Robert Shore: Made in the Middle

For the last decade or so I’ve been rattling on about Nottingham’s literary heritage in the hope that people might just start to take us seriously and realise that there’s more to us than women galore, Brian Clough and that fella in green tights. We’re now a UNESCO City of Literature, we have our own literary graphic novel in Dawn of the Unread, our own literature radio show, the National Video Game Arcade is here with a wonderful poet in residence called Abigail Parry (who I’ve interviewed for the July issue of LeftLion) a subscription library called Bromley House that turned 200 on 2nd April, some arty farty stuff at the tempreh, and a population of 320,000 people who all thank the bus driver when they get off. And if that’s not enough to entice you up (or down), we’ve got the UK’s first Pot Noodle vending machine that can be found midway up Mansfield Road…

Robert Shore shares my passion for the provinces, but he’s less parochial and embraces the whole of the Midlands. He recently published a book called Bang in the Middle which explores how UK culture has come to be defined by two polar opposites: the beautiful south and the grim norf. The Midlands, he argues, is the squeezed middle. Forgotten. Left to rot. He then visits various places and puts forth a convincing argument that we’re actually responsible for quite a lot.

Robert Shore: Photo taken from www.birminghampost.co.uk

For whatever reason, I have no affinity at all with my Midlands neighbours. It’s not an overarching identity as it might be for those at the top or bottom. Yes, I’m glad Leicester won the Premiership and of course there are parallels with Forest. I don’t really identify with Leicester just as I don’t identify with Birmingham. Perhaps this is part of the Midlands identity? We just get on with it.

I first worked with Robert when he produced In Praise of the Midlands for The Essay on Radio 3. I put forward the case for Alan Sillitoe (see video at top of the page) and was joined by Geoff Dyer (D.H Lawrence); Henry Hitchings (Erasmus Darwin); Dominic Dromgoole (Shakespeare)  and Katherine Jakeways (Adrian Mole). Now he’s switched sides and has produced a series for BBC Radio 4 called England: Made in the Middle. It does pretty much the same thing but this time it’s five 15 minute episodes presented by Historian Helen Castor.

The interviews were done in Bromley House library in front of the Alan Sillitoe bookcase. I was joined by Al Needham. You can’t talk about Notts without having Al along. It’s against the law. The recordings were done by Made in Manchester. In the series I have a natter about Eastwood’s mardiest beardo in episode 3 and Alan Sillitoe’s charismatic anti-hero Arthur Seaton in episode 4. I haven’t listened to them yet because it makes me cringe to hear my voice on the radio. But I’ve had some encouraging tweets. Now I’m waiting for the inevitable Notts response: Think yer summat? You don’t know nowt.

RELATED READING

East Midlands-based BME Writer needed for graphic novel

I’ve not been posting much on this blog of late because my life has been taken over by a graphic novel I’m producing/editing together. But it’s worth sharing this news here as there’s an opportunity for a BME writer from the East Midlands to write our final chapter. I’ve tried to get a balance between established and up-and-coming writers so far so don’t worry if you haven’t been paid £5 for a story yet. The only thing that matters is your idea. Anyway, here’s a copy and paste job to get you thinking…

Dawn of the Unread is an interactive graphic novel that is available across all media platforms (iPad, Android, iPhone, website) and aims to raise awareness of Nottingham’s literary history. The narrative is a loose twist on the zombie genre: ‘When the dead go unread there’s gonna be trouble. Writers from Nottingham’s past return from the grave in search of the one thing that can keep their memories alive: boooks’.

On the 8th of each month a new comic is released and is created by different artists and writers. These include: Alison Moore, Eddie Campbell, Hunt Emerson and Nicola Monaghan. Each writer explores one iconic figure from Nottingham’s literary past that includes: The 5th Duke of Portland, Slavomir Rawicz, the fictional hybrid Byron Clough, Alma Reville (Mrs Hitchcock) Alan Sillitoe, D.H Lawrence and many more. This is literature in its most diverse sense, exploring medieval ballads, black-letter verses, poetry, philosophy, literature, and reportage.

Dawn of the Unread was created to raise awareness of the importance of libraries and independent bookshops. We wanted to raise the question of what happens to writers if their work is not preserved and accessible. However, one thing that became pretty evident early on was most of the writers resurrected from the dead tended to be Caucasian males. This got us thinking: what happens to all of the stories of BME writers who never made it into the library in the first place. How can we celebrate their lives? How can we ensure their stories are preserved and celebrated?

Writer needed

We want you to pitch a small synopsis of a story that involves a real BME literary figure for our final chapter. Your story must address the following issues:

• Your synopsis should be no more than two paragraphs. It should also include an additional paragraph on your chosen literary figure. As a general guide, all the information should fit on one page.

• Your story must feature a library, bookshop or reading in some capacity. This doesn’t have to be on the nail. For example, in Nicola Monaghan’s story Psychos, a disused library is used for an illegal rave. That’s it.

• Your character needs to fight the cause for black/Asian writers, pointing out their absence from our story so far. One thing I am particularly interested in is a story that addresses the concept of ‘zombie’. This can be traced to Haiti and voodoo culture. Perhaps your literary figure is sick of other culture’s narratives being hijacked by the West…

• Your literary figure needs to be from Nottingham. Duh!

• Also include a small biog. Tell us who you are why you want to be involved in this graphic novel.

General information/criteria

• You will be given a script editor to help you through the process so don’t worry if you haven’t been published before. Your idea is what matters.

• You must be based in the East Midlands (we will cover travel costs for editorial meetings)

• You must be from a BME background. Age and gender are irrelevant

• The fee is £250 for 8 pages (remember this is a graphic novel so words are precious)

• The publication date would be 8 May 2015 but we need the approved script by 8 January 2015

• Closing date for your synopsis is 8 October 2014.

• The shortlisted writers will be announced at the Festival of Words event Zombie Mastermind (with Lydia Towsey), in the spoken word tent ‘Word Space Two’ at Old Market Square, 3 – 4pm on Sunday, 19 October

• Send your synopsis to info@writingeastmidlands.co.uk

• The successful writer will be notified via email on 23 October 2014

For further information on this project see the Dawn of the Unread website