#MondayBlogs Central Library Nottingham site sold off to Property Developer

esIn the opening issue of Dawn of the Unread we made some subtle observations about the state of British Libraries. Our intention was to ask whether libraries could still be a focal point of the local community. We suggested that on a political level, libraries weren’t valued. This was represented by a hideous hybrid called the Cleggeron (representing the then coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg) whose favourite game was smashing up libraries.

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On an educational level we see a young teenager being dragged to the library, complaining ‘they’re boring and full of oldies.’ Our intention here was to think about how young people perceive libraries. When the teenager is given a copy of Dawn of the Unread and discovers that quite a bit has gone on in Nottingham he complains ‘My school is bobbins. They don’t teach us owt good like this.’ The implication here is that our cultural partnerships need to be better joined up and support each other. A thirst for knowledge at school leads to a thirst to learn more through books and engagement with extra curricular activities. According to an essay in Standing up for Education (2016),  50,000 teachers quit last year due to stress and the pressures of micro management. Teachers are vital in raising the aspirations of teenagers, so give them the time to do it!

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We included future predictions for libraries when our heroine Edith Slitwell has to check out her book using a Tesco style self-service machine which bleeps ‘unexpected genre in the bagging area.’ The slow erosion of humans from all areas of work is gaining momentum and libraries will be no different. Money is being saved through reduced opening hours. With this in mind we had our heroine informed that she would have to leave the building as it was shutting soon. Originally I’d wanted a sign on the library wall saying ‘opening hours 2pm -2.30pm’ but it was lost in the edit.

I mention this as it has just been announced that the Central Library site has been sold off to a property developer for 4 million. The council have put out an ambiguous statement of intent and consequently it is leading to a lot of concern. The Nottingham Writers’ Studio have quickly reacted and created a small group of interested parties who will be meeting with Councillor David Trimble to express their concerns. We have been invited to join in this conversation and will report back once we have some solid facts on exactly where the library will live.

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I have long been highly critical of Central Library. It is an ugly and depressing building in much need of a makeover and may very well benefit from being embedded inside a new fancy pants building. But it is called Central Library for a reason, so I do hope that the Council remember this so that it doesn’t have to be renamed ‘tucked away in one of those Sneinton Market huts that nobody uses on the outskirts of town library.’

In our Gotham Fool issue I stipulated to writer Adrian Reynolds that his narrative must mention that Central Library is a one stop centre where you can also pay your council tax. Originally, I was disgusted by this. I felt it devalued knowledge. But three years on I’ve changed my mind. Proximity may very well be the best way to encourage access to books and computers, films and music.     .

Dawn of the Unread was always meant to be a dialogue about the role of libraries. The reason that we are donating one copy of our book to every library in Nottingham is to support them. To help create conversations. To celebrate the very many positive things that have come out of Nottingham. The book is published by Spokesman Press, part of the Bertrand Russell Foundation. It was important our publisher reflected values we believe in as well as having a local connection. We sincerely hope that issues raised in our 16 part serial are taken into consideration by the Council in these very difficult times. We’re already witnessing a high rate of homeless people back on the streets, will we start to see books made homeless as well? And what will follow after that?

There are currently talks to hold a peaceful demonstration some time in December. Hopefully a silent sit in, like our reading flashmob a few years ago. We’ll post more information as and when this is confirmed through our Twitter account. @Dawnoftheunread.

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#MondayBlogs: A literary walk that became an App, flash mob and then a book…

Dawn of the Unread started life as a literary walk around town as part of the Festival of Words a few years ago. Then it became a reading flashmob, 58 Youtube videos, the placement home for 120 NTU students, an interactive App, a computer game, music video, Guardian Education Winner, zombie dolls, a manifesto for the digital humanities, and, of course, an online graphic novel serial. 16 issues later it’s finally become a gorgeous glossy book published by Spokesman Books in collaboration with the City of Literature.

We launched the publication at the inaugural Festival of Literature on 11 November at Antenna. Antenna is quite a significant location as this is where the first conversations took place about the project. It’s a nice space for a book launch because they have a mixture of small tables and leather sofas that can be arranged in an informal setting.  My ideal literary event is always something that resembles an underground 1930s jazz bar, with dim lights, casual seating but shit hot visuals. Screens are littered around on various walls, meaning the audience can view the talk from wherever they are sat.

Although I did a quick chat on the Verity Cowley Show, one for NottsTV and a lovely feature on East Midlands today, I barely had time to promote the event other than a late email panic on Thursday evening. The key to a successful event is direct personalised marketing and after ten years of journalism in Notts, I have a lot of contacts. I just didn’t have time to talk to anyone on a meaningful level. I intended to write to all of the librarians, to schools, to all of the partner organisations who helped support us, but… Having said that, we had a turnout of around 50-70 people. That’s not bad, but it deserved to be a lot more.

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This is what planning a book looks like…

One bit of promotion I did really enjoy was creating the Nottingham This is Your Life video which you can see at the top of the page. It was shot in one hour with the LeftLion designer Raph Achache. If nothing else it proves my lack of vanity, as nobody in their right mind would shoot a video with such an awful dad haircut. It enabled me to be Richard Ashcroft for the day, cutting my own ‘bittersweet harmony’ through town and thankfully not getting lamped as I entered the Thurland…

I wrote my script a few hours before the event started. Sadly, this has become the norm now. But this is only because I was script editing Lucy Brouwer, one of the featured writers in our follow up project: Whatever People Say I am.

I themed the book launch around ‘the making of’ and used it as an opportunity to bring in all of the little stories people may not know about, the hidden references in the comics that may have slipped people’s attention, and the rationale behind the editorial decisions. Different contributors were invited up, but we didn’t have time to look at every comic in detail.

Dawn of the Unread continues to live on. As I write, it is being used by NTU students for an animation assignment, a filming module is using it to create a mock Kickstarter campaign, I’ve just read a script by one of our contributors who is turning one of our featured literary figures into a full length graphic novel, and our book is being sent out to every school in Nottinghamshire as part of the City of Literature’s drive to support schools and help raise literacy levels. I also in negotiations with Canvas, the home of the UK’s art scene on YouTube to see if we can get more exposure for our work and reach new audiences.

This is a project which has continually supported and promoted other organisations from Joanna Walsh’s #readwomen2014 campaign to the lack of Black representation in the Arts. It has created opportunities for aspiring and up-and-coming writers rather than drawing from the same repetitive palette. It has pushed the boundaries of the comics’ medium through our innovative use of embedded content – as far as I’m aware nobody else has provided such contextual reading for all types of readers before. It may also be the first ever graphic novel to explore a city’s entire literary history. It is a project with genuinely legacy, particularly in terms of education. And it was carved and crafted with spit, blood, guts and love to help raise awareness of this little old factory town, Nottingham.

Now, I want a week off. Then it’s time for part II…

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Dawn of the Unread (2016) James Walker and Paul Fillingham. Spokesman Books. £14.99

NottsTV short. 11.11.16

#MondayBlogs Alan Gibbons on National Libraries’ Demonstration 5 Nov 2016

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Alan Gibbons was our featured writer back in Issue 11 of Dawn of the Unread when he brought Robin Hood and his Merrie Men back to life for a tub-thumping protest at the demolition of library services. Now he’s urging us all to stand up and walk in protest at cuts faced by public institutions that are integral to learning.   

“Public Libraries and Museums remain the lynchpin of communities, offering access to learning, reading, history, art, information and enjoyment. Libraries are, or should be, trusted public spaces for everyone. They play a crucial role in improving literacy, in combating the digital divide and in widening democratic involvement. BUT, in the UK since 2010, we’ve LOST:

  • 8,000 paid and trained library workers (a quarter of all staff);
  • 343 libraries (600-plus including ones handed to volunteers); and
  • One in five regional museums at least partially closed.

We’ve also seen:

  • Libraries’ and museums’ opening hours cut;
  • Budgets, education programmes and mobile/ housebound/specialist services slashed;
  • An escalation in commercialisation and privatisation;
  • A 93% increase in the use of volunteers in libraries;
  • Income generation become the priority for almost 80% of museums.”

So say the organisers of the National Museums, Libraries and Galleries demonstration on 5 November  in London, PCS Culture Sector, Unite the Union, Barnet UNISON & Save Barnet Libraries, and Campaign for the Book have initiated a national demonstration to save some of our most treasured public services.

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Words: Alan Gibbons. Art: Steve Larder. From Issue 11 of Dawn of the Unread ‘Books and Bowstrings’

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Labour Party says: “I give my 100% support to this demonstration. The Tories have devastated our public services using austerity policies as justification. I promise that a Labour Government will act to ‘in-source’ our public and local council services and increase access to leisure, arts and sports across the country. We will reverse the damage the Tories have done to our communities in the cities, towns and villages.”

I will be there, marching alongside service users, staff and campaigners from around the country. Will you please join me?

When: Saturday, November 5th, noon.
Where: British Library, Euston Road, London.
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#MondayBlogs Charlie Peace: Murder, Mayhem and the Master of Disguise

IMG_20160803_220726 (1)Ben Johnson is a contributing editor of the historic crime magazine Casebook: Classic Crime, and has written extensively for the Whitechapel Journal, and US publication Crime Magazine. In this guest blog he discusses his debut novel about Charlie Peace, who was featured in Issue 3 of Dawn of the Unread. Ben is from Sheffield and is keen to explore the local history of his home town in much the same way that we have tried to do with Nottingham.  

Every day I walk the same city streets as Charlie Peace, although, contrary to popular belief beyond the north/south divide, Sheffield does now have tarmac, one-way systems, and a noticeable lack of horse manure underfoot. Simply speaking, he is something of a cult figure in my hometown, but his story has never enjoyed the same amount of literary exploration as many of his Victorian counterparts.

My interest in “our Charlie” began during a strange evening at the Sheffield Police and Fire museum, where I found myself reporting on a ghost hunting event which was taking place on that particular evening. Sitting in a subterranean cell, and watching in bemused indifference as my temporary ghost hunting colleagues waved electro magnets around and tried to speak to the undead, my eyes focussed in the dark on a poster which bore the gnarled face of a man who was, and is, very much dead.

This, I soon found out, was the very cell in which Charlie Peace was held, bandaged and bloodied,  after his attempt to escape from a moving train. He lay here covered with a pile of rugs, feigning severe illness and swearing like only a concussed Yorkshireman can.  He would be removed from this cell many times in the next few days, on every occasion to answer for his crimes in an especially cordoned-off area of Sheffield town hall.

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Artwork: Eddie Campbell. Words: Michael Eaton

Those who know me are only too aware that when a subject grabs my attention, I will read voraciously on the subject for a short time, until I completely forget why I was even interested in it in the first place. However, this was not to be the case on this occasion; I was hooked by the story of this elusive, murderous cat burglar, and only when the final words of my book had been typed (some five years later), did I allow myself to let Mr Peace to slip back into the dark recesses of my crowded and disorganised mind.

We are very lucky in this country to have access to local study libraries, and this is where my research began, spending hours and hours trawling through the well preserved pages of the local newspapers, which had been lovingly copied to microfiche by a number of dutiful employees over the generations; and of course, there were countless hours spent searching the internet; the lazy man’s library.

Many people have asked what drew me to this particular story. The answer is a short one; it simply has everything one would require from a historic crime caper. Peace was a fascinating person, from his childhood spent under the patriarchal guidance of a one-legged former lion tamer, all the way through to his last moments spent in the company of the man who perfected the quick and effective long-drop method of execution.

Every twist and turn of Peace’s life brings with it a notable event. The murder of PC Nicholas Cock in Lancashire, for which Peace would never be tried in court; the murder of his love-rival Arthur Dyson, which began the cross country escape for which he was awarded the title of Britain’s most wanted man; and his hasty escape from Nottingham, disappearing into the slums of the Marshes with his mistress, “the Nottingham Nightingale” in tow.

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Artwork: Eddie Campbell. Words: Michael Eaton

But, my favourite part of the Charlie Peace story has to be his genius in the art of disguise. From fashioning a hooked stump to cover his own mangled hand, to his unique talent of altering his appearance organically at the drop of a hat (by dislocating his jaw and letting the blood rush to his face), Peace was genuinely a criminal mastermind; a phrase which is bandied around far too often, and rarely seems to be deserved by the villain in question.

Yet, like so many criminals with a natural aptitude for escape, Peace eventually began to rely on luck rather than judgement; an error which would ultimately cost him his life. Although, one would be hard-pressed to argue that he did not deserve the sentence handed down to him by Mr Justice Lopes, the man tasked with the necessary job of sending Peace to the gallows of Armley Gaol. Peace, the cat burglar, was something of a folk hero, but Peace, the killer, was too wicked for even his own townsfolk to forgive.

For a short time after his death, Peace was a regular character on the pages of the Penny Dreadfuls, the lurid crime comics which were so feverishly devoured by the Victorian public, yet, unlike many other historical criminals, his star would eventually fall, and his name would largely be forgotten outside the circles of the most avid crime aficionados. This being the case, and despite his many acts of depravity and evil, the task of resurrecting the remarkable tale of Charlie Peace was one which was a joy from start to finish.

My biography of this twisted genius, Charlie Peace; Murder, Mayhem, and the Master of Disguise, was released by Pen and Sword books in August 2016, and is widely available to buy on the digital shelves of the internet, and the physical shelves of the few bookshops which still remain on our High Streets.

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#MondayBlogs The Literary Art of Cracking Comics at Lowdham Book Festival

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Matt Green, Jonathan Rigby, Sally Jane Thompson and James Walker (L-R)

John ‘Brick’ Clark was the artist in our Slavomir Rawicz comic. His passion for the medium is infectious and so I was delighted when he asked me to chair a panel discussion for Nottingham Does Comics. Here’s what he had to say.

Lowdham Book Festival recently hosted an extraordinary panel session of Nottingham Does Comics, extraordinary for featuring three guests plainly steeped in comics culture and a facilitator hungry to learn more about ‘The Literary Art of Cracking Comics’, the subject for discussion. James Walker of Dawn of the Unread was armed with all the right simple questions a public warming to the medium might ask of a creator (Sally Jane Thompson), a retailer (Jonathan Rigby from Page 45) and an academic (Dr. Matt Green from the University of Nottingham).

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The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips had Page 45 oozing with compliments. 

Too often comics buffs gloss over basic questions like, ‘Which should I read first, the words or pictures?’ and yet therein lie the keys to a full appreciation of a literary form that, despite producing works of manifest sophistication tackling adult themes, is invariably and wrongly dismissed as strictly for the kids. Steeped in prose literature, James readily admitted he is immediately drawn to the linear form of the text before retreating back up the page to give the images due consideration. And why not, the panel suggested, if it works for you. There are no hard and fast rules. The medium has the power to control the eye and prioritise, and if any one page or panel doesn’t, that also is intentional in the best of works.

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Is it a comic? Is it a graphic novel? Artwork taken from Chasemagnett.wordpress.com

Prompted by James, the panel went further back to basics and clarified the terms – ‘comics’ is the art form, ‘comic’ or ‘comic book’ is the frequently serialized floppy magazine format, while ‘graphic novel’ is the uncomfortable term applied by the media to the spine-backed book format, encompassing autobiography, investigative journalism, historical works and everything factual, from academic treatises to comics cook books. Finally, ‘comix’ is the underground’s way of saying ‘Children Keep Out’. It’s good to know, but I would add ‘comics strip’ (a single line sequence) and ‘comics block’ (several tiers of the same, most frequently seen as a half page in an otherwise prose magazine or newspaper).

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Jens Harder: Alpha

Peppered with references to modern masterpieces like From Hell (scripted by Alan Moore, illustrated by Eddie Campbell), the discussion explored how writers and illustrators co-operate together. Sally made the point that writers tend to be protective of their words while illustrators are ever looking to bin as many as possible, aware that images can often speak the same louder or more sensitively. In the case of skilled writer-illustrators like Jens Harder (Alpha), it is evident the creative process leans towards the visual, paring down the prose to poetry, making every word count. For an auteur like the maestro Shaun Tan, words just get in the way of his mastery of visual poetry, exemplified in his wonderful The Arrival, about the great American immigration bubble.

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Ghost World

While everybody acknowledged similarities between comics and film (or maybe storyboarding is a closer comparison), the panel believed cross-fertilisation rarely worked in either’s favour. If Hollywood is presently filling off-shore accounts on the back of Marvel and DC, their industry is not doing our industry a great service. Jonathan considered Ghost World (based on Daniel Clowes’ sensitive account of adolescent angst) the best of the bunch, though Matt mentioned the excellent American Splendour, acknowledging the movie is more about its curmudgeon author, Harvey Pekar, than an adaption of Pekar’s actual memoire.

brides storyAway from the silver screen, Sally enthused about A Bride’s Story, a sumptuous historical romance by Japanese manga artist, Kaoru Mori. (Manga just means comics, only from Japan, just as bande dessinee are Franco-Belgian comics and manhua are Chinese comics. Manga and manhua are properly read right to left from back of the book, but many have now been flipped for the English-reading public, not always successfully.) Of Mori’s work, Sally said, “It is masterfully drawn and an absolute pleasure to read, but also beautifully composed, with an eye for smooth reading and clarity, despite her lavish attention to everyday details. She is willing to take time out of a larger story to dwell on a moment, so we experience it fully rather than hurrying from plot point to plot point. It’s soothing and uplifting, and an absolute comics masterclass.’ Plus, of course, Mori’s work gives the lie to suggestions that comics are a man-and-boy-thing.

makingFor some in the audience, the creative potential of specialist colourists and letterers to enhance a work maybe came as some surprise. Letters might just be code, but the look of the words can go way beyond standard fonts to imbue the text with significance and meaning. Jonathan referenced Brecht Evens’ hand lettering in his blindingly colourful The Making Of, and I would single out the mastery of the anarchic font employed in Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau’s stinging anti-racist take on The Hartlepool Monkey. As to colourists and what they can achieve, our man from Page 45 positively oozed over the work of Elizabeth Breitweiser, specifically in the L.A. movie satire The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Sumptuous, flowing and precise for a 1940’s homage, there are pages where Elizabeth suddenly throws us a curve ball and renders a sequence in the block colours of a demented Mondrian.

Right now comics are such a rapidly evolving medium that an hour’s slot was never going to do justice to all the questions the audience needed answering. Though the turnout was small, it was evident the audience was excited and stimulated by what they heard. One couple cornered me with notebooks in hand and asked for the above recommendations again. Another member’s departing words were, “If I wasn’t already into comics, I’d be hammering down the door of Page 45 with an open cheque book!,” an appreciation that belied their age and escalating passion.

Nottingham Does Comics was at Lowdham Book Festival on Saturday 25 June (3.30-4.30pm) The panel was chaired by James Walker with Sally Jane Thompson, Jonathan Rigby and Matt Green. 

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