Nearlyology: Making a Transmedia Novel in a Transmedia Way

Posted filed under Experience.
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Beyond the middle of the journey of life what we’ve done and nearly done begin to blur. Far more things nearly happen than happen … The universe is held together by the dust of human kind’s nearlyincidence.

So says The Nearlyologist Manifesto. I’m a nearlywriter, making a transmedia novel in a transmedia way, nearly a book but this one includes songs, reader contributions, even live events like this. The story has three main characters I want to tell you more about – one of them is here on stage with me.”

Thus began Night of Nearly a performance at the Earl Haig theatre space in North London featuring myself, artist Carol Laidler impersonating my protagonist Freya, and musician Alistair McEarchern as himself. Then we performed extracts from the novel I’m in the process of writing, sang Nearly Songs and invited contributions from the audience. But why?

As Director of if:book UK I’ve been lecturing and blogging since 2007 about the future of the book set free from the confines of print. Now I’m writing full time, taking a PhD in Digital Writing at Bath Spa University, and developing a creative practice defined by my interests and aims rather than the dictates of the publishing or technology industries.

For me it seems unnatural to sit alone for three years writing a story then launch it suddenly on an unsuspecting and mostly uninterested world. In my working life I’ve always enjoyed collaboration, interaction between readers and writers and different kinds of artists and I’m excited by how digital platforms for literature provide the potential to mix media, to bind together these elements not on paper but in a multifaceted package which could be presented on a website, as an app or even a bag of analogue objects.

But I want the form to be shaped by the subject, not the marketplace.

“To write is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination … To read is to travel through that terrain with the author as guide.” An audience member who enjoyed the event sent me this quote from Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, not knowing I had already found these lines which define exactly the spirit in which I want to make fiction, using whatever means currently available seem appropriate to lead the reader into the heart of my story about the barmy shaman Carraday, outsider artist and nearlyologist.

Some writers may be shy and retiring, but I’ve always enjoyed performing, I was part of a poetry trio in the eighties (and appeared naked on stage for the Sheffield Friday Show at the Leadmill after writing a sketch for a nude male … then watching all the actors bottle out of performing it). Lately I’ve started to write and play songs; in the story these are composed by Freya’s husband Jamie, and using this alter ego to hide behind has liberated me creatively – I don’t need to worry whether I’m a ‘real’ musician, I’m pretending to be one, which helps me avoid the paralysis of self consciousness and lets the words and sounds flow freely. It’s also very enjoyable to make my story happen live like this, in a form which is neither just a reading nor a full on dramatization.

The most inspiring piece of transmedia literature I’ve encountered is Orhan Pamuk’s entirely analogue Museum of Innocence, both a full length novel about a love affair, and a real life building in Istanbul containing three floors of exhibits, vitrines of memorabilia from these fictitious lives and a wall of over 3,000 cigarette butts smoked by the heroine. There’s an illustrated catalogue to the museum and an audio guide which for me was the glue which bound these elements into a very satisfactory and evocative whole. I came back from Istanbul inspired to work on a podcast and a series of artworks about the things we nearly do and how we absorb these into our real lives.

“Once others decided which were real writers deserving reproduction. Today we are Nearlywriters, able to amplify and illuminate our own words and pictures – but responsible for deciding when our work is cooked enough to show and to whom to show it.” – Nearlyologist Manifesto

As a nearlywriter, I’m now grappling with the question of when and how to move beyond my creative experiments towards seeking out the agencies that might help me to fix on the best form in which to publish, by which I mean disseminate and sell the ‘final’ work.

Already I’ve collaborated on nearlythings with dancer Jia-Yu Corti, psychotherapist James Paul Kelly, artists collective Alldaybreakfast, poet Saradha Soobrayen, and the IFSO WRITERS, a group which includes a poet, short story writer, fantasy novelist, dramatist and stand up comedian, all of us working together on collaborations, helping each other with our separate projects and finding ways to promote and publish our writings. Our site, another work in progress, is IFSOPRESS.COM – take a look.

Next, for my PhD I’m approaching literary agents, publishers, digital producers, and also games makers, performers, visual artists and those who promote them, looking for their help and advice on how to take my evolving fiction forward, bridging the gap between creative experimentation and professional production. What does publication mean for a transmedia fiction involving a book-length text plus song, artworks, live events and a stream of readers’ own stories about the things they’ve nearly done?

“In the analogue age we led linear lives with beginnings, middles and ends; in digital times we can be nearly many in various virtual spaces. We are what we eat – and what we’ve nearly eaten.”

If you’d like to find out what happens next to What Didn’t Quite please follow www.nearlyology.net. If you’d like to help make it happen email me: chris[at]ifbook[dot]co[dot]uk

Chris Meade is a writer and founder of if:book uk, the charitable company exploring digital possibilities for literature. He has been CEO of Booktrust and the Poetry Society and a pioneer of reader development work in libraries. He is the author of plays, poetry, songs, articles and is currently studying for a practice-based PhD in Digital Writing at Bath Spa University, working on What Didn’t Quite.