Category Archives: future of publishing

Climatepunk

Shackleton's Man Goes South, paperback in display case. Image: Science Museum

Shackleton’s Man Goes South, paperback in display case. Image: Science Museum

I have had some exciting news about my Science Museum novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South, but I can’t say anything just yet. In the meantime, James Bridle used his Observer column on 9 February to write about Shackleton’s Man Goes South (and my Bristol soundwork Missorts) under the headline ‘The novel: not heading south, any time soon’. Bridle continues:

At heart a book about climate change, it’s also, says White, “a kind of alternative history of publishing in extremis, examples of the apparent human necessity of finding new ways to tell and share stories, and how the future of writing, publishing and reading might need to be as much in the low-tech past as the hi-tech present”.

Visitors to the museum’s Atmosphere gallery can download the novel for free – as can anyone from its website. (Physical copies can be bought from the museum’s shop too.) For White, these collaborations allow him to explore the possibilities of writing further, and see their effects more directly: “As the physical square footage of the traditional book trade diminishes, these commissions have given me the chance to engage directly with readers and to learn from them.”

Elsewhere, publicist and campaigner Dan Bloom, who recently coined the term ‘cli-fi’ (a sci-fi soundalike abbreviation of ‘climate fiction’), is interviewed by David Holmes for Australian journal The Conversation. At one point Holmes asks, ‘What would you rate as the five most influential cli-fi texts to have emerged to date?’ I’m delighted that Bloom’s list of the ‘five most important cli-fi novels’  includes Shackleton’s Man Goes South.

645954Dan Bloom’s coining of the term ‘cli-fi’ echoes K.W. Jeter’s of ‘steampunk’ in 1987. In Jeter’s case this was pragmatic wit, a necessary way of drawing the influential editor of Locus magazine, and its readers’ attention to what he and fellow authors Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock were doing (at a time when ‘cyberpunk’ was all the rage). Bloom’s initial intentions are not dissimilar: to draw the attention of editors, reviewers and readers to new fiction (about climate change), and to make explicit the connection to an existing genre. But there is more at stake, too, as Bloom tells David Holmes that for him,

cli-fi is a fiction genre that might be helpful in waking people up and serving as an alarm bell.

‘Cli-fi’ is now certainly starting to gain a higher profile, but whether the genre will take-off in the way that steampunk has done remains to be seen. It may well do if the indefatigable Dan Bloom has anything to do with it: already it seems that some booksellers are using the term, while a number of emerging authors are identifying themselves as exponents of the genre. Bloom himself is currently seeking to establish a literary prize to raise awareness further, using the success of 1957 anti-nuclear novel On the Beach by Australian author Nevil Shute (1899-1960) as an analogy for the impact he hopes a ‘cli-fi’ novel could make. Mind you, it has taken twenty-seven years for steampunk to become the massive subculture that it is today. If ‘cli-fi’ is to achieve what Bloom hopes, it may need to catch on more quickly than that, since in twenty-seven years from now — if emissions keep rising  — we may already have seen further significant rises in global mean temperature, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Sir George C. Simpson. Photo: K.E. Woodley, courtesy the Met Office.

Sir George C. Simpson.
Photo: K.E. Woodley, courtesy the Met Office.

Shackleton’s Man Goes South was written in ignorance of Bloom’s work of course (since his idea hadn’t yet gone mainstream), but not of Jeter’s, nor the proto-steampunk of Michael Moorcock’s earlier ‘Nomad of the Time Streams’ series. My novel’s opening chapter (originally published as standalone short story ‘Albertololis Disparu’ by the Science Museum in 2009) features such steampunk staples as early telephony, difference engines, airships, steam-powered computing, etc. — plus a Moorcockian ‘sonic attack’ — which prompted one reviewer at the time to write:

Any eight-page story that references Michael Moorcock and ends with a fleet of Zeppelins attacking Imperial College with plasma weapons is a winner with us.

Image: Science Museum

Image: Science Museum

But any steampunk stylings in Shackleton’s Man Goes South are quickly dispatched as the novel deliberately moves from such parodic Edwardiana to the challenges presented by the real thing: an overlooked 1911 science fiction short story about climate change that was written in Antarctica by Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s meteorologist (and a future Met Office director) George Clarke Simpson (1878-1965).

Interestingly, the nadir and historical death-knell of what has come to be steampunk’s defining icon was even directly presided over by Scott-survivor Simpson, whose subsequent directorship of the Met Office encompassed both the establishment of its Airship Division and his penning of an obituary of said Division’s late head — M.A. Giblett — following the latter’s death in the R101 disaster in October 1930. This event prompted the Airship Division’s disbanding, and — seven-years before the Hindenberg disaster of 1937 — led to the abandonment in the UK of the development of the airship as a significant form of civil aviation.

Coincidentally, the aforementioned Australian novelist Nevil Shute also worked on the short-lived UK airship programme. As well as writing many novels, including the one that inspired Dan Bloom, Shute played a leading part in the team that built the R100, a competing airship design which was also scrapped following the R101 disaster.

Airships! Genres! Talking of things taking-off, within the world of Shackleton’s Man Goes South it is suggested that the dominant passenger aircraft of our own time – glimpsed in a refugee camp’s fleamarket — is similarly defunct:

There are relics: here a box of broken calculators and there – trailing wires and hydraulics, partly covered by tarpaulins, bigger than their shelter and recognisable from illustrations in books – the best part of the flight deck of an airliner.

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Download Shackleton’s Man Goes South free and DRM-free from the Science Museum website or from the touchscreen ebook dispenser that is part of the exhibition accompanying the novel in the Science Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery.

Press about Shackleton’s Man Goes South

Listen to or download free audiobook extracts of Shackleton’s Man Goes South on the Science Museum’s Soundcloud page.

Image © Science Museum

Image © Science Museum

Prizes are all we’ve got left

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 11.15.13It is great to hear that Shackleton’s Man Goes South has been nominated for a British Science Fiction Association award, especially because BSFA awards are nominated anonymously by members of the Association.

Shackleton’s Man Goes South is one of about fifty novels nominated. From this long-list, the BSFA shortlist is ‘drawn up from the most popular titles’, and will be released shortly.

Interestingly, another science fiction prize, the Arthur C Clarke Award, has just begun to release information about their nominations received. Unlike the BSFA Awards, nominations for the Arthur C Clarke are made by publishers, but the first announcement is made more interesting because it lists the thirty-three novels by women that have been submitted.

Arthur C Clarke award director Tom Hunter hopes that this

will be a positive contribution towards further raising the profile of women writers of science fiction in the UK and beyond. We’ll be releasing details of the full submissions list shortly, and will be encouraging readers everywhere to review and comment on the data in as many creative ways as possible.

I think this is a great idea. When I was a teenager, the late Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos Archives series of novels (borrowed from my then local library) were a big part of reinforcing my interest not just in science fiction, but in literature generally.

I’m pleased about the BSFA nomination for Shackleton’s Man Goes South as — obviously — it may bring the novel to the attention of readers who might not otherwise have heard of it. As review space in the broadsheets starts to get pinched, and if (as one frequently hears) orders from traditional bookshop chains are a fraction of what they were only a few years ago, I’m reminded of something that a publisher colleague said on the panel of a recent conference we were speaking at. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like: ‘Don’t quote me on this, but prizes are all we’ve got left!’

You can download a free ebook of Shackleton’s Man Goes South in formats compatible with most devices (Kindles, iPads etc) from the Science Museum website, or you can email the novel to yourself from the touchscreen ebook dispenser that is part of the display about the book in the Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery. Shackleton’s Man Goes South was launched in April 2013, and both the free download offer and the accompanying exhibition are due to run for a whole year, until the end of April 2014.

For those who prefer print formats, there are also a few copies of the Science Museum’s beautiful paperback edition currently available at half-price in the Science Museum shop’s January sale. So if you are visiting the Museum for any of the other current exhibitions, or find yourself in the South Kensington area, pop in and grab a bargain.

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Shackleton’s Man Goes South is available free and DRM-free (in ebook formats compatible with most devices) from the Science Museum website.

An exhibition accompanying the novel runs in the Science Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery until 24 April 2014.

Press about Shackleton’s Man Goes South.

Antarctic negatives?

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 14.41.07Thanks to the anonymous British Science Fiction Association members who have nominated my novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South for a BSFA award.

Rather less pleasingly, a few news stories that have emerged over the Christmas and New Year period have seemed to echo elements of Shackleton’s Man Goes South, or to be redolent of the fictional world in which some of the novel’s action takes place. These news stories are in addition to the series of storms, gales and floods (with their attendant severe weather warnings), that have hit the UK in recent weeks. I was astonished in the early hours of Christmas Eve, for instance, when the usually highly codified language of the Shipping Forecast (broadcast at 00:48 on 24 December 2013), was interrupted by discussion of ‘a massive area of low pressure of almost unprecedented depth’ that stretched from the UK to Iceland.

First, the announcement that some extraordinary items of Shackletoniana have been discovered in Antarctica. Twenty-two cellulose nitrate negatives of photographs were found in Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition hut at Cape Evans. The photographs turned out to have been taken not by Scott’s expedition photographer Herbert Ponting, but by person unknown during the occupation of the hut a few years later by members of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Ross Sea party, who used the hut as a base when they became stranded on Antarctica while attempting to lay supplies for Shackleton’s Endurance party. The terrible hardships endured by the Ross Sea party, and the deaths of Arnold Spencer-Smith, Victor Hayward and party leader Lieutenant Aeneas Mackintosh are often omitted from more triumphalist accounts of Shackleton’s expedition. See a slideshow of the photos on the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust website.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 15.00.11Secondly, in an echo of the 2007 sinking of the MS Explorer, which struck an iceberg and capsized while attempting to retrace parts of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, a Russian vessel, the MV Akademik Shokalskiy has been trapped in ice for more than a week, with seventy-four scientists, tourists and crew on board. The Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2012-14 set out to retrace the 1911-14 expedition of Douglas Mawson, conducting ‘a programme of research across the region, building on the work 100 years ago, to try to better understand present and future change in Antarctica and Southern Ocean.’ All attempts at rescue have so far failed, and yesterday the BBC speculated that at least one of the rescue vessels — the Chinese vessel Xue Long — had itself become stuck in ice. Back in 2007-8, Dr John Shears of the British Antarctic Survey told me that the passengers and crew rescued from the MS Explorer had been ‘lucky to survive’. One hopes that those trapped on the Shokalskiy share that luck. (Note: Thankfully, 24-hours after I posted this, Chris Turney posted this video clip: ‘The first of the helicopters to take us home!’)

Shackleton’s Man Goes South, square thumbnailThirdly, an article published by the Nation reports the views of a number of scientists who fear that climate change may be both far worse and much more sudden than anticipated, to create what one of those interviewed (John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group) describes as an “instant planetary emergency.” Dahr Jamail’s article for the Nation is a must-read, and it echoes the suggestions of scientists that I’ve interviewed, that IPCC forecasts, however grim-sounding, have been underestimative, best-case scenarios. Another article, published in Nature and widely reported on New Year’s Eve, backs this up, suggesting that (in the words of the Guardian newspaper’s Damian Carrington):

Temperature rises resulting from unchecked climate change will be at the severe end of those projected, according to a new scientific study. The scientist leading the research said that unless emissions of greenhouse gases were cut, the planet would heat up by a minimum of 4C by 2100, twice the level the world’s governments deem dangerous.

In the most alarming echo of Shackleton’s Man Goes South, Dahr Jamail’s Nation article quotes atmospheric and marine scientist Ira Leifer, who says:

“Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” [ ... ] “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”

My novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South follows Emily and Jenny, refugees who are trying to reach the safety of  Antarctica. In the slang of their post-melt world, Emily and Jenny are refugees known as ‘mangoes’, a corruption of the saying ‘man go south’. Emily and Jenny’s journey purposely echoes not only Sir Ernest Shackleton’s heroic escape, but those of many contemporary migrants. Even having written about just such a world, I am still surprised and shocked to read Leifer’s vision of the future: ‘a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica’.

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Shackleton’s Man Goes South is available free and DRM-free (in ebook formats compatible with most devices) from the Science Museum website.

An exhibition accompanying the novel runs in the Science Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery until 24 April 2014.

Press about Shackleton’s Man Goes South.
D132414

Touchscreen ‘ebook dispenser’ at Science Museum

A central component of how the Science Museum has published my novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South — and thus of the display about the novel in the Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery — is that it is being given away in the Science Museum via a touchscreen ‘ebook dispenser’ developed especially for the purpose. (Read more about the novel itself here, here or here. Read more about how we published here.) The touchscreen has now been up and running for nearly six months, which may be a good point to look at how it has worked so far.

Touchscreen kiosks and information points are of course a familiar feature in museums, but as far as we know this is the first time one has been used to give away an ebook ‘on-gallery’ (as they say). Of course, museum or industry-spec touchscreens of this kind (whether wall-mounted or free-standing) are expensive, but certainly not beyond reach of other kinds of arts venues or in parts of the book trade. One could easily imagine a kiosk like this being used to give away an ebook of an exhibition catalogue or a programme, or being used by larger bookshops, by literary festivals or even publishers to distribute a promoted title. The Science Museum are giving away Shackleton’s Man Goes South for free, that is part of the ethos of the project, but there is no reason why the process couldn’t include a secure purchase page.

© Science Museum

© Science Museum

The touchscreen we are using to give away Shackleton’s Man Goes South is a portrait format unit, with sound, that is housed in a steel box and wall-mounted beneath Jake Tilson’s melting logotype, at one end of the custom-designed display case. The glowing screen is just visible at the far left of the installation shot of the Shackleton’s Man Goes South display above.

Using a simple, six-button homepage, the Museum visitor can e.g. find out more about the novel, listen to a short audiobook extract, or participate in a visitor poll about climate change. They can also email themselves the book, a function that enables many smartphone users to begin reading the novel there and then.

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 16.55.42Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 16.56.04Rather than emailing every reader all possible files, the email contains a link to a closed page on the Science Museum site from which they can open or download the book in whichever format is compatible with the device they want to use. Email addresses are not kept. The Museum offer the novel as an EPUB or mobi file (both are DRM-free) and as a PDF for on-screen reading on PC or laptop (based on reader feedback, we recommend PDF rather than Adobe Digital Editions for on-screen reading). Some readers with Android tablets also report opting for PDF.

The aim was to make the transaction as quick and simple as possible. The comparison we used was that it should be as easy as buying an ebook on Amazon. Readers with Kindles and some other devices need to side-load the files via USB, which is still very straightforward, but the really exciting thing has been that readers using iBooks on iPhones or iPads, and some other devices, can be reading the book in situ and within a matter of seconds, in just three taps of their screen.

The concept of this as a reader experience came first, before we knew if it was achievable. In the earliest stages of the commissioning process, the Museum asked me to think about how visitors might encounter and engage with the novel, so I had a bash at drawing some ‘experience maps’ to show how I thought it might work. Here are two of those sketches. An existing Museum system (the Antenna news service) already allowed visitors to email themselves a static HTML page, and I initially thought we might need to piggyback on that, but to do so would only have given us a very brief platform in a quickly changing news cycle, so we switched to the idea of visitors emailing themselves from a dedicated terminal. This raised its own technical challenges and for a while it seemed to be touch and go if it could be made to work at all.

In the event it has worked brilliantly well, and proved to be very robust, only breaking down once to date (as an unforseen by-product of a planned server migration) a couple of weeks ago. Interestingly it was a reader who noticed that the system had broken down and alerted us to the fact instantly, via Twitter.

One breakdown — under punishing museum conditions — of a custom-built piece of kit like this in the six-months since the book was launched is pretty good going I think, so full credit to the teams at the Science Museum for doing such a great job.

© Jake Tilson

© Jake Tilson

Whenever I’ve been to show people around the display or demo the touchscreen unit, as I frequently need to do, there have always been people playing with the screen and emailing themselves. Often singly, but sometimes as a group (e.g. two or more people with iPads or tablets, or someone showing a companion how to do it).

The Shackleton’s Man Goes South display runs for a year (until 24 April 2014). The initial plan was for the novel to be available via the touchscreen for the full year, but from the Museum’s website only for the first three months. However we found that readers and reviewers quickly found a workaround, starting to link directly to the files on the closed page even before the three months were up, rather than to the more controlled information page that was promoted around the launch. In response to this the Museum and I now also point readers straight to the files where-ever we can.

The visitor poll that we are running on the terminal asks, ‘Is everything going south?’ Six-months in, I can reveal that 65% of participants in the poll have said YES.

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Shackleton’s Man Goes South

Missorts cover design prize

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Situations have today announced the winner of the Missorts Volume II cover design prize. From a very strong shortlist of ten, the judging panel (i.e. design historian Emily King, graphic designer Fraser Muggeridge and me) unanimously picked this beautifully understated design by An Endless Supply. I love everything about this design. A limited edition paperback of the novella is being published in December. More info on launch events coming soon. See my events page for updates, or follow Situations on Twitter.

Missorts Volume II is published to accompany Missorts, my permanent public soundwork for Bristol, which is produced by Situations, the award-winning Bristol-based arts producers, and funded by Bristol City Council for the Bristol Legible City initiative. 

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More about Missorts.

If you can’t wait for this paperback edition of the novella featuring An Endless Supply’s gorgeous cover, you can download Missorts Volume II as a free ebook compatible with most devices from the Missorts website.

Piranesi-esque

Here is a quick link to Karen Regn’s excellent review (for the Manchester sustainability portal, Platform) of my event last week at Manchester Literature Festival. It’s a great piece, and Karen has really engaged with Shackleton’s Man Goes South:

White’s novel is structured with a converging dual narrative in which a fact-based strand telling of the discovery of an “overlooked” short story, written in 1911 by polar explorer and scientist George Clarke Simpson, plays off and adds tension to what White calls the “melodrama”, a tale of refugees fleeing south, who are undertaking Shackleton’s journey in reverse. In this second strand, Emily and daughter Jenny are traveling to meet John, Emily’s husband, who has gone ahead to find work. They travel with Browning, a sailor who has already saved their lives more than once. In the slang of their post-melt world, Emily and Jenny are known as “mangoes”, a corruption of the saying “man go south”.

The dual structure reflects White’s belief that science and human experience are inextricably linked … 

Karen Regn is also a photographer and took this fantastic shot of me in mid-reading, framed by the beautifully lit and Piranesi-esque stairs and vaults of Manchester Museum’s Life Gallery.

Photo: © Karen Regn, 2013

Photo: © Karen Regn, 2013

Interestingly, Karen also uses the review to discuss the Festival’s policy and approaches to climate change and sustainability. Issues that may be of interest to artists and audiences just as much as arts organisations. Karen points out that:

Manchester Literature Festival organisers chose White’s novel as part [of an] ecologically-minded commitment to sustainability in the hopes that through this event and others of climate change-themed literature audiences will engage with sustainability agendas.

I was really impressed with Manchester Literature Festival’s use of Twitter to promote the event to climate change and other environmental interest groups and networks, as well as to the Manchester Museum Book Club who had chosen the novel for their September read. The Festival also collaborated with event sponsors Gaeia, who held an ethical investment workshop earlier in the day. The event was very well chaired by novelist Gregory Norminton, editor of the Beacons short story collection, which I am now looking forward to reading. I enjoyed my visit enormously.

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Shackleton’s Man Goes South is available free and DRM-free from the Science Museum at http://bit.ly/ShMGSth

A London event at the Science Museum at 2pm on Thursday 24 October has been organised by future-publishing consultants The Literary Platform. Booking is essential, and the modest ticket price of £15.00 includes a tour of my exhibition and a signed copy of the limited edition paperback. Info and booking here.

Future-publishing Field Trip with TLP

D132402I’m delighted that future-publishing consultancy The Literary Platform have made Shackleton’s Man Goes South, my Science Museum novel and accompanying exhibition (see detail, right) the destination for the second in a series of fact-finding field trips they are organising and which are open to anyone who is interested.

The field trips are cheaply-ticketed and offer ‘a chance to get out and see project work talked through by the project makers themselves.’ Their previous visit was to Memory Palace by Hari Kunzru at the V&A.

Here is the blurb about the field trip from the TLP site:

Shackleton’s Man Goes South is the new novel by Tony White published by the Science Museum earlier this year. This thought-provoking new work of fiction is the Science Museum’s 2013 Atmosphere commission, published as part of the Contemporary Arts Programme. The novel is accompanied by a display in the Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery charting some of the scientific and literary inspiration behind the novel, that runs until spring 2014. In a central innovation visitors can use a dedicated touchscreen that is part of the display, to email themselves a free ebook of the novel in formats compatible with most devices.

Shackleton’s Man Goes South, square thumbnailJoining me to talk about Shackleton’s Man Goes South, to show participants around the display, and to demo our innovative touch-screen fulfilment point, will be Sarah Harvey, the Science Museum’s Assistant Curator of the Media Space and Arts Programme.

Sarah was production manager for Shackleton’s Man Goes South, so we will be able to talk about the commissioning process, the various collaborations involved (including with celebrated British designer Jake Tilson), as well as ‘future-publishing’ aspects, including the kinds of detailed audience data that we were able to draw upon in devising the innovative publication method, etc.

The registration price also includes a free signed paperback of Shackleton’s Man Goes South, and the tour will end (literally) behind the scenes at the Museum, as we take the back stairs over to the Science Museum’s Dana Centre cafe, to continue the conversations over tea and cake.

Earlier this year I wrote about collaboration for TLP’s sister project The Writing Platform. I have also taken part in a couple of conference panels organised by them: last year’s Writing in the Digital Age conference and the Newcastle Writers’ Conference 2013. Long-short, TLP are great, so if you are interested in finding out more about them, and/or chatting to an interesting bunch of people in informal settings about opportunities and challenges presented by the futures of publishing, then do please join us.

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Shackleton’s Man Goes South : TLP Field Trip to Science Museum

Thursday, 24 October 2013 from 14:00 to 16:00

The Science Museum, London

Registration £15 (includes signed limited edition paperback of Shackleton’s Man Goes South)

Full info and booking via The Literary Platform’s eventbrite page

A Tweet in the Lines

I’ve been enjoying people’s tweets and photos as they receive their copies of the Piece of Paper Press edition of ‘A Twist in the Lines’ by Michael Moorcock. Here is a selection. My favourite has to be @badaude’s ‘doll-sized’ photo, featuring Olive Oyle.

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 16.53.17Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 16.55.09Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 16.57.20Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 16.58.03Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 10.43.47Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 13.45.10Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 10.42.39Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 11.43.12Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 11.42.55

Twenty-seventh title from Piece of Paper Press

Michael Moorcock, ‘A Twist in the Lines’, POPP.027

Programme notes — audiobook extract #2

The Science Museum have released the second of three free audiobook extracts of Shackleton’s Man Goes South on their SoundCloud page. All of the audiobook extracts are framed by a short musical theme composed by Jamie Telford.

missorts_phone_simulationSharp-eyed readers will know that Jamie and I have worked together before. Most recently he composed eight amazing new works, the Portwall Preludes, especially for the 100-year-old Harrison and Harrison pipe organ in St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. I commissioned these works from Jamie to form the backdrop and accompaniment for Missorts, my permanent soundwork and GPS-triggered app for the Redcliffe area of Bristol which launched at the end of last year. The Preludes are geo-located to form a kind of musical patchwork that overlays the area of the app (delineated in lighter grey on this iPhone screen simulation) and through which the user/listener walks, cutting from one prelude to another as they do so, and creating their own mix in the process.

© 2012 Max McClure, courtesy Situations

© 2012 Max McClure, courtesy Situations

There is a fascinating short interview with Jamie about his role in Missorts in David Bickerstaff’s great new short documentary about the project, which has just been released by Situations. There he describes the Portwall Preludes as ‘programmatic’ — further explaining for the non-specialist (like me) that, ‘what I mean by programmatic is that they’ve got titles that suggest what the music may contain.’

Take a listen to Jamie’s beautiful, lilting and gloriously wonky ‘House of Mercy’ and you may begin to see what he means. Now imagine listening to ‘House of Mercy’ in situ, as you climb back up Guinea Street from Phoenix Wharf and the Ostrich pub, past the derelict Georgian and Victorian buildings of the former Bristol General Hospital, and the idea of it being programmatic really takes off: with Missorts, the ‘extra-musical material’ is not just supplied by the title, but also by the location.

For Shackleton’s Man Goes South, the brief was very different: a musical theme that could be used to both frame and to punctuate audiobook extracts from my novel. A piece that would never be heard in its entirety, only in part. An intro that would fade out at the beginning and an outro that would fade in at the end, and phrases of which might also provide short interludes throughout the reading of the text.

What emerged in our early conversations — as Jamie and I talked about the novel, and looked at some of the musical content and signposting within it — was that this theme might be a kind of Black Atlantic sea shanty, and one that responded to two particular musical works referenced in the novel: Leadbelly’s version of John Hardy, and a reconstruction of the satirical 17th Century English folk song The World Turned Upside Down. I hope that you like what Jamie has come up with (but be warned: it is ridiculously catchy). We felt that the oddly celebratory tone sat well with one of the ideas at the heart of the novel, that the Shackleton story has become a kind of Columbus myth for migrants to a new continent.

The lyrics of ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ are reproduced as part of my Shackleton’s Man Goes South display in the Science Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery, which is up until spring 2014. Here is one of the Museum’s installation shots.

Image: Science Museum

Image: Science Museum — click-through for higher resolution

And here, courtesy of the Science Museum, is the second of the free audiobook extracts from Shackleton’s Man Goes South. This is an extract from Chapter 4, ‘The Captain’s Table,’ in which ‘the complex and conflicted human trafficker Browning’ (as David Gullen puts it in his fantastic review) makes contact once again with Captain Smiler upon his and Emily’s arrival back in Patience Camp on the island of South Georgia:

Every mile or so there is a gate or a checkpoint, and here the alleys and paths of Patience Camp widen and the nature of its buildings appear to change. They seem to grow more substantial and to serve other purposes than the simple provision of shelter. It is as if this increased density of shops, bars and fast-food joints has been produced by some effect of the more concentrated traffic and the confined space, just as the sudden faster flow and pressure differential caused by the lifting of a sluice creates an eddying turbulence that traps whatever chaff and debris, leaf litter and styrofoam might be carried in the water. There are souvenir shops piled with T-shirts, and faded postcards bearing seemingly random images of countless cities, cathedrals, beaches, castles; a Babel of greetings. Forgotten celebrities of all nationalities and ages blindly stare from the racks as if waiting for some statistically ever more improbable moment of recognition when they will be snatched up by a member of whichever diaspora and revived, reanimated. More rudimentary stalls sell salvaged goods and bric-a-brac of dubious function and origin, servicing unlikely markets and unimaginable demand. There are vacant lots piled high with electrical and other components: motors, cabling, circuit boards. There are relics: here a box of broken calculators and there – trailing wires and hydraulics, partly covered by tarpaulins, bigger than their shelter and recognisable from illustrations in books – the best part of the flight deck of an airliner. A chandelier the size of a bell tent buckles under its own weight.

The Museum have enabled SoundCloud’s download function, so — as ever — feel free to download it and listen on your own device!

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