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. 

#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.

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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).

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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.