Digital storytelling at Game City

gamecity-titleOctober has been a pretty stressful and bizarre month so far that has involved a bwain eating contest, interviewing Will Self (a man whose brain is so large it could feed a starving nation), collecting Jon McGregor’s old desk for the Nottingham Writers’ Studio (and resisting the temptation to sell it on eBay), LeftLion going monthly, sourcing patrons for Nottingham’s City of Literature bid, dealing with various tantrums in the world of digital comics and attempting to read the Booker shortlist before a friend at book club (pleasure).

But now my attention is fully focussed on Game City, or rather it will be after this blog. Game City is just gorgeous fun. Over the years it’s seen a SEGA Recital on solo piano in 13th Century Church, turned Market Square into a desert, and proved that gaming isn’t just about consoles by creating a playable meal. It’s nine years old this month and I’m well chuffed to be involved.

On Wednesday I’ll be giving a blather on ‘digital storytelling and Dawn of the Unread’ and discussing how multiple narrative threads enable a more complex understanding of literature as well as providing various routes into a text. Technically, Dawn of the Unread is not a computer game but multiple narratives are a theme of gaming culture and so this gets me a free pass. Dawn of the Unread does have a gaming element to it in that readers have to perform certain tasks in order to progress through the comic, but there aren’t any end of level bosses – unless you include illiteracy as our equivalent of Bowser.

I could harp on about why Game City is so brilliant for ages, but here’s two reasons. Firstly, anyone can give a talk. They have an open submissions system online where you pitch ideas. This makes it incredibly inclusive to the local environment. Secondly, it uses a simple scheduling tool called Sched which enables users to easily plan out their week, add events to calendars, and download to your phone. Sched also enables you to view all of the profiles of people attending your event so you have a good idea of numbers (23 signed up so far) as well as an awareness of who your audience are so that the talk can be adapted accordingly.

The Nottingham Festival of Words has just finished and I’m slowly starting to relax again. Although the literature audience is very different to the gaming audience, I think there is so much that we (the organisers) can learn from Game City, particularly the fun and simplicity that seem to define their approach and project management.

I’ll be dragging Paul Fillingham along with me, so if you have specific technical questions you’d like to ask about producing work across platforms, don’t be scared to put your hand up. Wed  29 Oct, 2-2.30pm. Game City website

The Writers’ Conference

The Sillitoe Trail App explores themes from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

The Sillitoe Trail App explores themes from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

On Saturday I chaired a panel at the Writers’ Conference called Working as a Writer in the Digital Age and was joined by Wayne Burrows, Farhana Shaikh and Rakesh Parmar. Digital technology offers many ways to make interactive and immersive narratives that are becoming ever more sophisticated and consequently writers are becoming increasingly experimental with their stories. Ease of publication, be it through a wordpress site or social media, means that writers now have platforms to showcase their work as well as immediate access to the mythical global audience. It’s all terribly exciting and meritocratic…and a little daunting.

Digital is a broad all-encompassing term that would require 45 years, let alone 45 minutes, to fully do it justice. But I think it’s worth summarising one key point that was raised on the day: You’re never too late to embrace digital technology because it’s constantly changing. There is no beginning middle or end. What is more important is experimenting with different platforms until you find what works for you in much the same way as you experiment with different writing styles and techniques until you find your own voice.

As promised, here is a brief outline of some of the websites that were mentioned during our discussion.

Digital doesn’t have to be funky, exciting or complex. It’s more important that it’s functional. Wayne Burrows talked about how a simple wordpress site acts as a holding space to pull all of his work together. As a practising artist (under the pseudonym of Robert Holcombe) a lot of his work is performed and exhibited live. The website acts as a portfolio of his work, enabling uploads of images and recordings of talks. Facebook is also an important part of this process as he has created a fake profile page of his pseudonym and now people are starting to believe Holcombe is actually real…  

If you’re looking at experimenting with narrative and want to try a multiplatform approach as I did with the Sillitoe Trail and currently with Dawn of the Unread then have a look at transmedia storytelling or The Literary Platform. By combining different media you offer the reader unique experiences and have to think very clearly about what you’re trying to achieve. For example, I have created Twitter accounts for some of the featured writers in Dawn of the Unread so that I can tweet passages of their books. I see this as a form of literary criticism as you are reducing a book to its core essence. Adding images to tweets also creates another layer of meaning, such as with these accounts Slavomir Rawicz and Mary Howitt. Offering a novel through this medium may in turn draw attention to the main Dawn of the Unread website, where readers can go deeper into the text.

Both of my recent projects have been funded by Arts Council England but to get this funding I have had to find a lot of support-in-kind. To be clear, I am not a techie and do not know how to write code. I am an editor who turns to industry experts such as Think Amigo to visualise my ideas. If you are unsuccessful with funding, don’t give up. Universities are another option who can provide work for free in exchange for work placements.

Writers' Conference digital panel.

Writers’ Conference digital panel.

Farhana Shaikh is the founder of The Asian Writer and enthused how the internet enables like-minded people or those with niche interests to come together such as through Leicester Writes. The major issue of the digital age is not so much creating content but sifting through the deluge of information and finding quality writing. She recommended Rebel Mouse as a very simple way of aggregating content feeds from elsewhere or Connect Curate for collaborations with other organisations. Crowd Sourcing is useful for funding projects and has helped imprints such as Unbound books. Kickstarter epitomises this new form of micro-funding but be realistic about your goals before starting. If you have a digital story and are looking for somewhere to submit it then she suggested the New Media Writing Prize  or digital only presses such as Shortfire.

Peer to peer review/writer community sites: 

Authonomy

Quilliant

Writers’ Workshop

I write read and rate

Useful websites for submitting work  

Sabotage Reviews – review small presses and online reviews/publications/magazines

Write Out Loud – Mainly poetry but also details fiction submissions

Duotrope – An incredible database that enables you to manage submissions to magazines as well as find the best magazine for your story/genre.

Publishing

Salt’s Modern Dreams

The Friday Project