Telling a Strange Love Story, Post by Post on Instagram
Author and photographer Rachel Hulin is releasing her new novel on a most unexpected platform: Instagram.
Hey Harry Hey Matilda follows the story of Harry and Matilda Goodman, 30-something paternal twins from New England. Matilda is an artist in Brooklyn, though she’s begrudgingly making a living as a wedding photographer (she even has her own website!). Harry is a writer and an untenured English professor at the University of Connecticut. The novel follows their correspondence as they fumble through adulthood and their romantic feelings for one another. And it’s told through single-photo posts on Instagram.
Hulin began to share pieces of the novel’s nearly 200 pages on @heyharryheymatilda in a few weeks ago, and plans to roll the story out over the next nine months—a period that roughly follows the timeline of her story. The narrative is meandering and indirect, building up slowly over time through seemingly random conversations. The format is simple: Hulin shares a seemingly innocuous photo and uses the caption to tell the story in the form of emails between Harry and Matilda.
“For years I worked as a photo editor, pairing images with text, and I’ve always felt that images enhance text,” Hulin says. “I also love telling stories in a serial way, slowly introducing characters to readers, having them become involved and start to comment and further the story— I think the interaction of readers really enhances the telling of a story.”
Feedback has been positive so far, with readers referring friends, leaving comments, and eagerly awaiting the next installment. Hulin even hints that her audience could even influence the direction of the narrative. “I could totally see adapting parts of the story as it progresses—unfurling it slowly lets me rethink certain passages and amend them slightly. It’s like a long, slow process of editing, with pictures,” she says.
Hulin began writing Hey Harry Hey Matilda five years ago, but the format was quite different. It was a standalone blog of jokes and innuendo between the twins, with an occasional photo or illustration. The story didn’t have a real endgame until years later when Hulin decided to revisit the work and write a manuscript, which she finished last spring. The photos are a mix of images from Hulin’s archives and images she’s made specifically for the tale.
An interactive website accompanies the Instagram account, creating a multimedia experience. Readers can listen to music and learn humorous tidbits about the the two characters. Matilda, for example, majored in English with a minor in Russian Literature, something her mother called a “recipe for unemployment.” At the tender age of 12, Harry voted for his opponent in a middle school election and lost by one vote. Hulin also plans on periodically adding “secret content” to the website and starting an accompanying newsletter. “I think they [photography and writing] really inform each other, and it’s so nice that something like Instagram can allow them to co-exist,” Hulin says.
Hey Harry Hey Matilda doesn’t have a publisher yet, but that may change in the future. In the mean time, Hulin is embracing the freedom of self-publishing. “This way I can find my readers first, and show a vision for the work that is difficult to do in just a paper manuscript,” she says. “It’s breathing life into it first; I’m really just reversing the order of things.”