Orion is releasing a serialised novella by "Downton Abbey" creator and writer Julian Fellowes as part of a “groundbreaking” new app and storytelling experience.
Fellowes’ historical drama, set in the 1800s, is to be released as a "new publishing product" that will be drip-fed over a period of 10 weeks through to e-readers and devices in weekly instalments. Crediting the app's "roots" in the serialised writings of Dickens, Hardy and Gaskell, the first (free) and second (not free) "episodes" will be available on 8th April. Subsequent episodes will be made available weekly each following Friday at noon.
The app itself is free, including the prologue and first episode written by Fellowes. However, to read, or to listen, on (episodes can also be listened to as audiobooks), beyond episode one customers will need to make a purchase from Google Play or iTunes App stores, suitable for both smartphones (whether iPhones or android) and tablet usage, or from the website. Users can either buy all 10 further episodes upfront "on subscription" for £9.99, which are then automatically delivered to users week-by-week, or in instalments at £1.49 per episode. Alerts when new episodes are available will be sent.
“Made easy”, the app is available on any device and users can switch between text and audio. Each episode will contain extra content around the story such as video, music, character portraits, maps of Belgravia, background information on the history of the period, fashions, family trees and exclusive competitions - much of which can be linked to directly from the text.
Orion promises the app, building up the story in bite-sized instalments, will be "complete with twists and turns and cliffhanger endings". The plot itself revolves around the relationships between two families, and launches the story from the Duke of Wellington's ball In Brussels. The ball is eventful because, just before 1a.m., a messenger reveals that Napoleon has advanced across the border; and, still in their finery, officers rush to fight, leaving many dead on the battlefield.
From this historical starting point, attending the ball are social climbers James and Anne Trenchard, along with their beautiful daughter Sophia who has "caught the eye of" Edmund Bellasis, son and heir of one of the most prominant families. At the ball, "something" else happens however to change the course of events for both families forever. What exactly this "something" is, readers won’t find out until the end of the serial, but, according to Orion, it has a "seismic effect on all their lives". This is evident 25 years later in Belgravia where episode two shows the families have settled yet "the consequences of this terrible secret still resonate".
Fellowes said: “I was very intrigued by the idea from the start. To marry the traditions of the Victorian novel to modern technology, allowing the reader (or listener) an involvement with the characters and the background of the story and the world in which it takes place that would not have been possible until now, and yet to preserve within that the strongest traditions of story-telling, seems to me a marvellous goal and a real adventure. I am terribly grateful to Orion for giving me this chance.”
Fellowes has received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for "Gosford Park" (2002) and was nominated for eight Emmy Awards for "Downton Abbey", which saw its TV finale aired on Christmas Day. Assisting him are the app's "historical consultant" Lindy Woodhead, the author of Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge (Profile Books) behind ITV's adaptation, the Sunday night drama "Mr Selfridge"; and "editorial consultant" Imogen Edward-Jones, an international bestselling author, columnist and scriptwriter, best-known for the Babylon series of books that served as BBC1's inspiration for hit TV series "Hotel Babylon".
Orion has also partnered with the National Trust by featuring two thinly-veiled properties, Montacute House and Attingham Park, as part of the story. The partnership is designed "to bring the story and extraordinary historical period to life" while the National Trust and Orion can cross-promote, for example, Fellowes has already agreed to be interviewed in the National Trust’s tri-annual publication.
Two focus groups informed the “iterative” development process behind the creation of the app, which publishers expect to be popular with women in particular across age groups. According to Orion's digital developer Marissa Hussey, using their feedback, screen and user designs were able to be honed. Attention to detail will go so far as for the website's landing page to change according to day or night-time access and, during loading, for horse carriage wheels in the app's logo to spin. And visual elements such as the family tree and map will meanwhile grow week-by-week so as not to give anything from the plot away. "A big team effort", inhouse cover designer Abigail Hartshorne meanwhile designed all the screens, while the app's outsourced developers are The Project Factory, who have previously worked on mobile apps for both "Downton Abbey" and "Sherlock" TV series.
Jon Wood, group publisher for Orion Publishing, said: “This project represents the next evolution of digital storytelling. Open-ended, responsive, multi-media and – above all – created by one of the foremost teller of tales of this generation. It fuses the best of book publishing with the immediacy of television, podcasting and radio. Nothing on this commercial scale has been attempted by the industry before, and we believe that Belgravia will open up new vistas for digital publishing, readers and reading generally.
"I am so grateful to Julian Fellowes for seeing this potential and bringing the idea alive with his usual skill and finesse. In Belgravia, he has created a compelling world of 19th century intrigue, politics, passion and family strife. It’s going to be quite a ride.”