The Story of the Data

And you thought it was just a book. If you’ve been watching the if:book web site, you’ll have noticed we started counting down again. Sigh. It seems like only yesterday, I was counting down the minutes to the 24-Hour Book and writing in WQ about freight trains and so on. Willow Patterns is the subject of this year’s count down, a project that will provide a glimpse into how the 24-Hour Book was made and, more broadly, a sense of how much creative and editorial work goes into the creation of any book.


Featuring work from Nick Earls, Steven Amsterdam, and Krissy Kneen and others, the 24-Hour Book proved a great success, but the project generated much more than just 142 pages of finished text. Every edit, annotation and interaction with the online audience was time-stamped, captured and stored in an online database.

This is where Willow Patterns comes in. This project opens the book’s complete database, creating a web site that will let you browse through every version of every story. It’s fascinating stuff. Already I’ve spent hours trawling through page after page, scrolling through the numbers, inferring what happened when, watching word counts rise and, sometimes, fall. The data tells its own stories about how our writers worked, about their style, about the choices the editors made and the consequences of those choices.

This is Willow Patterns.

Those of you who know your way around databases and coding can download the raw data and create your own applications, visualisations and animations. We have already created a simple graph on the site that chronicles the book’s total word count. We’re also presenting the complete data as a one-off multi-volume printed work: the book behind the book, if you like. Later, the project will hear from artists, poets, and others responding and remixing the book to create new works in both digital and physical forms.

All books—all stories—are made from data. Usually we see only a fraction of the data that goes into the finished product. The idea behind Willow Patterns is to lift the veil, explore the book’s hidden machinations before exploding it into myriad works and responses that will inspire visitors to step outside of ‘the book’ and consider a future where anyone can engage with stories on their own terms.