#MondayBlogs Nottingham’s Literary Streets

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.


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 in issue 14 of Dawn of the Unread

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

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

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.

LeftLion, innit

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.




Being Arthur and Raphael Hefti

Being arthurThis weekend saw Paul Fillingham and I produce the first ever live 24 hour Twitter presentation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for a project called Being Arthur as part of the Being Human Festival at the University of Nottingham. We billed this as The Sillitoe Trail II as it developed themes and ideas from our Space commission a few years ago.

being arthur then and nowThe presentation was split into two parts: Then and Now. The script for ‘then’ was a combination of the novel, the screenplay, a few other Sillitoe novels and a bit of improvisation. ‘Now’ saw Seaton working his way through ‘nine hundred and fifty-bloody-four emails’, playing fishing on his wii because the canals have now dried up, and using dating App Tinder to meet lonely women because it’s cheaper and more immediate.

arthur pintsIt took a lot of research and time and was pretty much last minute due to other deadlines vying for attention. Paul created some beautiful visuals. I particularly liked the ‘drinking contest with the sailor’ as he visually created the slow, demolition of a pint. We created Twitter accounts for some of the other characters too, which was a right headache to properly synchronise so that it got tweeted in the right place.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of the project was getting comments from people who weren’t aware of what we were doing. As I’d used my personal Twitter account (TheSpaceLathe) for the modern Arthur, a few friends got quite concerned about the content of my tweets and thought I’d had some kind of personality change. I haven’t explained to them yet that I am not having a string of affairs as I’m quite interested to see if any of them start gossiping to my partner or spreading rumours.

tinder arthurBut using my personal account did restrict some of the content and meant I was more cautious than I should have been. One person on Twitter (@monsterlander) commented that the real Arthur Seaton would have laid in to noisy neighbours who woke him up (this is how the ‘new’ story starts) but as far as I am aware, Seaton didn’t really go around lamping people. There was always the threat of violence but he didn’t really instigate it. When he gets caught out by the squaddies it’s them that catch him rather than the other way around. But I was able to respond to this later on in the schedule by sending Monsterlander a threat.

It was a pleasant coincidence that Raphael Hefti’s exhibition was running at the Nottingham Contemporary at the same time as Being Arthur. Hefti is fascinated by processes and experimenting with materials. For his current solo exhibition he visited industries in the East Midlands, such as Rolls Royce with the aim of learning about the composition and treatment of metals in different states.

Arthur Seaton is a factory worker at Raleigh who grafts all day at his lathe for “14, 3 and tuppence for 1,000 of these a day”. Raleigh, during the period in which the book was set, was one of the largest employers in Nottingham, alongside Players and Boots. Sillitoe worked at Raleigh too, describing the daily grind as “a thousand times a day I set the bar, spin back the turret, push in the chamfer, force the drill. Working two cutting blades till the brass hexagonal nut falls into my right hand and gets thrown into a tin.”

Photograph taken from Evening Post, Nov 6. Mark Patterson article

Hefti, if you like, has taken these offcuts, these pieces of industrial waste from the production process, and given them new meanings through his experimental art. Instead of nuts he has used aluminium, titanium, copper and steel poles and heated them up so that they produce ribbons of beautiful colour. The artwork is entitled ‘Various Threaded Poles of Determinate Length Potentially altering their Determinacy, 2014’.

Both Seaton and Hefti’s artwork share quite a few similarities: Neither can be easily classified, they are both shaped by the industrial production process, and they equally strive to transcend their material existence. Seaton described his lathe as ‘my everlasting pal because it gets me thinking’. His imagination enabled him to temporary escape from monotonous, repetitious labour while defying anybody to try and grind him down. Hefti’s incredible artwork refuses to be pinned down and transforms industrial waste into something quite magical. But the similarities end there. Seaton would never be seen dead in some poncy art gallery, not even for a free cocktail on opening night.