartarus Press, UK) and The Girl with No Hands & Other Tales (Ticonderoga Publications), which won the Aurealis Award for Best Collection in 2011. Her work has appeared Dreaming Again, Strange Tales II & III, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Steampunk Reloaded, A Book of Horrors, Mammoth Book of New Horror #22, and Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2011 & 2012.
Geoff Lemon is a journalist, editor, writer, and performer. His political satire and social commentary appear in outlets like The Drum (ABC) and The Punch (News Ltd). He’s also a sportswriter for The Roar, with weekly radio segments on ABC Sydney and RRR Melbourne. He is currently co-editor of Going Down Swinging. His creative work is published in the likes of Best Australian Stories, Heat, Griffith Review, and PAN Magazine. His book Sunblind was published by Picaro Press in 2008.
Simon Groth's fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Meanjin, Overland, and Island, among others and his novels have been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and the Text Prize. He is co-editor of Off The Record: 25 Years of Music Street Press (UQP, 2010). Simon is the manager of if:book Australia and the lead writer for the 24-Hour Book, an honour that's didn't worry him in the slightest.
Keith Stevenson is a speculative fiction editor, reviewer, podcaster and author. Keith began his editing career as editor of Aurealis Magazine from 2001 to 2004. He set up coeur de lion publishing, with fellow author Andrew Macrae, in 2006 and also produced and presented the Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction Podcast for thirty shows from late 2008. Keith was the lead editor on the 24-Hour Book.
Our line editors who each took a chapter and worked in the wee hours to produce a finished product:
Needless to say, the project would not have been possible without the heroic efforts of a team of committed and enthusiastic professionals.
Our partners in making the book a reality:
Thanks go also to the State Library of Queensland for allowing us to bunker down in their space well past closing time.
Our quite literally tireless volunteers who kept tweets humming and food coming:
Our cover designer, Benjamin Portas, who had to wait until 7:00pm before he even had a title to work with.
Our print edition midwives who helped us roll the first printed copy off the press with time to spare:
And finally, thanks to everyone who tweeted, commented, or simply watched the book unfold online.