Great Writing 2011

I seem to only do my blog writing on trains lately.  Must see to that…

I presented at the Great Writing new-and-improved-London-edition conference this weekend, a talk that focused on one of the finer points of my current research: how writing with the intent to mediate a story in multiple media changes the fundamental aspects of the story itself (character, structure, perspective), as well as how it affects the writer’s (my) composition process.

The talk consisted of several readings, sections drawn from my prose fiction in chronological order, from my MFA novel (2005) to my most recent compositions for the PhD work (November 2011 – rough draft).  The progression from straightforward, MFA-mill produced fiction (i.e., literary, navel-gazing) to postmodern, multiple narrator, layered, rhizomatically structured fiction was dramatic, and I was pleased that my audience saw the same things in the work that I did.  What was even more rad was that they were actually interested in it.

It was the first time I’ve presented where I didn’t get the “so, is digital fiction like those old choose-your-own-adventure books?” question, which indicates I have not lowest-common-denominatorified my talk enough.  There were more questions from the audience than the panel time would allow, and most of them were enthusiastic and nuanced.  There was even a new PhD student in the group who is embarking on a similar project (I think with hypertext), so it was fantastic to finally feel like I’m not shouting to an empty room.  My evangelizing efforts on behalf of digital fiction seem to be taking root, at least tiny tendrils of a sort.

There were many talks and readings, discussions of pedagogy and REF for creative writers, research methodologies, and what seemed to me an unusually high amount of therapeutic writing presentations (like poetry, these are definitely not my bag – I am fortunate to not have suffered these significant traumas – yet? – so I don’t connect with them very well, I admit, and I find them often lacking in actual research value).  A few stood out for me though:

  • Eleanor Dare, a lecturer now at Goldsmith’s, shared her practice-based, multimodal, multimedia PhD research with us.  There was far more there than she could fit into a 20-minute talk, but the project looks fascinating, and I must experience at least a little piece of it.  The linked site provides a far better description than I could ever hope to offer, but the most important bits are:
    • The “formation of dynamic relationships between readers and texts”
    • “South is built around a series of autonomous agents who perform analytical and interpretive tasks.”
    • Use of multiple media – software, hardware, codex, sensory theater – multiple modes within those media, and the exploration of mind-body connection, paralleling the reader-text connection.

  • Harvey Dingwall, a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, is actually an illustrator, teaching an undergraduate program on illustration.  I was interested and mollified to see that he bases quite a lot of his work in similar theory to mine – multimodality, transmedia, semiotics.  It was also interesting that he does not also cover formal aspects of literary analysis or theory with his illustrators (I was interested in how he might combine theories from across disciplines, as I am trying to do in teaching digital writing), but he acknowledged it’s something that would probably be worthwhile if he can come up with a way to work it in.
  • My GW buddy Calum Kerr gave a great talk on his recent work in flash fiction (the shorty-short prose pieces, not the digital Flash fictions), and how doing NaNoWriMo inspired him to write every day (he switched to flash instead of noveling after the month was done).  He’s since self-published a book of these pieces (which is quite fun – go buy it), and is working on a new flash365 (one a day for a year) project.  I love this mostly for the aspect of just writing something every day – something that’s disposable if it sucks, and is fun and interesting if it doesn’t – as well as the prompts he comes up with (song lines, titles, pictures, etc.) in order to keep going over a length of time.

Overall, it was a successful conference if only for these three bits of inspiration.  I found London a bit ridiculously expensive (increased by the fact that I got there on Wednesday so I could see David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing – well worth it), and I got lonely in addition to continuing to feel like I’m not quite in the right group of creators (there aren’t enough digital writer-academics to do a whole conference, I’m thinking).  I’ll have to think about whether I want to shell out for this one again next year, given the expense, or explore conferences that are more electronically-oriented.  We shall see.  For now, success and inspiration are good enough for me.

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