Multimodality and Creative Writing: identifying ‘the problem’, presenting solutions

Josie BarnardMMUc

The objective of this session is to present innovative new research into multimodality as it affects creative writing teaching, learning and practice. The session - which includes introduction, illustrative case studies and an interactive conclusion – addresses the impact of the ‘digital turn’ on Creative Writing and presents solutions.

Dr. Josie Barnard SFHEA outlines the main challenges that the 21st century’s increasingly multimodal writing and publishing landscape presents teachers, learners and practitioners in the field of Creative Writing. Drawing on the programme of research represented by her monograph ‘The Multimodal Writer’ (2019), Dr Barnard considers how every aspect of work as a creative writer is affected by the ‘digital turn’, from the beginnings of creative process through to publication and how stories are read.

Updates of software and hardware come thick and fast. ‘Never before have the technologies of writing contributed so quickly to the generation of new genres,’ notes Yancey (2014, 63). The exponential growth of new media technologies brings exciting opportunities for writers, and challenges. As Kress (2010, 7) notes, ‘using tools that had served well to fix horse-drawn carriages becomes a problem in mending contemporary cars’. The new ‘tools’ presented in this session include ‘remediation of practice’ ‘whereby – as new challenges and opportunities arise – a writer looks to existing skills and prior experience and adapts or applies them in new contexts as part of a process of, in effect, collaborating with him or herself’ (Barnard, 2017, 1) in order to enable a systematic and ongoing transfer of skills.

Case study 1 gives close focus to an example of remediated practice.
Sarah Gibson-Yates looks at the impact of visual culture on the way we process information and construct narratives, from the perspective of a creative practitioner. Drawn from PhD research into the languages and practices of writing digital culture into contemporary young adult literature, she will contextualise the work within her background in filmmaking and screenwriting, and reflect on the unique challenges of writing a novel concerned with representing the impact of audio-visual culture within a book intended for traditional print distribution. Gibson-Yates’s solution has been to adapt screenwriting conventions to simultaneously dramatise and narrate the memories of her first-person narrator protagonist. In turn, raising relevant questions around the construction, use and interpretation of audio-visual culture, within the context of developing a multimodal writing practice.

Case study 2 considers how remediation of practice can be employed for creative productions that involve audience interaction.
Dr. Amy Spencer examines ambient literature as a case study of a multimodal form of digital writing. Here, narrative is delivered by pervasive computing platforms and responds to the presence of a reader. The reading experience operates both spatially and temporally and a reader is brought into contact with a physical location as part of the narrative as well as with immersive digital technologies. Dr. Spencer considers how writers can engage readers in this digital form by asking them to simultaneously navigate both a physical and imaginative world, while being embodied in a narrative.

‘The problem’ referred to in the title is that there is no single toolkit of technical skills that will survive the constant change that is perhaps the defining characteristic of the digital writing and publishing landscape. Creative flexibility is key. The introduction and overview and case studies present sample methods of developing such creative flexibility. As well as summing up the session, the conclusion is interactive, with panelists and audience working together to agree a new definition of ‘digital literacy’ that is fit for the 21st century.


• Barnard, Josie (2017) ‘Testing Possibilities: on negotiating writing practices in a “postdigital” age (tools and methods)’, in New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, 14: 2, Routledge, DOI: 10.1080/14790726.2016.127802; pp. 275-289
• Barnard, Josie (2019) The Multimodal Writer: Creative Writing Across Genres and Media (London: Macmillan International Higher Education, Red Globe Press)
• Kress, Gunther (2010) Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication (London: Routledge)
• Yancey, Kathleen Blake (2014) ‘Made not only in words: Composition in a new key’ in Claire Lutkewitte (ed.), Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook (Boston, New York: Bedford Books) pp. 74–75.

Dr. Josie Barnard SFHEA, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing with Journalism, Middlesex University
Dr. Josie Barnard SFHEA is a writer, broadcaster and academic. Her research interests centre on the impact of the ‘digital turn’ on writing and publishing, with specialist areas in employability and social media, subjects on which she has published in peer reviewed journals including New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing. In addition to her monograph The Multimodal Writer (2019), she has published five books for Virago/Little Brown, including the Betty Trask award-winning novel Poker Face. Her print and broadcast journalism includes features and programmes for outlets such as BBC Radio 4, the Guardian, the Independent and the Times Literary Supplement. She is a member of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Digital Skills and Inclusion Research Working Group.

Sarah Gibson-Yates, Senior lecturer and Course Leader for the Film and Media Combined BA, Anglia Ruskin University:
Sarah Gibson Yates is a Senior lecturer and Course Leader for the Film and Media Combined BA at Anglia Ruskin University, she is also a writer and filmmaker. Her practice based PhD explores writing digital culture into young adult literature through the production of a novel for young adults using multimodal writing including screenplay, podcast scripts and social media messaging. This strategy locates the reader within the screen mind of the protagonist, playing with multimodal narrative perspectives afforded by different modes of writing practice. Sarah has worked within film education for cinemas and film festivals as well within the community, and as a filmmaker directing and writing short fiction and documentary films. Further info:

Dr. Amy Spencer, Post-Doctoral Research Assistant, Bath Spa University:
Dr Amy Spencer is a post-doctoral research assistant and writer. She has a PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London, where her research focused on understanding the process of collaborative authorship in digital writing. She has worked at UWE Bristol as a post-doctoral research fellow as part of the Ambient Literature Research Project and her current research at Bath Spa University addresses the affordance of mobile technologies for telling stories. Amy writes both fiction and non-fiction and is the author of DIY: The Rise of Lo-Fi Culture and editor of the forthcoming essay collection ‘Ambient Stories: Digital Writing in Place’.

Sun 1:00 pm - 2:15 pm