Case Study – Balkanising Bloomsbury by Tony White
In 2007 I received an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts award that had two aims: to buy time and space to continue on a work-fiction-in-progress, and to explore creative writing in interdisciplinary and research projects.
The work of fiction that I have been developing has a working title of Balkanising Bloomsbury. The project aims to explore a ‘Balkanist’ seam in Anglophone literatures such as fiction and travel writing, as well as other kinds of writing e.g. in the news media – i.e. to explore how ideas about ‘the Balkans’ are created and perpetuated in literature about the region. Within Balkanising Bloomsbury I’ve been creating completely new stories by cutting up, remixing and re-narrativising fragments from a number of historical and contemporary sources. The aim is that my new stories then reflect back critically on the source texts, but also create a new work of fiction.
As part of this project I also wanted to explore the potential for distributing the resulting fragments/ chapters/ short stories in an immediate way, but also aspects of the research process involved. I wanted to share bibliographical references for all of the Balkanising Bloomsbury stories, both in relation to each story/chapter/fragment, but also across the project as a whole. I’m aware that in literary publishing such material is generally hidden, certainly it’s not usually published as part of the finished book – though it may be alluded to in a brief ‘Author’s Note’-type acknowledgement.
The Diffusion Generator seemed to offer a unique means to share not only the stories as I write them, but the thinking, processes and resources being used to create these new works of fiction.
In discussion with Proboscis I set a number of aims for the case study:
- Within the framework of the residency my plan was to select a number of stories from Balkanising Bloomsbury and to publish these stories in the Diffusion eBook format, together with research and other data relating to the stories.
- I wanted to explore how the resulting Diffusion eBooks might function across e.g. literary blogs and research networks online, as well as for other kinds of outputs e.g. in readings or creative writing workshops. In other words to explore how the ebooks could be used to create a community around the work in progress in advance of any ultimate print publication of the finished work in book form.
- I wanted to work within the Diffusion eBook format to design templates that could be used to publish further stories beyond the life of the residency. This required working with the Diffusion format to design an infrastructure that could accommodate the kinds of information that would need to be published alongside the stories themselves, and which could then grow as the project develops.
The first step was to learn how to use the Generator itself – working within the various editorial and production processes that the interface requires. Through much of the residency this involved trial and error: pushing one or two stories through the process, getting it wrong, starting again, getting it wrong, starting again etc. Either Karen Martin who was facilitating the residencies, or Giles Lane, were generally on-hand and could point out what I was doing wrong.
Learning how to use the sketchbook and drafting stages within the Generator, e.g. with the version of the Generator I was using, there was a stage during the drafting of each ebook where I needed to replace all punctuation from my original texts, as it wasn’t being recognised in the final stages of the process. The guides available within the Generator interface were very useful in this respect also – as accents and other diacritical marks need to be handled carefully. I also experimented with various word processing programmes to see which produced the most glitch-free transfer in to Diffusion. Bypassing MS Word completely, copying and saving my stories out of Neo-office Open Document formats into plain text via the latest Mac Text Edit software seemed to be the simplest way to do this.
Secondly I designed a bibliography format that would enable me to very simply drop the relevant bibliographical material for each story into the last pages of each eBook. But which could also be used to generate a series bibliography that would be able to be updated and republished every time I publish another story. This required e.g. a ‘titling’ convention to be established. The first iteration of this series-wide bibliography (‘Bibliography v.01’) is at http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=199
I also designed formats and forms of words for the various other bits of metadata that would need to accompany each book: A sentence that would explain the bibliography; the Creative Commons licence to be used and how to represent that in the footnotes; funding acknowledgements; acknowledgements of appearance in other publications; a short, generic Abstract text that could be used across the series and adapted where necessary; an acknowledgement of the Case Study Residency, etc.
The Creative Commons licence that I’ve used for the Diffusion eBooks of Balkanising Bloomsbury is an ‘Attribution – Non-commercial – No Derivatives 2.0 UK licence. See http://creativecommons.org./licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/uk/
It’s not possible to put links to CC licences within the eBooks themselves, but we can put a link to this on the Diffusion page for each book – alongside the links to e.g. slashdot, digg, stumble that Proboscis have built into the format.
Within the 5-day residency I published six stories from Balkanising Bloomsbury in the Diffusion eBook format, together with a first version of the Bibliography.
Following the intensive period of the residency, I now feel that I’d be able to log on to the Generator and using the design templates that I developed for Balkanising Bloomsbury, publish further fragments/stories/chapters of the work in progress, together with all the relevant bibliographical and research data. I will also be able to generate and update new iterations of the designated Bibliography as the project grows. The Bibliography is given version numbers, so that readers/users would be able to easily identify the most recent version, but also dig back in and access snapshots of the project’s growth.
I plan to continue using the Diffusion Generator over the coming year or so, as I continue work on the Balkanising Bloomsbury project. Within this continued use, I’d like to explore the possibility of developing a visual/graphic form that could be used in subsequent eBooks from the series, and that would add to the bibliography, abstract etc to further illuminate the creative process behind the stories.
At time of writing I’ve just completed a tour of Australia under the aegis of the 1001 Nights Cast project by Australian artist Barbara Campbell, which was supported by Australia Council, Performance Space, Sydney, and a number of university and cultural partners in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne. I have been giving readings and leading creative writing workshops with various communities – writers groups, students etc. The workshops have been designed around the process I’m using for Balkanising Bloomsbury, and the Diffusion eBooks have been a very useful part of the workshop structure and its delivery. For example: Rather than taking books to these events, I’ve been able to direct my various hosts to the Diffusion site and have print-outs waiting for me at the various locations – we’ve been able to assemble these in the workshops and I’ve been giving readings from the resulting copies of the Balkanising Bloomsbury stories as part of my introductory comments. The books have also been used as a free give-away to workshop participants. I am planning further Balkanising Bloomsbury creative writing workshops within the UK and will continue to use the Diffusion eBook format as a central part of how I deliver them.
Some interesting evidence for the community-building potential of the Diffusion eBook format came from blog activity that resulted from my publishing the Balkanising Bloomsbury eBooks on the Diffusion website.
I sent out an e-notification both to my own marketing lists (on 12th November 2007) and via posts on Facebook, which produced numerous responses. I also posted an announcement to the Balkans Academic News group on yahoo, of which I am a member – this e-list goes out to >6,000 users internationally. The announcement was published to the list on 21st November 2007.
Within a day or two of our publishing the Balkanising Bloomsbury fragments, the future-publishing blog http://BookTwo.org – run by James Bridle of http://aptstudio.com and www.shorttermmemoryloss.com – had linked to the site, discussed the Diffusion format at length and used Vimeo to upload a ‘how-to’ video, showing users how to assemble to ebooks from hard copy printouts. This post (from 14th November 2007), and the video, are at http://booktwo.org/notebook/paper-ebooks/
This then was linked to and commented upon by various other blogs including:
Tim Etchells (15th November) at http://www.timetchells.com/notebook/november-2007/file-under-rain/
Fog Soup (15th November) at http://fogsoup.wordpress.com/2007/11/15/textual-remixes/
At time of writing I don’t know how many downloads there have been of the Balkanising Bloomsbury ebooks, but it may be possible to check any peaks in traffic against the dates of these various blog postings?
An unexpected benefit of BookTwo’s support was that Proboscis had planned or discussed the possibility of producing an in-house ‘how-to’ video with residency participants, but were able instead to post James Bridle’s video directly on to the Diffusion site. A final sharing day where all the various case study residents met and discussed each other’s work was very useful. Since completing the residency I have joined the Diffusion Generator User Group on Facebook, and will use that to share further developments with other users as the project grows, but also to maintain contact with new iterations and development phases of the Generator.
I really value the time and work that Proboscis put in to designing and delivering these residencies – it was an incredibly useful and productive process for me, which more than delivered on the residency aims that we established at the outset.