Saturday, 22 March 2014

Freed Fiction – Book App Launch of Jeff Norton MetaWars: Blood Nexus – Episode 1.0 Interview with company founder Bea Longworth.

Think back to when you were a child and the hours of fun and frustration you had whilst reading ‘Guide Your Own Adventure’ books. The thrill of being in control and choosing the direction your story would take, the annoyance of making decisions that always took you back through the trap door and getting you stuck in the dungeon.

Now think how amazing it’d be if you could have a ‘Guide Your Own Adventure’ book for the 21st century, one that utilises new technology and eliminates the possibility of retracing your steps, wouldn’t that be great. Well you don’t have to imagine for long, because Oxfordshire based Freed Fiction has created just that, and their first Adventure Book App, is launched TODAY and it’s based on Jeff Norton’s much loved MetaWars series.

So to celebrate the launch and find out more, we have an interview with Freed Fiction co-founder and Hot Keys author Bea Longworth.

Before diving into the world of publishing in early 2013, I spent most of my working life in technology PR, including a stint leading the European PR team for US tech giant NVIDIA. Along with partner Bill Cole, I founded Freed Fiction as a way of bringing together my love of books and computer games. At the moment I’m busy co-authoring Freed Fiction’s first product, a collaboration with Jeff Norton titled MetaWars: Blood Nexus aimed at ages 9+. I’ve also just had my first book published by Hotkey Unlocked - it’s a rowing themed romance called In Too Deep for ages 16 and up. I live with Bill in Oxfordshire and divide my free time between Wallingford Rowing Club and the town's fabulous local bookshop, which just happens to be next door to a lovely tea room!

Freed Fiction is a two-person digital publishing startup based in South Oxfordshire. The two people in question are me and my fiancé Bill Cole - we started the company in February 2013. We make interactive digital novels for children and young adults. Our goal is to tap into kids’ instinctive appetite to get creatively involved with the stories they love. By combining game-like elements with an ebook format, we give readers the chance to influence how stories and characters unfold. For us, technology is there to serve the narrative, not the other way around. We’re interested in innovating through storytelling and firm believers that the best 3D graphics are the ones in your imagination!

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

From early childhood Rumer Godden’s Tottie: The Story of a Doll’s House was one my mum and I read over and over again. I can’t read it any more, it sends me off in floods of tears! When I got older I loved anything sci-fi and fantasy related. I have clear memories of devouring The Alchemist’s Cat by Robin Jarvis in very short order.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

I love Terry Pratchett’s YA books – Tiffany Aching is a brilliant character and a very clever extension of the Witches characters from his adult Discworld series. Maurice and His Amazing Educated Rodents is also great. You have to admire anyone who can sneak an allegory about canonised texts into a kids’ book!

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

The best children’s books are like poetry – they’re incredibly economical in their use of language. They look simple at first glance and, depending on how you read them, they can be a straightforward story or something much more deep and touching.

What made you want to work in children’s publishing?

I’d like to have a very profound answer to this but, to be honest, it just sort of happened! I’ve always had a vague idea that liking books would be a good starting point to doing something book-related as a career but never got further than that till we started Freed Fiction in 2013. Before that I was working as a PR manager for a big technology company, which involved quite a lot of writing but certainly nothing literary!

Do you read traditional books or E-books, or combination of both?

I read a combination of both. I’ll tend to own both hard and digital copies of my favourite books, just to be sure I’m never without them! I love re-reading books, there’s something very comforting about it. Over the last couple of years I’ve tended to buy more traditional books because my partner and I have become really good friends with the owner of our local bookshop in Wallingford and she shouts at us if we buy ebooks from Amazon. She’s tiny but very ferocious, not to mention a fabulous bookseller.

Freed Fiction is a lot like the Guide Your Own Story books from when we were children; did you read these kinds of books when you were growing up?

I dabbled a bit with Choose Your Own Adventure but I found the books a bit frustrating. From about the age of eleven I was really into computer games and found they offered a much more intuitive and effective way to interact with stories. My favourite genre was (and still is!) adventure games with a strong story line. I think some of the story-driven graphic adventures I played were as influential to my appreciation and understanding of narrative as books. As far as I’m concerned, books and computer games aren’t polar opposites – they can be very complimentary.

What inspired you to create Freed Fiction?

My partner Bill and I were both at a point in our work lives when we wanted to shake things up a bit – go after the Holy Grail of a job that allowed us to do something we were genuinely passionate about and have a good work/life balance. Bill is a bit of a serial entrepreneur and has been involved with a few start-ups before but I’d never really considered starting my own business before he suggested the idea. I took a bit of convincing but in the end I knew I’d regret not taking the opportunity to give it a go.

Our starting point was the idea of mashing up the most compatible elements of books and computer games. It really frustrates me that people tend to position reading and gaming as antithetical – it ain’t necessarily so. There’s a big trend at the moment towards even triple-A game titles like Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto and Bioshock being strongly narrative driven. The latest Tomb Raider game was actually written by Rhianna Pratchett, Terry Pratchett’s daughter. People engage with good stories, whether they’re on a page, in a film or part of a game. With Freed Fiction, we wanted to explore how we could bring the interactive elements of a game to reading without allowing the technology to distract from or compromise the narrative.

We’ve also discovered that adding interaction to reading is a great way to draw in children who don’t naturally see reading as something fun. Kids now expect to be active participants in the brands and stories they love, whether by posting YouTube reviews, writing fan fiction or posting in forums and on social media. By putting readers in control of the action, we can give them the interactivity they crave and hopefully help them develop a love of reading for pleasure.

One of the most frustrating parts of reading the, Guide Your Own Story books, was when you ended up repeatedly going back to the same page, is this something that will happen in your Freed Fiction titles?

That used to drive me nuts! You had to keep you finger in the previous page in case you chose the wrong thing and go eaten by a polar bear or frozen to death. I was adamant we had to avoid this happening in Freed Fiction titles. Creating content for our format is an interesting process – it’s a balancing act between offering the reader enough choices and different outcomes that it feels like their choices matter without the writing totally unmanageable.

Our aim is to give readers the illusion that the book is writing itself as they read it, even though all the story threads are pre-written. I find what are called ‘sand box’ games, where you can do anything in whatever order you want, aren’t as interesting as more tightly scripted narratives that offer you more limited choices but tell more satisfying stories. Freed Fiction titles are almost a half way house between being a reader and a writer. For most people, writing is work, not entertainment! We want to give kids some of the thrill of controlling and authoring a story without the heavy lifting. I’d love it if, further down the line, we can play a part in inspiring our readers take the next step and start writing their own stories.

Can you tell us in some more detail about your first Freed Fiction title, DARK FATE: THE TREASURE ISLAND CHRONICLES, and more crucially when it will be released?

We started work on Dark Fate early last year, with the intention of it being our first title. However, in the meantime the opportunity came along to work with an author called Jeff Norton who’s written a series of books for young adults called MetaWars. MetaWars: Blood Nexus – Episode 1.0 will be in the iBook Store on March 20th 2014 as a free download for iPad, iPod, iPod Touch and iPhone.

Freed Fiction was a great fit with Jeff in a couple of ways. First, Jeff was a reluctant reader himself when he was younger so he created MetaWars to be very action-packed and cinematic to appeal to kids who engage more readily with films and games, like he did at a young age. Adding interactivity to a MetaWars story was the next logical step in finding ways to connect with reluctant readers. Jeff is also a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books and cites them as one of the key things that turned him on to reading.

Blood Nexus is an action-packed thriller set in a dystopian future. It’s a prequel to the MetaWars book series by Jeff Norton – our book takes place just before the action of MetaWars 1.0: Fight For the Future. In Blood Nexus [cue deep movie trailer voice!], teenager Sam Kavanaugh is fighting for the freedom of the MetaSphere, a virtual world that offers mankind its only escape from the ruins of reality. When Sam is critically injured during a mission, she discovers that the lines between the digital world and real life are dangerously blurred. To understand the past, she must survive long enough to have a future.

Our intention with Blood Nexus is to appeal to both existing MetaWars fans and readers who are new to the books. If you’re already into MetaWars, Blood Nexus takes you deeper into the mythology and characters, but if you’re a newcomer it’s a great introduction to the MetaWars world.

Do you have any other Freed Fiction titles in the works, if so can you give us a hint at what to expect?

We have a super exciting project on the cards but I’m afraid it’s very hush hush! All I can say is that it would be an amazing one to work on and an opportunity to really push the boundaries of what interactivity can add to a story. Fingers crossed we’ll be able to tell you about it soon.

We have a LOT of writes follow this blog who will be very keen to know if there is any opportunities to write for Freed Fiction, is there? If so how can they apply /submit?

We’d like to hear from anyone who’s interested in working with us! Writing interactive stories requires a particular mind-set and approach but I can say from experience that it’s very rewarding. I should throw in some expectation management here. Creatively we’re up for considering any great ideas but any potential collaborators should bear in mind that we’re a very tiny start-up with non-existent budgets. Our goal right now is to survive financially long enough to continue making innovative, exciting interactive novels.

You can get in touch via email on, on Twitter we’re @freedfiction or we’re on Facebook – We would also absolutely love to get any feedback on MetaWars: Blood Nexus from Space on the Bookshelf readers. Get downloading, have a read and tell us what you think! Your comments will help us make our next title even better.

MetaWars Blood Nexus is available for FREE from itunes, if you want to checkit out Press Here. 

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