Word for Word: telling stories beyond the printed page

‘Storytelling done better’?: the icon for Faber’s app of John Buchan’s 
The Thirty-Nine Steps

‘Storytelling done better’?: the icon for Faber’s app of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps


As digital change sweeps through the industry, publishers are beginning to think about the novels, short stories, poetry collections, memoirs and history books on their lists in ways that stray beyond the printed page. Perhaps, some of them think, the time is coming when they might combine those texts with works from other media to create new storytelling forms and formats.

Last month Faber released an app version of the John Buchan classic The Thirty-Nine Steps (below). The app is a collaboration between the publisher and the development house Story Mechanics; they claim, rather gratingly, that it represents “storytelling done better”.

The Thirty-Nine Steps app has received mixed reviews, and it certainly isn’t the hit that Faber delivered with its app for TS Eliot’s The Waste Land some time ago.

It represents more complex digital storytelling than, say, a game of Angry Birds , which for all the disdain heaped on it nevertheless possesses a basic narrative, engages users and interests them in the outcome.

It’s not just publishers and technology start-ups in Silicon Valley or New York that are changing things. Here in Ireland, too, people are beginning to experiment with stories and different media ahead of publishers.

What, after all, is the website storymap.ie but history storytelling at its finest? The site skilfully matches online distribution with quality videos of local historians, authors and storytellers recounting tales that range from the literary to the historic and everything in between.

Ten or 15 years ago it might not have been so easy to create a Storymap – and, even had it been possible, it would have been very difficult to do it relatively cheaply.

Even then, the question would have been: how will we reach an audience?

As the tools for creating and distributing storytelling in all its forms proliferate, huge amounts of material are being released. Some of it is excellent, such as that in Storymap; some is very poor indeed.

One of the publisher’s chief skills is curation, and publishers can surely help guide readers to the best offerings in this new, busy world of multimedia creation, just as they always have in the world of print – though, to do that, they’ll need to act a little faster than is currently the norm.

I love the fact that Faber is attempting to play with ideas such as narrative and wit h media other than text . It reminds me of some of the early attempts by larger publishers to engage readers with digital media, such as Penguin’s We Tell Stories project ( wetellstories.co.uk), which experimented with six forms and six authors.

I hope it marks the beginning of a trend for greater experimentation and more collaboration between publishers, developers and digital creators from across media forms. Readers have, I believe, much to gain from such connections.

Eoin Purcell is commissioning editor at New Island Books. He blogs at eoinpurcellsblog.com.

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