These Pages Fall Like Ash: Planning & Pitching

Tom Abba is Senior Lecturer in Narrative Theory at UWE, and has been using Artefact Cards since the second wave of testing. 

Together with Circumstance, he’s been creating a project called These Pages Fall Like Ash where they are working with leading authors Nick Harkaway and Neil Gaiman to explore what the book, the editor and the author could be on a digital-first platform.

You can read more about that here, and follow the project as they go –

Tom’s also kindly written a piece here on how they’ve used Artefact Cards as part of the project so far…


Pitching is difficult. Pitching is even more difficult when your project partner is in Hong Kong, beamed in by Skype, and you’re in front of the panel in Bristol and by some strange coincidence the Queen drives past the building and everyone – except your project partner, who’s in Hong Kong – turns to look.

That happened. Except for everyone turning to look – only one of the panel did that.

I had an idea for this project over eighteen months ago and I’ve been trying to find to right opportunity to pitch it since then. It arose from an offhanded remark Adam Greenfield ( made on a walkshop in Bristol and grew from there.

It’s been drafted on the original (S logo) Artefact cards, and redrafted on the yellowbacked editions. It’s been expanded, contracted and expanded again to suit circumstances, and while it keeps changing, the ideas at the heart of it are always the same – audience-driven story, cities as story engines, and challenging the terms of the reader/text/author relationship.

Here’s a sample of the deck I used to pitch (it’s a sample, because the panel asked to keep some of the cards – always a good sign):



So why were the cards so useful? Well, I’m in broad agreement with John’s take on post-it notes; they’re fabulous for prompting me, but for something that needs both structure and a sense of permanent flux, they lose their appeal pretty quickly. Cards, on the other hand, are a deck. They can be shuffled and reused in partial decks to explain ideas, subdecks can be borrowed to start a train of thought on interaction or UX design, and then reused to clarify and develop ideas within a larger frame.

We’ve started this project -‘ these pages fall like ash’ is a very Circumstance ( title – and we have our first day planning with Nick Harkaway ( in London on the 22nd. I’ll take a deck with me, and see if Nick bites.

Neil Gaiman ( we bring into the process in March, by which time the shape of each experience will be much clearer, and I confidently predict there’ll be a deck on its way back to the US.

However, if John is taking suggestions, what I’d like to see are wallets. I have a set of tiny bulldog clips that hold the decks for this project together, but it’d be much nicer to have those organised and available without digging through a bag every time I want to revisit an idea.

And you know what? Apps…


Little Notes on Little Printer

I’ve been testing a use for my Little Printer from Berg; to send hand drawn notes, rather than using the text templates provided.  It’s been good this week as I’m at a workshop for a few days in London, and want to send Helen and the kids some wee notes and things during the day, just generally to say hello.

It probably shares something in spirit with “Where’s Dad” / Arrivals by Toby and Dan.

Given James is three years old though, he needs something a bit simpler than that.  ‘Dad drew this, and sent it to me, on this here little printer’ is about the right level.

So, if you have a Little Printer, and want to try it yourself, here’s what to do…

Little Printer Love Notes


Step 1

First of all, you’ll need something to draw with.  It needs to be pretty punchy black-on-white, because you’re going to put it through as a theshold image, and not a dithered image.

Mr Reid’s picture, from his ‘Publishing for Little Printer‘ post, illustrates the difference; dithered image on the left, threshold on the right:



Now, I use Artefact Cards, as for obvious reasons I always have them to hand.  The thickness of the Sharpie on the white card creates an image that’s really going to pop as a threshold image, as we’ll see.  But a sharpie on anything white will work well, a thin rollerball or biro not so much.



Now, when you take a picture of the message, most likely on your phone, get the image to fill the screen, like this:



It doesn’t really need to be that clean a shot, lighting wise; Little Printer is going to force the darks to black, and the lights to white.


Step 2

Go and follow the instructions on Dan Catt‘s Little Printer Email Bridge hack.

I’d suggest, if you use IFTTT already, you might want to start a new account rather than make it your existing one, because in a minute you’ll need a new tumblr too.  If I have one bugbear with IFTTT, it’s that it doesn’t support multiple accounts for the same channel yet.

When you finish doing that, you’ll have an IFTTT account with the Little Printer email address down as your email channel with IFTTT:

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 23.12.56


Step 2

OK, now you can set up a new tumblr.  You can use an existing one if you wish, but if you do you’ll just end up with the pictures you’re sending sporadically interrupting the stream of whatever else you’re doing.

I think keeping it as its own clean stream is a good idea.  Then you’ll also have a repository of all the notes you send.

When you’ve set up the new tumblr, then also hook that in to your IFTTT account.

(You could also use a flickr account, but again, it needs to be set to public)


Step 3

Create a new recipe in IFTTT, using the step-by-step walkthrough procedure, as follows:

i. IF there is a new post on my tumblr…
ii. tagged with [WHATEVER KEYWORD YOU LIKE]…
iii. Send me an email…
iv. Subject: POSTTITLE
v. Body: <img src=”{{PostImageUrl}}” width=”100%”>
If you want to print normal pictures, rather than the black and white threshold forced image, that last line needs to be

v. Body: <img src=”{{PostImageUrl}}” width=”100%”>



Once all that’s done, give the IFTTT recipe a few minutes to establish itself, and upload a photo to the tumblr.  I use the iPhone app, and post a photo post with a tag; I upload a picture, tag it with James, then it’ll send it to Little Printer.

Take heed of Dan’s advice, though – “Because everything is a bit beta and held together with string at this end, it may take a couple of minutes for your message to show up.” 

Your message could well take fifteen, twenty minutes to get through.

But it’s quicker than a postcard, right?


There you go then, hope that’s interesting/useful.  Any thoughts, builds, examples you have, please do share, either in the comments below, or find me on twitter @willsh.