Interview with Barry Nugent of “Unseen Shadows”

In this far-reaching interview with Barry Nugent, founder of Unseen Shadows, Ltd and creator of the “Fallen Heroes” world, Barry shares his experiences producing an independent, transmedia project, including the challenges of working in so many different mediums and the rewards of collaborating on a large (and growing) team of creatives.

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I’m not sure where to begin. “Unseen Shadows” appears to have started with your pulp adventure novel of the same name. But there’s now a publishing company overseeing the transmedia implementation of this world across mediums and platforms, and the site hints at opening up the world for collaboration with fans in the future. How would you describe “Unseen Shadows?”

Well the novel is actually called Fallen Heroes but the trilogy is called Unseen Shadows. In terms of describing it …wow, well if we’re talking about the novel, then as you say it’s a modern day pulp adventure novel involving a diverse mix of heroes and heroines up against an ancient cult. Overall, I would describe the book as a pulp adventure that draws in other genres such as espionage, horror, crime and drama.

 

Unseen Shadows - Fallen Heroes

 

I started “Unseen Shadows” the transmedia project to open up the world and its characters in as many different mediums as possible. My one guiding principle in the development of all the projects was that no matter the story or the medium, each extension would stand alone from the novels and be able to be enjoyed as such. To me, this was not about a marketing drive to force people into reading the novel, it was about creating a world full of adventures. It was about to giving people different routes into that world without forcing them to consume every piece of content that’s out there to see the full picture.

Of course if you have read the novel, you do gain more perspective on the other stories. My hope was that by experiencing some of the other stories fans would naturally gravitate toward the novels sooner or later, but I didn’t want people to feel creatively punished if they decided not to pick up the novel.

 

Was your intention all along to open up “Unseen Shadows” as a collaborative project, or did that decision happen after you finished the first comic?

I would love to say it was part of some grand Machiavellian scheme, but the truth is it was never my plan and it all happened by accident.

After the first issue of the comic adaptation of the novel came out, someone suggested to me that it would be great if there was a one-off comic featuring one of the characters from the novel. I started talking with the writer I wanted for that story and who would be working with the same art team already tasked with the comic adaptation.

I then started getting emails from other comic writers who had read the novel and heard about the comic spin off. They were asking if they could write their own stories, and at that point, things just got crazy. To this day, I’m eternally grateful to the person who made that suggestion, and she knows who she is.

 

Unseen Shadows - Tales of the Fallen Comic

 

As the first of the one-shot comics went into development, I was part way through the second novel of the trilogy. I found myself being influenced by the comics and audio drama, so I decided to start integrating some of these elements into the second novel. I now tell anyone joining the project the stories they develop – regardless of the medium – are canonical to the world I’m building. I don’t want contributors thinking what they bring are just little side stories that have no impact on the overall trilogy.

 

You’ve managed to work with artists, voice talent, and writers to produce comics, audio books, and traditional novels, but the site states all profits are reinvested into the company (none of the contributors are getting paid). How in the world have you convinced so many people around the world to work for free?

I honestly don’t know. I think that’s a question for the team themselves.

If people look at the creative team bios on the site, they’ll see it’s a question ask each team member to answer: ‘why?’ Personally I’m always shocked and flattered when people approach me to come onto the project, or I approach someone to see if they would like to join the team. I do think people love the fact that there are different mediums at work and that their content plays a part in the overall story.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that effective communication is the single most important thing about managing a production schedule…that and whisky.

I always make sure anyone interested in coming onboard is aware of what they are committing to by joining the project. I explain that all money, including sales from the novels themselves, go back into developing more projects within the “Unseen Shadows” umbrella. Since I started “Unseen Shadows,” I have not taken a single penny of profit from any work in the project, whether that be my novels or the other projects. Any money taken is spent on marketing, sales and production.

At one point some of the team felt I should take cash out when I’m attending conventions or for the hotels I book or my travel expenses, but I don’t. Those expenses come out of my own pocket. I keep the team up to date on how we’re doing, and at the end of the year I show them where we stand in terms of profits. I make it clear the “Unseen Shadows” project finances books are always open, and if any of the team wants to know more, I’m happy to answer any and all questions. Of course, one day I hope there’s enough money to start sharing some of the profit with the team.

 

What have you learned about managing a production schedule crossing so many channels and platforms?

That pretty much every day there’s a new challenge to deal with and a new question to answer. I also have needed to know about these different mediums we are working in and what’s possible. Oh, and a good spreadsheet is worth its weight in gold.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that effective communication is the single most important thing about managing a production schedule…that and whisky. I know have people are starting to come onboard to help me with that side of things, which is fantastic.

 So is it scary letting others play with your toys? Yes it is, but it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

What’s your process for mapping content to mediums? Have you ever wished you had chosen a different medium for any of the stories (e.g., on hindsight, you might have published a comic as an audio book)?

There is no real process beyond either gut feelings or one of the team saying to me something like, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we did a choose-your-own-adventure book?’ I think the freedom/flexibility to do anything with any character is what I love most about “Unseen Shadows.” When you’re surrounded by such amazing talent, you are never far away from someone coming up with an idea you would never have thought of in a million years.

In a perfect world I would love to have the current titles adapted into as many different mediums as possible. For those who might never read a comic they would have the option of reading the novelisation of that comic or listening to the audio drama. Again, it’s about given people different routes in to the world.

Yes, it’s fine to say, ‘here’s the Operation Solomon comic,’ but how much more inclusive would it be to say, ‘here’s the Operation Solomon comic, web series, novelisation and audio drama?’

 

You recently wrote about how strange it was to read stories about your characters but know someone else wrote them. Opening up a world and its characters for others to play with brings pleasant surprises but can be challenging from a creative standpoint. How have you handled working with other creative’s ideas about the direction of “Unseen Shadows?”

I think if you’re going to get upset with people ‘playing’ with your characters or your world, you shouldn’t let them out of your sight in the first place. I do believe if you have the right creative people on board, it all becomes a whole lot easier, and for me I think it’s made me a better writer – or at least one who thinks a lot more about his characters.

When you’ve got people firing questions at you asking ‘would character A say this?’ from a writer or ‘would character B look like this?’ from an artist or ‘would character C sound like this?’ when casting for an audio drama, it can be very challenging. If your characters aren’t fully rounded and air tight, the constant probing by your fellow creatives will soon show you where the holes are (and yes, I found quite a few in my own!).

 

Unseen Shadows B&W Line Art

 

In terms of the working process for me it comes down to allowing people the flexibility to put their own spin on your character but still remain true to what you’ve originally written. Of course there will be times when you see a script and think ‘no, that doesn’t work for that character,’ but just replying with a blanket ‘You can’t do that because its my character’ won’t get you very far.

I always try to back every creative decision I make with clear reasoning as to why that choice has been made. I think it’s important, I think it’s key to everything I do with “Unseen Shadows.” Running roughshod over fellow team members is not collaborative – it’s dictatorial (although I do have a cat, and the volcano hideout is being built as I type).

I mean what’s the point in bringing all these great creative minds together and then not listening to them? It makes no sense. There are times when I’ve had to make a judgement call and say ‘No you can’t do that,’ but hopefully I’ve explained myself well enough so all concerned know why that choice has been made.

So is it scary letting others play with your toys? Yes it is, but it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

 

We seem to be in an era of solopreneurs and DIY creatives who are connecting directly with their audiences and bypassing traditional gatekeepers. Yet, new “gates” crop up all the time, sometimes in the guise of gate-busting platforms. For example, Amazon recently pulled many titles because the book descriptions referenced other authors and other books. Building your business on ANYONE else’s land brings both rewards and risks. How have you structured your business to maximize reach while minimizing risk when choosing your distribution platforms and partners?

Well, I think for me everything starts and ends with the website, as that is the one thing we have under our control. I mean over the years some of the routes I was using have ‘disappeared,’ which is of course frustrating when you’ve put a lot of work into developing titles to go onto those platforms. I feel it’s important to try and keep abreast of all the changes, but sometimes that’s hard.

On top of all of this, I need to remember that I’m a writer first and foremost, and I actually need to make sure I have enough time to do that as well as everything else. Ideally I like to utilize as many different platforms as possible, but at the same time making sure that if someone stumbles across the “Unseen Shadows” website, they can get any and all of the titles direct from the website.

 Unseen Shadows Logo

 

As I mentioned earlier, the “Unseen Shadows” site hints at inviting creatives of all kinds contributing to the world. Any hints about when this might happen?

It’s something I would like to look at after book two and a few more projects are out of the way later this year.

 

Where would you like to see “Unseen Shadows” ultimately go? Presuming you don’t already consider it a success, how would you define success for this project?

Into Space!

Okay, that’s not an answer, but I guess if this interview shows anything, it’s that I have no real ultimate plan. To quote Indiana Jones, ‘I’m just making this up as I go.’

For me, success is something I already have, at least in the creative sense. I get to work with talented people all over the world, and I’ve learnt so much from them. Creating “Unseen Shadows” has forced me to step out of my comfort zone (like this interview) and do things that ten years ago I would never have dreamed of attempting. So for me, that’s a very personal success.

In the more tangible sense for the team, I want to see “Unseen Shadows” and all the fantastic work that’s been done by the team get much more exposure. There are still other mediums and ideas we have yet to explore, so my view is we’re are just getting started!

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