Now that the day job has released me into this lovely holly bowered cafe I can finally recap on the Twitter Fiction Festival which I’d been so excited about over the last couple of weeks.
There were a few total crackers and a number of disappointments. First off, my favourite segment of the festival was Lauren Beuke’s literary mashup, the untimely sadly missed a treat. Lauren took suggestions for literary mashups, chose three per session and Tweeted on the theme. (Session #1 can be read here) Some of the most enjoyable including My Little Pony gritty detective drama and Poe vs Dr Suess.
Not only did Lauren emerge with some very creative and captivating flash fiction and serialisations, but her account was inundated with the writing of other tweeters, suggestion after suggestion and examples of those suggestions: Casablanca Lovecraft and Last Exit To Sesame Street, Muppet Prison Drama, Cold War Fairy Tale. Lauren gets points for audience involvement; the social aspect of Twitter was well used to create a community driven creative event which will no doubt expand beyond the bounds of its organised time slot. Lauren’s piece is a living literary fabric to which no book can compare. All those involved in the piece also get points for meta. If to name is to give being (as with the meta narrative of hash tags themselves) then all those as unyet realised suggestions are floating about on Twitter, referring to themselves without an actual referent. I find the thought pleasing. If anything embodied the festival concept it was this piece, being a live conflagration of ugly and inexorable creativity. The collected tweets just don’t capture the electricity of the live event but any of the #litmash ideas can be picked up and continued at any time, improved or added to.
Many of the pieces were, as expected, just your usual story broken up into tweet sized chunks with some irritating conceit thrown in to justify their dissemination on Twitter. Which doesn’t constitute Twitter literature to me as it has only used the 140 characters limit which can exist entirely independent of Twitter. Worse still when the tweets just occur one after the other with no sense of breaking up, no serialisation in individual tweets, no live development or audience interaction. This barely develops from the classic book but it thinks it does. Having said that, of the stories which fell into this category some were much better than others and I want to share them because as stories they’re bloody worth reading.
My favourite was the autobiography of Ulysses McGraw, the 19th century gentleman frozen and defrosted in modern times to tweet his tale (there’s the conceit). The autobiography of Ulysses McGraw comes courtesy of Brian O’Connor writing from South Korea and apparently existed before the festival, in instalments from @UlyssesMcGraw. The story is extremely well written, the 140 character limit informing the diction of Ulysses into a taciturn, cultivated and patiently exciting narrator. Narrative tweets are interspersed with definitions from the mouth of Ulysses embracing the Kunderan principle of a personal dictionary, these were enlightened and thought provoking. Reading it made me feel as though the long lost American version of my soul was being coaxed out of its shell like a history laden and regrettable snail. If that image may hold together for longer than a second. The best of these – ‘Fiction: a series of lies which tell the truth’ which seemed to capture the essence of much of the ‘Twitter fiction’ on at the festival. In fact, many of the tweets, isolated, are in themselves poetically interesting, especially viewed in the context of a life and the memory “Yes, for biscuits.” And many constitute astute observations on the world without pithiness “Small wonder, I suppose. Men have misjudged the size of greater disasters, because of the small-sized newsprint they are announced in.” Anyway I’m trying to say that it’s a bloody excellent story and you’ll enjoy it immensely so please read it if you have time.
Of a similar kind were Anatomy of a Break Up by @AlinaSimone (which you can read in full here) and Ifeoluwapo Odedere’s (@hypoxia13) satire in the style of the King James Bible. The latter was amusing for a while before it came boring in style wherein the importance of its subject was sabotaged and ultimately betrayed and the former was better, a more enjoyable style and punctuated with art by the writer herself. That said with handles and links the former story gets interesting in places. Both worth reading but nothing to get particularly excited about.
At this point I’d like to say that I wish I could comment on any of the foreign language pieces, of which there were many. But sadly I’m a poor excuse for a human being or robot and I can only speak one language, something which I’m currently trying to change. I was greatly impressed however, by the fact that there were so many foreign language pieces involved in the festival (although it was mainly Franco-centric). I’d have been fairly underwhelmed if Twitter decided to limit such a push for the arts to Anglo only and limited the whole damn thing. As it is it nodded to the search for a universal literature, it included those who could read it, providing greater depth, and was an experiment in the alienage of the internet in literature for those who could not. Which is to say, I approve.
The most interesting of these stories in my opinion was the crime drama by @eliottholt (readable here). Three character accounts were created, tweeting from the same fictional event, action occurring in the triangulation of the tweets. This was interesting as a critique of what we tweet and why and an excellent experiment in characterisation through the Twitter medium. Extremely engaging with only occasional breaks in the suspension of disbelief. I recommend reading it to reignite any lost hope you might have in actual and effective experimentation with digital media.
@lucycoats summarised 100 Greek myths in a 100 tweets. Which I thought was wonderfully creative, but Hector Tobar from the LA Times missed the point completely. To quote his blog post ‘Lucy Coats “Telling stories in 140 characters has proved an intellectual challenge for me, as well as stretching my writing skills….” Actually, I think that “squeezing” rather than “stretching” is the proper analogy, Ms. Coats.’ The ‘Miss Coats’ addition makes me shudder as I’d shudder at the touch of a creepy uncle, and Hector’s mistake ‘A Greek myth in 100 tweets’ makes me want to thump my head on the table with wounded reflected pride. Someone ought to remind this guy that, like Paul Legault’s English to English Translation of Emily Dickinson, a work like this is a concentrated labour of love, and that like any work of the Oulipo, it is more creative and difficult then any of the usual mechanical, habitual operations that we tend to call creative writing. Clearly the usual literature crowd has a long way to go.
In #WLRNStory a line was initially tweeted and added to by various tweeters, a classic parlour game conducted through Twitter and what better use for it. The experiment was particularly interesting when remixed by @dw_toy who was thankfully active through the whole festival. Follow the link, read and enjoy. If there is only one DW Toy and this is the DW Toy I’m thinking of, then DW Toy is the author of this excellent free ebook which is a must read for any delicate soul trapped in a capitalist world (which is to say, I love this book) DW Toy made a wonderful contribution to the festival hashtagging in his Missed Connections series, readable on his Twitter account. The time signatures capture the real time immediacy of Twitter, the meta dimension of tweets and ground the story. I’d say that Toy’s #Twitterfiction belongs to the class of broken up pieces of story which are excellent none the less and a must read.
To end on a lower note, I was annoyed by the time restrictions on each piece. Each was scheduled, as though this were IRL and not the internet, as though we didn’t have a vast and immediate archival capacity. This stifled the real time and disorientating elements that I thought would make Twitter Literature truly adventurous and dynamic and which Exeunt criticised as ‘frustrating’. Oh well, it made it easier to follow, to be fair. But I personally would have relished the individual-lead exploration, the conjunction of random elements and personalised, interrupted interaction with literary pieces that a continuous, simultaneous feed would have given. Perhaps someone did propose that at the Twitter board meeting months ago, but I’m not surprised that it was shut down immediately, it’s not a sensible way to run a festival after all.
A more interesting and conceptual recap of the festival is available here from the undeniable Exeunt magazine.