Writing in the Digital Age - Hollyhock, Cortes Island, September 2012

3 April 2012 | Comments (0)

It might seem like a long way off, but next September I’ll be teaching at Hollyhock on Cortes Island - a remote island off the coast of British Columbia, one of the Northern Gulf Islands.  I’ve never been to Cortes, but I spent my teenage years on Vancouver Island, and we used to visit the more southern gulf islands regularly.  When I was a kid Hollyhock used to be a place called Cold Mountain Institute, where my friends’ parents used to go to find themselves.  But that’s another story… Writing in the Digital Age, 28 Sept - 3 Oct 2012.

Point of View in Fiction

8 February 2012 | Comments (0)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book as surprising – in a good way – as ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’, by Juan Pablo Villalobos.  I’m an AndOtherStories subscriber, so I had a copy, but I’d forgotten about it until a friend of mine - another AndOtherStories writer, Deborah Levy - told me how much she’d enjoyed the book.  From the very first page of this elegant and economical, accessible but at the same time experimental, novel, I read with amazement.  It’s an astonishing and hugely enjoyable piece of writing.

I’m currently five weeks into teaching a six-month long weekly UEA/Guardian Masterclass, ‘How to Tell a Story’.  One of the things that comes up regularly in class is the business of point of view in creative writing, and how difficult it can be to get right.  Beginner writers often shift point of view without quite realising - telling most of a story from one character’s third person point of view, then slipping, without intending to, into another character’s point of view for just a few lines.  We’ve had a few pieces produced using a child’s point of view and here the problem often is that the writer assigns the child opinions, turns of phrase, or emotional responses, that are too adult or, indeed, too authorial.  ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ suffers from none of this.  Early in the story, the seven-year-old narrator assigns himself a set of grown-up words he’s learned - including ‘sordid’, ‘devastating’, and ‘pathetic’ - and proceeds to use these, relentlessly, to describe almost everything.  But more than that, it’s the slow accumulation of detail about the extraordinary and, indeed, horrifying world of the Mexican drug baron hideaway, ‘our palace’, where the narrator lives, that really gives this book its unusual power.

It’s a short novel - less than seventy pages - translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey, and this extreme brevity is part of what makes the novel work so well.  For anyone interested in point of view in creative writing, as well as how to execute an extremely controlled, darkly funny, experiment in narrative, ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ is itself - dare I say it? - a masterclass.

Two Thousand and Twelve, or is it Twenty Twelve?

6 January 2012 | Comments (0)

A new year.  This week I’ve found the idea of a whole new year rather exhausting.  My family and I went into deep hibernation after Christmas - a full week of doing pretty much nothing at all, blissfully - and I’ve found the whole emerging-blinking thing rather hard.  2011 was a good year; I was still riding the GG wave for the first half of the year (that was a big wave, and it lasted a long time), and the second half of the year washed away swiftly.  What’s with these similes?  See - I’m not really awake.

But now we’re in 2012.  I’ve got a few goals.  I’m going to finish my new novel.  I’m going to work with Andy Campbell on our digital fiction Duel which we’ll launch in November at the ELMCIP conference and exhibition.  I’m not going to travel as much.  I’m hoping my PhD amendments will be passed by the internal examiner so that at long last I can lord it over everyone by making them call me Doctor.  I’m going to figure out how to get my backlist published as ebooks.  The three grant applications I’m involved with will all be successful and then I’ll have work coming out of my ears.  The various Inanimate Alice projects I’m involved with will come to fruition. 

From next Monday I’ll be teaching a weekly class as part of the Guardian/UEA masterclass series.  It’s a six month course called ‘How to Tell a Story’.  I’ve got 12 students for this, and I’m looking forward to getting started.

Lifelines taster online now

11 January 2010 | Comments (0)

Rising Stars will be at BETT this week - the annual education technology fair -  previewing ‘Lifelines’ to interested teachers.

Rising Stars will be at BETT this week - the annual education technology fair -  previewing ‘Lifelines’ to interested teachers.  ‘Lifelines’ is the brand new series of multimedia stories that Chris Joseph and I have created for Rising Stars, a London-based educational publisher.  Chris has created a special preview of the story ‘I am Rose’ for BETT; this story is told from the point of view of a London girl who witnesses the first day of the Blitz from the roof of her block of flats.  All nine of the new stories are told from the first person point of view of a child; the range of stories is great fun, from an American girl whose mum chases tornadoes for a living to a Victorian chimney sweep.  The whole series will be published later this month.

Contracts and Interviews

16 June 2009 | Comments (0)

Signing contracts today for the project ‘Lifelines’ that Chris and I are doing for educational publisher Rising Stars.  Between now and the end of the year we are going to create nine multimedia short stories aimed at KS3 - Key Stage 3, which in plain English means the first few years of secondary school. These stories will be similar to ‘Inanimate Alice’ in that they will use images, text, music, sound, etc, but, unlike Alice, they will be directed at specific aspects of the KS3 curriculum.  They will be published on CD as part of a package that will include teacher’s notes, lesson plans, etc. There’s a demo up on the ‘Lifelines’ site, but this might be all that will be available free online.

Part of what we’ve been trying to do with ‘Inanimate Alice’ is to find a way to make money from digital fiction projects.  ‘Lifelines’ is the first fairly large commercial commission that Chris and I have taken on; though its ethos is entirely different from Alice, for us it is a big step toward finding ways to create income from this type of work.

I’ve started doing interviews for ‘The Mistress of Nothing’; I’ve been having an e-mail exchange with blogger Sarah Hymas from ‘Echo Soundings’, a wonderful blog about poetry and sailing, and tomorrow am doing an in-the-flesh interview with BookArmy.  As well as this, DMU has decided that I’m an expert on Digital Britain and are hauling me around in order to do radio interviews on the subject.

Even More Waiting

11 June 2009 | Comments (2)

News in just now that copies of my book will be delayed while they make sure the cover is perfect, and so the publication date will be delayed from 9 July to 16 July.  In the greater scheme of things this doesn’t make a lot of difference - just means I’ll have to wait a bit longer to get my grubby hands on the thing, as will everyone who has pre-ordered it already from Amazon, even if that is only my friend Mandy - yay Mandy!

The fact is that I’m still waiting for all those things in that list from my previous post on this subject.  Plus some other stuff too.  I get drip-fed rumours from my agent that foreign publishers are sniffing around my novel, considering whether or not to buy it for their own lists… I find it hard not to stop breathing.

But I do need to crack on with three big new projects, despite the absence of contracts… ‘Lifelines’ for Rising Stars, ‘Dorian Gray’, and a brand new collaboration with digital artist James Coupe - more on that in another post, another day.

I’ve gone ahead and got very nice postcards made of the cover of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’.  Post a comment here if you want me to send you one!

Lifelines for Rising Stars

22 April 2009 | Comments (0)

Chris and I have got the green light for our project to create 9 multimedia short stories for primary school kids with educational publisher, Rising Stars.  The project, Lifelines, will allow us to tell stories that are directly related to the Key Stage 2 curriculum, using text and image and sound.  They’ll have voiceover as well and so should be fully accessible for a big variety of readers.

This kind of publishing is a new departure for Rising Stars but with the rapid increase of use of Virtual Learning Environments and online educational content set to take place in classrooms over the next few years, they should be onto a good thing. There’s a short demo online at the link above.

Having been offline for the last couple of weeks, I’m slowly waking up to the online world again.  The Oxford Literary Festival future of the book discussion went well, once I got over the shock of seeing Philip Pullman in the audience.  Sunday Times columnist Bryan Appleyard told great stories of being plagiarised all over the world because his copy goes out on the internet; the irony is that he now knows when and where he’s being plagiarised because of the internet.

Meanwhile, in Canada, looks as though they’ll be electing a writer as Prime Minister next time there’s an election; the US have already elected a writer as President.  Maybe that’s the future of the book - we should all run for public office instead.

Lynne Tillman

19 February 2009 | Comments (0)

americangeniusMy friend Lynne Tillman is here in London at the moment and I’m looking forward to seeing her.  We met years ago when her novel Motion Sickness was published here in the UK.  She’s a terrific writer - very funny, very sharp.  American Genius, A Comedy is a masterpiece of style and substance.  For an overview of her work this article from Slate magazine, American Ingenious, is a good place to start, but I recommend all the books.

It’s half-term here and I’m scrabbling with deadlines and childcare and a general feeling of remorse.  A few new commissions in though, not least of which is a second mini-taster for the Rising Stars project, Lifelines.  You can view our first taster for this project, ‘I am Kima’, by following the link to ‘View Software Sample’.

Lifelines and Rising Stars

22 January 2009 | Comments (0)

Chris Joseph and I are currently in discussion with award-winnng educational publishers Rising Stars over a big new multimodal story project.  We are hoping to get the green light for this soon.  Rising Stars approach publishing in a radically different way than what I’m accustomed to; they do extensive market testing prior to commissioning all their projects.  They travel the country talking to teachers and giving seminars and presentations; they take stands at the important industry fairs; and they produce glossy brochures that outline the projects in detail.  They green light a project when they can make a seriously educated guess about how the project will sell to schools.  With our project, ‘Lifelines’, they’ve been going through this process over the past three months - so we are almost there, but not quite.

Chris and I produced a little promotional demo for them to show people; it’s up on their website now.  You can take a look at it here.