A Layer of Frission

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.

See Levin discuss the project here.

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.

See Maria discuss the project here.

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.

See Kamarra discuss the project here.

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.


Reposted and edited from the original published 31 May

TOC wraps up: Thrillbent and Brain Pickings

The final in this series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Last session from TOC 2013!

Firstly, a big congrats to the Startup Showcase winners:

Keynotes from Mark Waid: Thrillbent

‘It’s Valentines Day, and this is is my love letter to comics.’

Mark writes comics and graphic novels, and addresses the challenges they face going into digital media:

  • Format leading the eye down the page in portrait style doesn’t work in landscape style ie on screens
  • You don’t get the canvass as it was intended, nor is it taking advantage of the things digital can do – akin to reading a book or watching a movie through a cardboard tube
  • Motion comics are the devil – mini things with voiceover, but not comics – cheap animiation that leads you by the nose through the story

The north star philiosophy about what makes comcs comics and graphic novels a unique reading experience is that you are in charge of the pace of reading.

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TOC: Creators and Tech Converging

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

One of the great features of TOC 2013 is a stronger emphasis on the tools of change that relate to the creative development space, like the panel on Creators and Technology Converging: When Tech Becomes Part of the Story.

Here’s a couple of quick snips from the panel:

Kate Pullinger

Started writing what she termed digital fiction ten years ago – collaborative multimedia projects where text is primary – literary works, new hybrid forms of literature.

Definition of digital fiction: works that combine text with images, videos, animation, games and all the other elements that digitl platforms allow.

Flight Paths:

  • Began the research phase of a novel by opening it up online – 100 particpants in conversation and created 6 stories for Flight Paths
  • Next iteration of project – novel called Landing Gear – Flight aths is the digital prologue – novel will exist in 2014
  • Multimedia epilogue: Duel (in collaboration with Andy Campbell of Dreaming Methods, fusing writing and new media eg. parallax views and 3D)

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TOC Keynotes: Evan Williams and Douglas Rushkoff

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Notes from Douglas Rushkoff 

Present Shock – a free sample of Rushkoff’s new book is available here.

What is it like to be a human that evolved within time to now live in a world that is outside time, or that is only interested in the present moment? You’re trying to catch up on your twitter feed while your twitter feed is trying to catch up with you.


  • for 1000 years society leaned towards the future
  • now, the Mayans got it right – not the end of Time, but the end of time.

Text created lineality: the oldest text we have is contracts, an agreement to do something later – text creates a story to move forward with, and produced goal-oriented gods in place of chaotic, random ancient gods– be good now, get to heaven later.

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Dandelions, steampunk and the future of content

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Henry Jenkins (HJ) in conversation with Cory Doctorow (CD) and Brian David Johnson (BDJ)


What happens when computing becomes so widespread we begin to wonder why we need it. Same question for publishing.

How do we think about the choices for different media – should content be film, book, etc?

Spreadable Media – rapid circulation – people have the capacity to pass content along – how we make those decisions?

New project: comics and graphic novels – visually dense and complex – colour and shifts in scale – 9 essays each published separately and serially – it at the end of the project it will be bundled and sold – all digital, never a print book.


What we need to do pedagogy through literature is keywords – you need search words and also literacy about how to parse out the search results. Words in novels that have “just Google it” implied with it:

  • The first inkling of what a 21st century novel looks like – always assuming there’s access to a search engine
  • The old fear that using a calculator would make children’s brains lazy – now, good contemporary maths teaching always assumes there’s a calculator handy
  • Movies that weren’t just a stage play, that weren’t just a play with a camera pointed at it


The Vintage Tomorrow project is done, now there’s an opportunity to expand and continue as an ebook.

How can we have these conversations about the future? Goal: to get as many people having these conversations as possible – through conferences, sci fi, non fi, videos etc, moving from fiction to non-fiction to video and so on.

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TOC Keynotes: Brian David Johnson

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Brian David Johnson is a futurist with Intel Corporation, and a self-confessed ‘giant geek’ and ‘huge nerd’. He’s also a science fiction writer who loves steam punk (and therefore likely to be really quite awesome).

How to Change the Future

We can use science fiction to foresee the human impact of what we’re building – use science fiction to talk about science fact.

Steam punk is about technology – steam punk is playing with the past – so steam punk is all about how technology affects the past.

This is the history we want to be from – and this is the history we don’t want to be from.

Project: Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology

The future is made every day, by people – so how do we do it? How do we change the story that people tell themselves about the future they are going to live in? That’s what publishers do. Narrative matters, stories matter, opinions matter, and we need to get those opinions out there.

We will be able to turn anything into a device to tell people about the future, even our bodies. The ‘what’, the device, doesn’t matter anymore. It’s about being good at changing those narratives, reaching people, changing the future.


TOC Keynotes: Tim O’Reilly

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Day 2 of the 7th edition at TOC. My jetlaggy night’s sleep somehow allowed my brain to distill yesterday’s Author (R)evolution. In the age of content abundance that is now upon us, it’s all about the 3Ds:

  • Development
  • Distribution
  • Discovery

And authors need to start thinking about all 3Ds from the beginning of each project and across the lifespan of their writing career.

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Kate Pullinger at #ARDay #TOCcon

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Kate Pullinger has helped establish The Writing Platform, funded to provide neutral information about digital transformation.

Publishers have been busy addressing digital by focusing on issues like digitising workflow etc, but not working a lot to develop what digital transformation might offer writers and readers.

Works of digital fiction:

  • An emerging market – new forms of literature emerging – apps, web apps, new types of narrative games – new forms of business models and content
  • But there is a collision between old market (in a state of extreme transition) and the new or emerging markets. Digitisation transforms the industry and the state of the art itself – what new forms will emerge?

Ebooks are created of the web but without the advantages of the web – what can you do with a book that lives on line? – what does it mean to move beyond, to a webby book? – content, connections, audiences. Have a look at Hugh McGuire’s TOC blog piece on books as API.


  • Writers, grab a technologist and hug him or her! Learn how the technology and mechanics of your own industry. See what happens when you work together.
  • Make your work spreadable.
  • Start thinking beyond the book. You can apply for a new bursary through The Writing Platform for writers working with technologists.

Kate is now working on a new project “Duel” with Andy Campbell. To facilitate the collaboration they have developed a script format, which includes a screenshot and the text to appear on screen, the type of media, and down the bottom of the script pages there are many columns that outline the required development across different platforms.



Literary Agent at #ARDay #TOCcon

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Jason Allen Ashlock
President, Movable Type Management

Disintermediation jettisons people from their usual roles: readers writers, publishers, distributors. What happens when the disintermediation is so complete, when all intermediaries are kicked out and only the writer and reader remains? The new rules aren’t rules, they change consistently. The publishing revolution has created radical disintermediation then you need an agent who offers radical advocacy – get the work into the hands of readers/viewers…

If each independent author is not to start from scratch in trying to build a measured aggressive strategy, vetting and testing fees and services, left alone in the marketplace – then someone has to begin to mediate between the author and all those intermediaries. Publishing is now, more than ever, a team sport and allies are more important than ever in the noisy chaos of the current marketplace. Manage and limit the possible to the most wise.

Radical mediator agents are:

  • Not narrow, but expansive – looks across the value web to find any possible intermediary to connect a writer with reader, and oversees the formation of those relationships.
  • Thinking of them selves in a business development position – their role is to build partnerships and alliances
  • Thinking about lifespans, not events. Marketing is continuous, not title-by-title.
  • Able to disintermediate themselves by choice, so that they can stick with an author through all change and new opportunities.

Examples of how radical mediator agents can work with authors:

  • Self-published authors: remain in control but agent brings other professional relationships to the table
  • Author collectives: an agency can gather together writers that work together in a common genre or have a similar voice: create bigger masses with more weight – interesting example



Cory Doctorow at #ARDay #TOCcon

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Cory Doctorow has three laws.

1. “If someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and doesn’t give you the key, then they are not looking out for your interests.”

DRM basically puts bookcase sellers in charge of the market for our art. Once intermediaries take the whip hand, all of their offers converge on a basic set of terms which are not favourable to the artist.

There aren’t enough lawyer hours between now and the heat death of the universe to eliminate copyright infringements on YouTube. Converting fame into money is hard alchemy, and most people who do it, fail. Those who success use 5 strategies: sell things, ask for donations, charge for tickets, sell ads, sell licence, or take commissions – but only happens if you can reach an audience – which takes an intermediaries channel.

2. “Fame can’t make you rich, but you won’t get rich without fame.”

The collateral damage from organising computer networks to make it illegal to know what our computers are doing, and making it easy to hide what people are doing, all for censorship and copyright – well, that’s bad sauce. Cory becomes emotional when discussing the work of Aaron Schwartz.

3. “The job of the artist is not to be responsible for censorship and surveillance – if that’s how you’re doing art, then you’re doing art wrong.”