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Alexander McCall-Smith Engages Web 2.0

By: NMK Created on: November 19th, 2008
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The Daily Telegraph is in the middle of a 20-week serialisation of an online book created by author Alexander McCall-Smith, his first such project. New Media Knowledge caught up with the organisers to discuss ‘Corduroy Mansions’.

Edinburgh-based author Alexander McCall-Smith is perhaps best known for his literary series The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and 44 Scotland Street. His latest project is a daily serialisation of an online novel, Corduroy Mansions, to which he contributes a new chapter every week day. Running from 15 September 2008 until 13 February 2009 on the Daily Telegraph website, some chapters are available in audio format - read by actor Andrew Sachs – and, in true Web 2.0 style, readers are invited to contribute ideas for stories and characters.


Serial Thriller

“The idea of serialised fiction is nothing new,” Alexander McCall-Smith said of the concept of Corduroy Mansions. “In the nineteenth century it was common for writers to publish chapters of books as they wrote them. The Scotsman [newspaper] invited me to write a serial novel set in Edinburgh, the chapters of which would be published daily. Without thinking of the implications, I accepted. Then came the small matter of writing a chapter a day. But serial novels, it seems, have an unexpected effect: they hook the writer as much as they hook the reader. I found that I missed the challenge of writing a chapter a day and so Corduroy Mansions, the new serial novel appearing on the [Daily] Telegraph website, came into existence.”

According to McCall-Smith; “Corduroy Mansions is an unassuming large house in London's Pimlico, inhabited by an assortment of characters and one dog. The nickname Corduroy Mansions was given in jest by a fashionable person, and stuck.”

Read All About It!

The idea for the serialisation was the brainchild of McCall-Smith himself and the Daily Telegraph’s Iain Martin. Readers are able to contact the writer with suggestions as to how the plot should unfold as, while constructing the novel, McCall-Smith is only 20 episodes ahead of the one that is published on any given day. That way the author aims to make it an interactive novel.

Janet Irwin is Online Acquisition Marketing Manager for the Telegraph Media Group. She told NMK that the first chapter received nearly one hundred suggestions from readers as to how it should develop, with online channels outside of the site being one of the key areas for fan feedback.

“We’ve had a great response from bloggers and have been using social media – Facebook, Twitter, Shelfari [a social network for keen readers] – as well as paid search and online public relations to drive readership,” she said.

The role of bloggers was an important component in promoting Corduroy Mansions and generating interest and contributions. Examples include Breenibooks and Brandy Wine Books.

The Final Chapter

But is this kind of reader-writes-novel Web 2.0 project just a one-off novelty? Irwin thinks not.

“[Corduroy Mansions] is not a gimmick but a way of using all tools possible to engage our readers with one of the most-loved authors in the world today. People are continually engaging with the content and, if anything, as the story progresses they get more involved,” she explained.

Could such a concept be exploited on other platforms, such as television? Irwin said the Daily Telegraph had no plans to expand the concept itself but was always looking to examine new opportunities.

Corduroy Mansions runs until 13 February 2009.


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