REACT alumni awarded Writing Platform Bursary

Books & Print participant James Wheale writes about how his experience with REACT has led to new ideas, a new collaboration - and new funding from the

In a recent blog post, Ben Gwalchmai reflected on how chance encounters at REACT led to new opportunities for both his personal and professional development. In this article, Books & Print participant James Wheale writes about how the Sandbox has led to a new collaboration with Ben, a bright idea called Fabler and a funding award to make it happen.

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Serendipity is one of those aspects of life that I relish most, along with Kinder Eggs. Bumbling is a hobby of mine and with REACT I was fortunate enough to bumble into the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

The fact that REACT's most recent Sandbox was based around Books & Print was nothing short of good luck. I'm a writer. I write games, poetry, stories, murder mysteries, music, and recipes - food is probably my favourite art form... Writing is my passion. I'm also a privileged writer. To be supported by the Pervasive Media Studio and by Slingshot has allowed me to hone my art in an environment that constantly flexes to redefine form.

We live in an increasingly multimedia and interactive world and there are so many opportunities to tell new stories. Video games are starting to grip this potential, plot lines that are more akin to novels than films, are bubbling through the monotony of boss levels. Indie offerings such as Thomas Was Alone and Dear Esther have moments of sheer narrative genius. They are not tales just shoe-horned into game play, but rather story engines built to be played with.

But what does this mean for writers? It took me 2 years of solid work, of craft and re-craft to publish a book, on a small press, with modest readership. This is the traditional route most writers will take. But it might not be the only model.

Digital publishing is an option. But why would Faber and Faber take the risk of publishing a new poet digitally, when it can reskin the entirety of the Wasteland? Same content, new cover. I was once quoted £15k for a poetry collection idea I had. To write the thing I'd need to work with a developer for the creative process to work, but the financial barrier was way too high.

This is a problem if a new generation of celebrated writers is to emerge: the Shakespeares, Blakes, Hobans, Elliots of the digital age need opportunities to write interactive content. It's a wholly different skill set.

It was this challenge that Ben Gwalchmai and I wanted to tackle. REACT offers a huge opportunity for incredibly talented and experienced people to play to progress their ideas, and we met as two pieces of two projects in Books & Print Sandbox. Over many coffees and beers, we talked at length about how we wanted to make something we could build on and bring other writers into, how we wanted to find a new platform for writers, an entirely new form to write for.

This is how Fabler was born, an app that will deliver stories to users on the move, a new way to write, a new way to publish – a child of the Books and Print Sandbox.

By observing the processes and practise of REACT groups we learnt invaluable approaches to developing ideas. The skill sets and advice that we picked up allow as part of the Sandbox allowed us to punch much harder than our budget should. With the aid of the PM Studio, we've been awarded the Writer's Platform Bursary for writer-technologist partnerships, and have a prototype of a new type of literary platform.

Applying for the funding under 'technologist' made me blush a bit. Unlike Mike Bithell, creator of Thomas Was Alone, Ben and I can't program a video game. Even basic coding fumbles me. But that's why Fabler is so important. I recognise the potential for amazing story telling in this digital age but the barriers to create such things are even higher than traditional publishing routes.

We hope that Fabler, as a low cost platform for us to develop, will in turn allow us to open up opportunities for other young writers to try their hand at interactive digital content. With a little bit more funding we hope to put out 2 titles in the next 12 months.

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James Wheale is a poet and Junior Creative at Slingshot. He worked with Anthony Mandal and Simon Evans on Jekyll 2.0, part of our Books & Print Sandbox.

James and Ben were awarded the Writer's Platform Bursary to develop Fabler. The Writing Platform Bursaries, supported by the NALD Futures Fund are awarded to  support creative experimentation and interdisciplinary learning between writers and technologists.

You can read an interview with Ben about this project here.

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