This post is one of a series based on my draft writings and thoughts for a current PhD research project, part of the UNESCO Chair project ‘Crossing Media Boundaries: Adaptations and New Media Forms of the Book’. I am working with a self-published author to create a co-creative online reader community where users can share their very own content, stories, artwork, etc. to expand the story world across media. Its an experiment, and the journey is only starting… http://naturemage.com All feedback / ideas welcome!
Image: Nature Mage logo, by James Ledsham – see his profile here: http://www.naturemage.com/people-working-on-this-community
One of the reasons to choose a Professional Doctorate was the fact that it involves practice – indeed, one of the requisites for completion is conducting ‘practice-led research’. The hunt for a partner organisation or individual for a hands-on project resulted in an introduction to a self-published author based in the UK, Duncan Pile, who, in his own words, is writing ‘a trilogy of teen fantasy books set in a magical world’ (ref). The book could be shortly described, with reference to previous works in the fantasy genre, as a meeting of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Nature Mage is the first in the series with the same name, and at the time of writing, two books have been published: Nature Mage, and Nature Servant refs, the first in both Kindle and print format, the second as a Kindle ebook. Both books, and versions, contain an illustrated cover portraying the main character, but no other illustrations.
The goal of this collaboration was to design and eventually produce ‘new media forms’ of one or more of the books in the series. The definition of which ‘media forms’ to use evolved and changed greatly, influenced by considerations such as feasibility (both technical and financial, which are to a certain extent related), commercial potential, and other factors that will be explored and analysed in this study.
Partly due to my background at Dubit, which is in essence a game development studio, the initial plans for the project revolved around working on a game adaptation of the first book. The ultimate goal of the practice-led project was to produce real outputs, ideally in the form of an actual media artefact (e.g. a game), and at the very least some sort of media design document, for example a GDD (game design document). This tied in well with the author’s ambitions to have his stories adapted into film and game. However, realistically it would be difficult to produce a game without having a considerable budget, so there was a move towards thinking of more achievable artefacts, without totally dropping the objective of using the research to, at the very least, produce insight about a possible game adaptation that could seed ideas for further development and perhaps funding efforts in the future. The main focus ought to be on one artefact, whilst maintaining wider ambitions across different media, and throughout the project contribute to their design. As it stands these may include the core work towards a digital enhanced book, a digital game (for computer and/or mobile devices), and, in collaboration with a screenwriter researcher, a film adaptation.
The alternative that was next explored was the production of a multimedia, digital book in the iBook format, using the iBooks Author tool freely available from Apple. The digital ‘enhanced’ book would contain different types of content – in a range of formats – based on the source book, and building on it, expanding it through text, images and videos. These different formats of content could include materials such as: maps of locations in the story (possibly dynamic); illustrations of the characters, settings and objects; video animations; author ‘extras’ (interviews, explanations, etc.); branching stories; text providing extra ‘factual’ information about a place or a character; typologies of weapons and spells growing as these appear in the story; and possibly music and sounds. The main story would still be there in text, in a full or abridged version, but the range of other types of content would allow the readers to explore their interests in certain aspects of the story, if they so wish.
From the start there was a desire to involve readers of the Nature Mage series books in discussions and ‘co-creation’ sessions that would guide the production of this new media form of the book. It is envisaged that this will include face-to-face group interviews, online interviews, and the setting up of an online fan community where readers can provide feedback on production ideas, send their own ideas and content (for example, fan art or fan fiction), and rate and comment on each other’s work. It is envisaged that the new content will be produced by both fans, art students and invited artists, although the involvement of the latter may be dependent on the raising of a funding for a production budget, or the use of alternative production agreements such as revenue sharing. This is one of the main challenges in media production.
 The discussion around choices and decisions for the adaptation will be explored in greater depth throughout the thesis.