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From Frankfurt 2010: Content Knows No Borders

By Edward Nawotka and Liz Bury

(This story originally appeared in the Publishing Perspectives show daily at the Frankfurt Book Fair on 6 October 2010. Download the complete, 32-page show daily here or click on the image to view the online version.)

“There is an ocean of stories out there, with endless potential,” noted Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos during yesterday’s opening press conference. “There are new people, new ideas and new rules. Sometimes stories get ahead of reality.”

This year’s Book Fair has cast a spotlight on storytelling, but not in its traditional form. The StoryDrive Conference in particular — look for a calendar of events and several profiles in this issue — is examining the multifarious ways people are telling stories: in video games, on film, and, of course, in books, be they print or digital.

“Content knows no borders,” said Boos. “The idea is to liberate the content on paper and online. Gutenberg started a revolution 500 years ago and digital publishing is just the latest step in this revolution. ”

It might surprise some that Boos placed so much emphasis on digital content, considering that e-books represent only 1% of the overall book market in Germany. It is a modest figure compared with the United States or even China, where e-books are growing exponentially. It only underscores the fact that, once again, publishing is in the midst of change -– for publishers, yes, but also for authors, who are now being called on to deliver stories across several platforms at once.

Offering one example of how this might work, bestselling children’s author Cornelia Funke took the microphone and explained how her recent book, Reckless, was written in tandem with film producer Lionel Wigram, a man best known for his work on movie adaptations of the Harry Potter novels.

The pair, each with a different storytelling style, represent a new wave of co-creators combining skills across traditional media boundaries. They started to co-write a book after collaborating on a film script that re-imagines the fairy tale in a modern, industrial setting.

Funke told Publishing Perspectives she found it refreshing to write with a disciplined film producer looking over her shoulder. “After my last novel, Inkdeath, I was longing to write in a more lean and modern way. I said: ‘Can I steal your idea for a book?’ Writing with Lionel was not like having an editor come along, at the end of three years, and you sort of want to protect your work from them. He helped me to develop the characters along the way.”

“I loved the experience of collaboration,” Funke added. “Lionel is used to listening to the ideas of others, and understands the structure of storytelling.” For her part, Funke contributed the skills and habits of a novelist, including an imagination unhindered by production budgets and actors’ egos. 

“Lionel’s favorite chapters were always the characters’ internal scenes, which would be very difficult to do as a movie. He loved what he cannot do in a movie.” At the moment, Wigram is in London filming the second Sherlock Holmes movie, with Robert Downey Jr.

Funke’s tendency as a novelist to “chase every shadow” was offset by Wigram’s pull toward the emotional heart of the story. “He was always in the emotional seam, bringing it back to emotional depth. He’d say things like ‘Does that moonlight have to reflect in the puddle again?’ It was ruthless editing.”

Opposite genders also played a part in the discussion. “‘He said: ‘A man would never do that.’ We took a nerdy pleasure in discussing our different ideas. He was a very intelligent sparring partner.”
Because Wigram, a Brit, speaks no German, Funke enlisted the help of her award-winning translator cousin Oliver Latsch, who added a third dimension to the project. He translated every word Funke wrote into English for Wigram to read along the way.

Following the press conference, Funke said she was disappointed she would not be able to stay for the Fair, as she rushing to her London home to get back to work. “Lionel has said he can work tonight. Robert Downey Jr. is letting him go.”

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