On Saturday 12 July Robert Squirrell, John Mateur and I organised a flashmob reading in Nottingham to celebrate books. This wasn’t intended as a tub thumping rant against library closures, although this is of course part of the debate, rather it was a simple celebration of words, authors, publishers and booksellers. A thank you for the joy they’ve brought us over the years. I’d estimate we had around 400 people turn up, most of whom were congregated around the Cloughie statue.
There were varying reactions to our stand-up sit-down. My favourite comment was ‘what are all those dicks doing’. The most frightening was a beefy Forest fan who took exception to the Brian Clough statue getting a make-over courtesy of a knitted woolen jumper. I wanted to say to him that I’ve got 400 people outside Cloughie’s statue to mark the 10th anniversary of his death and released a comic chapter celebrating his life, what have you done? But of course I didn’t. I’d have got battered. The weather was too lovely to get battered.
The jumper was made by a middle-aged woman from Sherwood. She’s not a footy fan, not a particularly keen reader, just a plain and simple mam who loves knitting. Originally I wanted to involve a local arts group and use the event as a means of promoting their work as Dawn of the Unread survives on such collaborations. But I’m glad I decided to go with an ordinary mam who wanted no publicity and had no ulterior motive other than she loves knitting. I also liked the idea of the soft fabric offsetting Cloughie’s rougher edges, but it’s main purpose was to promote our current chapter Byron Clough. More of this in the next post.
When the clock struck noon we all sat down on the floor and read for around ten minutes. Then got up and dispersed. People passing by were generally very quiet and automatically stopped talking as they approached us. This felt really powerful and it was intriguing how the silence of a group of people could have a direct effect on the immediate environment. It was a strange and empowering sensation.
If anyone is thinking of putting together a similar flashmob here’s a few tips.
- We printed 4,000 double-sided flyers. One side about the event, the other about Dawn of the Unread. The cost between single and double-sided printing is minimal. I use Mortons Print in Lincolnshire who are easily the cheapest.
- Give flyers to bookshops and ask them to hand out to punters when they buy from your shop. As this was a reading event it made sense for them to bring the books they had just purchased.
- For a future event I might try the same but go for bookmarks.
- Twitter is my number one tool for all forms of communication. Through this I was able to contact a diverse range of groups such as: Over 50s; Mumsnet; disability groups etc.
- You can pay Facebook to promote posts which broadens your reach. But ensure you have enough likes first to have a stronger impact.
- Think of how your flashmob can appeal to all strands of society. As this month is Ramadan I spoke to some Muslims and said bring down the Koran. Unfortunately none turned up. This was a pity as reading is one of the few things that has the potential to unite all spectrums of society.
- Use your event to support other people: I was particularly keen for the Women’s Centre in Nottingham to come down after their fantastic WoLan event. I suggested they bring books from their feminist library, which is the first feminist library in Nottingham. What better way to make a political statement about gender inequality than visualising ideas through cover jackets. 2014 is also the Year of Reading so it was necessary to have a strong female presence.
- Think about the best time to hold a flash mob. We went for 12 noon because it was the most dramatic due to the 12 chimes of the clock.
- Although we used social media to promote the event, face to face contact is still the most powerful medium.
- Make it simple and fun. Nobody wants a rule book when they’re giving up their free time. By the same token, ensure someone is on hand to advise people, to walk around explaining what will happen and when. This means you need a small core team of volunteers.
- Practice if you’re trying something unique. For example, one flashmob reading I’d love to do is where people all start to read from the same book, getting louder and louder as people join in. But that takes a lot of practice and needs to take place in an environment with good acoustics.
- Don’t do it for the sake of it. Flashmobs work for specific reasons and specific events.