Interactive Fiction: Read it, write it, share it!

Anyone who attended the excellent “Writing for Games” talk last Saturday as part of the Dublin Writers Festival will remember the writers (Rob Morgan, Antony Johnston and Joe Griffin) onstage talking about the rise in literary games. While “literary video games” may seem like an oxymoron to the uninitiated, personal experience attests that they really are out there, and one tiny branch of this mighty tree holds the games classified as “interactive fiction.” On this delightfully sunny day in Ireland, I’d like to open a window into the world of interactive fiction for you:

So, what is interactive fiction?
In the struggle for a definition, an easy gateway is to think of interactive fiction today as the evolution of choose-your-own-adventure books that many children of the 1980s will remember. That is, interactive fiction tells a story that changes depending on the choices you make during your reading of it. This makes interactive fiction a fertile ground for many types of experimental writing and intensely personal explorations in which themes of sex and identity feature strongly.

Over the past few years, the global game development community has latched onto the potential of interactive fiction, especially as a “gateway drug” into game design. We can find visual novels, hypertext fiction and more complex forms that use player text input to determine the next steps of the game … and all of these can be classified as interactive fiction. To ease our way in, we’ll focus on hypertext fiction for today. As I’ll show you later, the most popular tools for creating hypertext fiction are free and so simple that a novice user can create and publish their first game within a day.

I’d like to read some interactive fiction, where should I start?
My interests skew experimental, so I’m going to point you towards three of my favourites in that arena (all are free and playable/readable in your browser without the need to download anything):
Howling Dogs” by Porpentine
Sacrilege” by Cara Ellison
Even Cowgirls Bleed” by Christine Love
Of course, there is so much out there across all genres, that the pieces that speak to me may not resonate with you at all, in which case you can take a look at Emily Short’s comprehensive list that will help you to find a piece that speaks to what you personally are interested in.

OK, I like this! How can I get started and make some interactive fiction myself?
The most popular entry-level tool is called Twine. It’s free, open-source, works on both PC and Mac and is relatively simple to use. By simple, I mean that if you are familiar with using Microsoft Word and have any experience at all with HTML/code, the learning curve is not steep. You create branching stories in a diagrammatic way, and when you are ready to publish, you can upload your game or story as a simple HTML file either to your own website, or for free on Philome.la.

Once you have a basic grasp of Twine and are bitten by the interactive fiction bug, there are many other established formats for creating more complex interactive fiction, including Ren’py, Inform and ChoiceScript. There’s also a wonderful new way of creating graphical interactive fiction called Fungus, created by Irish designer Chris Gregan who has put the time into creating some seriously helpful learning resources to help newcomers.

If you need a bit of help getting started, I’ll be teaching an interactive fiction workshop at the Circa Words experimental writing festival taking place on June 15th, so get in touch with the Irish Writers Centre if you would like to attend. After that, my friends and I held a day-long Twine-based game jam last year in Dublin and it was so much fun we are likely to run another one over the summer, so if you try Twine out and enjoy it, let me know and I’ll add you to the contact list for the event.

Can I adapt something I wrote already to interactive fiction?
Absolutely! By doing this, you can learn a new way of presenting your work in addition to increasing the chance of your work being read by others. Creating interactive fiction is free, easy and brings immersive, experimental writing to many people who would never buy a poetry chapbook, even if the contents are exactly the same. To show this, check out the contrasting experiences of Dan Waber (who wrote “A Kiss“), between the response he got to the same work via literary journals versus the viral promotion of it through the interactive fiction community.

I hope I’ve convinced you that giving interactive fiction a try is well worth the effort. If you do go ahead to make something in Twine, please do send it to me, I’d love to be immersed in your story!

 

 

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Tonight: Ray Davies in Conversation with Joseph O’Connor!

For all those heading to see Ray Davies speak later tonight at the National Concert Hall we hope you will have a great time and here is a tune to get your excitement levels a little higher. The Kinks released the song, “You Really Got Me”, on August 4th, 1964. Speaking in the documentary, Imaginary Man, Ray responds to a question about the song by saying, “64, the end of 64, that’s when I was born. I was literally born when that was a hit.” In that case this year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Ray Davies’ rebirth as the artist, icon and rock legend that we have all known him as. So Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Mr. Davies!

Gruff Rhys in Whelans

Saturday was the first day of the festival and a gloriously, sunny first day at that. Despite the sunshine, there was an eager queue waiting outside Whelans, all happy to leave the balmy evening and go into the dark bar for Gruff Rhys’ talk about his new project American Interior.

The evening began with Tony Clayton-Lea interviewing Rhys about his new multi-platform project; American Interior spans an album, a book, a documentary and an app. It follows the footsteps of famous Welsh man John Evans, a distant relative of Rhys, who went to America in 1790 to find a rumoured tribe of Welsh-speaking Indians. The Welsh Indians were said to be descendants of Prince Madoc who, according to Welsh legend, discovered America in the 12th century, three hundred years before Columbus. Rhys, who was aware of John Evans from his childhood, was asked to write the music for a play marking the 200 years since Evans’ death in 1999. While his music wasn’t used in the play, due to touring commitments and the death of the director, it made him more interested in John Evans’ story. Fifteen years later, on tour across America, he realised he was very close to the journey that Evans had taken but didn’t have time to visit the places and explore the story properly. When he returned to the UK, he asked his record company if his next tour could follow John Evans’ journey and give him time to visit and explore his destinations. Rhys wanted to verify the tall tales that he was told about John Evans as a child, stories that sounded far-fetched but that you accept when you’re young. He wanted to find out what was true and what was myth. The record company granted his request and the tour evolved into a series of musical lectures about Evans’ journey, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation and a three-foot model of Evans, rebuilt in felt. The story of this tour, and Evans’ original quest, are told in the American Interior book and documentary. The songs, however are less didactic and instead try to create the emotion of John Evans’ journey or concentrate on one small detail. Rhys didn’t want the song to just consist of facts.

Rhys also talked the early days of Super Furry Animals; how he met band-mate Bunford for the first time on the roof of a train and how getting signed to Creation Records was like winning the pools. He also talked about a new Super Furry Animals release – a beer called Fuzzy created by the Celt Brewery.

The second half of the evening was a performance of songs and stories from America Interior, complete with projected slides and a special appearance from the felt John Evans. It was a treat to see these songs performed in such an intimate venue and the crowd were captivated. The story of John Evans’ adventures in America was interspersed with songs played on an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a few electronic gadgets. It was a very special way to spend a Saturday night and a great way to get a history lesson!

DWF Venue #6: The LAB, Foley Street (Sheena Barrett)

(Interview with Sheena Barrett, arts officer and curator @ The LAB)

What and where is the LAB?The Lab

The LAB is Dublin City Council’s Arts Office, a dynamic hub of activity housing a gallery, rehearsal and incubation space for a range of art forms.  It’s on Foley Street just off Talbot Street. It’s very near Busaras and Connolly Station, in the heart of a really historic part of the city once known as ‘the Monto’, a cultural pocket with neighbours including Oonagh Young Gallery, Dance House, Talbot Gallery & Studios and creative pop up spaces Units 3 & 4.

What happens there?

The Arts Office is based here and we run a range of programmes, provide advice, funding and support to artists and communities across the city. The building itself is full of flexible spaces that take on different energies depending on who is in them. Last week we had an international symposium on performance with speakers from New York and Sweden occasionally interrupted by singing children at their contemporary dance class in the room next door.  Meanwhile, downstairs, we had some actors doing a read through next door to opera rehearsals. There’s also an MA from iadt for artists, curators and critics.  So while the gallery is showing work that’s at a stage ready to invite in the public, artists across all art forms are busy honing their craft upstairs.

In the LAB Gallery, we support emerging artists, often providing them with their first solo show.  We also focus on fresh ways to develop engaged audiences for the visual arts; we have a programme of events, talks and workshops with every show.

What is your role and how did you get there?

I’m an arts officer and curator with Dublin City Council. I studied History of Art and French and subsequently Arts Administration & Culture Policy at UCD. I previously worked as Project Manager for Breaking Ground, Ballymun Regeneration’s art commissioning programme. I have also worked at the National Museum of Ireland and the National Gallery of Ireland, Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, Artworking Consulting and at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. I joined Dublin City Council’s Arts Office 8 years ago just after the LAB was built.  At the LAB I curate the gallery’s exhibition and events programme.

Kids Lab

(Image – looking for rainbows – visit from local montessori group to our last exhibition)

What makes The LAB special?

What makes the LAB special is our relationship with artists and audiences. We work really hard to support artists through the process of making work but we don’t think it stops once the show opens. We want to get people talking about art, but also about the issue the art raises. We actively encourage artists to work with people from other disciplines, like architects or engineers – or nine-year-olds. We love when artists are interested in the world around them and we can introduce to them to other interesting people and they have those moments of understanding, or share ideas and knowledge.

OBeirne Drury Lab

(Image of artist Aisling O’Beirne meeting Professor Luke Drury at Dunsink Observatory to prepare for her forthcoming show in September)

There have been lots of highs. A recent one was For The Birds a one-off event created by James Ó hAodha for Tonight, You Can Call Me Trish, curated by two young curators who won our emerging curator award, RGKSKSRG. As part of the exhibition, James was commissioned to devise an encounter with a specific community of interest. His work For the Birds consisted of a series of idiosyncratic exhibition tours, which took place in the gallery on the final day of Trish. It was pretty special.http://vimeo.com/91276197

I also love quieter moments, like people’s responses to our current solo exhibition Ultra, by Barbara Knezevic and I really enjoyed the talk she gave on the opening night.  I find artistic processes very interesting, and I sometimes find those conversations become even more interesting when they are discussed with others, like when Geraldine O’Reilly will be talking to poet John F. Deane (DWF: Wed 21st May @6pm). It allows for the unexpected, and the audiences tend to be very involved in sharing their own interests and responses.

Can you talk about The LAB’s setting, and how it interacts with its neighbours?

The LAB is on Foley Street. It’s a really urban space, surrounded by new office and apartment blocks. It’s also a really historic part of the city with families who’ve lived here for generations who remember when this street had tenements, sewing factories and the infamous Monto. It is an area deeply imbedded in the history of the Lockout in 1913, the Easter Rising and the War of Independence.

Door - Costello

(images courtesy Terry Fagan, North Inner City Folklore Project Foley Street in the 70s)

I think the historic nature of the place can really add great potency to politically charged exhibitions. You really feel the weight of history.

Door - Foley St 70s

A few years ago we had an exhibition of live performance curated by Amanda Coogan called Labour showing work by ten Irish female performance artists.  It was a very intense experience to be involved in and I think has to be one of my highlights.  The work had toured from London and Derry but in a sense the issues raised seemed so at home in this context. It was very poignant.

http://vimeo.com/39416736

What makes you cranky?

Lot of things! Mostly what I listen to on the radio in the mornings. I think there are so many incredibly interesting people in this country and we don’t hear their stories enough. What I love about this work is the moments when people come together and experience really great projects, where artists took huge risks, might have failed, but still did it and put themselves out there. What makes me cranky is not being able to support more of it, take more chances, and find ways to shout about it a bit louder so more people can choose to get involved.

If The LAB wasn’t here what might be here in it’s place?

I wonder about that. Sometimes I wonder if one of the best things for the people who walk down this street is that it feels a bit safer, or there’s something curious to look at. It has always been an issue for me that the office blocks across the street keep their shutters down, even though people are working inside. Surely the streetscape deserves better. I think there’d still be a need a for place like this, but I love that it’s here. We’re just off the bustling thoroughfare of Talbot Street, tucked away in a place that’s quiet enough to look at the work, but alive enough to make you question how it fits in with the rest of our lives. That’s pretty special.

Clothes Lab

(image – installing Catherine Delaney exhibition, other-stuff, 2012)

Admission to The LAB Gallery is free Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm and Saturdays 10am to 5pm

The Lab, 1 Foley Street, Dublin 1Foley St map

DWF Venue #5: Smock Alley Theatre (Caoimhe Connolly)

smock-alley-stained-glass-windowWhat (and where) is Smock Alley?

Smock Alley Theatre is a renovated 17th century theatre on the banks of the River Liffey, on Essex Quay.​

What happens there? 

The Smock Alley Theatre of today plays host to a huge variety of events ranging from theatre, dance, music, literature + fine-art to weddings, award ceremonies, conferences, fashion shows, pop-up markets, gala dinners, college society balls, secret gigs, product launches and presentations, film shoots and festivals, right through to murder mystery tours and paranormal investigations.

Can you describe Smock Alley, for someone who’s never been there: what makes it different?

Well it’s a very impressive building with 2 highly atmospheric theatre venues and a quite stunning Banquet Hall which can be hired for private and public events. We pride ourselves on our friendly staff and try to make sure that everyone who comes through the doors feels welcome.

Has it always been a theatre or has it had other identities along the way? Can you talk about how it fits into the history of the city?

Smock Alley was the first Theatre Royal built in Dublin. John Ogilby opened it in 1662 as part of the Restoration of the British monarchy and King Charles II in 1660 along with London’s Drury Lane (1662) and Lincoln’s Inn Fields (1661). It was the first custom-built theatre in the city and still remains in substantially the same form, making it one of the most important sites in European theatre history. ​​

The old theatre closed in 1787. The building was then used as a whiskey store until Father Michael Blake bought it to set a church. When the bell tolled in 1811, 18 years before the Catholic Emancipation, it was the first Catholic bell to ring in Dublin in nearly 300 years. The facade still boasts ornate stained glass windows and the original ceiling plaster work remain in Smock Alley as a witness of this time. 

Smock Alley had been built on land re-claimed from the Liffey, it was unstable and the gallery collapsed twice; it was rebuilt in 1735. The old theatre closed in 1787, where its’ story continued with the ‘church chapters’ of the building’s history. It was a 7 years struggle to raise the funds for the excavation and restorations but doors were eventually re-opened in May 2012 making this month our 2nd birthday (or 352nd!). 

Smock alley theatre

Can you talk about its location (in the heart of Temple Bar, set back from but facing the river), its surroundings and the general atmosphere?  Temple Bar gets bad press sometimes, it’s associated with bars and crowds, with stags and hens, and then there is this extraordinary fusion of past and present, slightly off the beaten track but facing the quays … Do you think people are fully aware that it’s there? Do you think Dubliners have taken it to their hearts?

We’re building our reputation as a great place to spend an evening. The most common reaction of first time visitors is one of shock as they either had no idea ​​we were here or that they didn’t realise how amazing the building is.​ It really is a hidden gem. Although we’re in Temple Bar, we’re in the ‘old city’ area, which is much quieter, so we don’t have issues with marauding hens and stags​.

Can you describe your relationship with the streets outside the walls, your neighbours etc? 

We are very lucky to be situated in such a supportive community, we have excellent relationships with those in our vicinity Dublin City Council, The Gaiety School of Acting, Queen of Tarts, Tamp + Stitch, The Bakery and local businesses round these parts. We also run a series of literary talks with our neighbours The Gutter Bookshop.

What’s your role and how did you get there? 

I am currently the marketing manager. I was originally hired to project-manage the build and development but I loved the building so much I couldn’t leave. ​

What do you love about your job?

The high ceilings, the pace, the volume of people you meet each day, week, year. So much culture, so little time.

What’s your favourite recent event?

We had TEDX Talks here in April talking on the subject of creativity. The energy was electric.

Have you had any disasters?

*Sigh* An old building sometimes has leaky roofs…and walls. But nothing compared to the several gallery collapses in the early years of the original theatre. Due to nature of the land it was built on; marshy and reclaimed from the Liffey, the upper galeries collapsed during a performance, on more than one occasion. ​Quite a number of people died as a result of these collapses. Thankfully these days patrons don’t need to put their lives at risk to come and see a show.

If Smock Alley wasn’t a theatre, or if it hadn’t been rescued and restored, what do you think it would it be?

​Perhaps an absolutely enormous Costa Coffee or maybe some kind of McDonalds mothership… ​

What do you imagine will be here in the future?

After 352 years, I hope and ​suspect we won’t be going anywhere for a while.

Smock Alley Theatre  6/7 Exchange Street Lower, Dublin 8    smock alley map

Interview with Mary O’Donnell

MaryODonnell001IMG_7457Mary O’Donnell’s new novel WHERE THEY LIE (New Island) will be launched on 15th May, 2014

Is there more than one meaning in the title, Where They Lie

I suspect there is. I found the novel difficult to name for quite a long time, but one day my daughter and I did a brain-storm at the kitchen table, tossing titles around on bits of paper for quite some time before settling on this one. It seemed right. It refers to a place in which the bodies of the two men may lie, and also to a place in which truth is hard-won.

What drew you to the subject of the Disappeared?

I came to it from two directions. First of all I realised that I hadn’t quite finished with the title Continue reading

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I’m thinking of the days…

Seeing as today is Saturday, once again we bring you a song by The Kinks. This time the song of choice is “Days” and the days we’re thinking of are the nine days left until Ray Davies will stride onto the stage at the National Concert Hall on May 19th. Remember this year Dublin Writers Festival will have an extended nine day run, from Saturday the 17th through until Sunday the 25th. We have whole host of exciting events coming up so check out our full line-up to make sure you don’t miss out. In the meantime, sit back, turn the speakers up to 11 and hit play: