Hallowe’en has been and gone, and it’s been Frankenstein season here at inkle. First was the very pleasant news that Apple were featuring the app as part of their seasonal specials. Then there were two events where we got to show the book and talk about how it works to people on both sides of the industry: firstly, to a group of readers, and then, to a conference of up-and-coming new entrants into the world of publishing.
Off the Shelf in Sheffield
Our first event was on Hallowe’en itself (but in the afternoon, so not too scary), where we spoke at Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival, as part of a massive, month-long, season of events and talks by a wide-range of authors, writers, publishers, game-makers, and others all around the theme of “words”.
We talked to a group ranging from six to sixty in age, and from enthusiastic to skeptical in their outlook; taking them through, first the story of Frankenstein and a little about its legacy and impact, and then doing an interactive reading of the app itself, with the audience calling out suggestions for each choice.
After making it through the difficult business of choosing a head for our monster, we finished the chapter to show the ever-popular story-map. This is the whole of the Frankenstein app, exploded outwards, with each white blob representing a page of text. (The text inside the pages can change too, depending on what you’ve done — but this is as close as you can get to seeing the whole thing in one go, without stepping inside Dave Morris’ head.)
The image is generated automatically, and is 5 metres wide and 3 metres deep … so this talk was probably the first time we’ve ever seen it at “life size”!
SYP in London
Next up was the SYP conference in London. This is an annual event for young publishing students and graduates, with a host of seminars, classes and debates by figures in and around publishing. We were there to talk about the possibilities of Interactive Reading, in a seminar alongside Andrew Rhomberg of Jellybooks, who gave a colourful talk about better book discovery.
I also wrote a short prologue to the talk for the SYP blog before.
It’s fair to say the audience was intrigued and after the talk there were several interesting questions, ranging from the practicalities of creating a satisfying narrative when it’s interactive, and the careful balance between author and reader control, to some challenging questions from skeptics wondering if interactive stories would mean a loss of the internal integrity of a text crafted by a talented author.
We discussed Frankenstein in detail, showing how we built the system behind the story, and the kind of uses to which Dave put that system, and how he played the reader’s choices out in the novel.
But we also talked a little more widely. Frankenstein is just one way of introducing interactivity to books; one that exploits the gap between the reader and the text. But there’s also a gap between the author and the text that can be explored. Digital writing can and will encompass novels that are collaboratively written, or change over time, or can simply be revised and iterated upon by the writer. (Just as Seven Poets was.)
(There was some lively Twitter debate about all this afterwards, until another delegate suggested adding product placement to books, and Twitter jumped firmly on the pun wagon. “The Unbearable Whiteness of Persil”, anyone?)
Looking ahead, we’ll next be at Adventure X in London on December 15th, talking about Sorcery!, and how we’re blending games, and books, and fighting and magic into a unique interactive adventure. But we’ll probably show the Frankenstein graph there, as well..!