Posts Tagged ‘interactive’

I was absolutely thrilled yesterday to hear that I had won both first and third prizes in the third quarter Flash500 competition! I didn’t believe it for a while and then, when I saw the money in my PayPal account, I had a good old blub. An odd reaction, maybe, but I was completely overwhelmed as there are hundreds of entries every time. If you fancy reading the stories, don’t read the judge’s comments first as they contain spoilers.

This news has come at the optimum time, as I had decided to stop writing flash for a while because I have had an idea for a novel that won’t go away however much I chase it. That’s not to say I’ll end up writing or finishing it, but I think I have to give it a chance, and I find the mindsets of very short and longer fiction impossible to switch between. If anyone has any good tips, I’d be very glad to hear them.

I have done well with flash over the last three years, having won Flash500 twice, taken two third and two fourth places, and been honorably mentioned in a few other competitions, and I think I am now pretty competent at both knowing when I have a suitable idea and writing it down. One of the things I enjoy most about flash is the editing that takes place even before the words hit the page, and this is one of the main reasons I am going to find a novel challenging. Already I am editing the first scene in my head and I haven’t even opened a new document yet! The other thing that daunts me is the planning. I have the attention span of a puppy and it looks like far too much hard work at this stage. Did I mention how lazy I am? I’m not sure quite how to overcome this but I have to give it a go. Again, any tips will be most gratefully received. It’s eight years since I wrote my one and only novel and I daren’t even look at it because of the work I know it needs. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

Anyway, wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Other news – my 1,000-word murder/mystery story, The Perfect Place, came third in Yorkshire Ridings Magazine’s competition. A mini-flash, Post Mortem, will be published in the Worcestershire Literary Festival’s flash anthology, The Seventh Christmas will be published at the end of the month by Alfie Dog, and the first stage of filming of The Beast Next Door is now complete and apparently went very well. I can’t wait to see the finished piece.

I’ll be reading the flash (along with many other writers) at the anthology launch on December 9th, if anyone is around and fancies coming. And that’s about it for the moment. Cheers!


A huge thank you to Sue for inviting me onto her blog today… I don’t think she realised that when I’m enthusiastic about something, I can ramble for hours!

So Sue’s asked me to convince her of the merits of creative writing courses, classes and workshops. I’m hoping that by the time she reads this she’ll be enrolling on everything she comes across.

My first experience of ‘creative writing’ was a baptism of fire. I decided (through madness or stupidity, I still don’t know which) to accompany a friend to a course at our local Adult Education centre. I hadn’t written any fiction since leaving school, although I had been journal writing for several years. That was exactly 2 years ago this month, and it was one of the best decisions of my life! I’ll be honest; the course itself was a little boring. I found myself nodding off in several sessions! But somehow, through all the yawning something clicked. Something happened to me during that short course, and it’s been driving me on ever since.

I realised that writing is just like any other subject. To be a good writer you have to learn how. I devoured books, writing magazines and completed Nanowrimo (twice!) all in my quest to be a better writer. But I needed instruction. I needed someone to tell me where I was going wrong. So I enrolled on the NEC’s Home Study Writing course. That was great, but I felt very isolated. Seeing the advert for Swanwick in The Writing Magazine, and my friend agreeing to come with me, came at exactly the right moment, as I was beginning to realise that I would need more than just my passion to achieve my dream.

Since that first trip to Swanwick, a truly life changing experience, I have studied with The Write Place, attended many workshops, been to Caerleon, attended Swanwick for a second year and completed an online Pocket Novel Course. I’ve had critiques on my work by respected authors, joined a writing group, and set up a writing group. My life has been enriched by every single experience, and my writing improved tenfold. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve learnt in the last 2 years, it’s been a roller coaster, one that I’m not sick of, just yet. I’ve met some fantastic writers, inspiring tutors, and made some great friends.

It was all very scary at first. You’re in a room with all these people and you’re thinking, oh no, they’re all better than me, they’re all proper writers, I’m not. But the great thing is, you don’t have to share your work. There have been plenty of times where I’ve gone completely blank. Most recently at Swanwick, when I did an Erotica class with Della Galton. One of the exercises was to come up with a title for an Erotic story. Could I come up with one? Nope! I watched everyone scribbling away in their notebooks, whilst my pen just hovered over mine. Of course, I didn’t offer to share my non-existent title, and by the time I’d got back to my room I’d come up with six!

But there are other times, when you hear people read out their work and you think, wow, mine isn’t so bad after all. When you take that first step, to share something you’ve just written, read it out aloud to the class, your chest is pounding and your mouth is dry. You wonder, “What the hell am I doing here?”And then, after you’ve read it, someone says “Oooo, I want to know more, what happens?” or “That was really good, I liked it.” Well, at that moment, your confidence soars and they have to peel you down from the ceiling.

If you’re the shy type (as I am) I would definitely recommend attending a couple of work shops or classes before you throw yourself in at the deep end and attend a residential school. The residential schools are brilliant, from a social aspect, but they can also be a little overwhelming for an introverted newbie. I would never have attended one on my own, without at least knowing one person there. At Swanwick they have a white badge scheme, so everyone knows its your first time. This is very useful, because, although you’re singled out as being new, it alerts others (some who have been attending for 20+ years!) to the fact that you may be on your own. As a Swanwick Steward last year I tried to talk to every ‘white badger’ I came across, because, I knew what it felt like.

So, that’s all well and good, I guess you’re saying, but what about putting all this knowledge to good use? Where’s the novel? Am I actually any closer to becoming the publishedauthor I dream about? Well, I feel that I’ve spent the last 2 years experimenting, not really knowing which direction I should go in. I came away from Swanwick this year more focused, discovering, for example, that I’m not a short story writer. My voice has started to develop and so has my style (blogging has really helped with that…I can highly recommend it!). But there is still so much I need to learn and in the words of Albert Einstein, “I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very very curious.”

As I sit at my desk, typing this, surrounded by piles of notebooks, folders, cats and study guides I can’t help but smile, and remember my conversation with Simon Hall, after we’d both attended Roz Southey’s “Show Not Tell” workshop in Swanwick. I jokingly commented on his attendance, saying something along the lines of “Well, you don’t need a workshop for show and tell.” He laughed and replied “You’d be surprised, I often need reminding, and there’s always something you can learn.”

So I guess I’m not alone in my quest to learn, my need to be better. My confidence increases with every course, class and workshop. And in 10 years’ time, I’ll still be learning, but hopefully, by then, I’ll have at least a couple of best sellers to my name. Oh, and if you’re thinking of coming to Swanwick next year, do, I’ll be the one with the bright yellow badge saying “STEWARD” and rescuing ‘white badgers’ when they lock themselves out of their rooms.


Vikki Thompson lives in Kent with her husband, 3 adult children (who refuse to leave home) and 2 cats. She blogs, (or should that be rambles?) daily at The View Outside and spends her time fantasising about being the next EL James but isn’t too keen on having to write Erotica to achieve that, unless Robert Downey Jnr is available for research. Next month she starts another course, with The Faber Academy and is hoping that SJ Watson won’t be too upset when she becomes the next Faber success story (tongue firmly in cheek!).

When I was asked to write a blog post about interactive fiction I began by doing something very apt. I dithered. I had a Hamlet moment. It seemed there were so many different ways to approach the topic that I was unable to choose one. So I’ve decided just to pitch into it headlong and hope my enthusiasm will carry me through. I should warn readers up-front that I intend to use a lot of links, hoping to sap a bit of reflected glory from a range of more insightful commentators…

‘Interactive Fiction’ is a term which gets bandied about a fair bit at the moment and I’ve even seen a pretty heated argument about its exact definition (then again, this is the internet – I have also seen a heated argument about Bagpuss) so I’d better give a quick explanation of what I’m going to mean by it. Purists sometimes say it should refer only to computer games played with a text parser such as those published by Infocom back in the 1980s, but I’m going to use it (in lieu of a better term and not being brave enough to invent my own) to describe all fiction which changes according to the interaction and choice of the reader.

There is such a thing as being TOO awesome

My first experience of interactive fiction was when a Fighting Fantasy gamebook was delivered into my grubby seven-year-old hands back in 1982. I was already an avid reader but the idea that books could be played in this way was the coolest thing ever (until, at least, the next coolest thing ever came along – I was seven, after all). There were heaps of great gamebooks (Fighting Fantasy, Choose Your Own Adventure, Lone Wolf etc.) around until the late nineties when the rise of videogames almost finished them off. In my opinion, this was an unfairly ignominious end for a genre which still has a lot going for it. A gamebook is a completely different thing from both ordinary books and videogames, with its own distinct appeal.

Anyway, it’s nice to see that I’m not alone in my thinking and there is a sizeable and growing community of gamebook fans around. Anyone with an interest should check out Stuart Lloyd’s excellent and passionate blog or the hilarious Turn to 400. It’s true that the genre has always been dominated by heroic fantasy and sci-fi but if you’re not into that then you should at least take a look at Kim Newman’s excellent and overlooked ‘Life’s Lottery‘ to see the format used to its fullest extent.

My own attempts at writing interactive fiction began with The Tower of Clavius Boon, an affectionate pastiche of the fantasy gamebooks I had enjoyed since childhood. Creating it was the most fun I have ever had while writing, even though the fact of its creation drew (and draws) more bemused looks than anything else. Writing in short segments suited my meager attention span and the branching narrative allowed neat opportunities for swerving round writer’s block. I’m certainly not done with the format yet and I’m already mapping out two more books, one a similar pastiche of heroic sci-fi and the other a more serious affair set in Renaissance Italy. I’m hoping the Machiavellian intrigues of this setting will lend themselves particularly well to gamebook treatment, allowing the reader to explore the wider ramifications of every plot and ruse.

With the rise of new ways of reading such as the kindle and ipad, a lot of people are predicting a resurgence of gamebooks and an explosion in new styles of interactive storytelling. There are already some exciting signs of this in projects such as Dave Morris’ Frankenstein (Dave is a gamebook veteran who also blogs regularly on the future of interactive fiction) and developers such as inklewriter, Varytales and Choice of Games. The lines are also becoming increasingly blurred between serious fiction and gaming with projects such as Dear Esther and a growing trend for indie games which value art as much as entertainment. I could probably do no better than direct anyone interested in these possibilities to the blog of Emily Short, the uncrowned queen of IF.

Don’t burn them just yet

Sometimes this can all seem a little frightening for aficionados of the humble book, especially with over-zealous publicity departments trumpeting the death of the novel every time a new experiment in interactive literature arrives. But have we anything to fear? Perhaps the answer lies in the very fact that the prospect can seem worrying at all – nobody wants to lose the simple reading experience of a good novel or short story because there is still nothing to replace it. Interactivity doesn’t necessarily enhance a reading experience – it changes it into something else. Would you really want to be able to make decisions on behalf of the characters in your favourite novel? Or is it more enjoyable to submit to the will of the author and to find out how these characters will interact and what lessons can be drawn from their behaviour? When even footnotes can interrupt the flow of a good book, is it always desirable to foist choices on the reader, destroying the gentle pleasure of a passive experience and turning it into an active one?

I personally think there is ample room to explore the possibilities of interactive fiction without worrying that we will lose anything in the process. The choices are just beginning.


Lee Williams is a writer who blogs occasionally here, where links to his published short stories can be found. His spoof gamebook, The Tower of Clavius Boon, is available to read online and he is currently writing dialogue for a number of upcoming videogames, including Rambros and The Inflicted.