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Creating fiction with the Touch Board

A Creative Writing Lecturer at Edge Hill University, Claire Dean, has been exploring different ways to work with the Touch Board as a writer. Her research looks at the ways in which technology creates, shapes and shares the kinds of stories we tell.

The Touch Board has been a brilliant tool in her kit to work with because it’s so easy to use, straight out of the box. As she has developed more skills in coding, she’s been able to play around and adapt its use for different contexts. Her focus for the last few years has been on making ecological stories. She initially spent some time exploring the kinds of materials that work with the board.

For example, she found moss and green leaves worked well as they had more water content,  so were more conductive, whereas dry leaves needed augmenting with something conductive. She also experimented with Electric Paint, copper tape, tinfoil and conductive thread.

As part of her PhD research at Lancaster University, she worked on a project to retell the myth of Persephone for contemporary audiences. Being able to try out ideas and move quickly back and forth between the technology and the writing process was really valuable for her and had a huge impact on the stories she ended up making.

In one of the stories, For Hades, the Bare Conductive Touch Board is a core element of the finished story. The fiction is so entwined with the experience and the board brings it to life. Claire says that she wouldn’t be able to have come up with the story without using this technology.

For Hadesis designed as a bundle of stories, gathered by Persephone, to take back to the Underworld as a gift for Hades. In this version of the myth, Persephone loves Hades but can’t bear to spend the spring and summer away from the wonders of life on the surface. She gathers the stories of lots of living things to take back to him.

In For Hades, Claire worked with the example Bare Conductive proximity code, adjusting it for each the materials. Using trial and error to work out the best threshold values, she created close proximity with the objects, which triggers the MP3 files.

She used a wide range of objects, including an old metal key, a book made of leaves and a vial of honey. These are all connected to the Touch Board using conductive thread. The whole work is sewn onto thick felt, which can be rolled up to make the work portable.

Each object in the bundle holds fragments of these stories, from the myths of trees to the stories of snails and seeds carried by the wind. The work is explored through touch, which triggers the audio story files, so the story is read with the fingertips.

As a writer without a computer science background, tools like the Touch Board make digital creations much more accessible. They can enable you to look beyond creating fiction for the printed page or a screen, to explore how stories can live in objects and be encountered by readers in imaginative new ways.

Images & Video: Claire Dean

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