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An Awfully Interactive Adventure

Just before Christmas 2012, Hot Key Books launched a free interactive writing project aimed at children aged 7-11 years. The Story Adventure is running from January to May 2013, and invites children to help author Fleur Hitchcock write the sequel to her book SHRUNK!, a funny fast-paced adventure set in a town where strange things happen on a regular basis.

her own – even responding to my on line persona ‘therealfleur’ in a way that means she’s forgotten that I’m her mum. She is just the kind of child we want to reach, and hopefully keep on board.

We began by deciding certain absolutely fixed things. The story would take place in Bywater by Sea, the fictional town in which my novel Shrunk! is set. We would use the same characters and we would work from an idea that we were given by four children that read Shrunk! before it was published. They said, ‘We think that Fleur Hitchcock could write another story about girls and boys having to go to battle against each other. Girls and boys always like to think that they are better than one another.’ It seemed a good place to start.

Here Fleur Hitchcock describes The Story Adventure, and what she hopes for it.


esterday – a little before six, I sent Chapter 2 of The Story Adventure to Sara O’Connor at Hot Key Books. She hasn’t yet sent me her comments, but she will, and she’ll have to do it before the end of

the day, so that by the end of tomorrow we’ve got a final publishable online version – ready to go out to our subscribers on Monday morning at 7.30am.

The Story Adventure is an online experience for children, aged 7 - 11, lasting from January until May, where they contribute to a story, which I write, week by week. At the end of it all, we’ll have the makings of a book.

Two things lie at the root of the experiment. One, that the publishing industry is entirely adult. Agents, publishers, editors, publicists, the marketing departments, and writers. Even most reviewers are adult. And two, all children want to be listened to. Some of them are very good at getting themselves out there, but others are not. Here at The Story Adventure the team of myself, and a non-stop army of people from Hot Key Books, tries to respond to every single child. Even the very quiet ones. Each week, I will take the best ideas, and the ones that seem to get the biggest vote of approval from our community of contributors, and wrangle them into the story. So, already, after just over six weeks, we have a fine collection of illustrations and reams and reams of suggestions and proposals.

Even my own daughter, a significantly dyslexic 11 year old, has become engaged. I read the chapters to her, read out the questions, and now she’s on the site, looking at other people’s ideas, suggesting

The prologue went on line in December, and a few people, most of whom we knew one way or another signed up. By Christmas, we must have had about thirty people. When Chapter One went live on the 21st of January the sign ups fell like snowflakes. So far The Story Adventure has clocked up 275 subscribers, many of whom are whole classes. That means we’ve got more than 1500 children suggesting and responding. Some of them several times on the same subject.

This may sound like complete mayhem, but now, a little time on, a shape is beginning to emerge. When someone proposes an idea, it either gets ignored by the rest of the children, or we get a chorus of agreement. Once the children start to agree with each other, the idea gets refined, appropriated, changed, and so developed. Ten voices on a subject aren’t enough, but a consensus of 93 gives me an idea of which way they feel the story should turn. If half the children suggest that someone’s pet should be an otter, then, an otter it should be – however, sometimes, the maddest idea, the lone voice in the wilderness, turns out to be the best – and those are the ideas I’m looking for, because they drive the plot. Sometimes, those ideas are so good, I feel amazed that someone has just given them to me.

The ideas come through to me on a Wednesday lunchtime, collated into spread sheets, and with no names on. I then read and assimilate and begin to form a picture of where the children are heading, but probably don’t start writing until Thursday. By Thursday evening, I need to have finished the chapter. The rest of the time, I look at the site, answer questions, give encouraging

comments, think about the streams of thought spiralling off from particular children. It’s exhilarating and it’s fun, all the more so because we have no idea which way it’s going to go.

To prove that it’s working: here’s a child’s comment that came through to my inbox this morning. ‘Thank you SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO much flier (sic), I’ve never got advice from an actual author before! So happy right now!’ n

Books for Keeps No.198 January 2013 5

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