Sunday morning was spent rewriting my panel presentation – I’d decided late Saturday to change the focus of my talk from how great the collaborative process is, to talking about the collaborative relationship between author and audience and how that manifests in games. This meant I missed seeing the speakers, but luckily through the wonders of technology, they had a speaker in the coffee room you could listen in on.
After lunch, I saw The Art vs Craft panel. It was interesting structurally – having the panellists debate both sides of the argument against themselves – and the speakers were entertaining – Nathan Curnow wore a bunny suit to speak – but I came away with the same opinion I had going in: both Art & Craft are equally important.
Next up, was me speaking on the panel I Can Say Yes But In The End It Will Be No, talking about issues of collaboration and ownership as a writer with Liz Argall, Angela Bentzien, and Luke Devenish. Both Liz & Luke focused on the positives of the collaborative experience – an opinion that I share. When it works, it’s brilliant, because other creative people take what’s in your head and make it better than you could have imagined it. when it goes wrong, as I’ve seen it do, it can be incredibly frustrating though, but I think we all thought that the working with other artists had made us better writers. Angela spoke about the practical nature of the work and of having ownership of it – especially as a theatre group, and having to come to a creative consensus.
I spoke about the role of collaboration between the author and the audience, and how that relates to ownership. My theory is that you never really own the work, and that there’s always some form of collaboration, because writing – or storytelling – is about communication, and in order for communication to happen, you need at least 2 people. In established media – prose, games, theatre, comics – the communication you have with your audience is one way – it’s a creator / consumer relationship – but with games, you get the chance to turn that communication into more of a conversation. Games are built in such a way that the audience actually has to engage with the telling of the story, they have to take action, they have to own their own agency, and they have to push through the game’s story. Done well, narrative games have access to the audience’s emotions in a far more visceral form than the empathic response of prose or film because you aren’t watching someone on a screen do something, or reading about them doing it in a book, the audience is actively making a choice and then acting on that choice before seeing the consequences play out. That’s something that’s really exciting and powerful to me as a writer, and hopefully I got that across in my allotted ten minutes – at least when I wasn’t suggesting members of the audience were stalking me, telling stories about mental illness, or talking about a girl who got away.
It was a lively panel, I thought. From where I was sitting, everyone shared something of themselves, and I felt like I knew everyone a little bit better afterwards, which is exactly what I’m looking for when I hear people speak.
Next up, I went straight into my From Here to There session to talk about my experience writing games generally, and more specifically Doctor Who. I think, a few years after the project ended, that this was a nice way to finally put the whole thing to bed. I got to talk about how I got my start as a games writer, the greatest creative experience of my professional life (so far), the worst creative experience of my professional life (hopefully ever), and to talk in a bit more detail about the strengths and weaknesses of games as a storytelling medium. It was tremendous fun, but also a little strange, because at times it felt like I was just having a conversation, but then I’d turn around and there would be 20 people in the same room, all listening to me, and all laughing in the right spots.
The last session was Letters to the Editor, a chance for David Ryding, the festival director, to bring back speakers and ask them questions from the audience. It was a good way to finish up the festival – funny, insightful, and focused on the process of writing.
And that’s the strength of the emerging writers’ festival – it’s about writing, not writers. I felt energised and inspired about my own work after hearing people speak. I was reminded that there are as many ways of working as their are writers and that you need to find not only your own voice, but your own reasons for doing the work, and your own path through that. I got to speak to some incredibly talented and interested people, who in turn, seemed to see me the same way – which left me with an insufferable ego for the following few days – and who also shared my drive to write and share and communicate and make it work in whatever way we need to. That for me is the crux of the festival – bringing writers together and building a community, no matter what stage of your career you’re at.
Which brings me to a question I’ve been thinking about since I was asked to take part – am I an emerging writer? Well, yes and no, I think. I’m still learning. I’m still finding my feet. I’m still bluffing my way through some of it. But, I know I can do it – at least for games. So, in that area, I don’t know that I am emerging, but I don’t know that I’m established quite yet either. Maybe we need another definition – something between emerging and emerged – but I suspect we’d then need two more definitions to bridge those, then 4 more to bridge those, then 8, then it would never stop and our dictionary would contain nothing but words to describe the stages of a writer’s career.
Maybe then, it’s enough to just say, I’m a writer, and I’m doing this work, and that’s where I’m at. I think that’s what I’ll do. At least until somebody stops me, takes my hand, shakes their head, and says, ‘sorry son, ‘fraid you’re not a writer.’
And I’ll look them in the eye, and there’ll be a moment between us that stretches out just a little bit too long but neither of us will say anything, and when they’re just about to pull away, their fingers losing their grip, their cold hand retreating, I’ll smile, and then I’ll kick them in the shins and run off down the street!