A new book – Memory Craft

Great excitement! I have just signed a contract with my publisher, Allen & Unwin, to do a new book. The working title (may not end up being the real title) is Unlocking the Memory Code. Publication date is probably early 2019. There is a lot of work to do first! Edit: it became Memory Craft.

This book is all about using the most effective memory methods from across cultures and throughout time. It is all about how we can use these methods to enhance our lives every day.

One of my great pleasures is encoding layer upon layer in my new lukasa, designed to record the history or writing. Ironic, isn’t it? This beautiful object was made for me by Tom Chippindall.

The vast majority of the emails and messages I receive are about the indigenous memory methods and how we might apply them in contemporary life. The extraordinary memory skills of our ancestors have been gradually lost with the invent of writing and even more so with the prevalence of information technology. Many readers are concerned about this and want to redress the trend by using their memories much more effectively.

I am simply astounded every day by what I can memorise and the way I can then build on the knowledge which is so firmly grounded in the memory devices. I am able to see patterns and the big picture in ways which are just not possible without this basic knowledge at my fingertips. It is also wonderful fun!

Throughout the book I will look at the changes in memory techniques over the millennia and discuss the possible impact on education and on memory loss with ageing. Recent research in neuroscience explains exactly why the memory methods of indigenous culture are so effective. I will report on the science and celebrate indigenous intellect. I will also emphasis how much everything is to remember when it is brought to like through stories and vivid characters.

As indigenous and early literate cultures were masters of memory, so it is from them that we can learn the most. I am adding to the lessons from oral cultures discussed in The Memory Code to include medieval memory systems, ideas from the Renaissance and from ancient Chinese and Japanese handscrolls. I will also look at mnemonic tricks from contemporary times.

The topics to be covered in Unlocking will include the most successful examples from My 40 Memory Experiments which have now been adjusted to reflect the questions I am most often asked.

I am learning a foreign language (French) despite having failed dismally to do so at school.  I am using a range of methods to memorise vocabulary and grammar and going really well. And even taking on Chinese (Mandarin).

I have devised a system for memorising names and faces by adapting the concept of a medieval bestiary.

I memorise temporary lists when we are out birding, going shopping or given verbally using a visual alphabet, adapted from those used during the Renaissance.

I am continuing to memorise more details about all the countries in the world and constantly adding to my walks through pre-history and history. I use the field guide to the 412 Victorian birds from memory constantly as husband Damian and I go birding often.

I am attending art classes every week to create the most beautiful contemporary adaptions I can manage of the bestiary, visual alphabet and Chinese hand scrolls. I am becoming addicted to everything about art, especially watercolour. I am using a version of the Inca knotted string khipu (quipu) to record the history of art. As many researchers suggest, the khipu is really nearer to writing than a pure mnemonic device.

I am also creating a personal ‘winter count’ based on the stunning mnemonic skins of the Plains Indians of North America. The one pictured below if the famous Lone Dog’s winter count. I am astonished how little of my life I could remember chronologically until I started this project. How much will this object help me hold onto my identity into very old age?

And every day I train for the Australian Memory Championships. Being old (I’m 65) does not mean a fading memory. I can now memorise a shuffled deck of cards in 12 minutes – way down from the 35 minutes just a month ago. I can memorise long strings of random numbers in decimal and binary and many other useless but surprisingly enjoyable feats.

Life is very good and I have all the readers of The Memory Code to thank!












The Memory Code is published

I have been overwhelmed, delighted and, I must admit, astonished by the reaction to the first few days of The Memory Code being released. Thank you to everyone who has written to me in response to the radio interviews. Here are two ABC interviews available online:

Conversations with Richard Fidler (1 hour)

(c) ABC

Conversations with Richard Fidler is also available on Soundcloud.

Life Matters with Ellen Fanning (20 minutes)


The Memory Code – Table of Contents


The Memory Code is often referred to, by those asking me about it, as ‘your Stonehenge book’. I have no doubt that the ideas about the purpose for Stonehenge will attract much of the attention, but it is only one chapter in 12. So I have put the Table of Contents below so you can see the extent of the book. It covers more ground than Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies, but without all the academic justification.

I have had a great deal of contact in recent weeks from the memory community, including memory champions on three continents! I have also been asked to write an academic essay for Rounded Globe on indigenous memory methods and implications for contemporary thinking. It will be titled Grounded: indigenous knowing in a concrete reality and free for all. This is part of the move for academics to communicate beyond the expensive academic journals and paywalls. Taxpayers pay for the research – taxpayers should have access to it.

The Memory Code will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in July, and by Atlantic Books in the UK and Pegasus Books in the US early next year. The audio rights have also just been sold, so I’ll update here when all the paper work has been done. Allen & Unwin are working extremely hard on my book, and I am delighted by everything they have done.



Chapter 1  –  Encyclopaedic memories of the elders

Chapter 2  –  Memory spaces, large and small

Chapter 3  –  Memory spaces in a modern world

Chapter 4  –  A journey through time

Chapter 5  –  The ever-changing memory spaces at Stonehenge

Chapter 6  –  The megalithic complexes of Avebury and Orkney

Chapter  7  –  Newgrange and the passage cairns of Ireland    

Chapter  8  –  The tall stones and endless rows of Carnac

Chapter 9  –  The unparalleled architecture of Chaco Canyon

Chapter  10  Giant drawings on the desert floor at Nasca

Chapter  11  Memory spaces across the Americas

Chapter  12  Polynesian navigators create a unique world on Easter Island


The Memory Code has a cover



I simply love it!

Thank you to Philip Campbell for the design. Thank you to Elizabeth Weiss and Angela Handley at Allen & Unwin for their extraordinary work on this book, including the cover.

The Memory Code will be published in July. The launch will be at the Castlemaine Library on June 30th at 6 pm, following a talk on the incredibly effective indigenous memory methods and implementing them yourself.

The Memory Code

2016 is to be a big year. My next book, The Memory Code, is the culmination of eight years of intense work. To feel that I had the authority to make the claim that I have a new theory for the purpose of enigmatic prehistoric monuments around the world, I needed the peer review of a PhD and then the Cambridge University book, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies. That is all done.

The Memory Code will be published by Allen & Unwin in  July 2016 and later by Atlantic Books in the UK. The book is very different from the academic version. There is obviously less academic referencing. Stonehenge and Chaco Canyon are still prominent, but I have added more about Avebury and Orkney and a whole new chapter on the amazing stone rows and other structures at Carnac in Brittany.

An Inca khipu, a knotted cord memory device

Interestingly, the questions after talks and in emails have often been about the actual memory methods used by indigenous cultures and how to implement them in modern life. Hence Chapter 3, Memory spaces in a modern world, came into being, explaining exactly what it is like to use these methods. I am working on My 25 Memory Experiments constantly and loving it.

The adaptability of the Inca khipu / quipu in my own experiments astounded me. That experience enabled me to better understand how the non-literate Inca managed a vast empire without writing, every bit as powerful as the contemporary cultures in the Americas, the literate Aztec and Maya. So there is now an entire chapter on the Americas, which took a lot more research. The incredible glyphs known as the Nasca Lines deserved a chapter of their own.

Easter Island moai on the side of the mountain. (c) Ian Rowland.

Similarly, it was through further research on the Pacific cultures, that of the Pacific Navigators, the New Zealand Maori and the Rarotongans that I came to understand the critical nature of using genealogies in organising Pacific knowledge systems. That unlocked the purpose of Easter Island’s statues.

These are the chapter headings for The Memory Code:

Chapter 1 – Encyclopedic memories of the elders
Chapter 2 – Knowledge encoded in spaces large and small
Chapter 3 – Memory spaces in a modern world
Chapter 4 – A journey through time
Chapter 5 – The ever-changing memory spaces at Stonehenge
Chapter 6 – The megalithic complexes of Avebury and Orkney
Chapter 7 – Newgrange and the passage cairns of Ireland
Chapter 8 – The tall stones and endless rows of Carnac
Chapter 9 – The unparalleled architecture of Chaco Canyon
Chapter 10 – Giant drawings on the desert floor at Nasca
Chapter 11 – Memory spaces across the Americas
Chapter 12 – Polynesian navigators create a unique world on Easter Island