ACG Unabridged: Naomi Alderman

For this next installment of A Creator's Guide Unabridged, let me give you the bonus interview content from Naomi Alderman, an incredibly diverse and talented writer who has one foot in award-winning litfic and the other in critically acclaimed transmedia experiences and games like Perplex City, We Tell Stories, and the recent Zombies, Run! On a personal note, everything I know about how to make a living, breathing character with complex motivations I learned at Naomi's knee. I owe her so much, you guys.

Q: How did you get into transmedia?

I said the right thing at the right moment to a friend, basically. And I loved it from the start. Both of those things.

So, in terms of how I got into it in the sense of "how did I first get interested?" I think I was first interested in the thing I would call transmedia when I was maybe seven or eight years old. I went to an event for children run by children's publisher Puffin - there was an area where you could walk into a wardrobe and come out the other side into… well, Narnia obviously. Or at least in my memory into something a bit like Narnia. The illusion that I'd wandered into my favourite book didn't last long but that first amazing magical moment? I've been trying to recapture that for my whole life. The place where the story bleeds into the real world, that's the sweet spot for me. 

And then, how did I *get in* to transmedia? Another book I'd loved as a child: Masquerade, which was the first 'armchair treasure hunt' book and became quite a phenomenon in the UK in the early 1980s. There was a buried treasure somewhere in the UK, if you solved the puzzles in the book you could dig it up and keep it. I spent long hours staring at the book, never got anywhere with it and then didn't think about it for years.

And then, in one of those strokes of weirdness, I suddenly got really obsessed again around 2003. I bought books *about* Masquerade, I reread it and solved the puzzles again. I thought maybe I was incubating a novel about the whole Masquerade moment. I even changed my email sig (remember those?) to a quote from Masquerade. And then I emailed a friend to say 'when shall we have dinner?' and he replied 'omg. Do you like Masquerade? If so I know some people who are looking for a writer and will really want to talk to you.'

Those people were Adrian and Dan Hon and Michael Smith. The project was Perplex City. I worked on it for three and a half years and it changed my whole life. 

Q: Can you tell me a little about your favorite projects?

A: Hmmm! My guilty secret is that I have always been a puppetmaster, never a transmedia player, in the traditional sense. However, I am very inspired by a bunch of different things that touch on transmedia in various ways. For example: Like Water For Chocolate, a novel in which the recipes tell the story. Or games like Myst, which allowed the player to wander through a landscape, piecing together the story of what had happened for themselves. 

Q: How can you tell if your story isn't much good before you send it out into the world and it's too late?

A: Put it away for a while (at least a month, preferably two). Then read it back. Don't look at it with the eyes of wishful thinking. Be honest with yourself. 

Alternatively: find a friend who reads and watches a lot, and who can talk intelligently about why they do or don't like the movies or TV shows or books they consume. Give them your story and say the following words: "be firm, and honest". 

And your first story probably won't be much good. Just be calm and accept that fact. Maybe your first 20 won't. You'll get better. 


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