Writers Changing Lives: A Chat with Hermés Piqué
By Jennifer Baljko
Kids love books. They love games, too. And they love books that feel like games, and games that feel like books. First-hand feedback from teachers and students in our programs in Africa prove that last statement true. Things like flash cards, spelling quizzes, world maps and anything else that complements the learning experience and gets kids engaged in reading is what kids and school officials told us they want more of in their classrooms.
So, when Worldreader‘s Director of Digital Publishing Elizabeth Wood and Hermés Piqué, founder of Barcelona-based Robot Media, began talking a while ago, we knew an interactive book like the one Robot Media donated — Ghostboy and the Nameless Grave (co-written with Ghostboy’s creator Jason James and made interactive by Robot Media with choose-your-adventure options and basic reading and writing puzzles) — would be a hit when our kids’ turned on their Kindles.
Robot Media produces a variety of interactive content, mainly children’s and comic books apps for tablets and smartphones, and Hermés has a pulse on publishing innovations. Besides, he’s an engineer and an author — not something you often hear in the same sentence, and worth highlighting in this regular feature. Here’s an excerpt of a conversation Worldreader recently had with Hermés about his love of reading.
WR: Which books inspired you when you were growing up? Which books made you fall in love with reading or had the biggest impact on your life?
Hermés: The books that impacted me the most when I was growing up were the Michael Crichton novels. Obviously, it was very fun to read them and he was a great best-seller writer. They opened doors on topics for me to learn something new. Every one of his books has some fancy technology he was into at that moment. Being an engineer at heart, that spoke to me and I remember them fondly.
WR: Which Crichton book stands out? When did you start reading them?
Hermés: Sphere is my favorite. It is wildly imaginative techno-thriller inspired by Solaris by Stanisław Lem.
I started reading very young. My father worked in publishing, and when he was working, he left me with books. I grew up surrounded by books. I was maybe about 10 years old when I started on the Crichton books.
WR: Interesting that you called yourself an “engineer at heart.” Your bio on Robot Media lists you as an engineer, author and storyteller — descriptions you don’t usually hear used together. How you do those three identities fit together?
Hermés: There are many ways to see writing. I’m a plot-based writer myself, and usually my style of writing is how I go from Point A to Point B while obviously making the characters grow or learn something. Really, my engineering background does influence the way I write. Even if it is not very common to see those two together — engineering and writing, I don’t see them as incompatible at all.
WR: The books you’re working on — interactive e-books for tablets and smartphones — are on the cutting edge of what the industry is delivering. How did you start shaping stories for interactive media?
Hermés: I should warn you — I’m a bit conservative when it comes to interaction, which may sound surprising coming from someone who works with interactive books. I really like to differentiate between games and stories.
For me, stories are pieces of art in which the reader controls the flow, and is not forced to do anything except read. It’s important for me that all of these stories remain stories and not become something different like only a game.
So how did this come about? It was very recent, in fact. I think I have been experimenting with something like it all my life, but it was with mobile phones that it came to fruition. Mobile phones and tablets change the proximity. Up until now, the interaction was not very personal; you either interacted with DVDs or CDs that you put into your computer, and computers are not really the best medium on which to consume content in general.
With mobile phones, the proximity to the user is much closer. The relation between the consumer and the device now is much different. When I started to grasp that concept, I decided to align my professional life to that.
WR: You’re working primarily with children’s books, right?
Hermés: Yes, and the interesting thing is that children’s books are driving much of the industry’s innovation. It may be obvious, but not many people see it this way — it’s because children don’t have any preconceived presumptions. That’s the most interesting aspect of working in this area for me and generally for digital publishing, too.
WR: How do you see innovation in publishing evolving? Where was it last year, where are we now, and where is it heading the next two or three years?
Hermés: What we saw early on was more of what we can call experiments. There was not much focus placed on storytelling. The focus was ‘Hey, we can do this so let’s do it.’
Now, here at Robot Media at least, we’re seeing less of that. We’re seeing more interest in telling the story and then using the tools or other resources to drive the story forward. It’s not just about adding fluff to technology.
So, now, the language of interactive children’s books is starting to be defined — and understood — by the people who speak it. Really, we are just starting to scratch the surface.
Thanks for the chat Hermés!
People like Hermés, MeshackAsare, DanielPinkwater, ChikaUnigwe, and other African and international authors are making a big difference in the lives of children in the developing world. They enthusiastically support Worldreader by donating their books, short stories and personal essays.
If you’re an author and would like to get involved, contact our Director of Digital Publishing Elizabeth Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll also find her on Twitter at @lizzywood.