Kate Pullinger on Flight Paths



How do you describe Flight Paths?

‘Flight Paths’ is an attempt to open up the research and writing processes involved in writing a novel to collaboration and discussion from the earliest stages. It’s an attempt to write across media and across the network.

How did the project come about?

The idea for the story – the airplane stowaway who falls to earth and the woman who witnesses his fall – has been with me for a long time. In early 2007 it occurred to me that aggregators on the web, like netvibes, could enable users to curate the web in a new cross-media way. The phrase ‘networked novel’ arose after I came across other ‘networked books’ – works of non-fiction open to comment prior to the final draft being written. I thought I would push this a bit further and see what happened if the work was networked and open access from day one.

What got you interested in the idea of doing a collaborative project?

I’ve collaborated with other people for a long time in different art forms – it makes a great change from the solitary business of writing a novel or short stories.

How have you/do you make potential participants aware of the project?
Do you know some / all of the participants offline?

This has happened organically and slowly through the networks Chris Joseph and I have built up, through our students around the world (an advantage of teaching online), and electronic and digital literature networks. I do know some of the participants online and a few offline, as does Chris, but there are others neither Chris nor myself know.

How many people have been involved?
I think about 70 to date but I’m not sure. Many many more readers and commentators and, heaven forbid, academics!
Who is your target audience re site visitors? What do you know about your actual ‘audience’ ie feedback, user numbers?)
The target audience is simply anyone who is interested in new ways of telling stories online. I don’t know much about the actual user numbers, though could easily find out, but that aspect of the project doesn’t really interest me. It’s out there and we like the
way it moves and grows and changes slowly – we anticipate this project taking several years to come to fruition.

What do you see as the key challenges of this type of collaborative project?

There are a lot of challenges. The biggest for us to date is how to get people who don’t think of themselves as techie to get to grips with the project – I don’t know how successful at that we have been so far. Our new mini-stories or story fragments are an attempt to draw people into the story. But we’ve made lots of mistakes, and our first one was to start the project in a heavily manipulated blog interface before we switched it to netvibes – we lost some active users/readers at that stage. Keeping the interface simple and clear is a challenge – the project sometimes resembles the mess inside my head, which I guess isn’t really surprising.

What do you think are the benefits?
It’s very interesting and surprising and fun!

How was/is the project resourced?
I was lucky enough to secure a substantial Arts Council grant that enabled Chris and I to spend a fair amount of time on the project for the first 18 months. That’s enough to keep us going with it.

How much time has it involved?
Varies hugely – sometimes a day a week, then less, then more, depending on what’s going on.

How do you assess the success of the project?
Two ways – the first is through the level of participation, the second through success at submitting the work to festivals etc.

Will you collaborate again?
Most definitely.

If you have plans to develop or rework this approach can you say what they are?
t’s an ongoing project!

Any other comments re collaborative creativity?
Well, suffice to say I’ll be interested to see the impact that collaboration, including writer-reader interaction, has on fiction over the next twenty years or so.