Over the last couple of years, I’ve been thinking about what built me. How did I become an editor? How did I become an editor who embraces digital, transmedia, and remixing the book? Why am I excited by crowdsourcing and crowdfunding developments in publishing? Why do I happily leap into ephemeral territory imagining ‘the BOOK to the power of networking’ and other things that make some editors and writers quake? I don’t necessarily know the answers yet but, over the next year, I’m going to look for them.
What this is
I’m going to look for the answers in stories, because for me they’re always the source. So, this series is me tracking those threads, and trying to find the roots of what I do now. Maybe I won’t find them. Maybe it won’t all make sense and tie up nicely (life usually doesn’t, I guess). Maybe, it’s just an amusement (I hope for you too). We shall see.
Breaking down the boundaries of books
When I came across my first CD-ROM book in the 1990s, I was not surprised. I had been entering stories and enjoying their ever-expanding-yet-somehow-contained worlds for years: first, when I was very young, through play – I would role-play a character for half a day, with serious method-acting commitment (ask my mother); then, once I could read books myself, through the transportational nature of reading fiction and nonfiction, of building and exploring an entirely new reality in your head in collaboration with the writer, and sometimes an illustrator. (I was particularly fond of some children’s books I had on Medieval society and on historical torture methods, which had excellent pictures. Would we publish these now?) But the first time I interacted with the interface of a book, I was 6.
I am born of booklovers and so books were treated with some reverance in our house. We had to hold them gently, read them without damaging the pages, and we definitely never wrote on them.
Like my parents, I have always loved books and my sister and I were taken on regular trips to the library. In London, visiting the book boat was a special treat – a children’s bookshop in a boat docked on the Thames (does anyone else remember this?)
The day I discovered I could experience direct interface with a book, we had not long moved to Australia to live. I was sitting on the orange carpet of the dining room in our rented red-brick suburban house, looking at my new library books and listening to my mother preparing dinner in the kitchen behind the swingdoor. You could hear it fine because she was angry. I’d just broken the glass milk bottles when I’d taken them out to the stoop for the milkman next morning; chaos was unleashed at home and she wasn’t happy.
What to do? Books, and story, have always been my trusty escape hatch from life, from reality. So, I started turning the pages on one of the books that had beautiful black-and-white line drawings – very open, lots of white space. I licked my finger and turned the page – the roof of the house I’d touched changed colour! I touched it again: a deeper orange this time. Amazing! More saliva, I thought – the wetness had to be what was doing it. It happened again on the tree, and the next page, and the next. ‘Oh wow!’ I showed my little sister. ‘Come and look at this!’ I called to my mother.
My mother came – ‘What is it?’ I showed her. ‘Look, you lick…and then—see?’ I showed her again on the next page.
She peered down at it. ‘But I don’t —’
She stopped and I looked up to see her face lose its puzzled frown, for enlightenment, and disappointment, over the top of her spectacles. ‘Selena, you’re bleeding.’
I looked at my finger. Sure enough a small bead of blood had squeezed through my skin into the world, onto the book: the milk bottles. Chaos was again released. The unthinkable had happened: I had damaged a book.
The unthinkable had happened: I had literally entered a book. I would never think of them the same way again and, when I was introduced to hypertext stories and myriad narrative structures for digital storytelling, in the 1990s, I knew a book that could do what I had done, with my bloody finger, was only a few years away. Enter the iPad.
Wherever it is, that book is carrying my DNA (my mother couldn’t clean off all the blood). But skin releases traces too, which means every book you have ever read, every wall, or tree, or person, or sweater, or anything you have ever touched is carrying traces of you. (Ever had a paper cut? The author got a bit more of you in that edit.) Imagine that one day there will be a way to read this data. I would love to see the book map of my entire lifeline. What a trip! For now, though, try gnod.