www.mappalujo.com is a writing game, devised by Steve Beard and myself, and designed and run by Hyper Literature. This initial story, called Apparition Park, consists of twenty-five short chapters. The story was generated using a set of techniques and devices, the details of which are listed on the site’s instruction pages. Here, I’ll give a brief précis of how the process works.
First of all Steve and I decided on the number of chapters we would use. We then chose twenty-five iconic figures, one for each chapter. These are famous people, real or fictional, from any field of endeavour. These icons are used to set an atmosphere for each chapter. It was decided that I would write the first chapter, so Steve chose three figures from the icon list, which he sent to me. I chose one of these; in this first case, Jorge Luis Borges. I then wrote a piece influenced in some way by Borges. This influence can take any form. It might be the merest shadow cast by the icon, a single line, say, will refer to the person; or we might utilise a borrowed technique or subject matter associated with the person; or the piece might be based on an episode from the life of the figure; or the piece might be more of a pastiche of the person’s work, and so on. There are many possibilities. On the site itself, we use the idea of the iconic figure in some way “haunting” the text.
Once this first piece was finished, I sent it back to Steve, with a new set of three icons. He chose one of these, and wrote a second piece in response to mine, using the new icon as an influence. In this way, sending texts back and forth between us, gradually a kind of narrative emerged. This we built upon in subsequent pieces, but working in a very loose, improvised way. Both Steve and I brought our own individual styles and imagery to the project, but the very nature of the game meant that we soon found ourselves in unknown territory. There was little discussion between us, during this initial writing period, in order to nurture the element of surprise.
The middle chapter (number thirteen) we wrote together, sitting in the same room, face to face. We then swapped the order of the writing; so, I wrote the odd numbered pieces of the first half of the story, and Steve the even numbered pieces; after the swap, I wrote the even numbered pieces, and Steve the odd. Of course, as we came to the final chapters, it became more difficult, because there were fewer and fewer icons to choose from; until finally there was only one icon left, and this was used to influence the last chapter.
After this first run-through, we had twenty-five chapters, all very different in feel because of the icons’ varied influences, and a vague feel of a plot. We now worked together very closely on this raw material, working it over and over until we were satisfied with the final result. We were concerned, in this later stage, to bring the plot into focus. That said, we also wanted to keep the feel of the working process, so the early chapters still reveal the searching quality of the work, as Steve and I threw ideas at each other. In this particular story, the plot starts to coalesce around chapter seven. This reworking of the first draft was extensive, treating every page as a shared effort. So, rather than the various chapters being produced by individual writers, every word of the story should be considered as being written by the both of us, jointly.
Working with another writer proved to be very rewarding. There were some difficult moments, as we both struggled to encompass each other’s needs, but the end result I’m very pleased with. It tells an interesting story, using a variety of different techniques and atmospheres. This ties in with my overriding idea of combining experimentation with narrative concerns. One thing that emerged was the idea of Lujo itself, as a place, a landscape, a society in which other stories could be set. Steve and I would very much like to return there soon, to explore some of these other possibilities. Hopefully, all of this Lujo material will find its way into a book one day.
Finally, the name. The starting point for this comes from the following passage in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: “…as they cooched down a mamalujo by his cubical crib, as question time drew nighting and the map of the souls’ groupography rose in relief within their quartering…” We liked the words Mama Lujo, so we introduced a character of that name in the first story, a kind of Voodoo witch figure. From there came the idea of the country being called Lujo; and the work itself, in its various forms, making up a map of this strange land.
by Jeff Noon