I’ve had the idea for an interactive fiction writers’ group kicking around for a while. I knew there must be people like me out there somewhere: people who didn’t really know how to code but had an understanding of interactive fiction; people who wanted to bring new technologies into their writing and make something a little bit different. But finding like-minded people is hard. Writers are solitary creatures, and many are technology-averse or have been conditioned into thinking that technology isn’t for creatives like them, or are just overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.
I started by delivering a talk at an NWS social on some of the free programs available and the kind of stories that can be made with them. But I got the sense that it wasn’t enough. Even when people were interested, there was still a barrier there – several people approached me afterwards and said variations of: ‘It sounds interesting, but I still don’t know where to begin. So I download a program – then what?’ At that point, I didn’t really have an answer for them.
Some months later, as part of my creative writing PhD, I began a placement at the National Videogame Arcade. NVA Director Iain Simons introduced me to Sandeep Mahal and Matt Turner of the Nottingham City of Literature, all three of whom were very enthusiastic about the idea of an interactive fiction writers’ group. The NVA already has a thriving videogame ‘reading’ group, ‘Not a Book Club’ which provided a useful model, and Matt and Sandy were also on-hand to offer promotional support and advice. It was all the encouragement I needed to take that final step and get Hello Words off the ground.
I was a little nervous about the first session. I worried that no one would turn up, or, worse still, that a hundred people would turn up in an angry rabble. Fortunately, just the right amount of people turned up, many of them with helpful ideas of how the group might move forward and develop over the coming sessions. We now have a core group who meet monthly. We have a fairly typical writers’ group format where members take it in turns to submit work and everyone else reads (and plays!) it and gives feedback. This usually leads into a more general discussion about particular principles of producing interactive work.
Most importantly, we’re such a varied group of differing talents that everyone is always learning from everyone else. Those who are experienced coders are able to help those who aren’t, and those who are experienced writers are able to help those who aren’t. We all have different ‘preferred programs’ and so we can advise one another on which is best for which type of story, or offer tips and tricks on how to get the best out of a particular toolset.
If any of that has inspired you to join us, we meet on the second Thursday of every month at 6:30pm in the NVA’s Clubroom, which is above their Toast Bar. (Enter via the Toast Bar). We’d love to see you there!