The University of Southampton

Short stories brought to life through smartphones

Published: 21 June 2016

A project by the University of Southampton is helping readers to immerse themselves in the real life locations of a series of fictional short stories, using smartphone technology.

The new ‘StoryPlaces’ app, developed by a team at the University, lets people experience six tales, all imagined, but rooted in Southampton’s history, by guiding them round a number of locations in the city’s old town and docks – unlocking narratives on the way.

Dr Verity Hunt, Research Fellow in English, comments: “Our stories are location aware, so they unfold as people navigate to specific places. Although they are fictional, their context is historical and we hope people will enjoy a well written, engaging story, while also learning more about past events which occurred at the sites they visit.

“Places are made up of stories over time, layer upon layer, like geological strata. Imagine walking through a landscape and seeing and hearing its story unfold on your smartphone as you go: pages of original new literature tagged to buildings, bus stops and trees, coming to life in your hands. This is what our app aims to provide.”

The project, a collaboration between the departments of English and Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University and funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will launch at the Tudor House and Garden in Southampton between 24 and 26 June.

The six stories, authored by creative writing students from the University, range from a reimagining of Jack the Ripper in Southampton, to the tale of an immigrant arriving at the docks from America searching for a home, to a trip through time in the city’s Queen’s Park.

Dr David Millard from ECS, who worked on the technical aspects of the project, says: “What has been exciting about this for me, is that rather than presenting writers with a completed technology, we have been able to find out what they need to best convey their stories and work with them to develop a bespoke platform which gives them the flexibility to really engage with readers and give them a unique experience.”

The StoryPlaces project aims to create a foundation for location-based narratives. It brings together computer scientists, hypertext theorists, and narrative and literary experts to explore interdisciplinary ways of working together and build systems that lead to real innovation in both technology and the creative arts.

Across the three days this June, people visiting the Tudor House and Garden will be able to download the ‘StoryPlaces’ app, or borrow a smart phone, to try out the location-aware stories. There’ll also be opportunities to hear from the authors and historians involved, plus hear Philip Hoare, Professor of Creative Writing and author of Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital and The Sea Inside, discussing how Southampton’s waterside and its human and animal stories, have influenced his work.

Further details of Dr Millard's work on location-based narratives can be found by clicking here.

More information about the weekend of events can be found on the Tudor House and Gardens website.

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