Following on from his article about the first five years of the New Media Writing Prize, co-founder James Pope interviews some of the key players in the Prize’s five year history.
Andy Campbell is the brains behind Dreaming Methods, and One To One Developments; he has worked with Kate Pullinger, Mez Breeze, and Christine Wilks amongst others, on many pioneering digital projects. Andy has built and supported all the web sites and online functions for the NMWP since 2011.
Christine Wilks is a digital writer/artist whose piece, Underbelly won the Main prize at the first ever New Media Writing Prize.
Dan Franklin is the Digital Publisher at Random House and has been a been a judge and a speaker at the New Media Writing Prize.
Katharine Norman is a aural and visual artist whose interactive ‘installation’ Window, won the 2012 NMWP.
Samantha Gorman and her partner Danny Cannizzaro won the 2014 main prize with their best selling app PRY.
Since 2010, when we began the New Media Writing Prize, what have you been up to? What sorts of stories have you created? How would you describe them?
Andy: Between 2010 and now I’ve started working on digital fiction projects pretty much full time. I’d describe them as experimental narrative games for the most part.
Christine: The same year I won the New Media Writing Prize for my digital fiction, Underbelly, which I created in Flash, the first iPad was released but Steve Jobs had banned Flash from the iPad. Somewhat ironically, having received one as my prize (thanks!), I was immediately struck by how the iPad would be the perfect device to read-play interactive narratives such as ‘Underbelly’. Now I am totally focused on creating apps for mobile platforms as well as for the desktop browser, which has meant abandoning Flash and learning a lot of new technologies. Besides this, as a natural progression from creating interactive narratives, my work has become more game-like, although storytelling is still the driving force. Currently, I’m in the middle of a practice-based PhD in Digital Writing at Bath Spa University, where I am developing a text-based interactive narrative called Stitched Up – it’s a psychological thriller that adapts to reader choice.
Katharine: My background is sonic arts and music composition (mostly digital/computer) and, since then, I’ve done more and more work that combines digital writing and sound and seeks to integrate them. In 2013 I went on to make Making Place, a poetic text manipulated and animated ‘live’ by the sounds from performers.
I’m currently working on another sound/digital writing piece, Paul’s Walk, for performance by Paul Roe in Dublin, in April – it’s for iPad and performer. I’m hoping to make a few pieces for iPad and performer – the idea being that they’re ‘user friendly’ for any performer, not just those who know about techy stuff.
So, basically I’m working towards integrating my work as sound artist/composer and digital writer. Also – since I won in 2012, with Window I have programmed an iOS app version of Window, which has reached a wider audience and is on the app store – grab it! And a couple of people have written about the piece, and I have written a chapter for a forthcoming book on Art and Everyday Life (Ashgate, ed Berberich, out soon) that also examines my approach – it was programmed (by me) in Processing and puredata, and has had quite a few live performances, and one coming up in New York this June.
How do you see the field more broadly? What changes have you observed since 2010, when we began?
Andy: The biggest change has been a wave of new media stories created for tablet and mobile devices, without doubt. And perhaps a slight rise in interest in the medium – from a reader, writer and funder POV. It’s always been difficult to know where “the field” starts and ends. I don’t think it particularly has boundaries.
Christine: There has been a resurgence of interest in text-based narrative-driven games which I think is largely to do with the popularity of mobile devices.
Dan Franklin: I think there have been some outstanding text-based games that have broken through commercially and critically – 80 Days and Device 6 spring to mind – and this reflects how indie gaming is changing and that there is an audience for a text-based experience like that. It’s encouraging.
Katharine: What I don’t see – and perhaps it’s there and I’m not looking – is much development in terms of getting the work out there, apart from things like the ELO and the amazing Leo Flores. Also, I’m still quite often depressed by the lack of discussion, and the lack of truly inter-multi-media digital writing outside of gaming – it seems like there are only a few individuals working at a high level in non-commercial/more experimental digital storytelling. I still – and I hate to sound arrogant – find a lot of it really naive, or a bit one-dimensional.
Chris: There’s been a revolution in how we read. I remember the iPad was the big prize the first year – it was the bright new toy then, but some entrants weren’t interested. It came as a shock to those who made digital literature to find there was a potential readership and maybe even a market for their work as tablets became popular.
Samantha: Many things move in cycles – including interest in new media writing and VR. Personal history: wider interest in hypertext, CAVE VR. But instead of an endlessly cycling escalator, starting from the ground-up, I hope that production and support of New Media Writing (like VR development) is like steps on a stairway. Each iteration of interest getting us closer to somewhere.
How has technology influenced what you are writing/making?
Andy: Between 2010-2012 I found rapid changes in technology difficult to keep up with and very frustrating. The technologies I’m using now however (HTML5 and Unity3D) can target pretty much any modern platform – from Android and iOS to WebGL and consoles – so that’s been a huge game-changer for me, having attempted to create digital fiction in almost everything over the years. Not having to worry so much about how to actually reach certain platforms has allowed the storytelling/creative part to come back to the forefront again.
Dan: Technology is transforming the book industry from top to bottom and through all its functions, and has done for many decades to be honest. In terms of new types of digital product, we have come off a spree of creating products that exploit the features of a device and now focusing again on what is good, authorially led, experimentation at the core of our editorial function.
Katharine: I think in code – I have always been a programmer but even more so now, I seem to be more fluent at thinking ideas directly into code. (not necessarily *good* ideas!)
Chris: I’ve been trying to forget about the technology and concentrate on telling my story, but in the knowledge that it can include much more than text if I want it to. Now I’ve realised I want some animated text as well as songs, a game and readers’ own writing to feature in the novel, so there are positive creative reasons why it needs to be an app.
What do you think new media writers need to do in order to reach out to a wider, more ‘mainstream’ audience?
Andy: I no longer think about this – I’ve wasted too much time thinking and worrying about it. There’s a growing audience for new media writing that is coming quietly and effortlessly, I’m sure.
Christine: Good storytelling is the key, but stories told and experienced in new ways, not merely enhanced ebooks. The user-experience design also needs to be considered so that the audience knows how to approach these works. We’re still in a highly experimental phase, the technology is changing rapidly, but some best practices and design principles are emerging. I also think the vehicle of dissemination is vitally important for reaching larger audiences and this is where mobile devices, among other things, have a big part to play.
Dan: I don’t know if they should! A lot of them are artists and are pushing the formal boundaries of the space with good use of funding and their own passion. If they want to break out more they need to think more about the audience needs, or at least what they can get their head around.
Katharine: That assumes that they need to – perhaps it’s more a case of reaching out to the audience you want? I don’t write work for a mainstream (or any particular) audience – I write it to realise my artistic vision/aims, and keep sane.
Chris: Write compelling stories and seek out the publishers/producers with the guts and vision to try to make and sell them commercially.
Samantha: I don’t think there is necessarily any one path or trajectory. The important thing is to consider your audience. To think creatively and spread your enthusiasm. For us, we are beginning to know more about the indie game community. In general, I think that advanced experiments with writing through media will be more prominent/developed by the game sector.
Are there any signs that publishers are beginning to see new media as a place where literature exists?
Andy: Again this is something I no longer really think about. Publishers have done nothing at all for me as a new media writer (or for any new media writers I know) and they do not interest me much any more. None of my funding comes from publishers. Over the years I’ve been approached by quite a few, but it’s never led on to anything concrete/worthwhile.
Christine: I have always self-published my new media works (although some have been published in anthologies too), so I’m not best placed to answer this, but, yes, I think so. However, publishers seem to be focussing more on new media as a viable form of literature for young readers rather than all ages.
Dan: I think so. The awareness is there, its more a question of whether it’s an area to actively pursue.
Katharine: I don’t see much that isn’t rather basic….
Chris: They’re obsessed with the possibility but still weedy about taking on anything but the safest most saleable classics to ‘appify’. The world still awaits a new media writing phenomenon – the equivalent of Sgt Pepper or Mad Men or Fifty Shades or … whatever it takes for a new media fiction to become essential cultural fodder. That’s what I’m trying to write, but so are lots of others.
What is your hope for new media writing?
Andy: I hope that individuals with a genuine passion for the medium and who can see the potential of it manage to find the financial backing and create space they deserve to realise their visions. It’s an extremely exciting medium with limitless potential. I hope it becomes easier to actually create work of this kind – because it can be hellishly difficult with so many platforms, technologies and complexities.
Christine: That it reaches a broad readership, no longer relegated to the fringes of culture – which is not to say there’s anything wrong with being on the fringes, that’s where exciting experimentation happens, so I hope that thrives too! I would also like to see more new media writer/makers taking up the creative challenge. The greater diversity of writer/makers, the more exciting the field of new media writing, electronic literature, interactive storytelling, whatever-you-want-to-call-it, becomes.
Dan: I hope it continues to evolve and continues to make incursions into the mainstream in one guise or another. It’s survived for many years on the fringes of literary culture and long may it remain doing its thing.
Katharine: I hope that there will be more attention and incorporation of other media than simply visual onscreen interactive text, and that there will be more multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborative work – it may be going on, I’m not in the loop.
Chris: That a readership for such work grows and grows because writers get better and better at telling brilliant stories in that form: the best possible words in the best possible order in the best possible digital form.
Samantha: The future doesn’t necessarily change the impulses or inspirations at the core of storytelling, rather it adds an additional toolset for expression. It is easy to overemphasize the technological revolution, but the future lies in approaches to storytelling rather than core judgements about how stories will irrevocably alter. PRY was written with new tool sets, but it is still a very human story.
You can read James Pope’s reflections on five years of the New Media Writing Prize here.
Dr James Pope is co-founder of the New Media Writing Prize and senior lecturer at the Media School, Bournemouth University. He has a particular interest in how digital media may be changing narrative forms as well as reading and writing practices. the teaching of creative writing in digital media environments, and children's literature. As well as several recent publications around his research into readers' reactions to interactive fiction, Jim has also published six novels for children and teenagers.