The story’s the thing: Digital fiction

Canadian author and educator, Kate Pullinger visited my university last week, and since then I have been thinking about ‘the book’ and where it is going in the digital future.

Pullinger says that stories are an important teaching tool for teachers of all subjects. How true. As a writer and lecturer in creative writing and new media at Bath Spa University in the UK, Pullinger believes that ‘the way that we read and interact with text and stories may well have changed fundamentally in 20 years’ time’ (1) , and that the ebook is only a small change in that evolution.

Digital fiction

Pullinger has written traditional fiction like The Mistress of Nothingfor which she won the Governor-General’s award in 2009.

However, her experimentation with digital fiction and the future of the novel is of increasing interest. Her digital works include, e.g. Inanimate Alice  and Flight Paths . The text is sparse and the format relies on the integration of text, image, sound and animation.

Flight Paths: A Networked Novel

 

Her work with digital story telling and school students is clearly influencing the direction she is pushing the traditional novel. For example in 2011 she was involved with 5 secondary schools and 5 digital writers in a collaborative arts-in-schools project called Ebb and Flow.

And an interesting outcome of her digital story venture, Inanimate Alice, is that school students are now adding to her published ‘novel’ online. She is intrigued herself that students at a US school began adding a fifth chapter to her four-chapter, pre-teen/teenage digital work. The students’ classroom teacher encouraged the kids to contribute text and images to the story and create a new adventure for Alice, which they loaded up onto the Internet, challenging notions of authorship, and demonstrating that fiction can evolve imaginatively, textually and collaboratively. Teenagers are reading books after all.

Live creative writing: ‘Memory Makes Us’

While in Brisbane, Pullinger also took part in an IF:Book Australia event, on 9 July at the State Library of Queensland. The project was called ‘Memory Makes Us’ . Pullinger explored memory as a collaborative and creative event, connecting and combining memories contributed by members of the public with her own experience to create a new work. This included text and images. As she wove together her own and others’ stories, the creative work was streamed live on the Internet and broadcast on the big screen at Federation Square in Melbourne.

Strange as it seems, to me it was more exciting to know that as the story evolved it was projected live into a living breathing city, than that it was simultaneously projected on the Internet. Why? What is the difference? It’s all out there. Is it because I can imagine Federation Square and people reading the screen as they pass by? Is it that I can imagine the particular but imagining the complexity of worldwide participation is too much? Does knowledge of a place make up for anonymity of place?

 

(1) Pullinger, Kate. (2011). Education: Classroom innovation: Strategy/Comment: Comment: Educators need to utilise the explosion in digital writing. The Guardian, London, UK, 11 Jan, p. 5.

One thought on “The story’s the thing: Digital fiction

  1. Thanks for writing this up. I had the pleasure of hosting Kate at the National English and literacy teachers’ conference at QUT and her insights into digital fiction and digital publishing really got me thinking as well. I’m a long time fan of Inanimate Alice, but have yet to properly investigate Flight Paths…

    You asked why it felt so special to have Kate involved in Brisbane in the Memory Makes Us project. I felt the same way! The project was more ‘real’ and ‘special’ to me, knowing that it was physically located in my town. I suspect this has something to do with the concept of ‘affinity spaces’. Affinity spaces can (and do) exist online, but sometimes it is difficult to feel like you belong in a space. When something about the space becomes recognisable it is easier to feel like you belong, I think.

    Plus it’s just plain old nice for Brisbane to be on the map every now and then for a big Arts project 😉

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