Downton appy: Julian Fellowes tries new format for novel

  • Books
  • Monday, 18 Jan 2016

British producer Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, poses with the International Emmy Founders Award backstage at the 43rd International Emmy Awards Gala in New York. Photo: Reuters

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes is to release his new novel, a historical drama set in London during the 1840s, in instalments via an app.

In a tradition that dates back to Charles Dickens, each of Belgravia’s 11 chapters will be delivered on a weekly basis, and – very much unlike in Dickens’ time – will come with multimedia extras including music, character portraits, family trees, and an audio book version.

“To marry the traditions of the Victorian novel to modern technology, allowing the reader, or listener, an involvement with the characters and the background of the story and the world in which it takes place, that would not have been possible until now, and yet to preserve within that the strongest traditions of storytelling, seems to me a marvellous goal and a real adventure,” Fellowes says in a statement.

The writer and director has explored a variety of creative outlets, having worked on screenplays, stage plays, novels, and children’s books. His new foray marries the classic novel with a format similar to that of the modern TV series.

Publishers believe the timing of the release will appease those who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from Downton Abbey. The final episode of the show, broadcast in Britain on Christmas Day, was watched by nearly 11 million people.

Jamie Raab, president and publisher of Grand Central Publishing, says the format appeals to her precisely because of Fellowes’s television background and his ability to keep audiences engaged in a story over months, even years. She told the New York Times: “I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of publishing a novel in short episodic bites. He gets how to keep the story paced so that you’re caught up in the current episode, then you’re left with a cliffhanger.”

While set in the 1840s, Belgravia opens more than two decades earlier, on the eve of the battle of Waterloo in 1815, and explores the divisions between the upper echelons of society and newly wealthy families. On the novel’s official website, it is described as “the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode.”

While the novel-as-app format is relatively new, its adoption by prominent authors is expected to popularise it. Last year, British novelist Iain Pears released his book Arcadia as an app, and Eli Horowitz simultaneously released The Pickle Index as a hardback, paperback, and interactive app.

The first instalment of Belgravia will be available in app format in April. More traditional readers need not fear, however – a hardback version of the novel will be published in June. – Guardian News & Media

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