2009: The Booktwo/STML Year in Review

December 30, 2009

As some of you may have noticed, booktwo.org has over this year become increasingly personal. This trend is likely to continue in 2010, and while I’ll continue to write about books, technology, and their intersections, I’ll be writing about other things.

The main reason for this is that in August I went freelance, and now work on a greater range of projects than I did previously. Many of these come from outside the publishing world, and booktwo provides a space to write about those things too.

And so. There’s been a bit of a flurry of weeknotes recently. Individuals, teams and companies writing up their work, their experiences, their hopes and fears. This seems good, so I thought I’d do an annual review. The week is probably not going to happen. And I’m going to talk in a fairly light-hearted way, about work, and about other things. It’s almost New Year.


January seems like a long time ago. The booktwo year started with Bookcamp (photo CC Matt Biddulph). This was good. I should have known that hooking up with Jeremy Ettinghausen and Russell Davies would produce interesting things, but I was still amazed at the range of people that came. I still tell people how it’s the only place I’ve ever seen an author, an agent, a publisher and a retailer all sitting around a table, having a proper chat. Bookcamps have since happened abroad. We should probably do another one. I met a lot of people who went on to shape the year. If you want to know more, Billy and Hugh have longer write-ups.

And then I went to India.


(Photo by Peter. Mine are here.)

I haven’t written much about India, which is a real shame. I went as one of the shortlisted UK Young Publishers of the Year, courtesy of the British Council. It was incredible – not least because of a great bunch of people: Pablo Rossello, of the BC, Jessica Purdue from Orion, Nii Parkes of Flipped Eye, my Apt colleague Peter Collingridge, agent Lucy Luck and Davy Nougarede of Heavy Entertainment. We met all kinds of publishers, from little independents to the major corporations, as well as retailers and everyone in between. It reignited my love for India, which I first visited ten years ago, and got me excited about the possibilities.

When working in one small corner of the industry, and frequently alone, and sometimes in opposition to most of the industry, it’s good to be reminded that the industry is nevertheless very broad, and filled with people who are passionate about what they do, and we’re all in this together. When you couple that with the extraordinary changes taking place in India, you see the vast scope of what literature means at all these different levels. I hope I get to go back soon, and I still want to develop some of the connections made when I was there. It’s important not to let these die.

If I had to pick one thing that made an abiding impression on me, from a business perspective, it’s probably the stories by, and the story of, Chetan Bhagat – one of the few things I did write up. Bhagat’s story shows that even in the vastness of India, it’s still possible to make a big impact through innovation, fearlessness and conviction.

On a personal level, the people that I met – like the folk at Seagull, Zubaan and Katha – were a huge inspiration. As were the guys at Pegs N Pints – who got their wish four months later and I wish I’d been there to celebrate.

The first half of the year at Apt yielded a range of fascinating projects. The Bookseer, which started out as an in-house experiment, went viral, garnering great interest across the web, and from some commercial entities. It may yet evolve further. The real meat, however, was Enhanced Editions, our advanced ebook reader for the iPhone.

We worked on Enhanced Editions for over a year, the product of an ongoing conversation about ebooks and the role of publishers. I learned a lot: about project management, about the iPhone platform, about development. It was good working in a bigger team that included different roles, all working towards the same objective. The reaction was brilliant: our Nick Cave app received awesome feedback, and I look forward to seeing how the books do in future.


Throughout the year I’ve also been working on smaller, side projects. I built a website for Detained Lives, a really important charitable campaign, that I’m pleased to see making progress highlighting the horror of indefinite detention. I built a site for my friend Rafa, a great photographer. These projects are good for stretching the muscles, trying out design and development ideas. They make a pleasant change.

There have been a range of print-based projects too. The Tweetbook, of course, which generated a quite absurd amount of coverage. And the newspapers – for Book Club Boutique in the summer, and for myself at the end of the year: Immanent in the Manifold City – which, due to popular demand, will be going into a second printing in January. Probably.


The newspapers were a real joy to work on, combining my own ongoing love of print and print technologies with the privilege of working with some very, very smart folk – the Really Interesting Group. I’ve seen (and helped a tiny bit) the Newspaper Club offering develop, and am as excited as anyone to see it released in the New Year.

I first met Russell of RIG in 2008, when he asked me to speak at the second Interesting, and he was kind enough to ask me back to MC – badly – at Interesting 09. But the Interesting connections have been fundamental to the sort of work I’ve been doing – and the gigs I’ve been getting – throughout 2009. People are good, and I’m really excited that I’ll be working at a desk in the RIG (and BERG) offices from January, surrounded by clever, clever people.

One of the highlights of the year, which resulted from my appearance at Interesting, was Playful, for which I had to throw something together in a week after realising my intended talk had been done the previous year. The result – A New THEORY of AWESOMENESS and MIRACLES, concerning CHARLES BABBAGE, HEATH ROBINSON, MENACE and MAGE – went down rather well on the day, and was picked up by Boing Boing, Gizmodo and others, which was hugely gratifying.


Playful Photo CC Roo Reynolds

Meanwhile, other projects rumbled on. Bookkake, which I set up in 2008, has yet to produce any new books since the first tranche – although there are plans – but it has provided a venue to continue ruminating on literature, censorship, poetry and, of course, filth in the form of the Bookkake Blog. I hadn’t done much writing on literature since the closure of the original STML blog some years ago, so it was extremely satisfying, and creatively useful, to do so again, whether it was ruminating on the lost gothic classics of English lit, cataloging dirty poetry, silly cooking, or designing subversive flat-pack furniture. These explorations of the edges of literature – the literature I love, and want to learn more about, are, I think, an essential part of any new business, and I hope I’m able to continue them.

Writing itself is something I want to do a lot more of in the New Year, whether its pitching articles on my specialities, or writing fiction – like I did for Bad Idea magazine’s Future Human night back in September – a hugely satisfying experience.

Actual real projects have also been going on under the radar. bkkeepr continues to chug along nicely, if quietly, and there are some exciting plans for its future which I can’t wait to get started on. There are a couple of other things too, which I apparently need codenames for.


So AwesomeSecretProject#1 just got turned down for funding, but I’m confident it will make it through in the Spring – it’s a real business, with a plan and everything, and it fills a niche in the publishing industry that I’ve been eyeing up for some time. It would have real benefits to publishers and readers, as well as – I can dream – actually pay me a salary, which would be A Good Thing. If I can learn to talk Business, and explain it a bit better, it might get interesting.

AwesomeSecretProject#2 has taken a bit of a beating this year, and I don’t think it’s going to happen in any way that I envisaged it. But I’ve learned a lot trying to make it happen, about the publishing business and what it means to be a publisher – the responsibilities and the risks thereof, when to take things personally, and when to let them go – and I’m going to take those experiences, and do something else with them in the New Year.


(There’s a story to the table)

Going freelance has been another opportunity to figure out exactly what it is that I do. I still don’t have the answer. I thought I’d be working on more projects that cross the boundaries between publishing and technology – but, with the exception of the newspapers, most jobs have fallen into one or the other camp. It seems to be getting increasingly hard to get cross-media projects off the ground, as a third party, as publishers get more savvy and take more of this stuff in-house. This is undoubtedly A Good Thing but it’s meant I’ve been working more on the tech side – I recently did all the frontend HTML/CSS for the new ITV Player, for example, as well as other things I can’t talk about.

In turn, this has left me more energy to devote to more esoteric projects, like Mattins and Artists’ eBooks, which have been great but decidedly non-revenue-generating – while I don’t doubt they will lead to, and inspire, things that are. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m in this to enjoy myself, after all.


So, 2009 was Good – and I’ve probably missed loads of stuff – and here’s to 2010. I have some really interesting projects lined up for the New Year, which you’ll probably hear about at some point. My general mood swings wildly between total elation and utter terror – but the emphasis is on the former, and that’s the freelance life, I guess.

I’d love to hear about what you’ve been up to, and what you’re doing in the future. If you’re interested in working with me, please get in touch: I’m always looking for new projects. You can check out my (almost) full portfolio, and I’m very easy to find and get hold of.


As a bonus, here’s (almost) everything I cooked in 2009.

Happy New Year. May it be full of joy.


  1. I had no idea you had your hand in so many things. Have a great 2010!

    Comment by Mike Cane — January 1, 2010 @ 2:49 am

  2. I’m so glad my belly made it into your 2009 roundup.

    And what a year, by the sounds of it.

    Here’s to 2010.

    Comment by Ben — January 8, 2010 @ 10:40 pm

  3. Gosh! What a thrusting young turk you are! Here’s hoping all that effort pays off for you!

    Comment by Marcel — January 11, 2010 @ 11:46 pm

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