Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes writes 10-part novel in an app

Writer and creator of Downton Abbey Julian Fellowes at the Emmy Awards in New York last November.
Writer and creator of Downton Abbey Julian Fellowes at the Emmy Awards in New York last November.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Julian Fellowes says Belgravia will explore class divisions in 19th-century Britain and unfold in 10 weekly digital instalments

NEW YORK• There are few literary mediums that Julian Fellowes has not dabbled in.

The creator of the hit historical British melodrama Downton Abbey has worked on screenplays, stage plays, novels and a children's book.

He wrote the book for School Of Rock, a raucous new Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, adapted from the 2003 Richard Linklater movie, and he is working on his new NBC series The Gilded Age, set in New York in the late 19th century.

Now, for his next project, Belgravia, he is marrying an old narrative form - the serialised novel, in the tradition of Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers - with the latest digital delivery system: an app.

Belgravia takes place in London in the 1840s and opens decades earlier during the Battle of Waterloo. It explores the class divisions between the established aristocracy and newly wealthy families who made their fortunes through the Industrial Revolution.

But instead of having the sweeping narrative arc of a novel, it will unfold more like a new network TV series, in 10 weekly digital instalments that will arrive automatically on readers' phones, tablets or computers.

The chapters cost US$1.99 (S$2.83) each and US$13.99 altogether. The app will also incorporate an audio version, music, video, character portraits, family trees, images of period fashion and maps of Belgravia.

"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 said in a statement released through Grand Central Publishing, which will publish the novel in hardcover in July.

With Downton Abbey, an addictive series about an upper-class British family and its household servants, Fellowes has already proven himself adept at fashioning soap opera-worthy cliffhangers.

On Sunday, PBS' Masterpiece began airing the show's sixth and final season. The show drew an average of more than 13 million viewers in its fourth season and became the top-rated PBS drama of all time.

The first chapter of Belgravia will arrive in April, shortly after the last season of Downton Abbey concludes.

The app will be available through a website and individual chapters can be purchased for download through major e-book retailers such as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble's website.

App-based novels remain a relatively new and unproven format, but they could begin to catch on as some prominent authors experiment with the interactive possibilities of apps.

Last year, British novelist Iain Pears released his book, Arcadia, as an app that allowed readers to toggle among 10 story lines, and Eli Horowitz published his comic dystopian novel The Pickle Index as a hardcover, paperback and interactive app simultaneously.

This spring, best-selling novelist Wally Lamb will publish a new novel, I'll Take You There, exclusively as an app via the digital publishing company Metabook.

With its episodic delivery schedule, Belgravia will test whether "appointment reading" can become as habit-forming as a recurring TV show or serialised podcast.

Ms Jamie Raab, president and publisher of Grand Central Publishing, said the concept behind Belgravia appealed to her because of Fellowes' television background and his knack for keeping audiences engaged in a story over months and even years. "I've always been intrigued by the idea of publishing a novel in short episodic bites," she said. "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."

The thematic overlap with Downton Abbey, and the timing of the release, as Downton Abbey comes to an end, could help attract fans of the show who are experiencing withdrawal, she said.

"Belgravia deals with the different classes in England, and I think that's what people like so much about Downton Abbey and, before that, Upstairs Downstairs," she said, referencing a show that ran in the 1970s. "There's a lot of drama and melodrama."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'An app-based novel from Downton Abbey creator'. Print Edition | Subscribe