Today I wrote the final lines of the final book of my supernatural gothic horror series, TRANSGRESSIONS…
This has been a bit of passion project for me. On one hand my love-letter to the supernatural horror story tradition that I love, and on the other hand a concept-project designed from the ground up to be developed in parallel across platforms (page, screen and interactive) whilst also testing fresh ground in terms of publishing, business models, narrative branding and development processes.
The three books are entitled - ‘The Mothers’, ‘The Scrimshaw Marionette’ and ‘The Reparation’ (the third being a collaboration with Leonie Jones) and the books will be released all together as a set in an e-first publishing strategy by Simon & Schuster, June 2015.
With one foot in the Victorian Gothic and the other deeply influenced by the unified anthology ideas of The Twilight Zone, Transgressions represents a host of ideas for me that have been simmering away for many years. The books are deliberately short and focused, cinematic and contained. A character with a deep failing, a transgression that unleashes a darkness, a road to redemption that will cost them dearly - all enveloped in labyrinths both literal and metaphoric.
The 3 books came form a host of half-baked ghost and horror story ideas I had floating around in my digital notebooks. But in choosing the three for the series, and pitching them to my publisher, I wanted to find and evoke two key elements which are not the usual origin point for literary works.
Transgressions is a project designed from the outset to move across platforms so from that angle it needs to have the mechanisms of adaptation built in from the start not extracted after the fact. I wanted stories that embodied game mechanics and spatial dynamics as much as character conflicts and plot reversals. Such elements would feed interactive and cinematic versions from an internal logic.
The first element was a triptych of Time/Place/Topography. It wasn’t just story ‘Setting’ I was after, rather the right conflation of these three components. The Place had to be definitively Gothic, a location that embodied the recurrent themes of the genre - isolation, dislocation, madness and the fringes of civilisation and rationality. That placed needed to also possess a dynamic topography and visual and visceral shape that generated dramatic pressure on movement, orientation and navigation - spaces that demand to be explored. Time then governed all of these; as the Transgressions stories were to all be ‘period’ stories I wanted historical periods of time that embodied great moments of social change, the shifting of world views, the collision of old and new value systems.
So from this we get ‘The Mothers’ set in the late 1880’s on a remote Tasmanian island quarantine station, ‘The Scrimshaw Marionette’ set during the depression in a fading Whaling Port, and ‘The Reparation’ set in the aftermath of WW2 in a depressed inner city suburb and a deconsecrated cemetery.
The second key element was Game Mechanics. For Transgressions to be able span textual, cinematic and interactive modes, it needed to have internally logical play mechanics sewn into the DNA of the story. The dominant metaphor of the stories is the Labyrinth - all three books deal with Labyrinth mazes and this gives rise to a natural set of mechanics for both characters and audiences to Explore, Navigate, Escape, Find, Solve and Collect. These active verbs are the heart and soul of good interactive experiences.
So whilst I hope that Transgressions works as a book series - that it delivers on the promise of a punch, scary, kick in the arse supernatural ghost story people hungrily read late at night during winter storms - I also want the project to speak to a platform-agnostic approach to writing and storytelling. The books are in many ways the ‘Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP) of the Transgressions project. The leanest and cheapest version that allows me to develop the stories, learn lessons about what works and what doesn’t, test and build the audience, evoke the genre and establish a base from which other works naturally extend.
Transgressions is ultimately a brand I want to a built, a playground of genre, experience and form that I want others to come and play in.
Look out for the release of the books in June 2015 and stay tuned for developments in other media to follow…