The Butter Mouse: How to Build Universes With Creative Upcycling

Slide 1: Intro Slide

‘Hello everyone, thank you for coming today. I am going to discuss my latest project, the Butter Mouse, and how it shifted from a rough collection of flash fiction to a fully formed piece of digital storytelling. I will demonstrate how thanks to the plethora of creative online publishing tools and ease of hosting and creating content online, you can mix together scraps of old project, and 'upcycle’ them into whole new universes. 

And finally, I am going to show you how if you do want to work on a creative project, there is no reason why you cannot start working on something this evening

Slide 2: Sketchbook, and comic strips 

From this, I have always been jealous of things like comic strips, where you can build up a huge collection of work by doing lots of little things over a period of time. I always think it must have been remarkable to have worked on something like Andy’s House, or The Flamingo Men, and be able to look back on such a huge body of work. It would be great to be in the position. 

So, and of course I appreciate this is a decision that that hundreds of people have made, I set up a flash fiction blog to keep my writing going. 

And at that stage that’s all it was. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, and this is what I cannot stress enough. At this point, the Butter Mouse was doodles in a maths exercise book, the creative equivalent of sit ups.

Slide 3: Different stories, same title

Perhaps by the very nature of the the fact that these were ideas pushed out in a hurry, the stories started to interconnect. And this wasn’t just thematically. The title of one piece was the perfect fit for another a few weeks later. 

For example, there were three different stories that fit the title 'The Horror Tandoori’ and three that fit 'Herring Aid.’ Also, and this was genuinely never necessarily my intention, but a lot of the stories seemed to be on the weirder end of the spectrum. As I grew in confidence with the blog, they only got more experimental. 

Slide 4: Twine 

After a few months, I began to experiment with format as well as narrative. I had previously done some work with Twine, the interactive (and crucially free) fiction software maker, as part of my course at Bath Spa. For those who aren’t aware of what Twine does, it is a super easy to use software that allows you to make a 'choose your own adventure style’ game, pretty much by just entering text into different boxes.

I am not sure how familiar you are with interactive fiction, but usually they are sprawling worlds, more like a very basic form of RPG, that takes several hours to complete, and usually have many different paths you can take.

I wondered what it would be like like to create interactive flash fiction, that was less about world building, and more about a quick idea. 

For example, I created one called Guilt, where no matter what you did, the world ends within three clicks, and on the very first page you have to choose between killing all the children, or killing all the doctors. Again, this was purely experimental, but it was interesting to see how having how basically no choices adds a completely different feel to interactive fiction.  

So there were definitely some themes and ideas, but it was all a little discombobulated, and I was looking for ways to bring everything together. 

Slide 5: The Butter Mouse script

The key to the project turned out to be the name itself.  
The Butter Mouse was originally a character in a script I wrote years ago, about puppets who come to life, and vampirically drain the life of the presenters of a children’s television programme. Although the script didn’t go anywhere, I found the name evocative, and several readers found the name evocative too. To start with I whacked it down as the name of the blog without much thought. But now with the writing coming together, I wondered if there was a way I could use The Butter Mouse name to tie everything in place. 

Slide 6: Where Is Bill? Photo 

At the same time, I was thinking about if there was anyway to fit in with a small transmedia project I made on Mars called 'Where Is Bill?’ About a worker at the Aqua Park who is captured by aliens. It mixed YouTube videos, fake podcasts, fake blogs, and interactive fiction to tell this story, and although I was pleased with some of the results, it never really had a purpose, and wasn’t properly released, so was sitting on my computer’s hard drive with little to no value. 

Slide 7: Upcycle- reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original. 

I wondered if there was a way to do a form of creative 'upcycling,’, and smash these ideas together. Nothing intrinsically tied the flash fiction, the title, and the transmedia project, but was there a way they could join? 
For anyone who is unsure what upcycling is, I have included a definition on the screen. 

So this is how they play off each other.

The Butter Mouse is now a creature that is able to travel between different dimensions. All of the stories then become accounts of what it has seen on its journey, or fake factual accounts of people discussing where they have seen The Butter Mouse. And with a few rewrites, Bill in Where Is Bill is has no longer been captured by aliens, but has slipped into a different dimension.

This is where the ease and cheapness of available software, editing and publishing online prevailed. I went back through the all the work on The Butter Mouse, and tweaked the odd thing here and there to make it fit this new brief. I re-edited the videos, podcasts and blogs in Where Is Bill, and next mont they will be posted on the blog. 

So with no extra cost, and some working tying everything together, these scraps of forgotten ideas and writing exercises have turned into something new, greater than the sum of its parts. 

Slide 8: One of the 'article sections’

What this resulted in was a whole new flavour to The Butter Mouse. It now has the feel of a conspiracy theory, more in line with creepypasta and Illuminati Youtube videos. This means it is the fictional work on it feels suited to the internet. A being that travels through dimensions is no less out there than the conspiracy theory that Finland doesn’t exist. This is not just writing that has been put online, but a project that suits being published online.

Slide 9: Experimental stuff 

Though The Butter Mouse has come together from scraps of various projects into something new it still has its original function as a writing exercise. Only now the small, weird ideas are perfectly acceptable a look into a world different to our own. This allows me the freedom to experiment with any weird ideas without damaging the over all narrative. There is a story you can only read by following the clues in the story before. A story that is sideways, because the writing is in another dimension. Some weeks it is just a monster move in five hundred worlds It all fits the brief, because rather than lots of esoteric stories that don’t connect, it all forms one larger narrative. Write down a minute of your dreams on the back of a receipt, and it won’t make any sense to anyone who reads it. Make a dream journal, and they come together into a logical document. 

This culminated in the final idea of working out what the Butter Mouse actually is. That dependent on what dimension you were in, the creature could turn into anything. It might be a mouse shaped piece of graffiti on the wall, it might be something like a tiger. Anything at all. 

And in our dimension, in the world we inhabit, The Butter Mouse is the Tumblr account, The Butter Mouse. So technically, we are in the world of the Butter Mouse right now. Anything that could happen, could end up as a story. Which is about as far away as you can get from literary sit-ups. 

Slide 10: Upcycling in picture. 

What I hope you can take from it is that if you have any scraps of old project, it is now so easy to bring them together. I have always considered that creative time is never wasted. Now for me creative time is always making new resources, like spinning wool even if you are not sure what the jumper will turn out like. It is just a case of finding a way for them to tie together, or be converted by new media into a way that makes sense. 

What I’ve started doing is looking through old laptops and hard drives, to see if there is anything that can be cannibalised. Next week I have combined videos of Bristol and Osaka Zoo to make footage of another dimension, and next year I am going to get as many of my old holiday photos as possible, and turn them into a year travel blog from an alternate universe. Just as the work on the blog is creative flotsam and jetsam, so do they become flotsam and jetsam from another dimension. 

Slide 11: Spreadhseets

And I also hope it can show you that whatever the situation you are in, you can keep a project going on in the background. Twine, Tumblr and Youtube are completely free to use and public. On total, the whole project has cost me basically nothing, and now spans dimensions. 

Now, I fully appreciate that I was lucky to have these resources to hand. To have script and the wreckage of a transmedia to weld onto the side of a flash fiction blog, and call it esoteric science fiction is a situation bespoke to me. But I hope it shows you that if you have stuff that is simply hanging around, why not try and stitch it together? What is the worst you can happen? Is there no way you can mix your cooking blog with your song lyrics, and call it a ghost story?

And even if you don’t have a library of material, think about what skills you can smash together instead. If you are good at making spreadsheets, why not make a crime thriller story made in Excel? Can you find your old emails to your an ex-girlfriend, and cut them down into romantic haikus? Even if some of it doesn’t work, surely it is better than nothing. 

Upcycle your old material into something new, and use the strengths of online publishing to make it something people can view. Just like an old piece of furniture can be remade on wet Sunday afternoons, regardless of your creative skill set, and what time/budget you can put into your story, you can make something that will regenerate old and forgotten ideas, and push you to experiment without the restrictions of traditional media.

So just a final point to emphasise that you really can turn any skill or piece of work into a creative project, if you check The Butter Mouse tumblr account in about an hour, a fictional version of this presentation will form this week’s story. And right now in millions of multiple universes, slightly different versions of this blog are being presented and posted online, by beings of all shapes and sizes, all with slightly different lives. 

So, I want to thank you all for being part of The Butter Mouse. 

Thank you.