By Greg McQueen
AARTHUS, DENMARK: The book 100 Stories for Haiti — a forthcoming charity anthology with proceeds going for Haitian earthquake relief — wouldn’t have been possible five years ago. As it happened, I posted an appeal for stories on the morning of Tuesday, January, 19. Just one week after the earthquake that left over 200,000 dead. The final deadline for submissions was Wednesday, Jan, 27 and the manuscript actually went off to the printers on Feb 14. So, in three weeks, we went from an appeal to a finished manuscript.
As little as five years ago only a handful of people knew about Facebook, which was just a year old, and Twitter didn’t even exist.
Today, it’s impossible to buy a mobile phone without some form of Facebook or Twitter software included, and both of these social networks are a valuable, and essential, part of most people’s lives.
It is no wonder that the Internet is nominated for a 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. I recently added my name to the growing list of millions backing the Internet for Peace campaign started by Wired magazine: “We have finally realized that the Internet is much more than a network of computers. It is an endless web of people. Men and women from every corner of the globe are connecting to one another, thanks to the biggest social interface ever known to humanity.”
I started 100 Stories for Haiti alone. Worried, nervous, and quite frankly, scared out of my wits that the idea would fail. I expected to scrape together one hundred stories within a few days and publish them as an e-book on Smashwords, hoping to raise a few hundred dollars — mainly from the authors themselves buying copies of the book.
I am someone who feels as though I “get” the Internet. For example, if I meet someone who thinks Facebook or Twitter is a waste of time, I’ll try my hardest to explain it to them, especially if they’re a writer. But even I was surprised at how quickly the idea of 100 Stories for Haiti spread.
Within minutes of posting the “Dear Twitterverse” appeal online, I received a comment saying that the idea was terrible. “This takes the piss out of the aid workers and volunteers out there. If you want to do something, then donate by all means to one of the many charities out there.”
I read the comment several times, wondering whether it was right, thinking, “if you were Stephen King or someone like Dan Brown, then I would see some merit in the idea. You, however, are an unknown author, exploiting the situation to raise yourself.”
It made me want to give up. Made me question my motives. I hadn’t expected such a negative response so quickly. I realize that each comment is just one person’s view, but…I am a writer, we’re fragile.
My doubts faded as the day went on: Sarah Lewis-Hammond, an award-winning journalist, contacted me offering help, and by that afternoon she was working on a press release.
Other emails and Twitter messages flooded in, many of them from writers wanting to send in their stories, others from publishing folk volunteering to help.
By the end of the first day, an idea I’d started alone with nothing more than a netbook and an Internet connection had grown into a publication involving hundreds of people from across the globe.
By the following morning I’d received two offers to publish the book as a paperback, and within days, Mark Coker, the CEO of Smashwords, contacted me to offer help with publishing the e-book.
The author Nick Harkaway — author of The Gone-Away World (whose wife happens to run the human rights organization Reprieve) — came onto the project a few days later on the back of a single tweet: “Hi Nick. I’d genuinely appreciate your help. Search #100Haiti, and you’ll get the idea. Kindest regards, Greg McQueen.”
Nick replied within a couple of hours, “I’d be delighted.” We quickly agreed that he’d include a story and pen the book’s introduction.
By the submission deadline a week later, the project had received over four hundred submissions — whittled down to one hundred during the following week, with the full 80,000 word manuscript assembled by a team of volunteer editors within two weeks of the first appeal.
100 Stories for Haiti includes work from writers worldwide: Austria, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Botswana, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Some of the authors already have books to their names — such as Mo Fanning from Birmingham, England and Nuala Ni Chonchúir and from Galway, Ireland — while others have never been published. It’s one of the things I love about the book!
John Booth, one of the 100 Stories authors from the United States, summed it up perfectly on his blog: “… it’s a crazy-global roster, from Harkaway to The White Road and Other Stories author Tania Hershman to Botswana writer Lauri Kubuitsile. With so many voices and styles, it should be an interesting read.”
The Internet deserves a Nobel Peace Prize because projects like 100 Stories for Haiti wouldn’t exist without it. Without the endless web of people passionate about digital culture, people who “get” the Internet, people part of a global conversation.
People who saw images from a disaster-stricken country and answered an online appeal to make a book.
Greg McQueen is a UK author living in Aarhus, Denmark with his wife and three year old daughter. He’s written for children’s television in the UK and is currently working on his debut novel for teens, Roadkill.
100 Stories is published as an e-book and paperback on March 4th, 2010. The paperback is available to pre-order now: http://www.100storiesforhaiti.org/buy-the-book/ — with variable pricing from £2.30 for the UK to £10 for the rest of the world. The e-book edition will be at a pay-what-you-like price starting at £1 and up.
Money from the book goes to the British Red Cross and the Haiti Earthquake and Distaster Recovery appeals.