About James

James is the Literature Editor of LeftLion magazine. He is also an academic and a writer who has been published in various magazines and books. This means he spends most of his time in front of a computer screen writing about life instead of living it. Therefore, do not trust a word he says.

#BeingHuman: Digital Storytelling: When, why, how? 14 Nov

fest dates press release

“If the 20th century was about the quest for knowledge, the 21st century is about experience.”

As a devout reader of physical books and someone whose idea of heaven is loitering around libraries and bookshops I’m somewhat surprised that my career as a writer is being defined by digital storytelling. But it’s a contradiction I embrace due to the infinite opportunities of expression it affords.

Writing serves many functions. On one level it acts as a form of therapy that enables individuals to make sense of both themselves and the environments they inhabit. Writing is also about control in that it enables an individual to be the master of the worlds they create. Digital is about being a master of galaxies and entire solar systems and so naturally appeals to the vanity of someone deluded enough to think they have something worthy to say.

Writing is also about experimentation, placing the author in the minds of characters and situations to try to better understand what it is to be human. Experimentation is at the heart of creativity and digital enables a writer to think themselves not only into the mind of a character but into how the character exists across mediums and digital platforms, all of which come with their own grammar.


I fell into digital storytelling because an opportunity arouse and I took it. I haven’t looked back since and will be talking about this journey as part of the Being Human humanities festival on Saturday 14 August, of which Nottingham is one of five named ‘creative city’ hubs. Last year Paul Fillingham and I created Being Arthur, the first ever 24 hour Twitter presentation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for the inaugural Being Human festival and this year I want to share a little bit of my journey with the hope that it may help others who are thinking of giving literature a digital makeover.

Whether we like it or not, digital is changing our experience of reading and our understanding of literature. No longer limited by the confines of the physical page, writers can now present content across media platforms as well as offer multiple narrative paths into the text to suit the needs of every type of reader. I’ll be showing how I’ve done this with the Sillitoe Trail (which was voted in the top ten of content for BBC/Arts Council multimedia platform The Space) and Dawn of the Unread, a graphic novel that explores Nottingham’s rich literary history (and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in March).


I’ll also be sharing experiences on two other projects I’m currently putting together: Untold Stories, a multi-collaborative graphic novel that will give voice to “The lives that dare not speak their names” and addresses issues of censorship and persecution around the world. This is planned for 2016 and will follow the format of Dawn of the Unread but this time will combine philosophical arguments with direct calls to action.

mem theatre

The DH Lawrence Memory Theatre is pencilled in for some time in 2017. DHL embarked on a journey of self-discovery known as his ‘savage pilgrimage’ which took him across the globe. Accompanying him on his journey was a travel-trunk which had various compartments and drawers. Paul Fillingham and I are hoping to retrace this Savage Pilgrimage, explore Lawrence’s significance as a writer, and develop his personalised travel-trunk as a ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ or Memory Theatre.

Memory Theatres were filled with rare and expensive artefacts and once used by the aristocracy to convey cultural capital and status. Our Memory Theatre will journey in both physical and digital form. It will be a beautifully crafted work of art in its own right, to be explored and admired, stopping off at key locations. The drawers will contain real objects including; documents, poetry, paintings and essays, produced by a variety of creative practitioners. Some drawers will house interactive touch-screens, offering a glimpse into the digital heart of the Memory Theatre.

The digital component will be available as a web-service across various media platforms. Users will virtually ‘open’ drawers with content geared towards the capture and sharing the users’ experience. As the Memory Theatre travels in physical and digital form, its aesthetic and emotional value will grow, accumulating its own savage history and provenance.

The 'dots' contained within the side panel in this image are the 'code', enabling the artist to then create an image around them to 'hide' the code.

The 4 ‘dots’ contained within the side panel in this image are the ‘code’, enabling the artist to then create an image around them to ‘hide’ the code.

We may very well use aestheticodes (QR Codes with a lot of slap) as a means of recording the journey. If you want to learn more about what these are then catch the talk before mine (10.30 – 12.30) at the Writers’ Studio.

The aim of the talk is give an insight into issues involved in putting together a digital storytelling project: audience, partnerships, funding, narrative, platforms, creative ‘production line’. It will be followed by a Q&A and the opportunity for other artists to discuss their own ideas for digital projects.

Digital Storytelling: When, why, how? Nottingham Writers’ Studio 1-2 pm, 14th November.

To register for this event please follow this link.

#MondayBlogs Nottingham’s Literary Streets

Photo taken from www.sillitoe.com

For a provincial city, Nottingham has an incredible literary history. When you arrive via train into the orange bricked Victorian station you are immediately greeted by a banner proclaiming our three most famous ‘rebel’ writers: Alan Sillitoe, Lord Byron and DH Lawrence.

Sillitoe’s debut novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) was the first novel to give an authentic voice to the working classes through the eyes of hard drinking, womanising Arthur Seaton. It would become Pan’s first paperback to sell a million copies.

Lord Byron, whose ancestral home of Newstead Abbey is set in a glorious landscape of gardens and parkland north of the city, fought for the underdog in the Greek War of Independence as well as at home. In his maiden speech to the House of Lords he stood up for the 1811 framebreakers who were demonstrating against diminishing wages and faced lengthy prison sentences. Byron famously argued: “Can you carry this bill into effect? Can you commit a whole county to their own prisons? Will you erect a gibbet in every field and hang up men like scarecrows?”

DH Lawrence, whose home at 8a Victoria Street, Eastwood is now a Birthplace Museum with regular talks and literary walks, would pave the way forward for greater freedom of expression after the acquittal of Penguin Books in the Lady Chatterley Trail of 1960.


Mary Howitt is brought back to life in Nottingham’s literary graphic novel Dawn of the Unread

But Nottingham is also home to Quaker poet Mary Howitt who translated the works of Hans Christian Anderson and was one of the first writers to offer dietary information to the working classes through a journal she co-wrote with her husband William. You can find a bust of the Howitt’s at Nottingham Castle or read her books at Bromley House Subscription Library, which celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2016.

Graham Greene converted to Catholicism during his short stay in the city and trained as a journalist at the Nottingham Express Offices on Upper Parliament Street. The building has a distinctive style having been designed by local architect Watson Fothergill. Incorporated into the entrance are the busts of three leading Liberal politicians of the day – Cobden, Gladstone & Bright.

J.M Barrie makes an appearance in issue 14 of Dawn of the Unread

J.M Barrie makes an appearance in issue 14 of Dawn of the Unread

Cut across the city and you’ll find the old offices of the Nottingham Daily Journal on Pelham Street. It was here that J M Barrie learned his trade as a journalist and allegedly found the inspiration for his Peter Pan story after spending time in the Arboretum on Waverley Street.

Geoffrey Trease features in Issue 11 of Dawn of the Unread

Geoffrey Trease features in Issue 11 of Dawn of the Unread

Directly opposite the Arboretum on Portland Street is the former home of Geoffrey Trease, who studied at the High School which you can find up the tramline leading out of the city. Trease produced an incredible 113 novels during his life before calling it a day at 88. He, too, was a rebel writer in that he was the first children’s author to give equal roles to both genders, offering historically accurate details to his stories that avoided the jingoism of the age.

Cityoflit510It’s because of this rich history of positive rebellion that various organisations in Nottingham have partnered together to create Nottingham City of Literature. At the beginning of July we submitted our bid to be accredited as a UNESCO City of Literature. We find out on 11 December if we’ve been successful. But until then, why don’t you visit Dawn of the Unread, a graphic novel serial exploring Nottingham’s literary history. It’s taken over my life for the past sixteen months and will be finished in September time when we publish a physical version of the book.

And if you want to learn more about Nottingham’s general gobiness over the centuries, check out my Rebel Hearts essay in Issue 70 of Leftlion.