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I recently read Mappalujo by Jeff Noon and Steve Beard. It was a really interesting read. I had a great tie reading it. It felt like something innovative and exciting, and as I read I wondered about how the book came about. With its separate but linked narratives it seemed to defy my expectations of structure while still seeming well-themed and, well, exciting.

It wasn't until I got to the end of the book and the appendices that I found out about the writing process. Steve and Jeff used a formalised approach called Mappalujo. They based their chapters on a collection of cultural icons, from Gilbert and George to The Velvet Underground. Writing alternate chapters they ended up with something unique, powerful and just, well, cool.

I wanted to know more about how it worked. What about outlining? Character arcs? What about redrafting, sharing control? So, I contacted Jeff and he has answered a few of my questions.

I've got to be honest - this is the most exciting post I've been lucky enough to post. Mappalujo is a brilliant idea and I want to do it with... with someone, sometime.

So here it is. Check out the rules below, and my interview with Jeff at the bottom of the post.

The Mappalujo Rule Book

  1. Mappalujo is a writing game designed to allow two or more players to create a shared narrative between them. It offers a balance between a collaborative work process and individual freedom.

  2. Players decide between them on a bank of ICONS, a number of celebrity figures either living, dead or fictional. We recommend between six and twenty icons for each new story. Icons should be taken from as broad a range of cultural worlds as possible. An example six might be: OPHRA WINFREY, BATMAN, LADY GAGA, BENOIT MANDELBROT, JEAN-PAUL GAULTIER and BRIDGET JONES. Your chosen icons will be used to influence each chapter of the story.

  3. Rules are decided about maximum length of chapter, for instance no more than three pages of text, or no more than 1,000 words. Mappalujo works best when limits are set in this way, to allow each icon to have its proper influence.

  4. The game begins. The first player chooses one of the iconic figures and writes a short chapter based on it. The icon can influence the writing in any way. For instance the icon BATMAN might lead to a piece about masks, about fighting crime, about revenge, about losing a parent to a violent incident, about comic books, about superheroes, about people copying the behaviour of animals, and so on. This influence can be obvious, or tangential. There are no limits to the extent or range of the iconic influence.

  5. Once chapter one is complete, the chosen icon is removed from the icon bank.

  6. This first chapter is sent to Player 2, who chooses another icon from those remaining in the bank and responds with a chapter of their own, influenced in turn by this new icon.

  7. Mappalujo is suitable for creating both traditional and experimental narratives. So, this second chapter can follow directly on from the first in terms of plot, characters or atmosphere; or it might not, depending on the agreed style of the story.

  8. This second chapter is sent back to Player 1, and the second icon is removed from the icon bank.

  9. The game proceeds in this way until all of the icons in the bank are used up. As the story reaches its final chapters, the players will have fewer icons to choose from, so increased creativity plays an important role.

  10. Stage one of the mappalujo process is complete when the last icon has been used, and the final chapter written. There will now be a number of chapters or episodes, one for each icon in the bank.

  11. These completed chapters are regarded as the raw material for a story. The two players now work together in a more traditional manner, editing and tweaking as they see fit in order to improve the story. During this part of the process a balance should be found between perfecting the story as a whole, while retaining the individual iconic nature of each chapter.

  12. When both players are satisfied with the outcome, the mappalujo game is finished. The story is complete.

Interview with Jeff Noon.

You wrote Mappalujo with Steve Beard. How well did you guys know each other when you began the Mappalujo process?

J: Hardly at all. I’d recently moved to Brighton after living in Manchester, so I was looking to make new friends and contacts. I went to a book reading session at a bar and heard Steve read. We got chatting afterwards, and then met up a short time late for coffee. We talked about working together on something. But we were both aware of the difficulties of writing prose in a collaborative manner (as opposed to writing film scripts, say, which lend themselves much more to a writing team’s joint efforts). So we decided to come up with some kind of formal approach that would allow our different styles and interests to merge in some way. The Mappalujo process was born from those discussions.

I think I read that you decided the number of chapters that the two of you would write. To what extent did you outline the story arc of the project as a whole?

The first stage of the Mappalujo process is to choose a number of chapters, say ten, and a set of iconic figures to go with them. Iconic figures are people of influence in the worlds of art, politics, science, philosophy, etc, living or dead, real or fictional. These iconic figures are then used, each in turn, to influence a chapter of the story as it builds. Steve would choose an icon, write a chapter based in some way on that icon’s life or work, and pass it on to me; in turn I would choose another icon from the list, and write an answering chapter. The story builds up in this manner until all the icons in the list are used up. So the story is written chapter by chapter, with the two authors swapping chapters back and forth. We didn’t plan the story out in any way, not to start with. We just improvised and jumped off each other’s previous chapter. It was very much an explorative process, finding pathways through a labyrinth. The overall arc of the novel only came into being as the individual stories were completed. We soon realised that all the events were taking place in the same city, which we named Lujo. Very gradually the story of Lujo emerged, with a whole set of characters living there, to carry the story forward over many decades of the city’s history.

How much did you and Steve talk about the story during the process of writing the first draft?

We would meet up every so often to chat about the process and the story, and to exchange ideas on future events. It started out as an experiment in writing; only gradually did we realise that we were actually writing a novel, or a series of interconnected short stories. But once that idea took shape, we started to think of it in novelistic terms; so more planning took place, the longer the writing process lasted.

Was it more enjoyable producing the first draft than writing a first draft alone?

Yes, it was very enjoyable! But also frustrating at times. We found it was quite easy to wander off down pathways that looked really exciting to begin with, only to discover that they were actually dead ends. So we would then have re-think meetings, to discover a new approach for the story. But the whole game-playing aspect of Mappalujo always keeps it interesting, and fresh and lively: you never know where you’re going to go next. And of course the more we did it, the better we became at utilising the system.

Was the redrafting and crafting of the final draft more complex than for an individual project?

The first draft produced a kind of soup of raw materials, from which we then crafted the novel. This second part of the process is more traditional; rewriting a second draft pretty much as an individual writer would. One of us would have a go through the material, shaping it, changing it, adding things, discarding other things, etc. The second writer would then treat that new draft as his own, and rework it. We’d then meet up to decide on the final draft. It was probably a little bit more complex than a writer working alone, but not much. This final stage was very similar to how two writers might work on a film script together.

Did the redrafting process take a long time?

It’s really difficult to talk about chronological time passing, because we would have intense periods of working together, and then periods where we took breaks. I would guess that the whole process of writing the novel, beginning to end, took about five years, with breaks here and there. We probably spent half of that time on the initial icon-sharing process, and half on the redrafting. I do remember that we did a lot changes later on, when we starting thinking about how a reader would respond to the book.

Did the Mappalujo process teach you anything about how to write with another author?

I think it solves a lot of the problems of collaborative novel writing, because two or more authors of different sensibilities are able to feed their individual styles and interests into the chapters. Even when we were working on the novel’s overall story as an arc, we never wanted the book to lose that initial feel of a game being played, of different styles meshing together. We wanted it to be a bit ragged at the edges, rather than super smooth. And out of that Mappalujo process, Steve and I have recently started to work together again, this time on film scripts, a much more standard way of writing, but one that is definitely informed by the lessons we learned from creating Mappalujo. I think we’ve learned how to let our individual styles feed into the whole, which is probably the most important aspect of any collaborative project.

What advice would you give to other writers considering their own Mappalujo project?

Set a limit for the length of chapters, say two pages. Don’t start with two many chapters: six to ten icons should be fine. Start small, and build from there as the story reveals its true potential. Make sure the icons are interesting. Figures with highly individuated attributes and styles are best, because they lead to the most influences. Avoid direct parody of an icon’s working style, if possible. Try to think of more lateral kinds of influence. And most importantly: have fun! To begin with, it’s a game, an exploration of possibilities. Then it becomes something else, a narrative. Follow the flow of the story, wherever it might take you.

And there it is. I think it's a really exciting idea and I've had a few ideas about possible projects. I hope you might have a go too.







 

Opening Sentences.

So this is my second post about opening sentences. K.M. Weiland looks at opening sentences, making the point that openings need not be memorable, but must be multi-functional. She writes that openings should introduce:

1. Questions – establish tensions to be resolved.

2. Character – engage the reader with the protagonist.

3. Setting – give the reader a sense of place.

4. Declaration – a sweeping, provocative statement.

5. Tone – establishes the style and mood of the writing.

Here's my second choice.

The Peripheral by William Gibson

The Peripheral is my favourite William Gibson book. I like the pace of it and the tightness of the scenes. The opening of Neuromancer is now pretty famous  ('dead channel' and all that), but I really love The Peripheral. Here's the opening.

They didn't think Flynn's brother had PTSD, but that sometimes the haptics glitched him. They said it was like phantom limb, ghosts of the tattoos he'd worn in the war, put there to tell him when to run, when to be still, when to do the badass dance, which direction and what range.

Third Person Collective

Like Bannan's 'Weightless' , also set in an anonymous mid-west location, Gibson uses the third person collective 'they' as the subjects of the sentences. Again, like 'Weightless' the choice creates a sense of claustrophobia, and the verbs 'think' and 'said' demonstrate that it is 'they' and not the individual that rule the setting.

Proper Nouns

Gibson introduces the protagonist, Flynn, indirectly. She is not the subject of either sentence. She isn't even the object. Her brother is. This allows Gibson to introduce the protagonist without is seeming overly direct.

Cumulative Sentence Structure

The second sentence uses a cumulative structure, with the main clause 'They said it was like phantom limb' followed by four subordinate clauses, creating a sense of the building layers of gossip surrounding Flynn's brother, Burton.

***

I always feel that Gibson breaks with convention in that the beginnings of his books often confuse and disorientate as much as they entertain. The supernatural lexis ('phantom', 'ghosts') combine with the connotations of  perception and manipulation of 'haptics'  to create mystery and tension and link to Gibson's trademark themes of social manipulation and alternate realities. Finally, the informal lexis ('badass') helps to create a sense of Flynn as a dynamic, blue collar protagonist.

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Lawyers
Monster mash-ups and movie deals - nice work.

Seth Grahame-Smith caused quite a stir in 2009 with his hit novels, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the follow-up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, both of which sold well, and brought Zombie Mash-Up into the literary mainstream.

In 2010, with striking success and a breakthrough genre, Graheme-Smith signed a $4m deal with a $1m advance. In return the author agreed to produce two new works, with delivery of the second novel expected by 2013.

According to The Guardian, Hachette is not satisfied that the second novel, which was finally submitted in June 2016, meets the terms of its contract with Graheme-Smith. The publisher is unhappy, believing that the text is “in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work”.

The publisher is suing the author and his company Baby Gorilla for at least $500,000.

Documentation at The Passive Voice

 

 

PRINT STILL RULES... for now
 print, digital, reading, ebook
Print books still dominate but e-books close the gap.

The number of Americans who read books in print remains strongly ahead of those who read e-books, but the gap is narrowing year on year. The survey, conducted by The Pew Research Center, found that while only 6% of Americans are 'digital only' compared to the 38% who describe their reading habits as 'print only', the percentage of readers who have read a book digitally has increased to 28% from 17% in 2011.

Further good news for those who publish digitally is the increasing use of mobile phones and tablets to read, especially among the young. 22% of 18-29 have read a book using a mobile phone in the past year. The percentage of readers using mobiles to read books has more than doubled since 2011 while the percentage using tablet computers has more than tripled to 15%.

College graduates are nearly four times as likely to read ebooks compared with those who have not graduated high school. Perhaps this is indicative of the cost of the technology as a barrier to entry into the e-book market, and we might expect this gap to close as the the tech becomes more broadly used. Men and women are equally likely to read ebooks and audiobooks.

The findings are taken from a telephone survey of 1,520 American adults conducted between March 7 and April 4, 2016.

 

NEW FRONTIERS FOR ARTHUR C CLARKE.
Jeff Noon missed out; Becky Chambers on the shortlist

The Arthur C Clarke award for science fiction has changed its rules to allow self -published titles to be considered.

The competition's director, Tom Hunter, cites the changing publishing environment. He makes the point that under previous rules, works like Jeff Noon's Channel Skin have not been considered, and that the judges would not have been able to include Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet on this year's shortlist.

Hunter told The Book-Seller the search for the UK's best science fiction will be widened across new frontiers.

 

RICHARD AND JUDY LIST CHAMPIONS NEW WRITERS
New writers and old publishers: Richard and Judy

This autumn's Richard and Judy Book Club list features three debut novels. The debut texts are Fiona Barton’s 'The Widow' published by Corgi (Penguin Random House), Katarina Bivald’s 'The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend' Vintage, (Penguin Random House), and Sharon Guskin’s 'The Forgetting Time' published by Pan Macmillan.

It's great to see R & J championing new talent, and that publishers are actively promoting new talent. That said, with half of the books coming through Penguin Random House and no independent titles on the list, we perhaps have a right to be cautious in our optimism.

 

A FEW COMPETITIONS
 ghost story competition
Ghost story competition this month.

FLASH

Short Shorts Flash Fiction Contest

Prize: $250 plus publication

Deadline: 15th September

Entry fee: $10

Word count: 500

SHORT STORY

The Short Story competition 2016

Prize: 1st £300, 2nd £150, 3rd £50

Deadline: 15th September

Entry fee: £5

Word count: 5000

GENRE

The Ghost Story Supernatural Fiction Award

Prize: 1st $1000, 2nd $250, 3rd $100

Deadline: 30th September

Entry fee: $20

Word count: 10,000