The Story Behind The Creative Tree
By Chris Peacock
From a very early age, I have loved stories: telling them, listening to them, reading them. Stories told round my grandfather’s huge dining table in his house high in the mountains of Jamaica gave me a strong sense of belonging and a strong sense of history. I believe it is much harder to develop a sense of destiny if you lack a sense of history, and it saddens me that the predominance of the nuclear family seems to have reduced these collective storytelling occasions almost to vanishing point.
That, I guess, is the first strand of thought which led me to set up The Creative Tree: could the internet provide a new storytelling medium to compensate for the decline in stories round the campfire, the family dining table and the hearth? Could family stories, folk stories and travellers’ tales be shared with a wider audience? Could we capture ancient stories before they were lost for ever, and could we give children a greater sense of who they were and where they came from?
The second strand grows out of the first: ever since I can remember, people have been telling me “You really should become a writer”. I have indeed started writing a number of stories – beginning at the age of eight! Would they have been short stories, novellas, or War-and-Peace-length novels? I seemed destined never to know, since none of them ever got finished. An activity-packed life at boarding school and university; demanding jobs in market research, then advertising, consultancy and charity senior management: life always seemed to get in the way of art. The story ideas kept coming, and the list of unfinished “masterpieces” kept growing.
Meanwhile, the storyteller in me was more than satisfied by the instant gratification of making people laugh or gasp at my dinner-party stories about my adventures around the world and the larger-than-life characters of 1980s advertising agencies. That led me to thinking: why did a story have to be many chapters long? Why couldn’t you write a story that consisted of just one or two chapters and still get it published? Allow readers to create their own anthologies of ultra-short stories or poems? Allow other adventurous writers to add on to your chapter(s) or poems and maybe take them off in different directions?
The reader in me and the writer in me were both excited by the prospect of multi-writer anthologies and multi-directional stories – but it seemed that nowhere in the world was it possible to create such things. That was the second strand of thought that drove me to set up The Creative Tree.
The third strand came from a combination of two frustrations. Firstly, I remembered how, as a child, I enjoyed reading serialised stories in comic magazines such as the Eagle and how, as an adult, I love TV series like Star Trek, Stargate SG1, Lost and Warehouse 13. Where were the equivalents for adult fiction? What happened to the literary magazines in which legendary authors like Dickens serialised their novels? They seemed rare to the point of obscurity. And that links to my second frustration. Why should one have to spend years writing a novel, only to find that agents and publishers think that it’s rubbish? Why couldn’t you get feedback direct from the public starting with Chapter One?
So there’s the third thought behind The Creative Tree: allowing authors and graphic novelists to serialise their novels and giving readers that delightful anticipation of “What happens next?”
The fourth and final strand which led to this project was a recognition of how fragmented the world of artistic websites had become, how specialised many of these communities were. Where was a community that allowed novelists and poets to meet artists and photographers who could help them create beautifully illustrated volumes? Where readers could choose their own illustrators for a favourite novel or anthology? Where established authors could mentor new or would-be authors? Where fans could actually talk to their favourite author or artist? As a generalist who believes that our world has far too many “specialists”, that idea of a vibrant, multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary artistic community excited me. It was the final component in the vision for The Creative Tree.