Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tour Paris with a Story App! Conversation with Sarah Towle about her StoryApp Tour

Sarah Towle, founder of Time Traveler Tours, is a writer and ex-pat who lives in Paris.  Today is launch day for her StoryApp Tour, Beware Madame la Guillotine. (This link takes you to a preview. I've never used an app, but found it fun to preview with my computer.) Typically, I look to books for stories, but I also enjoy stories in many other places such as film, stage, and oral storytelling. Apps are fun and interactive, plus what a great idea for a tour. I wanted to learn more about Sarah's approach to telling stories, so asked her to join me here.

Your app, Beware Madame la Guillotine: A Revolutionary Tour of Paris, tells a story and is also a tour to some of the sights in Paris. Sarah, this is a wonderfully innovative approach to storytelling.

What is your app tour/story about?

Beware Madame la Guillotine is the story of the French Revolution, a seminal moment in history, told by a lesser-known historical character who lived at that time and whose actions helped shape that time. The narrator – and tour guide – is Charlotte Corday, a 24-year-old convent-school girl who was driven to murder. Her victim: the radical journalist, Jean-Paul Marat.

Charlotte blamed Marat for the Revolution’s turn to terror and execution of King Louis XVI. She traveled to Paris from Caen, Normandy, spent a few days at the Palais Royal learning everything she could of Marat’s habits, then bought a kitchen knife, tracked Marat to his home, gained entrance under false pretenses and stabbed him to death as he lay soaking in the bath. She was imprisoned at the Conciergerie before losing her head at the base of Mme la Guillotine.

As Charlotte spins her yarn, she reveals the story of the Revolution and takes you on a personal journey from the Palais Royal on the Right Bank to La Conciergerie on the Ile de la Cité into the sights and sounds of the Paris of her time. Along the way, map challenges, brainteasers and hunts for historical treasure bring this important part of Paris’s past to life.

Why did you select this story as the first to develop as an app tour?

Charlotte’s is one of several tales of creative non-fiction that I’ve written focusing on Paris history. As a reader, I’ve always found it more enjoyable to access history through the stories of those who lived it. As a traveler, I’ve always preferred to follow the ghosts whose footsteps preceded mine. So the original idea was to marry story with history to create itineraries that, taken together, would provide an engaging sweep of Paris’s past for school groups and families traveling together.

The sweep begins with Roman Paris and continues to the roaring 20s, the period entre les guerres.Of all these eras, the French Revolution posed the greatest challenge. I was daunted by it, the most important yet most difficult period of French history to synthesize for anyone, much less a young reader. So, I decided to start here. I figured if I could successfully capture the Revolution, I would certainly be able to manage the rest.

Besides, as soon as I discovered Charlotte, it was love at first sight. She’s a very compelling character!

What special things or effects are you able to do with an app that you couldn’t do with text alone?

As an app you can listen to Charlotte narrate her own story aloud as you walk along and/or look around at your surroundings. In the print iteration, the user had to assume the role of Charlotte and stop to read at each new location. The kids who piloted the print version felt this was too much like school. I found that it just plain took too long. It really bogged the story down. With audio narration, you are more effectively transported to Charlotte’s world.

Questions, map and trivia challenges can be responded to in the app with a simple tap on the screen. In the print version, you had to go searching for an answer key. And this really limited the types of questions that could be asked.

In the app the user can elect to dig deeper into this or that topic, or not; turn the text on to read while listening; or turn the audio off altogether and just read. As the author I’ve provided you with various elements that interact with both story and surroundings and that serve to enhance Charlotte’s narration. But how you choose to use these elements is up to you. The story experience, therefore, is not exactly linear. Although there is a beginning, middle and end to Charlotte’s tale, the journey you take as a user/reader isn’t necessarily straight. And your own interaction with the story can change depending on whether you are using the app to tour Paris or reading it on your trip to or from Paris. It can be consumed in myriad ways.

Many potential readers aren’t able to visit Paris and walk around with this app tour? Is it also set up as a virtual tour?

Not yet, but the idea of repackaging the story as a virtual tour is definitely something I’ve been turning over in my head, and more, for some time. The technology is certainly available to create a virtual tour for use in the home on your personal computer, on your tablet or – and I find this idea particularly exciting – on a classroom smartboard.

But first things first. As I am currently a company of one, I thought it best to start with one StoryApp Tour in one language on one device. Assuming Charlotte’s tour to the French Revolution for iPhone and iPod Touch proves sufficiently successful, I plan to put out a second bilingual (French-English) version of the app for both iOS and Android. I then have other stories, as I mentioned above, waiting to be produced as StoryApp Tours, while I also put in motion the virtual tour idea.

Unfortunately, unless I win the lottery, that’s still a few years away.

What other app tours do you have planned?

I have two others written and in various stages of illustration:

The story that precedes Charlotte’s takes you to the gardens of Versailles in the heyday of the Ancien Regime, the era of King Louis XIV, XV and XIV, with the Chief-Botanist-to-the-King, a descendant of France’s real-life Indiana Jones. His stories of danger, loyalty and betrayal over what today are for us simple everyday garden plants and flowers, will cause your heart to race and your stomach to churn.

And speaking of churning stomachs, the story that follows Charlotte’s is told through the eyes of a gravedigger who, facing starvation, worked to move the over-crowded skeletal remains of central Paris’ pestilent church graveyards to the underground former rock quarries on the then southern outskirts of the city. Once in power, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered our gravedigger and his compatriots back to work to gussy-up the remains of 6 million dead so, as in Rome, the seat of his empire could have a spectacular Catacombs.

And a fourth StoryApp is currently in the works. It takes you to Paris of the Romantic era, to Hausmannian Paris, the Paris most of us know today, through the lens of one of the world’s first photographers, Nadar. He lived a long life, surviving five governments and three revolutions and he knew and took pictures of all the famous creative people of his day. His stories are legion. (As are the stories other have to tell about him.)

For more information about Sarah Towle’s StoryApp Tour, visit her website, TimeTravelerTours.

Beware Mme la Guillotine: A Revolutionary Tour of Paris will be available from Tuesday 26 July at a 20% discount the first week. You don’t have to be in Paris to buy it, play with it and post a review to the App Store. Save it on your phone and give it a go when you’re next in Paris!

Thank you, Sarah for joining me today.

Also, she is running a kickstarter campaign to get these storyapp tours up and running. Her kickstarter site can be found at this link: Beware Madame La Guillotine, An Interactive Story App Tour.

Note: Other interviews and information are available from the following sites:

 "Why I write Apps for Teens and Tweens" at Time Traveler Tours.

"From Print to Digital Media: Why I made the Shift" on Laurel Zuckerman's Paris Weblog.

"Special Report--Time Traveler Tours presents Beware Madame la Guillotine" at An Alien Parisienne where the blogger talks about taking the tour.

"Revolutionary Paris Tour with Mme Guillotine" at Bonjour Paris: the Definitive Guide to Paris

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Revising -- through a different lens

A photo-journey about revision:

Revising is like exploring castle ruins: walking through arch after arch, or wandering up towers or down dark tunnels where you can't see a thing, or choosing to take a right or left turn. Explore everywhere. It is okay to get lost. (Actually, it's expected.) That is part of the journey.

German castle ruins

Revising is sometimes like using a sundial on a cloudy day. No shadow to give any clue of the time, and no sun to give any sense of direction.

Wall sundial on the outside of a medieval church (1300s)

Keep eyes open when revising. Notice objects that are not on the trodden path and look for what is not expected. The clues in the manuscript can be the key to unlocking difficulties in a revision. After all, a stone shot by the enemy's catapult can make a very nice garden ornament.

Castle garden with a catapult stone in the foreground

Revising is not only re-envisioning, it is also mixing the very old and the very new.

600 year old houses and the modern day skyscrapers

Enjoy the revision journey. Although revising at times means wandering, getting lost, scrambling in the dark, dealing with the unexpected, and asking question after question while searching for solutions, there are glorious moments when one should pause and enjoy the view.

Castle towers