Last night, I was abused on Twitter. I was called, by various people, a nutter, a loon and a fruit loop. I deserved it and I’ll explain why in a moment. On the 19th July 2012, Baptism’s release date, I wrote and delivered a Twitter drama, tweeting in real time in the guise of a passenger trapped on the hijacked train featured in the book. You can read more about it here. As someone who is interested in new ways of delivering stories and narratives, I found the process fascinating but because of the specific date, just a few days prior to the start of the Olympics, and with the UK on high security alert, I made it clear that the drama was a work of fiction and I wasn’t really trapped on a hijacked Tube train. Each tweet included a link to a disclaimer on my web site and the project was heavily trailed on Twitter. I received some positive feedback and was featured in editorials on the Quercus web site and the Shooting People independent film web site as well as a handful of other blogs.
While I enjoyed writing from the point of view of a frightened passenger who is held hostage deep below ground while hijackers take over a Tube train, I felt a little constrained by the few emotional responses open to me writing as a fearful and bewildered character. So, fast forward a few months and with the prophetic date of 21st December 2012 fast approaching, I decided it might be interesting to carry out another Twitter drama but this time, write it from the point of view of Tommy Denning, Brother Thomas of the Church of Cruor Christi, who is the lead hijacker in the novel. As with the first drama, it would roughly be in real time (although it didn’t actually turn out that way) and provide a stand-alone narrative that mirrors the events in the novel. The heavy disclaiming of the first drama back in July had compromised its immediacy, I felt, so with this one, I decided there should be no disclaimers and no prior notification. In order to attract an audience beyond my usual followers, I decided to send some of the tweets marked with hash tags relating to groups of people such as atheists, Christians and members of the NRA with whom the character of Tommy Denning could find either kinship or hostility. Many of the tweets were marked with hashtags such as #NRA #christianity #atheism and to enhance the date’s topicality #endofdays. Thus written and complete with a few photographs that I had taken on the Tube a few days previously – and with my wife’s cautionary words of “don’t get arrested” still ringing in my ears – I set about tweeting as Tommy Denning at about 6pm last night.
Earlier in the day, Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the National Rifle Association in the US had made his speech in response to last week’s tragic school shooting in Newtown. This speech included a line that was rich in iconography: “”The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” While I would never wish to exploit a tragic event in any way, as a writer I react to events around me and this statement felt like a good place to start, especially as LaPierre’s words would have some sort of resonance with the character of Tommy Denning. My first tweet in Denning’s voice was: “‘The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.’ Damn right. Someone had to say it. #NRA.” With Denning becoming – in his own deluded mind at least – the “good guy with a gun,” he/I set about posting and responding to messages from other Twitter users in his voice.
While some readers of the NRA hashtag “favorited” or retweeted my tweets, others, particularly those responding to Denning’s casting of atheists as “sinners”, berated me for my lunatic religious opinions. Some friends of mine and Twitter followers expressed concern for my sanity. To all of you, I’d like to apologise if I worried you. It was all fiction. Whether the experiment was successful in any artistic sense, I have no idea, and I wouldn’t know how to judge that anyway. But one thing that came from it – apart from losing a few followers – was the feeling I had while tweeting in the character of someone else. It was curiously liberating and I can now understand to a degree the strangely seductive pleasure that anonymous Twitter posters derive from being freed from their own personal responsibilities and the constant editing and editorialising one employs when posting in one’s own name.
I’m convinced that it’s only a matter of time before an imaginative writer comes along and creates a Twitter drama that catches fire and goes viral, drawing a large audience from across the web. So far, I’m clearly not that writer and my attempts at adapting at least part of an existing novel into a web drama that captivates a large audience have failed. But it’s often only through trial and error that writers can find their voice and discover new means of expression. I would love to hear from others who are interested in harnessing social media as a means of creating and delivering new forms of drama; so too, those who might have an opinion on my own efforts thus far.
A big thanks to everyone who has bought and read and hopefully enjoyed Baptism this year. I am working on the film adaptation at the moment and the sequel will be published by Quercus in July 2013 when Ed Mallory will face another seemingly impossible hostage situation in central London.
In the meantime, Happy Christmas – whatever your religious persuasion – and a Happy New Year.