A few weeks ago, when I was blogging about Neil Gaiman's speech at the London Book Fair, I came across his reference to These Pages Fall Like Ash, a highly unconventional experiment in storytelling by Tom Abba and Duncan Speakman of Bristol. The project Gaiman described seemed fascinating, so I got in touch with Abba, whom I'd met when I was in Bristol two years earlier to speak as part of the city's ongoing Festival of Ideas, and asked him about it. The upshot was this piece, which ran yesterday in the online publication Medium:
“Book? What’s a book?” I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately, and I keep getting different answers — but none so quirky or inventive as the one Tom Abba and Duncan Speakman have come up with in Bristol. Abba, who heads an interactive media program at the University of the West of England, and Speakman, of the Bristol art collective Circumstance, have conspired with the novelists Neil Gaiman and Nick Harkaway to construct a story that starts out as a book but then unfolds as a digital text that people read on their smartphones or tablets. It’s called These Pages Fall Like Ash, and it’s a tale of two cities — cities that exist in the same time and place without, somehow, ever bumping into each other.
The book, encased in a wooden box and sold . . . [To continue reading, please visit Medium]
I particularly liked the idea of publishing this in Medium because it too is an experiment in digital publishing. Started last fall by Ev Williams and his partners at Obvious Corp., Medium is "a collaborative publishing platform" (in Williams's words) that aims to rethink many of the conventions of online media—conventions that in many cases began with Blogger, which Williams co-founded in 1999.
Blogging back then was a rarefied activity almost unheard-of outside tech circles; by creating the first easy-to-use platform (one he later sold to Google), Williams changed that forever. But that was a couple of eons ago in Internet years. So why not take what we've learned and start over again, with the idea of getting it right? As Williams has explained, that's the idea behind Medium. In some ways it seems as far-fetched and idealistic as Blogger did 14 years ago, or Twitter after that. But hey—these guys do have a track record, right?