Stories that Respond to Movement, Both Physical and Financial

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The Writing Platform is pleased to announce the first beneficiaries of its bursary scheme awarding two writer-technologist partnerships with £3,000 each.

The Bursaries have been awarded to Caden Lovelace @neoeno & Laura Grace @usherette and Ben Gwalchmai @BenGwalchmai & James Wheale @JamesWheale, both partnerships will work on a jointly conceived digital literature project for three months (from 1st April – 30th June 2013). At the end of this time they will present a piece of work or a prototype at Bath Spa’s Mix Day on July17  and the work will be showcased on both The Writing Platform and The Literary Platform.

Ben Gwalchmai contributed these thoughts to Publishing Perspectives about his project, Fabler, and what winning the award means to its development.

If you could walk the path of your hero, would you?

Ben and James

Ben Gwalchmai and James Wheale

Favourite characters, like old friends, follow us wherever we go.

Now it’s our turn to follow them.

Fabler is a simple concept: the more you walk, the more you hear.

When you stop, it stops.

We want you to move through stories. Literally.

As you progress through an audio story, you unlock extra content, such as additional story material, coupons, offers, videos, urls etc. Further incentivising the experience.

Though a simple concept, its creation and delivery has only come about because of the way in which James Wheale and I met.

James and I were both involved in a project run at Watershed in Bristol – namely the REACT Books and Print Sandbox. James with Jekyll 2.0 and myself with Book Kernel. One of the main purposes of the Sandbox is to mix people together and, at the first Sandbox day I attended, I met James and we talked about how we’re not sure we fit into old definitions of writers. We joked that you can’t simply be a novelist anymore – one’s expected to edit video, record music, write copy, build social media, write for emerging platforms and be, above all, versatile. There is little opportunity for specialisation, unless it’s accompanied by an ample tool kit.

I’m not just a writer: I’m an actor, director, producer, farm-hand, lecturer, event-manager, and I used to be a web-designer. James isn’t just a creative technologist who designs street games: he’s a poet, a musician, a chef (he claims it’s his most accomplished art-form), and one of the most personable PR people I’ve ever met. We both have books out this year, Maskboy from James and Purefinder from me, and we both create interactive content for a living. Even for our privileged positions however, moving into writing video games, for instance, still comes with impossibly high barriers. If video games are the most profitable entertainment industry in the world, and the fastest growing, yet writing narrative for such a thing is inconceivable to most wordsmiths, how are the Raymond Carvers, John Steinbecks, and T. S Elliots of the video game medium going to have their chance?

After that first meeting, we threw ideas around and they threw us around too. With the skills we have between us, we wanted to make something together. One of our ideas that had to fall by the wayside used the structure of the original Pokémon cartoon – we were convinced that this was the best idea we were ever going to have; fortunately, that’s now been put at the bottom of the pile.

We’re based in the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol and this got us thinking about interesting ways to apply stories to different platforms: we discussed what we do and don’t like about various mobile apps. Neither of us like the specificity of geo-fenced apps or stories — that mean you have to be in a particular place to use – all that much so we decided on something simpler, something with far less baggage but still a lot of story and an innovative method to deliver those stories.

Thereafter we wrangled ideas and walked around with them, drank coffee over them, and decided that a low cost interactive platform would give us an opportunity as writers to push the medium.

That’s how the idea for Fabler was born, the delivery has only been possible with The Writing Platform Bursary Award. Being told that we’d got the award was incredible.

The funding from The Writing Platform allows us time to write, to edit, to test, and to gather a select group of testers — including fellow Writing Platform Bursary Award winner, Caden — to tell us how they feel about it, what works for them, and where it works for them. Often we can be time-rich but, usually, monetarily-poor so this award gives us a little flexibility to actually take the time to engage in a serious process of creation with, what’s proving to be, an interesting new form.

The viscerality of the engagement with the stories is already evident in our beta versions 0.1 and 0.2. So far, we’ve recorded two test stories with me reading them and James recording, editing, and making music for them: one has a soundtrack, the other doesn’t. We’ve got a lot of technical specifications to figure out yet and will be testing in lots of different environments over the coming weeks – we’re testing to see how best our tech works and what writing works best for the form. Would listeners/readers want to be able to stand on a train and have the movement of the train play the story? Is that what we want Fabler to do? Or do we want Fabler to definitively be about walking or running or cycling through?

We’ve found that the more you walk around with someone whispering, bellowing, or laughing a story at you – a story that’s directly in your ear and responds to your movement – the nature of the stories we can use becomes affected. This far more than an audiobook: your attention is piqued by the fact that these stories are written specifically for this moving form and you really don’t want to stop moving.

So far, we’ve had two internal versions of Fabler; now we’re getting the settings and the stories right before we make more.

Ben Gwalchmai can be followed on Twitter @BenGwalchmai.

More on the Writing Platform Bursaries: Established to support creative experimentation and interdisciplinary learning between writers and technologists, The Writing Platform Bursaries, supported by the NALD Futures Fund are awarded to writers and creative technologists who the judges believe will bring new ideas and solutions for the wider writing community while making creative use of existing, readily available, digital tools and platforms.

The Writing Platform Bursary launched in February 2013, receiving 77 entries across the board. The Bursary is supported by the NALD Futures Fund and the judging panel was Kate Pullinger, Editor of The Writing Platform and Professor of Creative Writing & Digital Media at Bath Spa University; Joanna Ellis, Associate Director, The Literary Platform and Leila Johnston, creative technologist and Managing Editor of The Literary Platform.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.