Dipping into the world of new media writing can be daunting. It’s hard to know how long it’s likely to take to fathom a website full of hidden texts and clickable imagery, or how much we might gain from lingering there. The shortlist for the New Media Writing Prize always provides a useful selection of work worth giving some time to, and this year’s list is particularly strong.
This year’s winner is Katharine Norman, with Window, a beautiful meditation made by a composer with a love of coding and an imagination that naturally expresses itself in digital, multimedia productions – sadly not yet viewable on the iPad. The term “poetic” in this field can be code for impenetrable, but this really is a multimedia poem of depth and substance, inspired by the work of John Cage. The viewer/listener/reader looks out of a window, hears ambient sound, evocative text, using a slider which makes it possible and pleasurable to move from day to night, to remix the balance of text to sound.
If you don’t do poetic, try the duck. A Duck Has an Adventure by Daniel M Goodbrey, is great clickable fun. Then there’s Cityfish by J R Carpenter, an elegantly written and designed narrative with video and links embedded in a scrolling wordscape. Hobo Lobo is a new version of the Pied Piper, lavishly illustrated with a panorama of parallax. Living Will allows the reader to win an imaginary inheritance as they read; Pentimento takes a while to download, (new media literature is not without its glitches) but is a story to be rubbed like a never ending scratch card, literally revealing new levels of meaning.
Kristi Barnett’s Karen Barley, winner of the people’s choice prize, tells a Blair Witch style horror story through tweets and video.
if:book asked the winner Katherine Norman, to write a few lines of introduction to her winning piece:
“Window encourages you to explore the things at the edges. The ordinary moments—sounds, sights, memories, thoughts—that make an environment familiar, that make it ‘home’. My inspiration came, and continues to come so often, from John Cage—and I made this work in 2012, the centenary of his birth. His music, writing, and thinking—the way he lived his life—are a wondrous integration of art and ordinary experience.
Interwoven with fragmentary texts, themselves hidden at the edges, and only available through exploration, are a separate series of short essays. Some are about John Cage and some are personal reflections as I looked, listened and collected the sounds and images that provide the material for this piece. I did this over a period of a year—listening, looking, snapping photos and recording sounds.
Arranged in ‘months’, there are various ways to interact with Window. The choice is yours—listening, reading, looking, and travelling from one time of year to another. For each month the images and sounds were actually recorded in the month concerned. So by moving the sounds around, louder or softer or from left to right, you may come to notice how subtly sound changes as time, and life, goes on.”
You can see more of her work at www.novamara.com
The prize, run by Bournemouth University, supported by if:book UK with web support from Andy Campbell of Dreaming Methods, was judged this year by soon to be stellar novelist Sarah Butler, a writer with a track record of collaborative projects; Louise Rice of TouchPress making amazing apps such as War Horse, some of which generate serious money; and Lisa Gee who is writing a book for crowdfunding with new model publishers Unbound.
The New Media Writing Prize shows what power we have now to make work on our humble laptops and put it out directly into the world, in full colour, mixing audio and video as we choose, making interactive work for what is now a real potential readership, curled up in their beds with new Christmas tablets, looking for a new kind of good read.
Chris Meade is Director of if:book UK