Ian Rankin StoryTrek: New Digital Storytelling and Mapping Technologies for Crime Fiction Readers on Location

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Arts, English and Languages

Abstract

The project has two main aims: (1) to develop innovative ways of engaging with and self-guiding literary tourists/Ian Rankin readers around Edinburgh in collaboration with academic and industry partners; and (2) to explore the extent to which these new mapping tools have unforeseen (at the time of the original grant) commercial implications applications.

This proposal builds upon research undertaken on an AHRC-funded project entitled 'Visualising European Crime Fiction: New Digital Tools and Approaches to the Study of Transnational Popular Culture' led by Dr. Dominique Jeannerod (who is Co-I on this project). The original project emphasised outreach to librarians, internet users and crime fiction readers but it was not foreseen that new digital technologies for visualising crime fiction might also have commercial applications.

The proliferation of mobile phone and tablet devices equipped with GPS-tracking has created new opportunities for storytelling and mapping that fluidly react to a user's location and movement. This project seeks to develop these opportunities by creating a prototype using a software system called StoryTrek in order to engage literary tourists/Ian Rankin readers in the physical spaces where the writing is set. The prototype output ('a locative narrative') will enable readers to move through Edinburgh while listening to an Ian Rankin/Inspector Rebus novel - Set in Darkness (2000) - that has been specially adapted for this purpose. StoryTrek is the first system that enables this kind of immersive, location-and-movement-aware storytelling; that is, storytelling that aligns user's physical location with story segments activated by specific motion patterns. The StoryTrek system makes it possible to create complex, 'augmented reality' multimedia narratives - in this case, an adaptation of Rankin's Set in Darkness, which has been chosen because it brilliantly places the city of Edinburgh (its physical spaces, its dark history, its myths) at the centre of the narrative and hence lends itself to this kind of adaptation. The software also enables the layering of historical maps and photographs over the contemporary map of Edinburgh (that will form the basis of the application), thereby allowing end-users to see how the city has evolved. This is especially significant in the case of Set in Darkness, which is centrally about the dynamic relationship between Edinburgh's past and present. Orion's audiobook version of the novel, which has been licenced to the project as part of Orion's 'in-kind' contribution, will be edited into 30-40 key extracts, each attached to a particular Edinburgh location, ordered numerically to reflect narrative chronology and saved into separate MP3 files. The MP3 files and additional content (e.g. historical photographs, maps) will be used as the basis for custom coding and building the locative narrative, using the StoryTrek system, which will be undertaken by the International Co-I at Carleton University, Canada.

This proposal seeks to develop the commercial potential of crime fiction as a driver of tourism and enhance this potential by engaging with new software technologies and applications being developed in the creative economy. Rankin has been chosen for this project because he is the bestselling author of twenty one crime novels set in Edinburgh (i.e. worldwide sales of over thirty million books); because his work is renowned for an ability to imaginatively portray his respective setting; and because it already draws significant numbers of tourists to Edinburgh, thereby establishing a clear demand for what is being proposed. By working closely with the project's commercial partner and Rankin's publisher, Orion, and StoryTrek's designer (who is International Co-I) the aim is not simply to create a working prototype but specifically to market test it, using Orion's contacts and marketing expertise, and therefore to explicitly develop its commercial potential.

Planned Impact

The Rankin StoryTrek aims to directly engage crime fiction readers and literary tourists with a new and exciting way of relating the specificities of crime fiction to the environment or place that has produced it. One general benefit will be the creation of an innovative prototype that has commercialisation potential and that demonstrates what can be achieved through close collaboration between academics, a software designer, a major publisher, and an internationally bestselling novelist in service of the creative economy.

The main benefits will be experienced by end-users (literary tourists, crime fiction readers) who will be able to use the prototype application to experience Ian Rankin's Set in Darkness as hypertext and adapted audiobook while simultaneously moving through the place it is set and in doing so gain a richer, more detailed understanding of relationship between fiction and place and of crime fiction's capacities for immersing readers in imaginatively conceived 'real' places. By layering a map of Edinburgh - that will form the basis of the Rankin StoryTrek - with historical photographs and maps and critical commentary, users will also gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between the city's past and present and the novel's complex thematisation of this relationship. The direct benefit of the prototype will be captured and measured via feedback from users and this feedback will be used to amend and tweak the StoryTrek.

The Rankin StoryTrek is built upon a well-defined demand, whereby Rankin's significance to Edinburgh's tourist industry and infrastructure has been established. The prototype has the potential to develop this demand, to the benefit of literary tourism in Edinburgh, while at the same time giving Rankin's publisher, Orion, an innovative platform to promote the work of one of their most famous authors. This pathway to impact will be further underscored by the involvement of Orion as project partner, insofar as the Group Rights, Audio and Digital Director the Digital Development and Technical Director at Orion have committed to help market-test and publicise the project using their extensive email/user-group lists and to include it as part of a larger celebration of 'Rebus at 30' to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the first Rebus novel (2017).

Another beneficiary will be the StoryTrek designer who, as a result of this project, will be able to assess how well the software system can deliver a location-and-movement story of Set in Darkness's level of narrative sophistication and complexity. This will be the first time that an entire novel has been adapted for this purpose. StoryTrek as a brand will greatly benefit from the exposure resulting from the collaboration with a major global publisher - and this will, in turn, help in the longer-term ambition to turn StoryTrek into an open source (i.e. non-proprietorial) software system.
The Rankin StoryTrek authoring tool and reading client can be downloaded, free of charge, from a dedicated website housed in the Hyperlab at Carleton University and with links to it from Orion's corporate website. This will allow users to use their preferred devices.

One important outcome of the project is to 'prove' that the concept works and if it does, project partners are keen to explore whether it can be commercialised (i.e. whether users would be willing to pay for the product) and investigations, to this end, will take place at the end of the funding period. This pathway to impact will be further strengthened by a briefing meeting to be held at Hachette UK headquarters in London, the country's largest publishing group comprising Headline, Hodder & Stoughton, Quercus, Little Brown, and Orion. This will give the project team and partners the chance to think about the successes and limitations of the prototype and to discuss their sustainability in the long term, and to think about further collaborations involving new writers and new locations.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Keynote lecture entitled 'Crime Fiction Goes Digital' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote lecture given by Andrew Pepper (PI) on the project (aims, outcomes) delivered at international conference entitled 'Murder, She Tweeted: Crime Narratives and the Digital Age' at the University of Tampere, Finland, 23-24 August 2018. The lecture and subsequent discussion provoked useful debate about the nature of the user experience on the Ian Rankin StoryTrek and the challenges of reconciling the narrative demands of Rankin's novel with the desire of end-users to curate or take charge of their own experience. This helped the project reformulate their approach to the user's experience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://research.uta.fi/plural-en/murder-she-tweeted/
 
Description Presentation at academic conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation by Brian Greenspan (Int Co-I) and Sarah Thorne (research assistant) entitled 'Trailing Rebus: Adapting a Best-Selling Detective Novel for Locative Mobile Media' at ELO (Electronic Literature Organisation) in Montreal, 15 Aug 2018. The presentation and subsequent discussion helped project partners to rethink their approach to some of the technical aspects (e.g. coding, building) of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://sites.grenadine.uqam.ca/sites/nt2/en/elo2018