Addison’s Tales: Tom Thorneval, Dream Merchant Extraordinaire

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With the release of the first paperback from the Addison’s Tales musical storyworld this month, we took a moment to catch up with the man behind the man behind the storyworld. Jerome Goerke has been working to bring the tales and songs of C. E. Addison to the public as audio books, ebooks, apps, and now paperbacks as well. The writer himself proved tricky to track down. We asked why.

Who is C. E. Addison and why doesn’t he answer his emails?

Yes, sorry about that. I have to apologise on his behalf. I am not completely sure he actually knows how to use the email we set up for him. I use the post to reach him and always receive a handwritten reply. I can tell you this though: He began writing after spending most of his life working as a gardener at Calladin’s Old Town History Museum. As for who he is, I can say he’s a very reclusive but well-humoured elderly gentleman who writes musical tales of high fantasy. He says he purchases the characters from a character merchant called Mack, and wrote about their first meeting in The Dream. Sometimes those characters sing, so he includes a few music sheets with his manuscripts. He generally keeps himself to himself, but occasionally reveals his thoughts at his Goodreads blog. More than that I don’t really know. He’s not exactly forthcoming with info, being quite shy, and he’s flat-out refused going on a book tour. Which leaves me doing most of the leg work. It’s not as if I haven’t got enough to do …

So how did Addison’s Tales come about?

That I can answer. I met Cornelius a few years ago at a country fair and liked the tales and music enough to bring them to a wider audience. Cornelius said Mack sold him characters that he needed to trap within a completed story for them to fully appear. Until then, the characters would remain semi-transparent figments of his imagination hovering around his cottage. In other words, if he didn’t trap a newly purchased character in a story of their own, they’d gradually disappear. Which I thought was kind of cool, as it sounded like there would be a lot of stories over time, and offered to help build a storyworld to help those stories get read and his music heard. I envisioned a logo that would act like a seal on the tales, marking them as a quality voyage into some far off world filled with music and adventure. And that’s how it got started. True story …

What is a musical storyworld and how does it work?

It’s tricky to explain, because people are familiar with having stories in boxes or ‘containers’ like one TV show, one film, one book or one song. You can of course package all these single boxes in larger boxes like a series, regular program or an album, but the idea that a story has no container at all, that the web itself is the container, well, that is difficult to get your head around the first time you encounter it. But that is essentially what a storyworld is: it uses the whole web and its hyperlinked functionality as segues or bridges to other parts of a story that you don’t have to explore if you don’t want to, but can if you choose. For example, maybe you are reading a book and come across a part when the character sings. There is a QR code that acts as a bridge to let you listen to that song.

After that, you can go on to learn the music you just heard and teach yourself to play the music sung by the character you still have in your mind. Or you can look into the character’s mind while they sing, for example, in the form of Enlivened Rhymes that are essentially short animated musical videos from stories we put on Youtube and in apps. Even the stories themselves are often linked, since many begin or take place in Calladin, a bit like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, with familiar characters popping up here and there in different formats. So in short, Addison’s Tales is like a sprawling colourful digital garden that we’re continually building, and the front door of the garden (or indeed first page) might be addisonstales.com. But you don’t have to enter through that portal. You can just pick up or download a tale and go from there. Even this interview is a part of the growing back story, or a bridge into the world, ready to be discovered by a future wanderer.

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What have been some major events during the development of the storyworld?

Like in any new garden, sometimes things just die despite your best efforts. Each positive progression is usually preceded by a lot of trial and error. There is no ‘prior model’ that you can go by, so you really just have to build each new part or concept to the best of your ability, and every development has its own learning curve, such as creating authentic background atmosphere for audio books. Creating a HTML5 interactive cottage that people can scroll around and explore on their tablets was one successful development that I think helped us receive a nomination for the first Berlin Crowdfunding Prize, which in turn attracted distribution partners. With MuseScore, we also have a platform partner where readers can now learn the music from Addison’s Tales. Now that we have the first few stories, songs, animations and distribution agreements in place, the next challenge is getting people to visit the garden. Most recently I saw that a US music teacher I’ll likely never meet had used a quote from Tom Thorneval as their motto on Linkedin. That to me is a wonderful development. Word is very gradually getting out.

What’s next?

We are looking at creating a real Gothic opera with at least seven songs from one self-contained title. I can’t reveal what it is about yet, but if you explore the cottage (just drag the screen around), you will discover one character who will play a leading role. At the moment, I am not sure if we will co-create it with another organisation, or if we bring out the story first and then a second edition with the songs included, or perhaps via a new and unprecedented way. We’ll also be publishing the texts that are currently only available as ebooks so people who prefer paperbacks can enjoy Addison’s Tales in that traditional format. Ultimately, I look at storyworld building as I imagine Jim Henson might: in terms of decades, not in months or even years. If I can help young people toward a love of music, words and creation with my storyworld during those decades, I know I’ve done my job, as this is what makes life such an adventure, and what connects us as human beings.

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