Kitschies, indies, and ads: Juggling narrative forms

In this episode Jared Shurin explores his wide-ranging interests from anthologising speculative shorts to the Kitschies Awards to ethical advertising for revisioning global narratives.





[Narrative Futures Intro Music]


Chelsea Haith: How do the stories we tell shape how we think about the future, the present and the past. What is speculation for? And how might we construct better narratives for a better future?


Narrative Futures is a podcast coming to you from Futures Thinking, a research network housed in The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities.


My name is Chelsea Haith, I’m a doctoral researcher in the Faculty of English, here at the University of Oxford. Joining for the fifth episode of Narrative Futures is Jared Shurin, to discuss the Kitschies awards, literary institutions and indie publishing.


waist up shot of dark haired man in black jersey with arms crossed - black and white image, credit Lisa Wright

Credit: Lisa Wright

This podcast is interactive. Following the interview you’ll be treated to two writing prompts designed by novelist and creative writing tutor extraordinaire Louis Greenberg. We invite you to share your responses to these with us via email at We’ll share these on the blog, where you’ll also be able to find the full transcript of each episode with links to the books, writers and ideas that we discuss. As the world so radically changes we hope these conversations and ideas give you insight and inspiration to think about how else we might live and create collectively, going forward.


Jared Shurin has been nominated for several Hugo Awards, which I mistakenly thought he’d won. He co-founded Jurassic London, indie publishers of dozens of genre-bending anthologies and authors and is one of the founders of the Kitschies Awards for progressive, intelligent and entertaining works containing an element of the speculative or fantastic. A man of much energy, Jared’s day job is in ethical advertising, as the Head of Planning at M&C Saatchi World Services.


[Narrative Futures Music]


CH: I’m wondering what you think about the genre taxonomy debates, particularly about the designation of speculative fiction?


Jared Shurin: You just weren’t going to start with an easy question, were you? [laughing]. Let’s—let’s go back to debating on whether or not I want a Hugo [laughing]. A few thoughts about this, I think ultimately… I just don’t care. I don’t mean to say that in any sort of like belittling or dismissive way. Because I think marketing categories matter a lot, I think I am—it’s—you know, as long as there are physical bookshops, books have to go into a singular discrete locations which means we have to figure out what genre a book most is. I think genres are great ways to search for things, they’re a great way to understand that if I like ‘X’ I will like all of these ‘X’-like things. When it actually comes to publishing a book, it’s one of the questions you sort of ask yourself later on. As Jurassic at least we never got a book thinking, “What genre is this?” We got a book and then fell in love with it, published it and then later tried to figure out, “Okay, what’s the—you know, I now have to force this into one bucket because that’s the only way Waterstones will understand it. What’s the best bucket for it?” Outside of sort of publishing directly, I was one of the founders of the Kitschies Awards and that was setup about ten years ago to celebrate intelligence, entertaining and progressive science fiction and fantasy. And the difficulty with any award is that you—you do have to create that sort of universe of books that you are—are setting out to judge; and so that’s why genre labels are incredibly important. And although we wanted to look into science fiction and fantasy books primarily, that’s how we saw the remit of the award, as soon as you say, “We are a prize for science fiction,” everyone else sees it as a certain sort of prize, they submit certain sorts of books, and they expect a certain sort of behaviour; similarly with fantasy. So the language we used there was all of those things, you know, intelligent, progressive, entertaining books with some elements of the speculative or fantastic in it. And that allowed us to really dance around putting ourselves into a category, and in turn it meant that when we were talking about the prize and the sorts of books we were expecting to—to read and reward, we could talk to publishers and say, “You know listen, this is a wonderful…” I mean I remember we—we got Andrew Motion’s Silver which a sequel to—to Treasure Island. And I mean that is only the loose—you will never find that shelved in fantasy, but that is absolutely a novel with—with an element of the fantastic in it. And it really allowed us to extend our remit and make sure that we were proving that value of the—of the speculative in the fantastic more than it had previously been bounded by I suppose. But….


CH: I completely agree, I think you are absolutely right. There is this—this kind of sense that the—the pulp quality of those genres has for a long time meant that they aren’t included in sort of literally fiction prizes; obviously that’s changing now. But I like what you say about, you know, including an element of another genre, you know the genre of the—of horror and Sci Fi and these, you know, the speculative generally in books that are otherwise, you know, considered literary in some way or you know as you say intelligent and provocative.


JS: I—I wonder if there’s something an—I apologize because this is really coming out of left field. But these are the only two genres that the actual name of the genre has fiction in it. I mean fantasy is, you know, by definition it’s—it’s the genre of books that are fantasy. They’re completely made up, they’re completely wild, they’re—they’re total—they’re total lies. And science fiction is, again, in—in the title its fiction, and you don’t get that with crime, you don’t get that with romance, you don’t get that with literature. All of those don’t—they aren’t labelled as fiction, as untruth in the same way that science fiction and fantasy are.


CH: That’s really funny to me I think because fiction is, by definition entirely made up.


JS: I—I totally agree, so it’s sort of—it’s all those redundant in those title, where as…. I don’t know, the others seem to be aspiring to be something more than that.


CH: Yeah, there’s kind of sense that there’s a replication of reality, but—but there—there cannot be. I think there’s also something interesting about the misnomer of science and fiction that is important to the history of  the genre kind of going back to Hugo Gernsback and the pulp magazines and the idea that it was about science particularly. And then obviously the difficult tensions in academic writing about these genres, about fantasy being sort of excluded by—by the likes of Darko Suvin. So I want to talk to you a little bit more about Djinn Falls in Love and The Outcasts Hours that you edited together with Mahvesh Murad. And I am thinking about form here, particularly thinking about the short story collections versus telling stories in long fiction form, such as novels. What do you think the benefits of each of those forms are for writing of presenting kind of narratives of these genres?


JS: That’s an excellent question. I’m a big believer in the themed anthology just in general, whether it’s, you know—whether it’s about Djinn or like Outcasts Hours is about the night and sort of the concept of living at night. And other anthologies I’ve been able to work on are, you know, they—they could be around London or mummies or you can do an anthology about—around any sort of theme, and I think themes are wonderful.


And that’s really where the difference between a short story and a novel comes out, because a—a novel is ultimately one perspective and it one wonderfully detailed, wonderfully deep dive into one person’s perspective, into a theme, into a topic, you know, in—into a particular vision; and a novel has the ability to bring one person’s vision or one person’s narrative to life. And honestly a completely unparallel format probably across all media, I think the, you know, the immersion of a good novel is pretty much impossible to beat. And short stories are—they’re not immersive in that way, and they can’t be. They don’t have the time or the space to do so. But what you get by compiling short stories is a collection of narratives and a—a collection of perspectives, all sorts of different visions. It’s sort of an exhausted parable, but that idea of the sort of blind man and the elephant? If you want to really understand something… big and something incredibly deep or broad or global or something that is experienced in a lot of different ways, I think that’s where you need short stories.


You know going back to The Djinn Falls in Love, I mean djinn are a global myth on a… scale and with a history and with a presence that actually—probably no other mythological creature has. Certainly it’d be very hard to find another—another creature with that sort of global prevalence. And there are fantastic novels about the djinn, but they are that one perspective from a—one—one culture, one view-point, one way of encountering the djinn; and that—that doesn’t do them justice. It could be an absolutely wonderful novel and it will do that perspective justice, but it won’t do the entirety of the djinn justice. And that’s not to say that this anthology does or any anthology can, but at least you can start to see the shape of the elephant by having a few more hands on it rather than just relying on—on one person with particularly sensitive fingers. But….


CH: Absolutely, and you articulate that in the introduction to Djinn Falls in Love with the multiple spellings of the word. A reader will notice immediately reading the contents page that the authors come from all over the world. And you’re, you know, you’re sourcing ideas, as you say kind of globally. You’ve got lots of different hands on kind of sharing—yeah sort of fantastical body of [chuckles] of nerve ending I’m thinking about—thinking about that—that concept. So—so on that collection, I’m kind of wondering about the role of folklore and myth in the modern world and then modern literature, and—and the sort of integration of those things with—yeah with the genres. And in this very kind of technologically advanced world, this kind of interest has returned, these old stories, the kind of stories of—of beginning, right?


JS: I completely agree, and I—I think if there’s one thing I learnt from editing Djinn, it’s that the distance between the—our contemporary modern scientific worlds and the sort of mysterious mythic past is really… The boundaries between them are incredibly thin. And, you know, as I learned through this, there are huge waves of the world that still understand and—and react to the presence of djinn; that the—the cultures of dealing with djinn are still built into everyday life. I’ve seen it in my neighbourhood in London. I have friends that still understand and react to the presence of djinn. So they’re… it’s not a myth that’s in the distant past, it’s a folklore that is engrained in modern culture as well.


To be honest I think—I think one of the—the best books on this is—I’ve always been taken by Robert Grave’s version of The Greek Myths where he explains the myths as the—the science of the time; and it’s just—it’s the way of understanding the universe and making sense out of it. And for many parts of the world, and for many cultures and for many people, all of the world, djinn very much playing into that sensibility and that—that world view and that capacity to understand what’s happening in the world around you. And then on the—I suppose the other side of the coin is that you have stories in Sami Shah’s ‘Reap’, which I think is a fantastic use of creating a separation between those two worlds. It has parallels between drones and djinn. And it’s an incredibly powerful story because it shows how these are two very, very, very different things: the sort of mythic I suppose and the scientific. But they have the same emotional and physical impact. We wind up replicating these patterns over and over again in—in really sinister ways.


CH: Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s something really important in this the—and the idea of djinn and—and these—these myths as ways of explaining the world, for thinking about alternative knowledges and the ways that these kinds of stories teach us something about how—how we’ve constructed knowledge in the West and how that’s come unfortunately to—to be so dominant in kind of—in academic spaces around the world. And I think that these kinds of short stories go—go a long way to repairing some of those damages.


JS: One of the anthologies we published as Jurassic was called Irregularity, and it might be my—it might be my favourite; I don’t think anyone’s ever really allowed to say that. Whatever, I think it was my favourite. And it’s certainly the—in fact everyone sort of looks back at the body of work and think, “Oh that’s the one that should have gotten more attention and—and done better than it deserved.” Irregularity we did in partnership with the National Maritime Museum, and the theme was the Age of Reason, and that is a absolutely fascinating brief for what is ultimately a—a science fiction and fantasy anthology.


CH: Absolutely, and very loaded.


JS: Just so much fun. Because it—you know, you have a—an—you’re of human history where everyone is doing their damnedest to everything into patterns and into boxes and bring order out of chaos and sort of stomp out all the superstition that—that came before. But then at the same time you have an era where due to, you know, advances in—in science and knowledge and thinking and travel and exploration, they’re—they’re also finding more unknowns than ever before. And it’s such fertile grounds for stories because we’ve got some absolutely brilliant ones, but they are about that sort of intersection of, “Look I am completely confident, I have ordered the world and Oh my God! What is that thing over there? [chuckles] That doesn’t fit into a box.” But I’ve always really been fond of that one for trying to tackle head on I think what is an incredibly difficult theme which, you know, what is the place for… fantasy and chaos and Irregularity in a world that prides itself on making everything very ordered and tidy.


CH: I think we’re—I think we’re learning a lot at the moment about how order and tidiness are perhaps not sustainable in any kind of long-term way [chuckles].


JS: You’re—you’re absolutely right. How—how easy it is for things to sort of fall apart.


CH: Yeah, the centre really cannot hold [laughs]. So I wanted to talk a little bit about your Jurassic London that you set up with your partner Anne, and I want to ask you a little bit about how you got into small press publishing.


JS: Arrogantly?


CH: Fair [laughs]


JS: So Anne and I were both bloggers actually at the time. We are about four or five years into what was then a—a fairly successful sort of genre of fiction blog. And had that sort of dangerous almost understanding of how publishing worked, and like everyone that sort of knows about 10% of a thing, we thought we knew about 200% of a thing and we could do it better than anyone else. And we had, you know, our—our belief which I think runs pretty much unparallel with yours, is that speculative fiction and fantasy and science fiction are incredibly valuable tools in helping make sense of the world, in helping engage people in really difficult themes and topics. That it’s a sort of underutilised resource in connecting people with social goals and greater advancement in humanity, something. But [chuckles]….


CH: Something like that, yeah.


JS: Something—something—something important….


CH: [chuckles] Trying to—trying to work through it myself….


JS: Yeah.


CH: But absolutely that, yeah.


JS: It’s—and so we—we spotted that at Tate Britain there was going to be a new exhibition of the art of John Martin, and Martin is just an absolutely ludicrous artist. If you’ve not seen his stuff, it’s just sort of Turner-esque It’s all like if Turner did volcanoes. And so it’s just figures basically being devoured by smoke and fire and visions of hell and heaven and, you know, the Midlands but he makes them all look the same. And it’s very—very pulpy in way to be at the Tate. And we looked that and we’re like, “Oh my God this stuff, you know, it’s—it’s 2011, and if something has apocalypse it’s about the apocalypse, it’s about dystopias like that’s super cool and publishing right now and here is Tate Britain doing this massive exhibition of apocalyptic art, like why is there not a book to go with it?” And we spoke to a few editors and publishers that we knew and they were all like, “That exhibition is three months away, that’s impossible and no one would want it.” So we’re like, “Three months! Who—everyone can make a book in three months. Like how hard is it, you just put words on paper.” So [chuckles] yeah—so…..


CH: Optimism!


JS: I mean just—you know, we—we—we were helped out immensely by friends that knew better than we did that could—taught us how to do layouts, that taught use how to use software, that literally like lent us vans to—to take books from point A to point B. We called in sort of every favour we ever knew with every author that we could sort of blackmail. We—and we—we put together what is actually a—I think a really good book, called Stories of the Apocalypse. And it launched and we completely blagged a relationship with Tate Britain and said, “Look, we just conveniently have the story—this book of stories coming out at exactly the same time as your exhibition that happens to be about John Martin, what are the odds?” And they supported it and they were absolutely lovely.


You know at the end we were like, “Well, okay that was a really—really terrible idea, and we—we probably shouldn’t have done that but, you know, next time we should give ourselves like six months or nine months, that sort of thing.” And we just kept going over it sort of five year period there were probably—somewhere between forty and fifty different Jurassic publications of all sorts of shapes and sizes. And….


CH: That’s an incredible volume of output.


JS: Oh just—just ludicrous. And you know we were determined to only do two things a year, so that—that worked well. But there was always something to experiment with, you know, there was always a new story that needed a home. Or there was always a new printer we wanted to try or there was always, you know, a new piece of art that needed something to along with it. Or a new idea or—or—or something to scheme with. And, you know, there were two of us and lots of enthusiasm and the willingness to fail, which I think is incredibly important when it comes to publishing. And it—it was really—really—really fun, we had a good pitch to cultural institutions because what we were doing is, you know, bringing people to Tate Britain or to the National Maritime Museum or the Egypt Exploration Society or to English PEN. You know we—we were helping extend what they did and explain what they did to a completely new audience using the medium of fiction.


CH: That’s so important, the extending of—you know, I was thinking about that when you were speaking about John Martin’s work and the intersections of the paintings as the inspiration for the collections. And then the collection is a draw card for new the—well new viewers, new people to interact with these kind of—these different media, and—and kind of—on these topics that are so important.


JS: Exactly. And it—it—you know, this is going back to that role of—of stories and—and of fiction. It gives you a different perspective on what you were saying as a museum visitor or a gallery visitor or a—a student of history or whatever you might be. You know if there is also a story about it, it helps bring it to life or give you—give you another way of thinking about it or interacting with it, and it just makes it that much more appealing.


CH: Absolutely, I think when what you’re saying here about having—having a story to make sense of something and previously a story’s kind of—using stories to make sense of the world. I want to speak a little bit about your day job and what you’ve described as using narrative to effect change, can you talk a little bit more about that?


JS: So I work in a very specific offshoot of advertising, I’m at a specialist division of the agency M&C Saatchi. And what we do is work to create social impact using all of the sort of traditional tools of advertising and marketing and communications. So we work with the development sector and we work with governments and NGOs and trans-nationals to help them use communications to tackle some of the more complex and challenging problems in the world today.


You know communications is an incredibly powerful tool as—as we’ve been talking about, you know. The—the ability of a story to help people understand something, to help bring a behaviour to life, to help shift peoples’ attitudes; and obviously that needs to be underpinned with the presence of a solution. Communications can’t be the answer in it of itself, but communications can really help bring that answer to life and make it more compelling for people. And we see that a lot in the development sector and—and working with governments. You know it—it’s not just enough to have the right path out there or to—to have the—the solution or the vaccine or the hand washing behaviour. You need to make sure that people understand why and how and emotionally engage with that too.


CH: Absolutely, and I think—yeah it’s the role of stories—you know, stories that we tell ourselves about, who we are and what we are as a society, right? Which is in part what the role of marketing and advertising is, this is what you are and therefore this is what you may need. And I think that’s really interesting particularly at the moment when we’re thinking or we’re experiencing kind of radical shifts in cultural norms.


JS: It’s absolutely right. Talking about what we’re seeing now in the UK, there’s been a lot of, you know, new rules and new guidelines and new expectations of how we behave and how we consume and we should and shouldn’t be doing. And—and I think we’ve been able to see over the past three months, you know, what the difference is between a behaviour that’s made compelling or a behaviour that has sort of a—a strong narrative underpinning, you know do this to protect the NHS to save lives. Versus behaviours that seem arbitrary or hypocritical or are nonsensical, and the ability of, you know, narratives to bring to life what is a—honestly, you know, intangible, invisible sort of a ethereal threat. And make it personal and give people the—not just the tools but also the hope on how to get through that, I think is—is incredibly important.


CH: Absolutely, I see a lot of stuff on Twitter which is really interesting in terms of narrativising the pandemic, but also narrativising movements for resistance to oppressions; narratives surrounding Black Lives Matter for example. And—and those—these all seem like narratives about—you know, about the future or future oriented, because it’s about what do we want the world to look like soon?


JS: Yes. I think that’s incredibly important. And I think the Black Lives Matter movement is all the more impressive because of what’s it’s done in helping people be aware of the narratives that we’ve already been subscribing to without realising.


CH: Absolutely.


JS: I suppose most importantly it’s about creating a—a new positive inclusive, you know, fantastic narrative that we can all look forward to in the future. But the power that it has in helping people question the narratives that we’re—we’ve already been consuming and been subscribed to.


CH: Absolutely. So I’m now a little bit about your reading habits in the last while, and also what do you read that helps you think about the future?


JS: I suppose like everyone else, my reading during lockdown has been… erratic [laughs]. My behaviours have changed really wildly since it began. It is reading that I’m doing now but I am going to stretch back a bit. I had set myself the reading challenge of trying to find and read every debut winner of The Edgars. And The Edgars are the prize by The Mystery Writers of America and the debut category goes back to I think like 1950 or something close to that. And, you know, I’m—I’m a mystery reader, I’m—I’m an everything reader I think. But to me it’s been a very interesting quest of about nine months to, you know, find a lot these books, many of which are forgotten or lost or completely impossible to track down.


But see how, you know, to read seven decades of crime fiction—of popular crime fiction and see how the category has—has changed and how it reflects society and you know how it treats race and gender and sexuality. You know, what it thinks of as permissible drama and permissible behaviour what—you know, what crime used to shock or not shock over the years, and of course just the—the trends in what makes for a popular mystery is—is kind of fun. I’ve kind of wrapped that up and was trying to think of like, “Okay, what’s the next sort of equivalent challenge I—I could set myself.” And I discovered the Spur Awards for Western fiction [chuckles] which also goes back to about 1940.


CH: Wow.


JS: Right? Which is—which is amazing. I—I, you know, and—and it just shows what happens when you start looking in categories you don’t normally sort of tinker around with. And so it goes back to 1940, it’s got—you know, I have no idea of what the sort of community or even the processes around this award, but it seems to change quite a bit sort of over the years, so it’s reflecting more contemporary fiction and also all sorts of interesting authors and voices.


And I think right now the reason I—I have started picking up Westerns is again I want to see how everything changed over time. But as an American and in an election year, that feels incredibly critical to, you know, what is the heart and soul of America. Westerns are such an iconic American genre that it feels that being able to sort of skip around and look at: what did Western fiction say about America and American values and American dreams and sort of—a certain sort of hope and vision of America, and how has that changed over seventy or eighty years. You know, and how do people talk about America and how do people talk about what it means to be American. And I’m really interested to see where that leads me because right now that is—you know, that’s a conversation that everyone is having over the internet and in their arts and in November what they’re going to be having at the polling booth, and I am curious to see how fiction might inform that over time.


CH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think that there’s definitely an element of—of kinds of national pride in particular genres. The—the Western as you mentioned for America and, you know, Agatha Christie [chuckles]…. In Britain.


JS: Oh you’re—you’re absolutely right. And—and I think that’s—it’s really interesting. I mean it is—you know, going back to statues and things like that. It’s sort of—it’s—they are—books wind up being sort of moments in time that capture what’s important to the author and—and often to the reader.


CH: And it does give you changing sense of what kind of concerns are relevant to—to the—you know, to the period that you’re reading around. And it made me think about what you said about communities that surround institutions like these prices and awards and around the—you know, the communities that surround the Hugos and the Arthur C. Clarke. And the—you know, the—the quiet profound shifts in the ideologies of those communities in the last five years. Thinking particularly about the puppies controversy [chuckles] and—and how brilliantly the genre scene is changing to reflect concerns of the left but also of equality.


JS: I completely agree. The whole Puppies protest was just—I mean—and, you know, we’ve seen it mirrored around games and comics and films and—and sort of every other form of culture. Where—where people start protesting that something’s become too political. Because all of a sudden they realise that they… don’t share those politics. But the science fiction has always been deeply political and that’s…That’s it’s point. And it’s…. I mean it’s—it’s about examining the world from—from a different lens.


You know, every award has a vision or a motive or a community around it has a different way of looking at the world. And I mean I’m not a huge of the Hugo Awards, I’ve never—in—in that like literally like I am not a fan. Like the taste of the Hugo’s has never particularly reflected my own reading taste, in the same that say like The Shirley Jackson Award or The Arthur C. Clarke Award; those—those reflect my reading taste really—really sharply. But that’s great, that’s why it’s really important to have all sorts of these institutions and not just one. Because an award is just a particular type of recommendation that is constructed in—in a particular way with all sorts of politics and communities and attitudes around it. And I love that they all exist and my stance has always been the sort of the more the merrier and the more… diverse and eclectic and strange that we can make them, the better it is because then we have more and more recommendations out there. And—and the challenge is to find, you know, the recommendation engine that—that—that’s not just your own taste.


CH: Absolutely. And—and to find yourself pushed in some ways as well by—by recommendations made in other genre institutions, yeah.


JS: That—that’s a—a brilliant way of putting it. And, you know, I have something like The Shirley Jackson’s Award where I’m like, “Okay, there are—there are enough on my wave length that when they recommend something that I haven’t I know I should check it out.” And then similarly, you know, one of my [chuckles] favourite awards is the Good Reads Choice Awards, you know, every year where they just have the massive public vote.


CH: Yeah.


JS: And those books are so far out of my normal taste, I mean I really just don’t like any of them at all. But it’s really I think handy and valuable and fun for me to go—to use that to discover new genres. So I love it when the Good Reads Choice comes out because then I go and I learn about, you know, which are the historical romances that are incredibly popular in that community, you know, which are—which are the comic books that are popular in that community. And it—it’s a really—it’s a really nice way of discovering the like mainstream zeitgeist of various genres.


CH: Absolutely. And when you—when you think about what is important to people and what—I mean your—your own reading challenge is thinking back to, you know, mystery and—and Westerns. For the longest time a lot of these genres have depended on what’s popular not only what is celebrated, right? Because there’s kind of a—a disjunct there. We all know that romance sells best. But… not ‘but’ and that reflects a demographic of the reading public, but it also reflects what people are concerned about. And—and I think maybe we see that with the—as you—as you were saying about the John Martin exhibition and your accompanying collection. The kind of the—the move to dystopia and the rise of…. Dystopia as, you know, in the popular zeitgeist.


JS: I totally agree. [laughing] I don’t have much to add to that but yes, I’m nodding profusely.


[Narrative Futures music]


CH: For those writers and speculators listening, stay with us now for writing prompts and exercises designed to encourage putting pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, as well as reflection on the writing process. This section is designed and presented by Louis Greenberg.


[Narrative Futures music]


Louis Greenberg’s writing prompts:


1.         Mythology now!


Jared Shurin refers to Robert Graves’ Greek Myths and suggests that mythology was the science of the time – a way to make sense of what we see around us. Let’s use that tool to try to make sense of what’s happening around us now. Find a news story from today – don’t agonise too much about the choice – and reimagine it as a myth.


For our purposes, one of the key elements of myth is that it gives reason to phenomena; and another is that characters – rather than the events themselves – take centre stage. The phenomena are personified.


Your chosen news story may well be one of random-seeming misfortune or disaster. It may be of luck or prowess. It may be of huge uncontrollable forces.


Make up a reason for the events in your story and a character who embodies it. For example, a raging wildfire may be the result of a god’s dissatisfaction or a petty argument. A record-breaking football score might be the result of magic boots supplied by an angel.


As creators and readers, order soothes us. But some art chooses to deny and resist comforting order.


Do you think art should disrupt order or assert it? Why?



2.         Publishing priorities


Shurin’s accounts of his publishing adventures are amusing and insightful. Jurassic London introduced several writers from around the world to new readers. But as writers, we’re all too aware of the corporate backbone of publishing and the struggles of independent publishers, booksellers and distributors to find a foothold in the industry.


This is your chance to imagine your ideal publishing company.


What would your publishing goals be? Making money, democratising or decolonising the industry, making it environmentally beneficial, or making beautifully designed artefacts?


What stories would you publish, and why? How would you make money?


Would you raise charitable funding, would you interest enough book buyers to make the business profitable? In your ideal world, would public funding sustain publishing?


Can you imagine any future technology that would assist your publishing goals?


Jot down a business plan on a scrap of notepaper or a napkin and store it.


This dream is for you to keep, but please feel free to share any of your previous exercises with us by email at


[Narrative Futures music]


CH: That’s a wrap on episode five. Many thanks to Jared for joining us. In this next episode EJ Swift shares her negotiations with form and content, discusses climate fiction, and nested narratives.  


[Outro music]




With thanks to Jared Shurin for being our guest on this episode.


Music credit: The sounds used in this podcast are Technological Vibe and Cyber Technologies by Ricky Rombino, sourced from Premium Beats.


Production credit: This podcast was devised, recorded, and edited by Chelsea Haith. All writing prompts were designed and presented by Louis Greenberg.


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