A novel you can shuffle has put writer Chris Rickaby in the awards spotlight, as DAVID WHETSTONE explains
THE awards season is here and it isn’t just about the Oscars – which is why Newcastle writer and innovator Chris Rickaby is flying to New York tomorrow.
His e-novel, Shuffle, is shortlisted in two categories of this year’s Publishing Innovation Awards, organised by Digital Book World and to be presented in a ceremony in the Big Apple on Wednesday.
As they are only in their second year, they can’t match the 85-year-old Academy Awards for longevity but then e-books and apps are the new kids on the entertainment block. The competition is likely to be just as intense and the rewards, potentially, no less great.
Chris, who lives in Jesmond, is thrilled that his e-novel, published by Newcastle’s Tonto Books, is up against big-name publishers.
Whether or not Shuffle wins in either the fiction or transmedia category – or both – it already looks like a brilliant accomplishment.
Basically, Shuffle is a novel comprising seven separate but linked stories which can be read in any order you choose. Each makes sense on its own but all contribute to a greater whole whose theme is probability and chance.
Cramming the plots into a nutshell, the official publicity states: “A thread that connects an enigmatic prisoner held deep inside the Iraqi palace of Uday Hussein, a sexually inexperienced teenage girl who escapes one puritanical cult only to fall into the sinister clutches of another, a bitter and broken would-be rock star, a lovelorn petty thief who steals a rare embryo in a desperate attempt to save her lover’s life and a deranged child killer whose terrifying nightmares begin to infect the psychiatrist who treats him...
“All find themselves unknowingly caught and tightly bound to the revolutionary theories of a maverick scientist.”
Chris, who says he was inspired by David Mitchell’s The Cloud Atlas (six stories in one), does not put himself forward as the author of Shuffle, although he swears he did write it (or them). Instead it is attributed to the very American-sounding James T. Raydel.
Shuffle has a website, www.lulzlit.com. There you will learn that Lulzlit is “rumoured to be an international fiction collective that write under the pen-name James T Raydel”.
Ah, the curious reader might think, well who are these shadowy authors?
All are named and explained. There’s Lady Valis, credited as the author of one of the seven stories, Darwin Toot Calls Down the Devil. Then there’s Jo-I-Gee, supposedly the author of Poker Face. The rest are Ms Mizan, Mister Cairo, Paceman Gerry, Master Double-Chin and Billy Buzz.
Online you can read their profiles and their sources of inspiration. Lady Valis likes Herman Melville, Jo-I-Gee prefers Dashiell Hammett and has a penchant for “bullet-proof prose”.
And there’s more. Each of the stories has a song to go with it so you could make Shuffle an audio-visual experience.
But enough of this fantasy stuff? Who exactly is Chris Rickaby?
“I started working as a copywriter in advertising and marketing and set up an agency called Different with three other partners in the North East,” he tells me.
“We did very well. I was a key member of the team that branded the North East with the Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign and actually wrote that positioning line myself.
“We set up a TV production company as part of that and did various programmes for ITV. The biggest thing we did was a five-part series called The Big Art Challenge.
“Our backgrounds were in advertising and marketing but we wanted to move into other areas.”
Chris wrote a drama for Tyne Tees TV called Harry and the Hormones (Sean Hughes played a former punk rocker going through a mid-life crisis) and then fancied going it alone.
“I was doing a lot of writing and eventually decided to sell my shares in the company and try to write and develop projects full-time, which is what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years,” he explains.
He says he did conceive Shuffle as a conventional novel when he started writing in 2009 but then attended a digital conference at the London Book Fair and was alerted to the possibilities of cutting-edge technology.
“What they were mainly talking about was how to move books and sell them across various electronic platforms. What I thought was that the technology, which is changing all the time, offered so many new creative opportunities.”
The result is this seven-story novel which can be read in umpteen combinations.
The imaginary writers offer yet another layer of fiction and since Chris has hired real people to represent each of them on Twitter, they have the potential to garner a huge social media following.
Compare all this with the tiny space afforded to a new novel in a book shop, if it’s able to get there at all. Chris recruited some able partners to assist him in his Shuffle project, including Richard Alderson of Dene Films, who illustrated the authors for the website, Dave Humphrey, who designed the novel’s cool online cover, Phil Wright, who built the website, and former Different partner Ian Millen who designed it. Caroline Smailes edited the text.
With its profile enhanced by the award nominations, there’s a good chance Shuffle will sprint rather than shuffle into the spotlight in the coming days. Anyone wanting to buy the e-novel can go to Amazon, iBooks or Nook and search for James T. Raydel.