For the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring a best-selling UK author through the fabulous De Montfort University Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media program (a course I’ve been a guest lecturer for). Alison Norrington has written many novels that could be described as ‘chick-lit’ (is it still OK to use such a term?). She has also created online works such as Naked HandStand (warning: nudies!). Her latest novel is about a character called Sophie Regan. Sophie has decided, after a bad run of relationships, to stay single for a year. Instead of publishing her story as a book though, Alison set Sophie free on the Net and beyond…
The primary narrative is delivered through Sophie’s blog (which is also delivered via email). She has been blogging her journey in a first-person manner recently. Alison has also been shifting focus from Sophie to other characters within the blog, which is a gutsy thing to do in a blog which lends itself to a first-person narrative. At times I found it jarring but mostly I actually enjoyed the unconventional form. It is good to be surprised with techniques and it is good to see writers experimenting with expectations. What also works well with this style is that information about other characters is provided in the main pivot point — the blog — rather than at other sites. Fragmentation of stories is an increasingly desired trait in ‘alternate reality games’ and what theorist Jill Walker calls ‘distributed narratives’. But fragmentation is also very inaccessible to the majority of readers. With this mixed-voice style of blogging we are able to find out, for instance, that another character has created a false identity to contact Sophie. And so, when we read about Sophie receiving invites from a person called ‘John Pamenter’ we know the truth behind the avatar! Alison is also having fun creating artifacts of her storyworld: here is a fictional magazine that is run by Sophie’s nemesis (see below). I also got a real thrill when Sophie sent me a postcard when she went on holiday.
Sophie has also been posting humorous videos of pick-up lines she and her readers have to endure at YouTube. It makes for nice light relief, a conversation starter, but also provides another point-of-entry (POE) to Sophie’s world.
Sophie also has a presence on social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace. The Bebo one is more active, which is interesting — the demographic seems to be young women! To help give people quick updates on what is happening and provide another POE, Sophie also twitters. You can also go clubbing with her in Second Life. I (Lythe Witte) met with her and went dancing with a mate while single Sophie watched. Hehe, we were roleplaying! You can see Sophie in the blue top watching Lythe and my buddy dancing.
In this article for the Philadelphia Inquirer (which talks about another cross-media story), Alison spoke about her aims with the project and her relationship with the protagonist:
“I would like for readers to really engage with Sophie as a real character,” Norrington says. “Although she is fictionalized she is very much a real person in terms of her thought processes and emotions. As a published novelist I am very aware that writing a good book means getting the reader to unpack her bags and settle in for the duration.”
It has been great working with Alison on this project…how the narrative has altered, the ideas she comes up with, and the endless work involved with managing an online persona. It takes alot of work to be all over cyberspace! Beyond some of the cross-media poetics that I’ve mentioned here, it is a good read…watch, dance and click.
Check out Sophie’s blog