Recently, I had the extraordinary privilege of helping to deliver Memory Makes Us, an experimental live writing event at Wordstorm festival in Darwin, the regional capital of Australia’s remote Top End. Three authors wrote live to the web, fuelled by contributions from the public submitted via typewriter or post-it note at Wordstorm, or via Twitter or the website memorymakesus.org.au.
It’s a project conceived for if:book Australia by literary technologist extraordinaire, Simon Groth, in collaboration with the brilliant author, Kate Pullinger. As CEO of QWC, I support and manage if:book, an R&D digital publishing unit founded by the visionary Kate Eltham. Yeah, I freaking love my day job.
But I’m also a writer, and I was deeply impressed by the courage and agility of the three authors writing and publishing live to the web, crafting narrative from crowdsourced memories, serene and focused in the sweltering humidity of Darwin. Maria Munkara, Levin Diatschenko, and Kamarra Bell-Wykes were champions, and the original works they produced are each unique and powerful. Read them here.
The contemporary evolution of the relationship between readers and writers shifts from from symbiosis to synthesis, a change that both anchors and heightens narrative interest. Contributing my own memories to the project added a striking layer of frisson.
Suddenly, I had skin in the game.
Tiles in the Mosaic
Levin created a sophisticated, magical realist, episodic narrative – a cosy, feisty conversation the likes of which you could envision in the back room of a pub in Lord of the Rings. Levin used contributions to inspire his characters.
My contributed memory to Levin’s theme of Family Tree:
Dad’s moustache: A toothbrush moustache that started out glossy black, fading over the decades to silver, with ochre hints of tobacco.
This memory fuelled the final line in Levin’s piece:
With that, he shuffled out of the bar and slammed the door behind him. I do not know if his mustache went grey.
Maria wove a delicate, deep poem around her theme of Recurring Dreams. Ranging from crowdsourced experiences of both joy and nightmare, to resonances of a psyche formed in Australia’s Stolen Generation, Maria approached her piece with the optimism, grace, and intellect she brings to all her work.
My contributions to Maria’s theme both appear, seamless and intact, in her piece:
A speed boat passes me by
I am on an island
with only crabs and thirst for company
the speed boat passes by again
My parents wave
but they do not stop
A labrador pup
malnourished and swimming upstream
Is it me?
Kamarra’s experience as a playwright are evident in the striking call-and-response structure of her piece. Riffing off contributed memories and entwining her own, Kamarra’s clear authorial voice creates a compelling throughline across a kaleidoscope of scenes and characters.
My submitted memory to Kamarra’s theme of Smell:
Rotten mangoes fallen on my running path
makes me think of zombies and hospitals.
Kamarra fed this post-it note glimpse of memory into the wild machine of her imagination to create a detailed and touching scene between a boy, his brother and their mother.
The rights and licensing of work for Memory Makes Us were complex to get right, but are simple in effect. The authors and contributors own their work outright and are free to publish and remix it as they wish. if:book Australia has a non-exclusive licence to publish and remix it, too.
Last night I realised, along with the flush of pride and the thrill of narrative interest, that the inclusion of my memories in these authors’ beautiful works may make it tricky should I ever wish to re-use my own words—it may look like plagiarism. So it is both as an act of honour to these authors’ incredible creativity, and by way of documenting the provenance of my own contributions, that I reproduce them here.
Come Play with Us
It’s my belief that authors have always been fuelled by the contributions of those around us. Web-enabled writing allows us to capture and investigate this creative process in ways that have great potential for audience development for literary works.
Memory Makes Us will appear in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth later this year. I warmly invite you to participate in this experiment, readers and writers both. Keep an eye on the website memorymakesus.org.au or the twitter hashtag #memorymakesus for more info.