These Pages Fall Like Ash is a first-of-its kind narrative experience, leading its readers around the city of Bristol – armed with a wooden book and a smartphone device. Intrigued? We were.
Emma Smith spoke to creator, Dr Tom Abba, to find out more (before venturing West and trying it out for real).
A strange story is unfolding in Bristol this Spring…
Two cities, each overlapping the other. Streets bordering two worlds.
Two people who can no longer remember the other’s existence.
It seems apt that this taster – sent by creators of These Pages Fall Like Ash – is about the connection between alternative realities. The whole project is wrapped up in exploring how we experience narrative through both physical and digital ways of life; how our memories, creativity and understanding filter through different mediums.
Composed by Tom Abba and Duncan Speakman, in collaboration with Circumstance, and with a dash of creative flavour from award winning authors Neil Gaiman and Nick Harkaway, the story is told across two books. One is a beautiful, crafted physical artefact, the other a digital text hidden on hard drives across a real city and read via you mobile device. It sounds like serious mixed-media content; ‘audience participation’, ‘interaction’, ‘multi-platform’ and ‘location-based’ are all digital buzzwords these days. But this project is seeking to truly reimagine the relationship between the various forms and to blend all together in a unified story.
The idea ‘has been kicking around for a year and a half’, says Abba, but Research and Development for the project only started in January 2013. The aim is to create something driven by a strong sense of story, to begin with something ‘novel-shaped’ that adapts to new forms. At the heart of the concept is a desire to discover how a transitory and ephemeral experience can co-exist and interact with the printed word.
Abba stressed the need to get professional writers on board (he and Duncan Speakman wrote the original plot to guide readers, which was then re-worked by Gaiman and Harkaway); ‘It was important to get writers involved, after all, writers are good at writing’, but collaborating with other people to bring the project to fruition ‘took a real sense of trust’. These guys all have the credentials in media, technology and performance though (Speakman is a founding member of international artist collective Circumstance, and Abba is a specialist in narrative theory and practice, working with interactive media at UWE).
These Pages Fall Like Ash is one of eight projects supported by the REACT Hub, on behalf of the AHRC, and has included mentoring from Hachette UK’s Head of Digital, George Walkley – so it’s no small fry in terms of pioneering reading projects. It’s certainly set up to be a work of genuine innovation.
The content went live on 20th April and new parts are being released periodically until mid-May. It follows the Dickens-esque model of serialisation, allowing participants to dip in and out of the story whenever they get the chance. Despite the project still being in the experimental stages, the creators were eager to just ‘get the product in front of people and … we were keen to get an audience involved,’ says Abba, ‘but in a way that really matters to the narrative … so the final part turns entirely on what the audience does’.
The sheer creativity, mystery and energy behind this project is exciting – for publishers, readers and authors alike. A full report will be on its way after BookMachine explore these shadowy digital goings-on. Bristol here we come…