PhD Project – artistic practice and creative writing: Transformed Books.

My academic background is in conceptual art and my professional career is as a novelist who has published three books. (Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton 2012-17)

This page is about the development of my practice-based PhD project at the College of Creative Arts, Massey University, NZ. This project combines artistic practice and creative writing within a hybrid creative practice.

Within this project, old ‘throwaway’ books (which were obtained from sale tables in thrift shops) are transformed.

Folded book sculpture used during the process of writing The Bookbird short story, 2018

These books were folded into sculptural forms which were then used as writing tools – to generate new sentences within conventionally structured fictional texts such as short stories.

Some of the short stories that I wrote during this process were cut into fragments and recontextualised on the pages of old books.

Other books I have worked with have no text pasted into them, and the new narratives are selected from the existing text during a process of redaction. Proper nouns were removed first, completely blanked out by using correction tape, and other text was left semi-visible by using translucent masking tape. For each book, I give myself a list of specific rules to follow, as I work through the book. In the redaction process, choice of vocabulary is limited to the words within the book, and yet this process also expands the vocabulary, as these texts contain words which wouldn’t be habitually used within my own creative writing.

The book shown in the next few photos is ‘The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag’ by Jim Corbett. He was a hunter and author who killed the leopard in 1926. The fragmented narrative I selected from Corbett’s book tells the story of a mountain, a leopard, the sun and the moon.

The following three images are from The Leopard: A redacted book, 2018. Photo Credit: Jessica Chubb

Text on these pages: Collect all things needed – rifle – a bath of fire – collect smoke and light – gather loss and hear the clatter of branches – procure a silk fish and chance a strip of an idea…

Text: a chill wind; prepare for a view of darkness, no dark to dark, dark and to never dark, unless the sky…

Text: …drops to the ground – bring night-shooting light – a bone, white stone, clouds eating the rain. Wait a length of time, fire the rifle – bullet-hole the sun, down for cremation.


There are also many pages in these altered books where text or individual letters are used as a visual image –- for example, the following pages are from The Bookbird, an altered novel, 2018. These photos are also by Jessica Chubb.

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In the page on the right (above), the letter ‘o’ is left visible. The subsequent pages also contain many visible ‘o’s – which disappear when it stops raining within my short story that’s been pasted into this book. This particular short story contains many fragments of sentences from one of the folded books. The book that the short story is pasted into is The Magic Flute, A Fantasia, by G. Lowes Dickinson, with additional music lesson fragments pasted in which were cut from the pages of an antique book. My cut-up short story interacts with the redacted text which was left visible or slightly transparent on the pages of the book.

My short story is written from the point of view of a book, seven years after all the libraries have been closed down. The book narrator of the short story is a novel which told a highly unsatisfying love story about a contented and non-materialistic couple. The book narrator tells the story of how it escapes from a lonely life spent on a dusty shelf in a cabaret bar, is taken to a hospital where it is read from cover to cover for the first time in years, and eventually transforms into a bird.

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Text: it is raining outside. A large bird flies in. It’s feathers sound like heaven paper – as it grabs me by hunger-pinching my spine in its beak. A nurse comes rushing, flapping her hands, shouting at it to get out. The bird flies out of the window with me.
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Text: It speaks into my spine, as it tells me that it has been looking for me since it saw me kidnapped in that handbag, and what on earth have I been up to… allowing myself to be held hostage for so long after making a perfectly grantable wish… And here is the story – almost alone in my own universe – I should have been telling all along – that when books aren’t certain they are – admit no manner of doubt – wanted any more, they can sooner or later become birds, by flying like this – by leaving like this, with everything they – ever thought they wanted being left behind.
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Text: I suspend my judgement – I wanted to be read, but as I am carried through the sky above the grey streets, above crumbling stone pillars, I want to be able to fly like this forever. Lighter, more sincere in my heart, as if clouds are endless bookshelves and the sky is a vaulted ceiling, and all the trees are librarians – caressing voice – available to catch me if I fall. In the beak of the bird I am carried over traffic and flashing sirens, away from the city. Gaze and gaze, a kind of dialogue without words, over small towns and villages, and in clouds, another life, now flying over the countryside…
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Text: Here, I am finally dropped. As I fall, I spread my pages and land in rushes. Stem essence. I am surrounded by the sound of water. A river. Ice, cracking. Rain.

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Text: My pages turn grey as words wash away. When the rain stops. Sound of running water, I shake and ruffle myself dry in an icy gale. I’m shocked as I find my voice and exclaim a loud melody. Doh, Quiet, Soh, Doh, Doh, Soh, Quiet, Doh. Note: sing these notes first slowly, then quickly, and again with a sound long-drawn-out. Master one note at a time. I try again, a little more softly. Doh, Quiet, Soh, Quiet, Oh, quiet, Doh, Doh, Soh, please, Soh, Doh. Sing these notes as tree and water meditation.
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Text: Feeling fresh and new, as if I am made of nerves and nonsense, I watch feet and legs emerge from my spine. Staggering, I gasp at my new body. What a body it is! Welcome. A varnished beak. Eyes that feel as solid as gold. Cardboard feathers on my back. Paper feathers – longing – on my chest. I stamp icy ground with my new claws. How remarkable they are. They’re made of coils of tightly wound paper. Eternity means rebirth, as long as desire for life is not extinguished.
I nip in and out of rushes and draw myself to my full height as if I am greeting the dawn. I fire up a call as sleet washes my grey feathers white. Doh Doh Quiet Soh Soh quiet Doh Doh Me Me Soh Soh please. What do I follow? A great desire to try adventure.

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Text: Think well before you choose to escape at your own risk – into the new life. Senses open. Above me, the sky fills with dark clouds. I watch the thickening clouds for a long time, as if they hold all the ink in the world inside them, and when ink falls as rain, an entirely new story will be written – replenished – across this winter landscape.
But it isn’t rain these clouds bring, they bring… s n o w s n o w s n o w s n o w s n o w s n o w…
…and thousands of birds.


Each transformed book is simultaneously an ‘art’ and ‘creative writing’ object as the material qualities of the books combine with fragmented literary narratives.

The images shown above illustrate only a few pages from two of ten altered books. I am seeking opportunities to show these books to wider audiences within gallery settings and public institutions such as museums and libraries. Potential formats they can be shown in include installation, photography and performance, video, audio tracks, readings, and the transformed books themselves.


To contact me about this project, please email me on jessrichardswriter@gmail.com using TRANSFORMED BOOKS in the subject line.


Folded Book Sculptures / Writing Tools 2018

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