Monday, 9 March 2009

Books and Social Media

Some of you will know Dan Holloway, responsible for one of my favourite books on authonomy, Songs From The Other Side Of The Wall.

Dan's something of an intellect and given to visions of revolution. A talented, intellectual revolutionary is something of a rarity these days, I think you'd probably agree. Like many of us, confronted with the banal realities of modern publishing, Dan's been exploring alternatives and some of them may well start to define what we have been discussing (particularly over here at Lauri Shaw's blog) - the future of publishing.

Where Dan's particularly interesting is how he's experimenting with mulitiple media platforms - the book as a multi-threaded, collaborative experience rather than as a static, engraved achievement.

While Lauri has been making her most excellent book, Servicing The Pole, available for download a chapter at a time. Dan's gone further in that he is not only giving away his newest book, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, away on Facebook a chapter at a time, but is also allowing readers to contribute to the development of the plot. The novel itself dissects the real and unreal stories behind the creation of an iconic image.

So let's do some Dan-speak:

So, why? Literary anarchy or marketing gimmick?
In all honesty both. I have just finished editing my previous book, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, which I expect to self-publish this summer. I spent a lot of time talking to people about how to market it, and the whole loss leader thing came up. On the other hand, the potential of the internet for bending fiction out of shape fascinates me. The web’s full of people trying to publish their novels in a new medium. There’s not many people trying to do something new. I’ve always loved the interplay between artist and audience you get in installation art – Sam Taylor Wood going to sleep in a glass box; Gilbert and George – well, being Gilbert and George. For me culture of any form is a process, it’s an interplay. The novel’s lost that. The internet gives us a chance to get it back – that immediacy and connection.

Have you found the process different from writing your previous books?
I’ve had two real revelations. The first is the way the novel itself relates to the virtual world I’ve built around it. Part of the site is devoted to news reports, snippets of biography, little teasers – these form a world in which the novel takes place. What that means is there’s a whole load of back story I just don’t need to put into the novel – it’s much leaner because so much is already known – or can be referenced elsewhere in the site. I can get on with the story – it’s funny. I’ve talked a lot in the past about how I hate the western novel’s slavery to story. I thought this would break that barrier. It’s actually ended up taking story to its tight logical conclusion. The second point is the way the two parts of the novel relate. There’s a lot of social commentary, political satire, stuff about art and celebrity. But there’s also a personal story – a man whose daughter went missing ten years ago. He’s on a journey both to find the real story behind this iconic image of a dead woman but to find his missing daughter, and to understand why some people are remembered forever while others are forgotten. Because the rest of the site has set the political tone, I don’t have to balance the two parts as I write – I can spend the early chapters drawing us right into the personal story that will keep the reader with me – and I don’t have to worry readers will think I’ve lost sight of the other angle.

So how far does the interactivity go?
Well there’s commentary – like you get on a DVD, podcasts, real time editing so people can see me changing my mind. Then there’s events – this is about an image – so I’m holding a contest to design the image – people can enter online or by flashmob – hand me their entry at the cafĂ© in Waterstone’s Piccadilly 11am on April 21st.

It seems like you’ve approached this in a very calculated way. Is your heart really in the book itself?
At first I told myself it was but I may have been kidding myself. This started as an experiment. But because I’ve gone straight to the emotional heart, it’s actually become the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It feels like I’m baring my soul every day. I just love some of the characters. And they all go to some very dark places. And all of it without a break, with the constant pressure of a deadline, and only an hour a day actually to write in. It feels like I’m putting myself through a very public wringer.

Isn’t the whole thing a bit, well, mad?
Well, I don’t believe in clinical. I don’t get people who bury themselves in their study and won’t show anyone what they’ve done. If your art isn’t a two way thing it’s not art. It might be therapy, but it’s not art. Art makes you vulnerable, puts you on the line. It’s raw. Or it’s dead. Er... Like a shark in formaldehyde :)

So how do we keep up with the project?
You can go to the group The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes on Facebook. I’m also Twittering all my updates there – you can follow the agnieszkasshoes Twitter. And if you get lost just steer from my website.

What next?
A break? In a month or so one of my writing groups, The Bookshed, is bringing out an anthology, Short Fuses – an incredible collection of cutting edge shorts. This autumn sees the release of the first set of books from Year Zero Publishing, a hugely exciting, edgy collective of writers I’m part of – and which you, Mr McNabb, are also playing with.

I’m expecting Songs from the Other Side of the wall to be one of the first Year Zero issues. Next year’s book will either be a body-swap I’ve been working on (a Chinese girl who’s an only child and a Polish boy who’s an identical twin), or a book I’ve always wanted to right about an affair between a 50 year old woman and her 18 year-old student. Either way I’ll always keep up the book a year. If you can’t wait for any of that, you can read one of my shorts, Coastlines, about a Spanish civil servant’s affair with a Chinese businesswoman, in the anthology “Great Short Stories from Writers”, which is available from Amazon.


the real nick said...

It's interesting to see to what length acolytes of online publishing / blogging / twittering will go to get published in print....

Ah, the good old paper!

Agnieszkas Shoes said...

I'm deligheted to say the first book I mentioned in this interview, Short fuses, is now available:
Short Fuses

RRP: £9.90

Lulu Link:

ISBN: 978-0-9561534-0-1

Short Fuses is a compendium of 20 incendiary confections created in the fractious online assembly known as the Bookshed: an unruly gathering of linguistic fugitives whose only common bond is a passion for writing, absinthe and monkeys. Most of the writers represented here are escapees from other peer-review websites, although at least one is on the run from constabularies not merely virtual. Should you wish to meet them, why not knock on the bar-room door at If they like the cut of your jib, they might even let you in.

Dan Holloway, Sean Cunningham, Patricia J. DeLois, Roland Denning, Jasper Dorgan, Derek Duggan, Danny Gillan, Gillian E Hamer, Larry Harkrider, JW Hicks, Amanda Hodgkinson, JA Hudspith, Perry Iles, Lorraine Mace, RK Nathan, Lawrence Poole, Nick Poole, Jo Reed, Jane Dixon- Smith, James Whyle,.

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