A two-year literature research project at Bath Spa University has culminated in a digital ghost story which personalises the “haunting” to each reader through their mobile phone.
‘Breathe’ has been created for the university with ‘Editions At Play’, an initiative between Google Creative Lab Sydney and London-based publisher and studio Visual Editions, which creates narrative-driven story experiences in the form of books, apps, URLs, events and installations.
Author Kate Pullinger’s “intimate tale” is narrated by the character of Flo who can talk to ghosts. She struggles to communicate with the voice of her mother, Clara, who died when Flo was a young girl, as other voices keep interrupting. The ghosts that disrupt Flo’s search recognise the readers’ surroundings and begin to haunt them in the same way as they haunt her. 'Breathe' also follows Flo’s best friend, Rifat, a Syrian refugee living in London whose mother has also died.
The web-based story can be read on computers but performs best on mobile devices, personalising the narrative to nearby street names and local cafes. The project builds on the faculty's 'Ambient Literature' research into location-based reading experiences and digital technology.
Commissioned as part of a study into “emergent forms of literature”, the piece is a literary experience delivered using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and context recognition technology that responds to the presence of the reader by internalising the world around them. Visual Editions and Google Creative Lab Sydney have developed the story to use place, time, context and environment to situate the reader at the centre of Flo’s world “as the book changes in ways that are both intimate and uncanny”.
The 'Ambient Literature' project is a collaboration between Bath Spa University, the University of the West of England and the University of Birmingham to investigate the design and delivery of location-based reading experiences. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the project explores new literary forms, “looking at how literature can make use of novel technologies and social practices to create evocative experiences for its readers”.
Pullinger, also director of the Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries at Bath Spa University, is one of three authors commissioned to create a “work of dynamic literature” for the project.
She said: “The Ambient Literature project is producing a range of innovative publications, from a how-to toolkit for writers and makers to a scholarly book co-written by the research team.
"As a creative writer it's been fascinating to work on Breathe, which is the last of the three creative works commissioned by the project to be published. With Visual Editions and Google's Creative Lab Sydney I couldn't have asked for a better team of collaborators to bring this personalised locative ghost story to life.”
Anna Gerber, creative partner at Visual Editions, described how the story "knows where readers’ are, the street names around them, the cafes nearby and will give them a chill when they see their digital and real worlds combine".
She said: “Full of haunting interruptions, 'Breathe' is a story for anyone who wants to know what it’s like to read and experience a personalised book.
"'The story plays with readers’ minds as it explores what books can be like when you marry technology, literature, readers’ physical spaces and their everyday worlds."
The Ambient Literature project, which began in May 2016, also includes work by authors Duncan Speakman and James Atlee, who have both created interactive literary worlds that connect readers to the world around them.
In September, the university revealed the winner of its 25-word novel competition, which celebrated 25 years of the creative writing department. American actress Kelly Doran’s pineapple-themed story, ‘FYI’, beat more than 1,400 entries to claim the £500 prize.
‘Breathe’ is available as a 15 to 20 minute reading experience, is available for free as part of the digital book space, Editions at Play, and can be read on mobiles. For more information, visit www.breathe-story.com.