This week, we are pleased to feature an interview with Jodi Cleghorn and Adam Byatt – co-authors of an innovative new serial fiction called “Postmarked: Piper’s Reach.” After reading the introductory blurb about the project which launches on April 10, our own PJ Kaiser insisted on sitting down with Jodi and Adam over cups of steaming virtual tea to chat. To start, here’s the overview of the project from their site:
Post Marked: Piper’s Reach is an ambitious organic narrative collaborative project between Jodi Cleghorn and Adam Byatt traversing an odd path between old and new forms of communication, differing modalities of storytelling and mixed media, all played out in real and suspended time.
(PJ)I love your description of the joint brainstorming process you went through at the beginning of your project. Undertaking a large project like this on your own can be daunting, but by doing it jointly you can each feed off the other’s creativity and inspiration. Could you tell us how that worked – did you have a particular forum for your brainstorming and for capturing your ideas as you went?
(Jodi) I pitched the idea to Adam waist deep in the ocean at Brunswick Heads as nothing more than a concept, badly explained between chasing children through the water. Adam, intrigued by the idea said something like: “So you don’t have a character, or a setting or any idea of what happens. Just a concept?” And I nodded. It seemed the most egalitarian way to come into a new writing partnership. I didn’t want to own the idea.
(Adam) I came into the project feeding off the inspiration provided by Jodi. The brainstorming began after the initial pitch via text message. I was camping and had no computer access, so the mobile phone became the forum to throw ideas around. My notebook became the receptacle of our ideas and thoughts so I wouldn’t forget what we were talking about.
(Jodi) It was Adam’s idea for the characters to be two long-lost friends getting back in touch with each other and Adam later sent me a text message asking if I thought perhaps these two had harboured crushes but they’d never synced up to let them hook up… and hey presto… my character appeared.
(Adam) With no real idea who our characters were, we continued to toss ideas back and forth. This is how we settled on the name of the town and its origins, the characters’ names and a little bit about their back story. We had no endpoint in mind when the first letter was written, a bit like a shot in the dark, a character hoping, trying, wanting to reconnect with the past, but not sure if there will be reciprocation. In this way, it felt “real” for the characters.
(Jodi) Since then we have caught up on Skype to talk through bits and pieces of the projects, more about the logistics of rolling out the project, rather than the actual narrative content because we have no spoilers and no joint plotting agreement.
(PJ) When it came time to write, how did you decide how to divide the work – did you simply take turns or was there something else to your approach?
(Adam) Because we were prolific letter writers as teenagers, the division came naturally in terms of waiting for the next letter to arrive before responding. Jodi wrote one letter, I wrote the next. The lag time proves interesting between epistles.
(Jodi) After the first few letters, things got a bit weird. I put my Ella-Louise on the road and out of reach of Jude’s letters, and letters crossed, big reveals went without reading. So we’ve had to do a little bit of curation to get the flow of the letters right for letters 5 – 10. But it remains a 50/50 writing load for the two of us.
(Adam) We drop occasional hints via twitter or text message, but normally leave it open and undisclosed to keep our curiosity piqued and waiting for the squeal of the postman’s motorbike. We must have looked like a couple of loons talking in this code about #thesecretproject before we came clean with what we were doing.
(Jodi) Like our characters, we’re left hanging between installments with only the odd cryptic hint (more often than not what the character is listening to). It can be maddening waiting for the post to arrive. I’m sneaky and sometimes don’t tell Adam I’ve written a letter or when I’ve posted it.
(Adam) It’s fun to come home to mail you were not expecting.
(PJ) Is this serial fiction (ie, just a few episodes written ahead of where the readers are ) or is it a serialized novel (ie, a completed work being released in serial installments)?
(Adam) This is serial fiction with no fixed agenda or completed narrative arc. It has the organic feel of two old friends reconnecting after a 20 year absence and silence. We postponed the launch to allow us to write a significant collection of letters.
(Jodi) When we launch on the 10th April we will have a dozen episodes written. We were mindful to have some kind of a lead time before launch.
(Adam) We wanted to allow for the physical delay in handwriting and posting a letter using carrier pigeon, intermediaries and the kangaroo postal service. It is written a few episodes ahead but we needed to have a collection of letters to post in order to build momentum.
(Jodi) Neither of us wanted the letters to be rushed or be stressed about writing this project, given we went into it as a bit of fun. When the narrative runs its natural course there is every possibility we will return and consider writing the serial as a novel. We are aware there are parts of the story which don’t mesh with story writing and it would be interesting to see those parts fleshed out (no pun intended!)
(PJ) Why did you choose this approach rather than aiming to publish the completed work?
(Jodi) We wanted to write letters and a completed work, as a novel, really is not a good fit with the concept (well not at this stage). I missed writing collaboratively (I was one of the original writers of the Astonishing Adventures of Captain Juan in 2008) and I like the idea of readers returning every week for a new installment. To be left hanging week to week… like in the old days when you watched a series on TV week to week, rather than devouring the box set of episodes over a weekend. Part of me thinks letter writing is the perfect fit for the medium.
(Adam) I was slipstreaming into the idea and concept Jodi created and to be honest, hadn’t considered publishing the work outside of a blog. The concept was open ended, with no fixed point for conclusion. Its organic nature precluded the idea of publishing as a whole, but that’s not to say it won’t happen in the future. Perhaps our letters will be marked “Return to Sender” or “No fixed abode.”
Thanks for joining us, Jodi & Adam! Catch the next installment on Jodi and Adam’s blog tour on Friday over at Alan Baxter’s blog where they talk about the important role music has played in the project. To catch up on the entire blog tour and to join in the launch, you can check out the Postmarked: Pipers Reach website. You can also read more about Jodi and Adam on the site.
In December 1992 Ella-Louise Wilson boarded the Greyhound Coach for Sydney leaving behind the small coastal town of Piper’s Reach and her best friend and soulmate, Jude Smith. After twenty years of silence, a letter arrives at Piper’s Reach reopening wounds that never really healed. When the past reaches into the future, is it worth risking a second chance?
Many thanks for having us today. Cannot wait for the first episode to go live next Tuesday.
Adam B @revhappiness
Thank you so much for sharing a space on Tuesday Serial with us, PJ. The existence of Tuesday Serial and the thriving community here definitely contributed to us pursuing the project in this form. As Adam said, can't wait for people to finally get a chance to read the first letter and to be sucked into the world which has been our on-again, off-again home since January.