I wrote this post for Provocations, the website created for Pathways, the digital fiction summer school I’m helping to run in Vancouver from 9-13 June.
Since 2001 I’ve been writing collaborative multimedia digital stories alongside my work as a writer of literary fiction. Working in these parallel fields has served me well as writer, mostly accidentally. For example, one unintended consequence of being part of the small team that produces the digital story, ‘Inanimate Alice’, a work referred to elsewhere as ‘the world’s first born-digital transmedia pedagogical blockbuster for children’ (yes, we have a problem figuring out what to call these hybrid works), is that I often get asked to speak at digital publishing conferences. An unintended consequence of that is that I now know much more about digital publishing than I could have anticipated. Yet another unintended consequence is that I’ve recently become a digital publisher myself: working with a publishing consultant, I’ve created new ebook editions of four of my backlist literary novels under an imprint called, yes, Kate Pullinger Books (I suggested Kate Publishinger Books, but that was rejected). So now I’m a transmedia collaborator, an author of literary fiction, and a publisher. C’est la vie.
One notable change over the past couple of years is that while these worlds which, as stated above, were largely parallel – in the same way that child psychologists observe toddlers engaging in ‘parallel play’: she has her toys, he has his, they are in the same room, occasionally they glance at each other suspiciously, but that’s about it – they have now begun to, well, not exactly merge, but at least they’ve grown up enough to exchange a few toys.
A few examples from my own work: firstly, a mainstream publisher playing in the realm of digital experimentation. My new novel, Landing Gear – literary fiction to the core – grew up out of www.flightpaths.net, the digital fiction I created with Chris Joseph. Doubleday, my Canadian publisher, was inspired by the novel’s pre-existing digital footprint to create a raw API from the first 30 pages of the novel. They then used that raw API to create an interactive map of the novel that pins extracts from the novel to the actual locations relevant to the text.
Second, two government bodies in two different countries investing in digital stories and digital pedagogy: ‘Inanimate Alice’, a project that has been not exactly dormant but certainly quiet for the last four years has just received two new tranches of funding to develop the next two episodes, and to create a companion set of interactive stories for language training in schools.
And lastly, my new digital collaboration, Letter to an Unknown Soldier, has been commissioned by 14-18NOW, a UK body set up to respond to the centenary of WW1 through a series of artists’ commissions. Letter to an Unknown Soldier is an attempt to create a new kind of war memorial, a digital memorial made of words. Open to everyone, it allows for collaboration on a massive scale; with its substantial budget and team of 18 people involved, it’s a far cry from my usual working method of me and a web artist, alone in front of our respective screens, communicating via email and Skype.
So, in conclusion – well, there isn’t really a conclusion. Writing is evolving. Reading is evolving. And publishing is evolving too. I, for one, find it incredibly exciting.