Classic books, Google options and Penguin

As a teacher librarian I am always looking different ways to encourage and challenge our students in creative and interesting ways when they are responding to the books they are reading. To this end I have been playing around with a few tools, including Google Maps. Last year I thought that I would explore how this tool could be used when studying Runner by Robert Newton and Black Snake by Carole Wilkinson. I thought we could develop some work that mapped the locations mentioned in these texts. I started to examine the options again and, when I investigated Google Maps and then went into Google books, I realized that more development has been going on.

I also recently read in a post on the Fiction Focus site about Penguin Books (UK) who have pioneered a new creative and collaborative project over the past 12 months in their We Tell Stories digital project.

Already known for their digital innovation, The UK publishing arm of Penguin began exploring new territory and announced in March 2008, a new project looking at the possibilities where literature, gaming and the web intersect. We Tell Stories is a digital writing project where Penguin challenged some of its authors to create new forms of a well known story, designed specifically for the internet.

Over the past 12 months, they have begun producing six stories in total, preparing to release one a week and each story having a different method of presentation. One of the titles is a thriller, written by Charles Cumming, and based on the John Buchan classic, The 39 Steps.It uses Google Maps and information bubbles to re-tell the story on-line, re-naming it The 21 Steps. This version of the story is a fast-paced thriller which takes the reader from the streets of London to Edinburgh. There is plenty of action and some cliff-hangers along the way. When I went to read the storyat school I found that our filters would not allow it (spam email URLS), so I had to read it using my mobile broadband. Tomorrow I will ask to change this situation. I am not sure of the outcome but I won’t go into another discussion about the arbitrary consequences of filters here.

Of interest also is the interview that was aired as part of ABC Radio National’s The Book Show. Ramona Koval recently spoke to British spy writer Charles Cumming , the creator of the reworked John Buchan classic. It is an interesting interview and well worth a listen.

Getting back to the Google Book Search site, have a look at what they offer for some of the other works. Check out what they have done with Dracula, for example. There has been quite a deal of interest in all things vampire so we have been working on using this interest.

GoogleBooks-draculaMapbThe map is clear, the flags can be clicked on to reveal more information about where the reference is found in the book and you can also find the places listed below the map.

See below to get the idea of the map information


You are also linked to the page of text where the place in mentioned. The place name is highlighted to allow you to see how the place is mentioned in the context of the story. GoogleBooks-dracula-textNow thinks of the ways I can use this!

2 Responses

  1. From: Roy Tomkinson
    Living in Pontypridd, Born in the Rhondda Valley.
    Blog site: “”
    I have difficulty in understanding why anyone needs to take an old classic and rework it. Surely, it would be better to plan and write, “an own story” and to not work someone else’s story, however good it might be.
    Am I missing something here?
    When I started writing five years ago, the last thing I wanted to do was to rewrite another author’s work, no matter how well the book was crafted. I admit, I have never taught literature, and perhaps that is why I find this approach rather bizarre, unless of course, the technique is used to focus the mind in a particular direction. But still I have my doubts. So, if anyone can give me an explanation, please do.
    Since I’ve been a full time novelist, a number of people, authors and journalists have asked me.
    How did you learn to write?
    Who taught you?
    In some of the interviews I have done. I say simply, I just went and did it, eventually, I thought a lot more about it and wrote down what I actually did, and here is what I concluded.

    Hi everyone,
    I’d just like to share a few thoughts with you.
    I have been asked why I write?
    Is it difficult?
    How did I start?
    Is there a lot of money in writing?

    There is so much advice out there from people who think they can do it, and yet, they never seem to get a book into publication.
    What is your secret?
    Not secret – no luck: Just simple determination and hard work, and learn to take criticism, digest, and do something about it. If you do the same thing repeatedly, why be surprised when the outcome is the same. Change, adapt, success is an attitude of mind. I say it again so there can be no doubt in your mind. Success is an attitude of mind.
    What I started to write five years ago, I trawled to look for ideas, purchased books on how to be a successful writer until my mind was chock blocked with ideas from other people who told me how to do it.
    Quite a few advised me that it would be easier to go to the moon than to get a book published by a mainstream publisher, I’m not talking vanity here. My friends thought I was mad. Many times over a meal, my friends tried to talk, “sense” into me.
    “You are giving up a real job, to write! You can’t be serious!
    “I’ll tell you what! Do have a medical check. I’ll pay!
    “Writing! Writing! You mean full time, with no job!”
    And so the comments went forward. I listened, but equally, I shielded my mind from their negativity. I had made up my mind, and I wanted to be a writer. Believed it with a passion, had confidence in my ability and in me (myself Roy) to follow through.
    And so, I wrote out my plan.
    Not a long complicated one, short and to the point. Something I could look at everyday, a measured plan. Here it is somewhat elaborated and explained, and not the actual affirmations I use.
    They are personal to me, and no one sees them but me.

    Forget about publication. “Are you mad you say? Forget about getting published.” Yes, forget about it; make yourself good enough and getting published will happen as a matter of course, and of course, you must believe this with a passion. I decided I would write ten manuscripts, the best manuscripts I could possible achieve, and only then would I think about getting a manuscript published.
    Get people who know what they are talking about to criticise your writing. Pay them, preferable, people who do not know you. I have three people, not the same people that criticise my writing, anonymously. That is the only way to get an objective viewpoint. Some of the criticism I rejected, a lot I accepted, some hurt. It still hurts even today, I still have my work criticised, but it was, and still is necessary.
    Learn the craft. If you haven’t been writing for at least 5000 hours – carry on, even then, you will still be learning. Forever you will be learning.
    Set a target, without a target there can be no aim. Make it realistic, and achieve it. There is nothing more powerful for your personality than setting a goal and then achieving it. Set yourself a success philosophy. In my case, I targeted to write 2000 words per day, 10,000 per week. I didn’t like working weekends, but if I failed in my objective, it meant I would have to work a Saturday or Sunday, and I had a lot of living to do every weekend, so I made sure I achieved my set goal.
    Strive for perfection. My first published novel, “Of Boy, Men and Mountain” which is destined to become a classic, I wrote and rewrote 17 times before I was happy. I looked upon it as a kind of apprenticeship. Each time I thought I had it, I would leave it a few days, reread, and rewrite, and then after many months I knew I had it, and I partied.
    Read other works of literature, study the plot and characters: can you see the location in your mind; are the people alive to you, if not, why not? question? Look closely at structure, every writer will have something from which you are able learn. The base component of a story is a plot with characters. To me, my characters are alive. Some become my friends, others I hate, but to me they are alive, and not just a bit of writing across the page. I didn’t realise this until quite recently. I was due to finish a manuscript, the third manuscript in a trilogy, two and a half years work, and 500,000 words in length. For two weeks, I went back over the manuscripts, I walked, studied, did everything, anything, but complete this last chapter; it was only a few thousand words. Then I realised; I didn’t wish to leave them. I was suffering withdrawal symptoms similar to bereavement. That’s how alive these characters had become to me.
    Work out the plots and the characters before you start. A pat saying everyone tells you the same, to plan, plan, and plan again. And of course, I do the same. Do I stick with it? No, sometimes, something happens and Voilà! A minor character seems to talk to you, it grows, and grows, and sometimes I wonder who is in charge. I’m not talking here about going off on a tangent. There must be a plan, if there is no plan how can you know when you are not totally on it. You can’t of course, so always there must be a plan otherwise how can you deviate away from it.
    Do I get writers block: these word seems to be in almost every self-help book on how to write. With multitudinous ways of what you should do to overcome the problem. More worry is expounded here, than the worth of it. I say do nothing, relax, place the characters inside you mind, I mean deeply inside and forget about them. They should already be there anyway. Let them become part of you, think about them as people before you go to sleep, and let your subconscious mind do the rest. If not the following morning, definitely the morning after, the answer will be there, inside you mind waiting for you to write it down.
    Be ruthless with you time when you write. It is a job, and if other people, family included, do not see it like that, tell them, and follow through. Don’t be distracted. The greater you are able to control “YOU” the greater you are able to control what you write.
    And finally, keep positive, you only ever fail when you give up, and look upon your life as a journey and not as a destination. They say to write is a vocation and I must wait for inspiration. I’ve lost my inspiration. Codswallop: you are doing a job, a hard slog job, so enjoy the journey, and remember, the more you do it the better you become, as in any job. But take notice, don’t carry on making the same mistakes and expect a different outcome, frankly it just doesn’t happen, accept criticism and learn from it. When you think you have mastered the craft, then, and only then, the true learning process will finally begin.

    Market yourself as a writer, too many think that is to be left to someone else. It’s not hip to push forward. Why? If you believe in your writing, tell, shout it out, and be positive. Sell your work by selling yourself. Make yourself stand out, but first you must stand up, on a stool if need be, you have a story, and you need to tell others about it. Otherwise, how will they know?
    Get an agent, if need be, be your own agent, use every way to tell the world who you are and what you are, and believe, believe it will happen – and it will.

    I hope the ten points above; will be of help to new writers. I have now just started my 10th manuscript, my original target. So as you see, I’m ahead of my original target, and boy, it does feel good.

    My blog site is: “”

    To date, I have three published novels:
    Of Boy, Men and Mountains.ISBN: 0862438683
    Anger Child ISBN: 978095597360-4
    The Tour. ISBN: 978-1-60693-682-5
    SKU: 1-60693-682-4

  2. The subject of very useful

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