Dawn of the Unread – the Book!

I’ve always been an obsessive reader so naturally I’ve harboured the dream of seeing my own words in print for a long time. And now it’s finally happened. After two years of hard slog in the digital void, Dawn of the Unread has magically transformed into moist fibres of cellulose pulp and clattered through my letterbox.

It was rather fitting that David Belbin dropped the book off. Many years ago I approached him to seek advice on a novel I’d just written. At the time he was overseeing the MA in Creative Writing but I’d plumped for an MA into Globalisation, Identity and Technology because I’d become hooked on the ideas of Heidegger et al. I figured (naively in hindsight) that as I loved writing there was no need to study it.

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Laying out the book with Paul Fillingham

As it happened, my novel was accepted for publication by a small press, then rejected after 3 years. It went to another publisher. They accepted it, then did nothing. Finally I went the traditional route with an agent. They loved it, read it all, then never got back in contact. Seven years later I gave up on being a novelist and turned to digital storytelling because the only person stopping me getting published would be me.

On the day Dawn of the Unread turned up I was feeling a bit depressed because all of my digital projects (Being Arthur, Sillitoe Trail, Dawn of the Unread, Memory Theatre) had temporarily disappeared due to the recent DDoS attacks. So it was great to have a tangible, tactile weighty piece of evidence in my hands that what I did was real. I am a writer. IDT. INDST.

But the feeling I had on opening it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I felt a bit sick. I didn’t want to hold it for too long. It had suddenly become so real that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It’s a bit like when you see a picture of yourself on film or hear your voice on radio. You cringe. You feel weird. Dawn of the Unread is so personal, so exhausting, so integral to my identity, that I lobbed the book on the sofa and went for a pint.

With a few ales swilling around “the elastic capacity of my guts” I picked it up again. And then I realised why I found it so difficult to confront. It wasn’t my book. It is a book belonging to 120 placements from NTU. A book co-written by many different writers, artists, colourists and letterers. It is representative of my home city. It has an ambassadorial role for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. It is a publishing risk for Spokesman Press. The weightiness is not the flesh of the book but the expectations it brings, the people and organisations it represents.

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This is what two years of graft looks like…

Rather than dwell on all of these things I slotted it into my bookshelf. It’s over. Now I can start on Part II: Whatever People Say I Am. But it isn’t really over. There will be more Youtube videos, especially the Nottingham Essay series. It will go out to schools across Nottingham to help raise literacy levels and enthusiasm for local history. It will cross the sea and land in the offices of other UNESCO Cities of Literature. It is being taught on various modules at NTU. It will be a reference point on 120 students CVs. It is a spoof This Your Life video (see top of page)And hopefully it will be read by people on buses on their way home from work, in cafés over coffee, and on park benches as autumn leaves turn to orange.

If you think 2 years of hard graft is worth £5. Come to our book launch on 11 November, 7.30pm, at Antenna, Beck Street, as part of the Festival of Literature.

What the literature community can learn from Sherwood Art Week

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Origami book design, Haydn Road

Sherwood Art Week (18-26 June) has become a regular fixture in my diary for the simple reason that it happens every year at the same time. It’s now in its eighth year which means even those of us with a sieve for a brain know that we should be doing something around this time. This means I can add it to google calendar and set it to repeat yearly, so that I get a notification reminding me what that something is when I inevitably forget.

My favourite part of SAW2016 is the way that it brings an entire community together, often through very simple touches. Each shop along Mansfield Road has artwork in the window by an individual artist and a bit of blurb about who they are. This means that the minute you get to the main hub (this year it was The Secret Garden Craft Fair and Music Festival at Sherwood United Reformed Church on 18 June) you have a pretty good idea of who to look out for. This also serves another function: it enables punters to view work from a distance without any social pressures. Quite often we get all shy and scared to approach a craft store through fear of being asked a question or being pressurised into buying something.

The festival is well marketed too. There’s a couple of hashtags (#SAW2016 and #artforeveryone) a phone contact and email address and a very ugly but functional website. But you can’t beat print media for marketing, so there’s a handy little brochure that slips easily into your back pocket. These have been distributed across the city in the usual cafes and bars. The cover for the brochure is designed by the ridiculously talented Corinna Rothwell, who I had the pleasure of commissioning for Issue 13 of Dawn of the Unread. You can hear her nattering about arty stuff in the video below.

Literature events need to be better joined up through all of the processes mentioned above. In particular, wider and longer events need to find some kind of identity that brings organisations and spaces together. It’s very easy to do this through art because it’s visual. It’s very easy to do this in one space such as Sherwood. But if any of these principles can be adopted, we might get more bums on seats.

There’s two significant events about to hit Nottingham. Towards the end of the year there should be a literature festival which has been rebranded to tie in with the UNESCO City of Literature. This is a very good start and I’m optimistic. I was one of the founding directors of the original Festival of Words, the first city-wide literature festival in Nottingham in 40 years. It got things started but it was done out of sheer determination and sweat. Grants, project leaders and some kind of themed curation will inevitably improve the first small steps we laid back in 2013.

Bookmarks by The Forgotten Library at #SAW2016

Bookmarks by The Forgotten Library at #SAW2016

Another key event is Journey to Justice, a kind of community-led initiative which is snaking its way down the country having stopped off previously at Newcastle and Sheffield. I attended a preliminary meeting at the Galleries of Justice on Monday and have lots of ideas about how this could work but I’m doing my best to avoid being on any boards or steering groups at the moment. I’ve done my time. But it certainly got my attention…

The mission of Journey to Justice is: to inspire and empower people to take action for social justice through learning from human rights movements and the arts. Nottingham has a shed load of history which could be incorporated into this such as: Reform Riots of 1831, Cheese Riot of 1765, Operative Libraries (which I explored, via Arthur Seaton, in issue 12 of Dawn of the Unread), Ned Ludd and Bob Hood, our trinity of rebel writers (Lawrence, Byron and Sillitoe), etc, ETC! I’ll hopefully be doing my bit with Dawn of the Unread part II and bringing some of these social justice stories to life via the graphic novel medium. Hence why I was having a nose.

Journey to Justice will stop off in Notts for about 3 months early next year, so it would be great if we were able to brand and link events with the same cohesion as Sherwood Arts Week. This could be done very simply by hosting events at different locations each week so that the audience has a sense of direction and purpose, rather than just cobbling together as many events as possible. Quality not quantity is what Nottingham is absolutely crying out for. But a curated journey heading in a particular direction can be a logistical nightmare. Organisations might not want to be shoe-horned into certain dates either. But it’s worth thinking about. As for visualising these stories, well the pen has always been mightier than the sword. Perhaps we could prod and poke a few people by putting words on the street, in windows, next to art. So many possibilities, so little time. I’m not getting involved. I’m not. No way…

Sherwood Art Week (18 – 26 June). For more info see their website.