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The University of Southampton

Short stories brought to life through smartphones

Published: 21 June 2016
Story Places App
Story Places App

A project by the University of Southampton is helping readers to immerse themselves in the real life locations of a series of fictional short stories, using smartphone technology.

The new ‘StoryPlaces’ app, developed by a team at the University, lets people experience six tales, all imagined, but rooted in Southampton’s history, by guiding them round a number of locations in the city’s old town and docks – unlocking narratives on the way.

Dr Verity Hunt, Research Fellow in English , comments: “Our stories are location aware, so they unfold as people navigate to specific places. Although they are fictional, their context is historical and we hope people will enjoy a well written, engaging story, while also learning more about past events which occurred at the sites they visit.

“Places are made up of stories over time, layer upon layer, like geological strata. Imagine walking through a landscape and seeing and hearing its story unfold on your smartphone as you go: pages of original new literature tagged to buildings, bus stops and trees, coming to life in your hands. This is what our app aims to provide.”

The project, a collaboration between the departments of English and Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University and funded by The Leverhulme Trust , will launch at the Tudor House and Garden in Southampton between 24 and 26 June.

The six stories, authored by creative writing students from the University, range from a reimagining of Jack the Ripper in Southampton, to the tale of an immigrant arriving at the docks from America searching for a home, to a trip through time in the city’s Queen’s Park.

Dr David Millard from ECS , who worked on the technical aspects of the project, says: “What has been exciting about this for me, is that rather than presenting writers with a completed technology, we have been able to find out what they need to best convey their stories and work with them to develop a bespoke platform which gives them the flexibility to really engage with readers and give them a unique experience.”

Across the three days this June, people visiting the Tudor House and Garden will be able to download the ‘StoryPlaces’ app, or borrow a smart phone, to try out the location-aware stories. There’ll also be opportunities to hear from the authors and historians involved, plus hear Philip Hoare, Professor of Creative Writing and author of Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital and The Sea Inside, discussing how Southampton’s waterside and its human and animal stories, have influenced his work.

Notes for editors

A summary of the six fictional stories:

The Destitute and The Alien , by Victoria Dawson

It is 1895 and Jack the Ripper now lives in the city of Southampton. Newly promoted to caretaker of John Doling’s Emigrants’ Home in Albert Road, he spends his days fumigating the new arrivals and his nights visiting prostitutes in nearby Simnel Street. For seven years he’s kept his knife sheathed and his predilection for murder and dissection supressed. But with the arrival of Golda – a beautiful Jewish girl fleeing from persecution in the Russian Pale – comes the reawakening of Jack’s psychotic compulsions. Will Golda survive her stay at the Emigrants’ Home to board the ship to take her to the New World? Or will her final destination be the cold mortuary slab? To find out, charge your smartphone, don your walking shoes and head for the City of Southampton. In ‘The Destitute and The Alien’, streets you never knew existed, and likewise histories, await your exploration.

Six Stories of Southampton , by Megan Humphries

The goddess Ancasta has watched over the city of Southampton for thousands of years. She’s seen the city change and grow, and collected the stories of its people. From the Hundred Years War, to the sinking of the Titanic, to the modern era of cruise ships and ocean liners, she’s seen all that Southampton has been. Now, as you walk the streets of the city, you can discover some of the stories she has to tell, and discover a new way of looking at Southampton.

The Tale of Molly DeVito , by Emily Derrick

When Molly DeVito arrives in Southampton docks from America in the late 1800’s, carrying a not-so-subtle secret, she is looking for a home. With youth and beauty on her side she is hopeful. What she doesn’t realise is that she is no longer in control of her own life, someone, or something else is pulling the strings. Molly’s journey attracts the attention of the city itself and then the question becomes simple; what is Molly’s final destination? The Tale of Molly DeVito introduces Southampton as a character not to be reckoned with, and explores the possibility of a whole new relationship to the city you thought you knew.

A Walk in the Park , by Tilly Edgar Thompson

Take a fascinating journey through time in this three-part story which explores the many people who passed through Queen’s Park in Southampton from different walks of life. Delve into the mystery behind room 667 at Great Western House in 1867, experience the moments leading up to the Titanic’s departure in 1912, or hear a child’s screams as his mother wanders through streets ravaged by the plague in 1674. A Walk in the Park is as easy as it sounds; all you have to do is head to Queen’s Park in Southampton, find the correct position and face the right direction. Choose between ‘The Haunting’, ‘The Premonition’ and ‘The Dissenter’ as you travel through time learning about each person who walked past with their own tale to tell.

The Titanic Criminal in Southampton , by Charlotte Brind

It is 1902 in Southampton and young Margaret lives near the docks. Her childhood is suddenly jeopardised after her father brutally murders her mother in a drunken rage. Margaret must take command of her future and find a route to escape her poverty stricken childhood. Experience Margaret’s Southampton life, will her fortune change?

Notes on an Illegible City , by Eloise Phillips

Forget your Occulus Rift headset. All you need is a smartphone and an open mind to share in Southampton’s virtual reality. Start at the beginning of the end, and let yourself be taken from the Western Esplanade retail development, back through Simnel Street’s sordid past, all the way to the humble origins of a 12th-century marble font. What would happen if a silent object could speak? Now you can find out. Take a stroll past Bargate in two different time periods, witness an underground evolution, and pay your respects to a Norse twin-tailed mermaid at the centre of the edge. In Notes on an Illegible City the past, present and future of Southampton is woven together in an eclectic tapestry. You get to decide how threadbare it has become.

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