The Next Big Thing in Children’s Storytelling

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a chain of linked blogs, which is going viral. It includes some interesting Australian contributors talking about their forthcoming projects, while answering the same interview questions. Their responses link back to those who invited them and go live on specific dates a week later. Then each uses their social media connections and tweet or Facebook the others’ work.

The Next Big Thing is an innovative way of drawing attention to new books and associated media.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

I’ve got 3 interactive apps being produced in 2013 with developers, Flying Books (Israel). The titles are:

Shape Explorers

A Rainbow Surprise

A Race Against Time

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

These are education apps for littlies ages 2 – 5 years. I heard via Karen Robertson (digital children’s author) that Flying Books were looking for writers, so I approached them.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Interactive education storytelling.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There are far too many characters in these apps to choose from, ranging from a robot, to children, to a rocket!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

These are education apps that use an interactive story to explain the concepts of colours, shapes, and reading time to children 2 – 5 years.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The Publisher, or Developer, is Flying Books (Israel).

Description ‘Great Books for Great Kids!’

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7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Writing for interaction in education apps has been a steep learning curve for me. I have had to learn to write for animation, songs, sound effects, and child involvement using interactive activities as well as hand movements such as dragging, dropping, sliding etc. Fortunately, the manuscripts for these apps were written as part of my May Gibbs Fellowship, where I was able to spend one month full-time in Adelaide dedicated to writing.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

There are many education apps in the market, however Flying Books are taking a new approach of using ‘Story’ to drive all their education apps. As a children’s storyteller, this is where I came in.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I am a futurist when it comes to storytelling and have already published an interactive multiplatform novel this year, Kiss Kill (Really Blue Books 2012). Writing apps is a natural progression to my career in the digital story world.


10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

As well as a great story to read, children can learn by singing along with songs, recording themselves reading, listening to reading, interacting with the story to drive the narrative and watching the reading come to life with animation and sound effects.

The wonderful children’s authors I’d like to promote include the following:

Aleesah Darlison

Hazel Edwards

Karen Robertson

Moya Simons

Film 3.0 Making Multi-Platform Movies (Screen Australia and Story Labs)

Film 3.0 Making Multi-Platform Movies Sydney 3-12-2012

Film Australia and Story Labs

Yesterday I attended a fantastic one-day event on creating multi-platform content, transmedia storytelling and cross-media productions. Speakers came from far and near and all had some fascinating information to share, so here is my effort to pass on their wisdom and insights.

1) Gary Hayes
Making Multi-platform Movies
Films must combine with mobile and social media using the internet, gaming, and social media platforms to create integrated storytelling. Although complex, expensive, and consuming many work hours the aim of multiplatform storytellers should be to be to use gaming and social media to draw audiences in to an extended fictitious story world with the aim of sharing with others (and hopefully go viral).

2) Lance Weiler
Igniting the Imaginations of Many
Story is the same, it’s the telling of the story that is changing, so that today’s stories are thrilling, emotionally charged and immersive. Stories today have VALUE. They can be seen as a utility (entertainment + purpose) in a world which can be viewed as an attention economy where audience time demands can influence return visits. Stories challenge the emotional landscape for the audience so that they CARE as well as have FUN (social and participatory). The aim is for a story to go Hyperlocal as well as Global.
Story = Social + Connected + Personalised + Pervasive

3) Brian Cain
Story as Marketing, Promotion as Narrative
You must have a business model/goal as the foundation of your multi-platform storytelling. BUT, the story is more important than the technology and for the audience to engage, speak to their Ego.

4) Gunther Sonnenfeld
Audience Intelligence Storytelling
Data + Storytelling are the ultimate for creation.
Data are the What?
Stories are the Why?
Data + Story = Context
Context drives all business investment decisions. The audience are part of the context in that they build conversations with each other, thus becoming partners in the storytelling process.

5) Laurel Papworth
Managing Movie Communities
You must leave a digital trail. To do this, stories must be embeddable, distributable, sharable, discoverable, forward-able, and findable.
In Australia today 26% of people are reading, creating and uploading content. Building online communities is crucial for a story teller for an audience in terms of finding, filtering and forwarding information. In this way you create and can identify Story Influencers who will create a riplle effect for your story.

6) Matt Costello
The Game in Movies
Creators must think of story challenges as story puzzles. Puzzles are the foundation of story.

7) Brian Seth Hurst
Story-centred Participatory Audiences
“If you can create a great mythology, the story can go on forever.”
The canon of story is to provide opportunities for audience participation so that it is uniquely meaningful to them.
Story entry points for an audience include: multi-platforms, anchor platform, participation gateway, story and brand extension, and fan ownership.
Storytelling today involves: storyteller; business person; technologist; entrepreneur, marketer; game designer; social media manager and; brand manager.

8) Nathan Mayfield
A Tale of Two Campaigns
Art and Technology are symbiotic. Multiplatform story extensions can be found at the interactive, personal, social and mobile levels.
As well as the story, storytellers must look at content, client, platforms and audience.
Creators must realise that everything they make is a Franchise.
Take note of the questions your audience are asking!

9) Ester Harding
Surfing the Multi-Platform Tsunami
Sought NSW DMI Funding (Digital Media Initiative)
Multiplatform storytelling and marketing are one and the same.

10) Mike Cowap and Alex Sangston
Money for Something
Investment Manager for Screen Australia
Screen Australia only funds film initiatives. It does NOT fund games.

Behold a Digital Storyteller

new beginnings

Tunnel’s End

In a small but majorly significant way I’ve turned the Titanic around and have caught a small current. At the SCBWI Sydney conference I went to Karen Robertson’s talk and she mentioned an app developer looking for writers. I contacted them and have been working on 3 education apps with them. It is truly lovely to find a digital publishing house who judge me for my work, not for my age, gender, sales figures etc etc. I feel as excited when I had my very first ms accepted by Macmillan Education 13 years ago!

And it is incredibly wonderful to be ahead of many in the writing game, not trailing so far behind that I felt I no longer belonged. I still feel I don’t belong but I don’t care any more. Now, I can at least say that I will have something coming out next year. Between the ebooks, the apps and the transmedia novel I feel I truly can call myself a digital storyteller 

Transmedia Toe-dipping: Kiss Kill by Jeni Mawter in Viewpoint magazine Vol 20 No 2, 2012, Pp. 20-21

How do you man up when you’re down? When 16 year old Mat meets Elle she seems perfect. But over time Elle becomes more controlling and aggressive. Feeling like no one will believe him Mat isolates himself more and more. Their relationship fragments then explodes.

Stories are shaped to fit their form. The oral narratives of the past included epics, sagas, lyric poems, ritual songs, genealogies and panegyrics (praise poems) which were modified to suit a particular audience or occasion, and were often told with an intention to recycle knowledge back to the listener. With the development of writing and printing, story structures changed and moved from an oral-aural-sensory focus to a visual focus. With print, “words became things” that could be arranged on a page (Ong 1988, p. 118). With print, story closure was encouraged, a finality not seen in the oral tradition.

Today we are in the midst of another technology explosion so that once again, stories can change. I seek to take storytelling into the future. As a futurist I am inspired by the views of Brian O’Leary and Hugh McGuire in their book A Futurist’s Manifesto (2012), and by Mark Pesce who I first heard speak at the Sydney Writer’s Festival in 2010. In terms of transmedia storytelling, inspiration comes from Frank Rose’s The Art of Immersion (2011), and by transmedia storytellers such as Jennifer Wilson, Jeff Gomez, Carlo Scolari, Brian Clark, Lina Srivastava, Simon Pulman, Rob Prattan, Andrea Phillips, Scott Walker, April Arrglington, Alison Norrington, Lance Weiler as well as Australia’s own Dr Christy Dena and Gary P. Hayes.

David Varela has stated that “the medium carries a lot of the story’s power” (personal author notes, 2011). The Kiss Kill story is about a disintegrating and explosive relationship. In these fragments lies its power, with multiple texts and transmedia giving the fragments form. Varela’s comments confirmed what I had already been experimenting with. I combined prose with other narratives such as scripts, songs, notes, poems, comics, essays, texting, photos and more. Transmedia was used through blogs, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
What is Transmedia storytelling?

Definitions of transmedia storytelling differ but Simon Staffans says that transmedia ‘is telling stories over a number of media platforms, stories that are connected to a higher or lesser degree, but always connected and rooted in a common story world’ (2011, p 6). For Kiss Kill, Mat’s world is the story world.

Not only can readers interact with the story, in transmedia they can also participate in the story. Henry Jenkins (2003) makes this distinction between interactivity and participation:
“interactivity” refers to “preprogramed entertainment experiences” and “participation” to “tak[ing] the resources offered by a text and push[ing] it in a range of directions which are neither preprogrammed nor authorized by the producers.” So, to put it simple, interactivity gives the users a pre-set choice (ending a, b, or c; should the character do this or that next) while participation has users ‘do their own thing’ with the existing content – expanding it, altering it, continuing it, etc

Kiss Kill was written with no order. Mark Twain said that, “Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own.” This appealed to me. Ideas appeared organically, were researched, created, randomly collated, and only after these processes did the novel take form. Mat’s story is a story of a boy who triumphs over a relationship with his abusive narcissistic girlfriend. The potential of Narcissism to destroy relationships (friends, family and communities) is explored, but Kiss Kill takes the traditional abuse story and inverts it so that young males can also be victims of relationship and emotional abuse, or bullying. With a rise in the incidence of Narcissism (Twenge and Campbell 2009, Twenge 2010) Kiss Kill is a modern cautionary tale. Despite the subject matter Kiss Kill is humorous and heart-warming, ending with optimism. However, out of concern for my readers I can direct those in need to organisations such as “Headspace, Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation” and “Mensline Australia”.

Traditional storytelling involved ‘Listen, why I tell you a story.’ Transmedia storytelling changes this to ‘Let’s tell a story together’. Young adults (teens to twentysomethings) are adept at reading multi-platform narratives. They are used to reading non-linearly and they are used to interacting with narrative through sharing (social media) and co-creation. Mash-ups are a popular example of co-creation. Kiss Kill consciously provides multiple openings into the story for co-creation and the multiple platforms allow for engagement and participation. Readers can engage with me as the author on my blog (, or Mat the character on his blog Facebook, Twitter (@mawter @kisskilldigital) and Pinterest are also used for sharing the story experience. Kiss Kill readers share their creations on Mat’s blog. They have created music and recorded their own versions of ‘Thought I Knew’ as well as made a YouTube for the haunting scene ‘How Do You Define a Man?’ Individual as well as community creation is encouraged so that this story can continually evolve.

As a writer I am aware that today’s young adult readers want convenience and connection. They want characters with emotional appeal, relevant to their own social networks, and about whom they care. Issues such as relationships, bullying and depression are relevant to them. In this way I targeted my reader and was actively involved in creating my audience. My ultimate goal is to build Mat’s fan base. The inclusion of the character blog deepens the audience’s emotional engagement as well as connects the character with my author brand. It inspires community comment, sharing and creation. Kiss Kill went on to leverage a community of creators, such as musicians and actors who produced the iTunes and YouTubes, and YA bloggers who wrote reviews.

Transmedia is not a new form of storytelling. However, it usually involves large entertainment corporations with big budgets such as television (BBC Sherlock series, Nike promotion); film (Breathe by Yomi Ayeni); alternate reality gaming (Perplex City) or live action theatre (Clockwork Monkey). In terms of children’s stories David Levithan’s “39 Clues” (Scholastic USA) was one of the first multiplatform stories published for children, but again with a sizable allocated budget. To the best of my knowledge Kiss Kill is one of the first transmedia young adult novels published. It is published for a global market, by a small publisher, on a minimal budget.

As a solitary writer I needed to educate myself on: multiple platform storytelling; writing non-linear narrative; and technology developments that seem to change daily. Instead of a steep learning curve, I am on a trajectory. Traditional publishing is yet to embrace transmedia storytelling so I was delighted when Sarah Bailey launched her ePublishing house “Really Blue Books” and rose to the challenge of transmedia. Every step of the journey has involved forging new pathways. Traditional processes in publication, distribution, sales, reviewing, publicity, and competitions are not applicable. These words of another storytelling futurist could well be my own:
I soon discovered that innovation is a messy business filled with long stretches of doubt, countless false starts, and a constant black cloud of indecision. There was no road map to follow, no guarantee that a story told this way would result in anything more than a pile of broken parts, (Patrick Carman, 2011).

Australia does not yet have a huge transmedia community. Last year I was fortunate to attend a conference on Creativity and Technology in New York and to speak with Bob Stein from if:book New York. Through social media I can communicate with transmedia storytellers globally. Online groups such as Digital Story World, Tools of Change, Transmedia LA, as well as bloggers and transmedia storytellers keep me up-to-date with the latest developments. Last year I attended the if:book non-conference in Melbourne and was fortunate to meet with Dr Christy Dena. Australia’s App developer Karen Robertson (Treasure Kai) has been both an inspiration and support.

Finally, I must make the point that not all stories are suited to transmedia. There will always be a place for traditional narrative. However, it is my belief that through daily digital technology developments Kiss Kill barely scratches the surface of possibility. It is exciting to explore new territories such as alternative income generating systems like crowdsourcing through Kickstarter, Indigogo and Pozible (Australia) instead of Advances and Royalties.

Where to from here? Who knows! I’m writing my future history in the ‘now’.

Carman, Patrick “Read Beyond the Lines: Transmedia has changed the very notion of books and reading” in November 4, 2011

Jenkins, Henry “Transmedia Storytelling: Moving characters from books to films to video games can make them stronger and more compelling” in published by MIT /January 15, 2003

O’Leary, Brian and McGuire, Hugh A Futurist’s Manifesto: A Collection of Essays from the Bleeding Edge of Publishing, O’Reilly Media Publisher (2012)

Staffans, Simon One Year in Transmedia Storytelling 2nd Ed Blog posts are extracts from the blog SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS at

Twain, Mark (n.d.) Retrieved March 27, 2012, from Web site:

Twenge, Jean M “The Narcissism Epidemic” in Psychology Today, May 12, 2010

Twenge, Jean M. & Campbell, W. Keith The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (2009)

Ong, Walter J Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, New Accents. Ed., Terence Hawkes, New York: Methuen, 1988

David Varela, Digital Storytelling: Seminar organised by the Australian Society of Authors, Sydney 2011.

Books that have a Transmedia Component

For the upcoming SCBWI Conference Sydney 2012 I will be speaking on a panel, ‘Going Digital’.

I have put together a preliminary list of published books with Transmedia Elements as follows:

1) MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI: HOUSE OF LEAVES House of Leaves (2000)
One of the pioneering cross-platform books from 2000. Portions of the manuscript were available on various sites around the Web, hyperlinked to one another. The author’s sister, the singer/songwriter Poe, recorded the album Haunted as an extension of the novel, featuring tracks like “House of Leaves”, “Exploration B” and “5&½ Minute Hallway.”

October 2006, Running Press Kids, an imprint of Perseus Books, published the novel Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233, written by co-authors Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart.

Scholastic’s The 39 Clues. Rick Riordan, the author of the first book in the series, created an outline for the overarching story over the course of the books to guide subsequent work-for-hire authors including Gordan Korman, Peter Lerangis, and Jude Watson.


Patrick Carman’s work on the Skeleton Creek transmedia novel series represents another model for transmedia publishing being part book, part online video series.


7) SPARROW HALL: TWO BLUE WOLVES and NIGHTWORK (2011) Paperback with Digital Download
Expanding the book experience by having the story unfold across multiple mediums, through various perspectives. The two short stories include music, video, art, live performance, and web-specific content developed by a cadre of artists from around the world.

An interactive e-book that allows readers to dive deeper into the history and mythology of the story world. The book includes a soundtrack of thematic songs curated around the story.

9) JENI MAWTER: KISS KILL (Really Blue Books, 2012)
Young Adult novel told with multiple text-types and encourages audience interaction with author and character via blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Audience co-creation seen on iTunes, YouTube and digital artwork.

Max Giovagnoli has recently published his novel “The Secret Message of Falling Stars” which is soft fantasy about parallel worlds, which uses complimentary iPad and iPhone apps to track characters through two alternate realities.

J.K. Rowling’s ‘Book of Spells’ aims to bring a magical book to life on the PlayStation 3 via augmented reality.

XMediaLab Global Media Ideas 2012 in Sydney, Australia

Attended the mind-expanding XMediaLab Think Tank in Sydney last week and am sharing my favourite quote(s) from each presenter.

1) Don’t tell me what I want. Tell me what I NEED to want.
Kenneth Hertz on Music, Marketing and Money

2) Use creativity and innovation to do some ‘good things’ for others along the way.
Ian Charles Stewart on More Interesting Dreams

3) Don’t hate. Participate and Digital media = Participatory media
Corvida Raven on Learning to Listen

4) Interaction Design designs for people’s behaviour in order to provide a service for the way people wish to act, examples include iPod, WiiFit, Instagram
Steve Baty on Beyond the Interface

5) Our future will include UStream ie live video streaming globally.
Michael Naimark on Global Time, Global Space and Global Data

6) Our aim is to create an un-holdable China.
Helen Chen on Creative Futures in China

7) Indians today have personal aspirations for a different future for themselves and their children.
Domestic consumption and entrepreneurship is creating a huge industry of local Start-Ups going global so that they’re seeing Reverse Innovation.
Rajiv Prakash on India Start-Ups

8) Collective individualism gives communities a collective vision
Devices are the enablers of new collaborative and collective experiences eg smartphones
Bonnie Shaw on The Collective Individualism of People, Place and Technology.

9) There is a strong relationship between ‘Play’ and ‘Story’
Warren Coleman on Play Stations

10) The Art Form of storytelling is changing with the Internet unlocking of new voices.
Arvind Ethan David on ‘Small and Global’

11) The digital landscape in Indonesia is vibrant today.
Shinta W. Dhanuwardoyo on Vibrant Story in Indonesia

12) The challenge for Australian homes when they get the Next Generation Broadband Network is what to do with its enormous potential eg ambient intelligence.
Colin Griffith on Broadband Innovation

13) The new competition for television comes from new multiple digital platforms in terms of: Search; Digital Retail; Social; Consumer Devices + Apps; and Connected TV (XBOX 360).
Tablets are the consumers’ Second Screen, linking viewing on TV with smart phones.
Gerry Gouy on The War for Your TV

14) Networking, personalisation and mobility will radically change user patterns to create new paradigms in a multimedia market.
Computers are being turned into an appliance.
Anuraj Gambhir on New Paradigms: Visions of Future Mobility & Immersive Experiences

15) Because network activities are measured we are able to use this data to make it into a game.
Dr Steffen Walz on Network Detox: Connected Futures in Play

Came away from this incredibly successful day with mind explosion and brain strain 🙂