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Kindle, Ipad, Sony Pocket Reader?… E-books are already a thing of the past, as Japan leads the way in the latest digital book craze : Cellphones.

Cellphone, or ‘Mobile Phone’ novels (keitai shousetsu) are the first literary genre to emerge from the cellular age via text messaging. The stories are written chapter by chapter in SMS, and broadcast instantly to its’ readership. The first cellphone novel to be published was ‘Deep Love’ in 2003 by young online writer Yoshi. Since then the popularity of the genre has risen and its most avid readership are teenage High School students.

Cellphone novels are mainly written and read largely by females. Among its’ most successful authors are single mothers and students whose stories have gone on to be published in print and even turned into Manga and anime. ‘Sky of Love’, another immensely popular novel, was made into a film in 2008.

The story that moved 11 million readers to tears, ‘Sky of Love’ is about a girls’ three stormy years in high school. Mika doesn’t know much about love, but one day she begins receiving phone calls from a boy and is gradually drawn to him. When they finally get to meet, everything seems like heaven, but trouble is soon brewing on the horizon. – Yahoo Movies

So, what’s the secret of this hybrid genre? Why is it causing such a stir in the Far East? Will it ever be part of Western culture? To answer the first question one must look at the dynamics of Japanese society. Cellphones are one of the most popular accessories in Japan, and since it is a country that sets the trend in technology for the rest of the world; it is only natural that something like this should emerge here.

There is also the question of reading habits, the whole manga/ anime tradition lends itself very neatly to the idea of ‘txt msg’ novels, as they are mostly image based and very expressive. Images are big in Japan, and I for one was amazed to discover that the Japanese were very keen on their emoticons. The average western cellphone has on average 20 pre-installed emoticons, which is enough to convey how we feel to one another. In Japan the creation of emoticons and smilies is a serious business which rakes in millions of dollars per year. This just goes to show how important cellphones are in Japan. 

Following on with the ‘hybrid’ genre theory, cellphone novels remind me of when I used to write fan-fiction. Although it has now almost disappeared (replaced by ‘Twitterature’ which is totally alien to me – and anyhow, how can a story be told in 140 words??), ‘fan fic’ was as otaku as I got back in the day. It was a great feeling to be a ‘pirate author’ of sorts, writing about my favourite characters especially having the power to re-write some of the stories. There was a real feeling of community as we fellow ‘fan fic’ authors read each others work and supported one another on forums. OK, it was a little illegal, underground and secretive, but that was the whole fun of it! 

I can honestly say that fan fiction was my first foray into writing, as it helped me cut my teeth as an author and taught me some valuable lessons through trial and error. Before that, I was just a static reader. Writing opened up a whole other world, as I realised how hard it was to string a story together. Therefore ‘cellphone novels’ have that plus side to them, where you write something and publish it fearlessly to the world, leaving you wide open to responses. The whole appeal of it is that everyone (regardless of age or background) could get their story to an audience.

 However, one thing I probably don’t agree with is the terrible lack of grammar. I keep thinking, ‘how does someone write without proper punctuation and spelling?’ It’s not a good example, but the limited space of an SMS doesn’t exactly allow for long-winded descriptions either. I’m hoping that maybe when the novels get printed, the publishers sort out these grammar issues.

Hmm… will it ever take on in the West? To be absolutely honest, I don’t know. There are some things so Eastern that it never gets to see the light of day over here. The Japanese have their own quirks that sometimes don’t gel with our tastes. But the published ‘cellphone’ novels are already being sold on Ipad and Kindle, so maybe at least we’ll get to see what all the fuss is about!

So what do you think? Have you written a ‘cellphone novel’? Is it a good or bad in terms of the future of the writing industry?

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