Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Industry View - Squirl

JJ Marsh talks to Jef van der Avoort of Squirl – a new app to help you discover your next read.

Squirl is the first location-based book discovery app. With the Squirl app you will bump into existing locations from captivating novels, life changing biographies and thrilling mysteries. The app takes you straight to the part of the story that unfolds right where you are standing. Read the excerpt, look around you, feel the vibe and smell the air. A crime scene or a romantic rendezvous, you are right in the middle of the action!

Hi Jef. Tell us a bit about your background.

I’m from Belgium, hence the name, and I’ve always been involved in advertising, tech or publishing. I was an exchange student in California, then later I worked for an advertising agency with LEGO as the main client. I got curious about the border between digital and analogue.

Which literary work most influenced you when growing up?

Siddartha, by Herman Hesse. Especially the image of the rock, letting the water flow around it. I’m not a Buddhist, but I love that concept of a simplicity in life.

Who or what had the biggest impact on your creative life?

Travel. I lived in Copenhagen, the US, Hamburg, Australia and all these places taught me something. There’s the "helicopter view" you develop from living in different places. Being part of the community, but also being a stranger. Of course I learned about those other cultures, but mostly I learned about myself.

Can you explain why you started Squirl?

I was reading one day and I saw a gap. I discussed this with my business partner, with the computers open, looking up places in the books we were reading. We thought there must be something out there which connects readers, books, places. There wasn’t. So we invented one. This is not about search, it’s about discovery.

Where did the name come from?

Squirrels find little nuggets. It’s also the name for a stylised handwritten flourish, such as used by monks for first letters. Those two elements of writing and finding treasures made the name right.

What are the benefits for readers? And for writers?

Literary serendipity. Via your reader profile, you can bump into books you may not have encountered. It’s about contextual engagement. For writers, we want a level playing field and we’re particularly keen to work with indie authors. They may not have the resources of a big publisher but this is a way to book discovery by enabling a reader to stand right in the middle of their story.

Have you ever visited a place because you read about it in a book?

For me, it’s the other way round. I go to a place, fall in love with it and want to read about it. I want stories about that experience. That’s why I read East of Eden because of its descriptions of California. And Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance captures that drive into San Francisco. This is why we created this opportunity to do just that. My business partner is from Montana and she went exploring all the Lewis and Clark locations, and those of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

What are your thoughts on the way publishing is evolving?

It’s going to get wider, more interactive, more inclusive, like advertising and communications generally. The reader as part of the experience. We’re working on a feature about characters. If you’re into Sherlock Holmes, you can find out where he’s been.

Ideal combinations – which book would you like to read where? And what would be the perfect food, drink and soundtrack?

I love hotel bars. I’d read The Great Gatsby in the bar at the New York Plaza, drink one of their cocktails and listen to Interbellum.

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