This is a guest blog post by C M Taylor who is the author of five novels. Premiership Psycho (Corsair 2011) and the Amazon best-selling Group of Death (Corsair 2012) form two thirds of a satirical trilogy about contemporary celebrity culture described as ‘Brilliant’ by The Sun, and ‘Horribly entertaining’ by The Mirror. He’s also the author of Light, Cloven and Grief, the latter a dystopian fantasy described by British Science Fiction Association as a work of ‘breathtaking originality’ and nominated for their 2005 Book of the Year. His horror script Writers Retreat, will be released in 2015. He is currently working on an experiment in digital fiction with the British Library. Read here about how Craig’s latest exciting venture is getting on: Reptile Resistance.
A couple of years ago I saw something that stopped me in my tracks and made me think about the path I was on. At that time I was what I wanted to be, a career novelist who worked hard writing books I loved then handed them to a good publisher who put them out with care and effort. I’d made book of the week in WHSmith, done a Waterstones 3 for 2, sold TV rights to a novel, and gained great reviews in almost all the national papers.
Pretty good, right? The stuff that dreams are made of.
But then I came across something – an app of all things, calling itself ‘a new kind of novel’ and a ‘serialised exploratory’ fiction – and straightaway I wanted to know more.
The app was called The Silent History and over a 120 day period it sent 120 small sections of text, ostensibly written by 120 different narrators, to your phone or computer or tablet. More than that, it also asked you to imagine you were part of the story and to send in your own text, which would be added to The Silent History app.
I started exploring this new world of stories which I quickly learned was called ‘born digital literature’: that is, written fictions which could not exist within the pages of a book.
Hunting around, I found a sci-fi fiction in which you walked round Bristol holding a wooden book in which was written a story relating to the places you visited. Except that you also received a different version of the same story on your device as you read the book. Two different versions of the same story about the same place arriving in two different ways.
Next I came across a Swedish app, a stylish and surreal thriller, where the written words of the story physically formed the rooms and corridors which you walked around looking for clues to escape the building in which you were trapped. Weirdest of all, there was an app which could only be played in the dark and which actually phoned you to invite you to a macabre artistic ritual.
These new story forms seemed vital and thrilling and I wanted a part of it. I knew that technology had always influenced narrative – no printing press, no Tolstoy; no celluloid, no Bergman – and I knew that the hundreds of millions of portable digital devices in the world had formed the conditions for a new form of narrative art.
I just had to get my own horse in the race.
So I started, except this wasn’t like writing a novel. It wasn’t enough to hole up in my bedroom and work like a dog. This was a collaborative job. I needed a computer programmer and I needed a designer. Except I didn’t know any.
It took a long while, but in the end I found the right partner. A software developer who helped work out how to marry technology to my narrative ideas. Then we found an excellent designer who agreed to work with us. Now all we needed was the cash. But all the venture capitalists we spoke to offered fiercely unfair terms.
So onto publishers. They liked the ideas we had for our app and they knew the sector was going to take off, but there wasn’t yet a track record of sales, and they were too risk-averse to take the plunge. Then I met up with John Mitchinson, publisher for crowd-funding website Unbound. He listened to my ideas, but I wasn’t sure he was wholly convinced. Then his teenage son Angus arrived at the meeting. Angus loved the ideas and John agreed to take us on.
And so we came to launch our story app on the website of the award-winning crowdfunding publisher Unbound, a publisher known for books like the Number 1 bestseller Letters of Note, and The Wake, the first crowdfunded book to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Our story is called Reptile Resistance and it uses written text, game play and video to tell its satirical tale. Neither book, computer game, nor film, but something between all three, it unfolds on an Earth run by a cabal of shape-shifting intergalactic lizards who use wifi to control the human mind. Naturally, all world events are also controlled, via the moon, which is a hollow reality-controlling super computer.
The ‘hero’ of the tale, Dave Mansion, is a rockstar determined to use his funds to get to the bottom of it all, but when he’s murdered, it’s only the users of the app who can find his notebooks, crack the code and unleash Dave’s tech to expose the lizards among us. The tech in question is Lizard Cam, a camera function we’ve embedded in the app to allows users to unmask shape-shifting lizards amongst their own families and friends. This way, our story escapes from its bindings and mucks with real life, which is what I wanted to do from the moment I saw The Silent History.
I’m very proud to have got this far. But we have a long way to go yet in our crowdfunding campaign, and any help is welcome. As for books, well I’m still in love with novels: I’m midway through a new first draft right now. But it’s not a usual kind of novel, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to only being a novelist.