Imagine if you could be the hero of an adventure. You have to solve puzzles in locations around the CBD and decide which path to take to find a missing girl called Salonie.
Salonie has been kidnapped at Federation Square. “The metal skyscrapers rise like shards. There are ochre tiles stretching out in all directions. Groups of words jumbled look like random thoughts in dreams.”
Chetna Prakash is one of three storytellers employed to enrich the city with words that can be downloaded to an app.
“It’s just another day out. People are milling around Fed Square but you’re on edge. You’re a newbie fresh-faced private investigator. You have received an anonymous text from someone.”
This time a magician has been shot by an arrow and you are choosing between eight endings. You have moved from Searching for Salonie to The Golden Deer by Aparna Ananthuni.
Stories are weaving you into the landscape connecting you with Indian mythology and taking you back to the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880.
“In Delhi, before the British took over, the street sweepers were reciting poetry,” says Ms Ananthuni. “It was a classical culture.”
She reacts against the literal, anti-intellectual vernacular that is sometimes promoted here. Her writing is drawn from ancient gateways in Spain, Iberia and Istanbul and the aesthetic of non-English styles of representation.
“I grew up with storytelling, reading comics from the epics,” she said.
Ms Prakash is passionate about the way stories can emerge from ideas and places. She writes into what she calls an identity crisis between the public European culture here and her own private Indian self.
Her stories are often noir accounts of the way fears might project a writer into strange readings of a situation then pull her back at the last minute. Fiction allows her to turn an Uber driver into a bomber and to empathise with a bored salesgirl in a pop-up linen shop.
She is interested in exploring novel methods for delivering her stories to readers, including through gift cards. The stories are her way of trying to understand this place.
The writers were speaking at the Jaipur Writers’ Festival in Melbourne. The app can be downloaded from the Story City site, developed by the Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature. The Melbourne Noir cards are available from the Paperback bookshop in Bourke St.