Everything we do at BlockSparks is about explaining blockchain and cryptocurrencies to consumer audiences via persuasive and engaging non-fiction writing and podcasting. But non-fiction content, whether read or listened to, is not the only way to learn about new things... and indeed it’s not the way I prefer to learn a lot of the time.
So with “Beyond The Chain” I wanted to create an alternative entry point for new audiences to learn about the fundamental principles and use cases of bitcoin and other cryptos, via an accessible work of fiction.
We are storied animals by evolution, we had oral histories long before we had books, and we're driven to be motivated by narratives and arcs - unresolved tensions, wanting to know what happens, and connecting elements in a tale over time. It's a useful framework in which to embed complex technical information.
I was inspired by books I had read which helped me to understand aspects of tech when I needed to in the past, in particular “Rolling Rocks Downhill “ when I first started writing about Scrum and Agile, and “The Phoenix Project “ about DevOps. Both were dry and complex technical frameworks I needed to quickly get an overview of in order to write about them, without having any background in software development - and at that time, having a story to hang it all on helped no end.
I enjoyed seeing how the characters solved their problems and pieced together the tools they needed, from the words of conveniently manifesting wise gurus who had all the answers in the right order.
In some ways writing Beyond The Chain was not that different to the work we do with clients to explain their brands and technologies, as offering a compelling narrative is essential when endeavouring to hook a reader into engaging with new information.
When it comes to attracting consumers with no previous interest in blockchain and cryptocurrency though there’s such a big hurdle of understanding to overcome, and this isn’t helped by negative and frequently incorrect mainstream media coverage, fundamentally misinforming people about the real social impact potential of cryptocurrencies.
At this time, search traffic for bitcoin and crypto is surging - people are hungry to understand it better (thank you Facebook, Libra...)
Fiction simply gives us another channel to get past those messages with little bits of truth wrapped in emotional engagement, to take its place alongside the podcasting and the social media and the curation of other people’s work, all of which we do to help more people understand and take their first steps in this brave new world.
The plan was to tell an accessible and mainstream story around a user’s journey of discovery in this space as a mirror for her inner journey as a character, for whom learning about cryptocurrency is ultimately part of her own redemption and escape. I was keen to create a strong leading character who readers could empathise with and champion, will to succeed... and also one starting from a greatly disadvantaged position regarding financial and technical literacy.
Early reviewers have told me, ‘if she can do it, understand and use this stuff, then perhaps I can too!’ — which is exactly the feedback I was hoping for.
Striking the balance between crypto exposition and telling a thrilling and exciting story was obviously a challenge throughout, and at the urging of beta readers and editors a lot of the original technical detail was either expunged altogether or banished to endnotes and a resources page — I wanted to support readers on their own journey, without interrupting the heroine on hers.
Not everyone is as geeky for technical detail as I am! It’s important for readers to be able to enjoy the story completely for its own sake, absorbing some fundamentals about bitcoin along the way — pseudonymity, transparency, trustlessness and private key management in particular — as the protagonist does so herself, without it being intrusive.
Creating a strong female lead character was also really important to all of us at BlockSparks, as we’re always keen to champion of women in blockchain and tech careers, and also as users and influencers of new technology. But although the story is told from the point of view of a woman, it’s definitely not “chick lit”, and everything from the technical content to the cover design has been planned to appeal equally to male readers too.
Because cryptocurrency adoption is so nascent, there’s still a huge audience of men out there who know far less than our heroine does about this stuff, and there’s definitely no such thing as what men or women are likely to know about crypto — so male readers can learn right alongside the character concerned, and I hope they’ll enjoy the story too.
And younger readers? Well, it’s adult literature for sure, and while there’s no explicit sexual content there are themes of violence and abuse, and strong language. A young adult readership might relate well to one of the main characters who is a teenage boy grappling with specific learning difficulties and how to deal with problem relationships in his family, but it’s not a book for younger kids.
For me it’s been a fantastic adventure, just getting to completely make stuff up — before even getting to the learning journey of independent publishing. I really enjoyed the liberation of writing fiction, instead of fact! But conversely it’s been quite scary too, the sheer lack of guide-rails this kind of storytelling enables — you have to do all the work yourself, you can’t research a different point of view or look up further work in an area. You have to find whole new ways to procrastinate.
Creating characters too was a new experience, and nobody warned me about the curious spine-tingling experience I would have when other people related to and had opinions about these characters, giving them independent existence outside my own head.
I have never written a full-length work of fiction before, although I crank out many words of fact every week, and my hard drive is also littered with various failed attempts at novel writing in the past. This time it helped that I had the idea for the ending first, and then it was just a case of getting the right people in place to be part of that scene for it to play out.
But, no spoilers here. If you’d like to learn more about the book and its story, to request a review copy, an interview, or anything else, please just drop us a line . And you can keep up with news about Beyond The Chain and find purchasing links at https://www.blocksparks.io/beyond-the-chain.