Judy Malloy, Editor

Megan Heyward
The Secret Language of Desire
Software: Adobe InDesign; Adobe DPS; Edge Animate; Photoshop, Illustrator, ProTools, and HTML5.

Megan Heyward is an Australian digital media writer, artist and educator, whose media practice operates at the intersection of storytelling and new technologies. She works across multiple media and formats, using video, audio, text and image elements to shape innovative projects for electronic hypertext, interactive media, mobile, locative media, augmented reality, eliterature and other emerging digital media forms.

Her interactive narrative work of day, of night (2002) published by Eastgate Systems, has been widely exhibited, including Australia, Europe, Japan, Canada and the US. Her locative narrative and AR app Notes for Walking (2013) was exhibited in the Sydney Festival 2013, attracting audiences of over 5,000 people to Middle Head National Park, Sydney to explore the site mediated by their mobile phones. Her latest work, The Secret Language of Desire, was supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.

For Authoring Software, she describes the creation of The Secret Language of Desire, an interactive narrative app for iPads, which ultimately grew to include not only text but also images, animation, and sound.

"As a text-foregrounded work, The Secret Language of Desire draws deliberately on the history and interface of the codex whilst experimenting with its disruption via haptic interactions which interrupt, surprise and, ideally, extend and transform the reading experience," she observes.

Megan Heyward teaches media arts at the University of Technology, Sydney. Her statement not only describes the process and software that she used to create The Secret Language of Desire but also suggests reasons to create work for the iPad.

Megan Heyward: The Joy of Text: Writing and Developing The Secret Language of Desire

The Secret Language of Desire is an interactive narrative app designed specifically to take advantage of the haptic and multimodal capacities of iPads. An interactive erotica app / digital pillow book, it that traces a woman's journey from everyday life into a landscape of sensuality and desire. The Secret Language of Desire merges 27 ultra-short chapters with interactive elements; in an environment where objects can be touched, triggering animations and sound, and images can be rubbed off, revealing hidden contents. The Secret Language of Desire will be exhibited at ELO2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature, August 4-8 in Bergen Norway and is also available for iPads directly from the AppStore. This article discusses the genesis and development of the project.

Sometime soon after completing my interactive narrative work of day, of night in the early 2000's, a project that took me, at a rough guess, a few thousand hours to produce, I resolved never to take on such a huge technical and creative task again, or at least not in a hurry. From the imaging work in Photoshop; to the video production, editing and compositing work in After Effects, and the painstaking animation and programming in Director -- developed in large part by me as a solo digital artist -- of day, of night had in many ways wrung me out, physically, technically and creatively. The thought of working on another large interactive narrative project was far from appealing. How could I contemplate or justify spending such an extended time in front of a computer screen, building and refining, testing and tweaking a work for days, months, even years?

The digital landscape, too, was shifting, with the emergence of social media and with the opportunities afforded by technological advances in mobile computing, GPS, and tiny, portable networked devices. I became interested in the possibilities of work developed specifically for mobile devices; especially locative media and place-based narrative accessible via mobile phone. Eventually this interest would lead to doctoral research and the development of my locative narrative project, Notes for Walking, (2013) integrating ultra short haiku-like text with video as a site-specific, walked experience of place.

At the same time, the textual capacities of those tiny mobile screens also beckoned to me, in particular the intimacy, brevity and immediacy of SMS.(Short Message Service) The simplicity of SMS, to my jaded soul, was quite breathtaking. Forget the size issues of image, animation, video, the complexities of usability and the scoping and technical issues of developing longer form interactive narrative. Here was a media format that came robust, shrink-wrapped, and delivered directly to your pocket. Furthermore, in terms of usability, most people knew, pretty much, how to use it. Yes, it had limitations, but for me, the limitations and very lightness of SMS were inspirational.

I began to experiment with a little side project that would eventually become The Secret Language of Desire, writing ultra-short, text-based stories or episodes that were compact, self-contained and quite playful and delightful to write. The concept of episodic, highly condensed erotica seemed perfectly suited to SMS, where sexting had quickly emerged as a popular sub-form of texting. Similarly, online dating sites and the eventual emergence of apps such as Tinder and Grindr appeared to reflect/ enable/ foment/ ferment a more episodic approach to sexuality within mainstream culture. From a creative and technical perspective, it was enormously liberating, even joyous, to confine myself purely to text. As I began to build up a set of stories or episodes, I created a set of rules and limitations -- each story must be no longer than one page, must be stand-alone and self contained from a narrative perspective, and there could be no images.

The project grew in fits and starts from its earliest beginning in the mid 2000's, put aside for periods, interspersed with work on other projects, and building slowly as I added to the set of narratives over time. As the collection grew, so did my inevitable wish to expand out slightly from the earlier limitations. To avoid duplication in pacing and structure, some episodes needed to be longer than a single page. Images began to sneak in, subtly and minimally. SMS had also begun to feel too restrictive; it had been a starting point, but perhaps not a viable end-delivery format. The screen was too small, the text formatting too limited. The emergence of the iPad in early 2010 offered a more natural and intuitive home for the project, combining the intimacy and intuitiveness of a book experience with the haptic and interactive possibilities of a digital tablet.

Following the development and exhibition of Notes for Walking in 2012 and early 2013; I was fortunate to gain a Digital and New Media Writing Grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts in late 2013, to develop The Secret Language of Desire as an interactive app for iPads. Commencing production in July 2014, I began to shape the work into app form. Beginning first with the writing, the stories were refined in terms of length and detail, as well as overall structure, so as to offer both a non-linear episodic reading experience (select any story from the Main screen as a stand-alone narrative) and the opportunity to read as a longer text with overall narrative flow.

With text foregrounded from the inception of the project, the next emphasis was on designing the interface and the overall shape of the text for iPad, as well as bringing attention to typography. More so than any of my other work, Secret Language draws upon the codex and traditional typographic skills even as it disrupts "bookishness" through animation, sound and haptic interactions. Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style (1992) proved enlightening in terms of approaching how to wrangle the 27 episodes / chapters of text. Bringhurst's advice includes delightful guiding principles such as "Typography exists to honour content...Letters have a life and dignity of their own...Choose and use the type with sensitivity and intelligence...Letterforms have tone, timbre, character, just as words and sentences do". [1] For a while I immersed myself in the history of type, Jenson's legacy, font families, versals, justified versus ragged, and other arcane and fascinating details and decisions.

Consistent with the original imagining -- and rules -- of the project, I did not wish for the work to be driven by visual imagery, but rather to be textually driven, punctuated and accented with short interactive elements that would be triggered by touch. From a software perspective, I built The Secret Language of Desire in Adobe InDesign, using Adobe DPS (Digital Publishing Suite) to create the layout, hold all of the interactive elements, build the app, and hold all of the interactive elements. Shooting real objects under natural light, I created the interactive animations in Edge Animate for inclusion into InDesign. Technical research by one of my students, Juanita de Feudis, into HTML5 scratch-off effects within DPS led to my inclusion of the scratch-off images that are included in various chapters within the work. From a sound perspective, I was extremely fortunate to again work closely with sound designer Michael Finucan, with whom I had collaborated on Notes for Walking, and whose sound elements contribute enormously to the delight and surprise of Secret Language. Working to a late April 2015 deadline, I was also very fortunate to work with jazz musician Martin Kay, who performed the lilting saxophone sequences and phrasings that are featured throughout the app.

I should mention here that Adobe has recently made changes to InDesign and DPS that would make the development of this project and submission to Apple extremely difficult now, if not impossible. DPS was a fantastic and quite intuitive creative tool that ideally should again be made available to creators by Adobe at a reasonable price.

In her EBR article "Convergent Devices, Dissonant Genres: Tracking the 'Future' of Electronic Literature on the iPad", Anastasia Salter writes about the challenges and possibilities arising from digital tablets, since "The iPad and the many other tablets that have followed in its wake...are transforming our physical relationship with texts by co-opting many of our expectations of print and integrating them with a range of gesture-driven interactive elements." Salter brings attention to the energies and conflicts around textuality / bookishness and interaction / playfulness that seem inherent within the tablet experience, where "...the iPad itself is a site of tension as much as it is a potential point of convergence: tension between faithful remediation of the codex and the breaking of the page, between genres of fiction and genres of play, between turning the page and reinventing the text." [2]

As a text-foregrounded work, The Secret Language of Desire draws deliberately on the history and interface of the codex whilst experimenting with its disruption via haptic interactions which interrupt, surprise and, ideally, extend and transform the reading experience. Was it shorter or simpler to produce than earlier work? Technically simpler, yes; shorter, no, if traced back to the first writing, though the design and build of this project probably took a tenth of the time as of day, of night. Perhaps more importantly, it led me to rediscover the pure joys of short, sharp text, the pleasure of creativity, and the value of simplicity and intuitive modes of engagement as I grapple with the intriguing and often challenging potentials of interactive content.

The Secret Language of Desire is available for iPads at the AppStore.

The images from The Secret Language of Desire are courtesy Megan Heyward.

1. Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style, Vancouver.: Hartley and Marks, 1992. pp. 21- 22.

2. Anastasia Salter, "Convergent Devices, Dissonant Genres: Tracking the 'Future' of Electronic Literature on the iPad", Electronic Book Review, 01-01-2015

The Secret Language of Desire Website

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