Nature Mage #2 – a little more detail on context and goals


I am currently doing a PhD collaborating with the UNESCO Chair project ‘New Media Forms of the Book’, by looking at how books and stories can make the most of new media and the digital sphere, to develop models for audience involvement, cross-platform adaptation and transmedia storytelling. Or at least one of these things!

Supervisor: Prof Alexis Weedon, Research Institute for Media Art and Design, Founder and Editor of Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, published by Sage.

I’ve been interviewing and working with authors, publishers, digital developers, industry leaders, thinkers, innovators, anyone I can learn and think with! To get a picture of what’s happening at the convergence of books, stories, digital and transmedia storytelling! It’s a long and exciting journey, a bit like the quest for the Holy Grail. I hope I’ll get there, and back again… for another journey! As part of this, there is a ‘map’ of ‘new media forms of the book’ being produced as we speak – for a next post, soon.

The PhD involves a strong practical component: in short, I am working with Duncan Pile, a self-published YA fantasy author, to spread his story across digital media, harnessing fan and audience involvement.

We’re creating an online community where readers can send ideas (fan fiction, back stories, parallel stories, artwork, video enactements, etc.) based on the Nature’s Mage third book (to be soon launched, serialised digitally). I will then work with the author to manage the online community, where people can read/see each other’s works and rate / comment, and select the best material for an ‘enhanced’ version of the story mixing the original text with images, parallel stories, author interviews in video, etc. – probably on iBook. The digital experiment will also count with the collaboration of visual arts students that will create illustrations, animations, etc., and creative writing students, who will contribute to the expanding story.

There is finally the intention to produce a printed version of the book, linked to AR, so that the multimedia content present on the community site, or a selection of it, can also be seen on mobile devices when reading a print copy.

Both Duncan and I have bigger ambitions for the story, and would love to explore the production of games and TV / film adaptation. The online community of readers / fans will have special sections to start discussing / informing such adaptations. We have also approached a screenwriter who is interested in attempting to write a film script.

Audience involvement is at heart of project, as well as potentially providing showcasing opportunities for students of creative writing, design and visual arts (illustrators, animators, programmers, etc.).


Nature Mage #1 – project introduction


Here’s an introduction to the practice-based academic project I’m working on. In short, I’m working with a self-published author on ways to engage creatively with his readers, using serialisation, feedback and co-creation in an online community to experiment with new ways of launching the books and producing digital formats inspired by user-generated content.

This gives you a quick idea of what the project is all about (well, even I have some trouble defining ‘what it’s ALL about’, so good luck! If you can, please leave comments and ideas. I really want to hear other people’s opinions, tips, challenges!


Umbrella project: UNESCO Chair project Crossing Media Boundaries: New Media Forms of the Book”. Co-ordinated by Professor Alexis Weedon, University of Bedfordshire

UNESCO Chair link

Duncan Pile is a self-published author who is writing a fantasy trilogy aimed at young adults. The first two books – Nature Mage and Nature’s Servant – are out on Kindle and print. Now Duncan will be soon be launching Book 3, but in parts,, and initially through Amazon / Kindle.

Duncan’s author page

The books

In the first page of the book Duncan will ask readers to check the NMOnline (Nature Mage Online) website. This is where I come into the story. I’m creating a website / online community / co-creation platform for readers to read, comment, and create stuff linked to, or inspired by, the Nature Mage series. Users will be able to simply explore the content added by other users; leave comments about the books and site content; send their own pieces of story (either looking back at books 1 and 2, or ‘writing the plot’ for the next part of book 3); upload drawings, photos, songs, video re-enactments of the story, or anything else creative to do with Nature Mage! Even a LEGO start-stop animation (genius idea, isn’t it?)

Duncan, the author, will be heavily involved in discussions and replies, and we will also have the collaboration of art and writing students who will also be adding their creative works.

The website / community will probably be built with Ning It’s an online community building tool that’s pretty simple to use, whilst still allowing some customisation, and even programming if you have the skills. It used to be free but now is charged at around £18 / month. Anyone out there who’s tried other good online tools?
We’re also creating some mockups of the website before actually creating it on Ning. I’m using Balsamiq, a really useful, intuitive and complete tool to do website wireframes and working mockups. Yes, working – you use assets (images, buttons, sketches, etc.) to produce different mock pages, and then link them up, as if it were the real thing, but sketchy. I’ll be posting about this separately.

What will we do with the user-generated content? Well, first we have to crack copyright issues… So far, it seems the best option is to use some kind of Creative Commons License (there are many types) where we can use material uploaded by website  users, recognising the producers, but do not own the copyright. It’s more complex than this, have a look in Creative Commons Licenses

The online community is an end in itself, hopefully a site for dialogue and creativity. But we may also use the material – interviews with the author, backstories, alternative plot lines, illustrations, animations, and so on – in a first instance to produce a sort of ‘fan-inspired’ interactive or ‘enhanced book’ where the original narrative can co-exist with the mixing and mashing of readers and contributors to the community. We’re thinking about iBooks, using iBooks Author but also exploring other tools. This tool is free, and looks pretty good in action. Have any experiences to share in this area? Please get in touch!

If you’re a famous Hollywood director, do get in touch, we may consider a motion picture at some stage. Indie documentary maker? We’re available!

I’ll be posting regularly – sort of weekly – with updates. Stay tuned! RSS feed available*

(*Subject to availability; prices from other networks may vary; for full terms and conditions click here) Joking! 🙂