The Book of Days is a publishing experiment. During the 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF) I edited and designed a festival anthology live, on site at the Walsh Bay precinct. The anthology includes writing and illustrations from festival presenters, as well as contributions from the festival audience. The book was available to purchase via print-on-demand platform Blurb.com immediately after the Festival closed.
In the days before the festival I collected contributions from festival presenters (with support from SWF staff), commissioned illustrators and set up a workstation in the middle of the festival precinct at Walsh Bay. Each day from 10am to 5pm during the festival (18–24 May 2015) I designed the book live with a monitor attached to my laptop so audiences could watch the book taking shape in real time. At the same time I gathered responses from passers-by either on Twitter, index cards or on one of the two typewriters on the table in front of me. A rotating cast of invited illustrators stopped by to contribute. I updated an online archive daily, showing the book’s progress over the week of the festival.
The anthology is divided into two parts. The first is a selection of writing and illustrations from festival presenters including excerpts from events, previously published poems or essays, and a few tastes of unpublished work from: Robert Adamson, Dennis Altman, James Boyce, Robert Dessaix, Mohsin Hamid, Rebecca Huntley, Lee Kofman, Helen Macdonald, Emily St. John Mandel, Les Murray, Omar Musa, John Pickrell and Tom Uglow. I invited illustrators to join me at the workstation, or submit via email. The published book includes images by Lucy Adelaide, W.H. Chong, Tessa Curran, Tony Flowers, Juno Gemes, Leigh Hobbs, Olivia King, Leigh Rigozzi, myself, Gemma Warriner, Yan Qin Weng and William Yang.
The second part of the anthology contains contributions from festival audiences, who were invited to respond to the 2015 festival theme “How to live?” via Twitter (using #SWFBOD), typewriter or index card (at the Pier 2/3 workstation). These contributions – all 4,000 words of them – are included in the final book.
On Sunday, Family Day at SWF, the onslaught of excited kids made the typewriters an occupational health and safety nightmare, so I replaced them with drawing tools and an invite to contribute a dinosaur drawing to illustrate John Pickrell’s essay on the problems with Jurassic Park.
The production continued when the festival came to an end: typing up audience contributions; scanning and laying out illustrations (all those dinosaurs took half a day alone); editing the text (with help from festival staff and friends); making additional illustrations and creating print-ready files. When all this was done, I sent the files to print-on-demand company Blurb.com and the book was ready to order, a week after the festival closed.
This project demonstrates that publishing software and print-on-demand platforms are opening up new possibilities for the design, production and distribution of books. Rather than a book-less digital future, it shows the potential for unique design and production solutions to publishing projects.
As well as a souvenir of the 2015 festival sampling both what was presented and how the audience responded, this anthology is a compelling argument for the future of books in print. By the time the next Sydney Writers’ Festival comes around, there will be a new program on the website, the previous year’s newspaper lift-outs will be yellowed and all the news and conversations about the 2015 experience will be buried deep in the ether. The anthology, though, will remain on bookshelves. We will remember the authors we heard, the people we met and the experience of being swept up in a community of readers. This book will remain on shelves for years to come because book objects are talismans as much as vessels for the content they carry. What better way to celebrate a writers’ festival than in book form?
This project was supported by the University of Technology Sydney Library, through an artist-in-residence grant awarded to Zoë Sadokierski in 2015.