THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

01 June 2018

Interactive Fiction Summer School and Settle Stories

As a PhD student, I’m privileged to spend three years of my life investigating a subject I find fascinating, but one of the absolute highlights of the first year of my study was the week I spent attending the Interactive Fiction Summer School at the British Library last July. My research explores how mobile phones are changing storytelling, so interactive fiction was a subject I was keen to find out more about – and how better to do so than by learning from the experts how to write my own?

It was an excellent course, as we learned not only about the mechanics of writing stories where the reader plays a part in deciding what happens – how to make your reader’s choices both engaging and manageable, for instance – but also about storytelling more generally: how to generate momentum and make your ending both surprising and inevitable. Over the course of the week, we each wrote our own interactive stories, drawing on what we learned from our tutors and getting to grips with the mechanics of the form: my own story ended up unexpectedly drawing upon my experiences teaching in Japan.

One of the week’s many highpoints was a session on the use of conflict in interactive fiction, run by Rob Sherman, who shared a thought-provoking work he’d created for the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, about a woman struggling to keep her family safe and happy in a world of rising costs, lowering wages, and disappearing support. This year, Rob is leading the British Library's summer school, curating sessions from a range of experts including the poet and interactive writer Abigail Parry (last year’s excellent course leader), Gavin Inglis, and Hannah Powell-Smith.

The summer school had other benefits too: including spending time with fascinating and creative people interested in the storytelling possibilities of interactive fiction, sharing ideas, and collaborating: I remember one particularly memorable session working with two of my fellow students on a story about a performance artist who decides to enact that old myth about frogs in boiling water herself, and ends up in boiled to death in an underground swimming pool as part of an installation about the damage we’re doing to the environment.

The summer school attracted a wide range of people, from young would-be writers, to academics and storytelling professionals. One of my fellow students was Sita Brand, director of Settle Stories, whose annual festival of storytelling takes place in the picturesque Yorkshire market town of Settle. Sita invited me to speak at this year’s Festival, and so I found myself this April talking to an audience about my research into how mobile phones are influencing storytelling and being interviewed by Dave Driver for Dry Stone Radio. (You can hear the interview here – from 1:34 on.)

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-06-01/645a4fba-905f-48c7-8d65-f1513df86a52.png
Telephone box at Settle Stories, where attendees pick up the phone handset and dial for a story

If I've whetted your appetite and you are interested in attending this summer's Interactive Fiction Summer School at the British Library, which is on the theme of Infinite Journeys, booking details are here.  It runs for five days, beginning Monday 23 July and ending on Friday 27 July. Also, if you are interested in my research on fiction being written for smartphones, then I'm giving a Feed the Mind talk on Mobile Stories: New Kinds of Fiction? on Monday 11 June, 12:30-13:30, booking details here.

This a guest post is by Alastair Horne, you can follow him on twitter as @pressfuturist, and also on Instagram.