#MondayBlogs Nottingham: UNESCO City of Literature

dotu city of lit

On Friday 11 December, Nottingham was accredited as a UNESCO City of Literature. To celebrate this I’m hosting a new monthly literature podcast in association with LeftLion and NG Digital.

Dawn of the Unread was created on National Libraries’ Day 2014 as a reaction to some worrying literacy statistics that suggested a large proportion of teenagers found books boring. I was furious because there’s a strong relationship between social outcomes and literacy. For example, you are less likely to have ‘trust’ in society, marry, get a mortgage or vote if you have low literacy levels. It was yet another example of how working class kids are institutionally kept in their place.

My approach was to create a graphic novel that would not only create awareness of our incredible literary history but hopefully raise aspirations too. This was done by introducing a gaming element to the graphic novel whereby users had the option of playing Dawn of the Unread. They were set four tasks at the end of each issue, offering a more rounded approach to reading. Two of these tasks included visiting literary locations and uploading stories inspired by our featured authors. This was done through a bespoke APP that’s still available although some features are now redundant.

Since then Nottingham has gone on to be accredited as a UNESCO City of Literature. Underpinning our strategy (I am one of the directors) are two goals which were very specific to Dawn of the Unread: Nottingham’s grassroots collaborations and improving literacy levels. Dawn of the Unread was integral to our bid as an example of best practice and is a reminder that culture works best when coming from below. Making these goals visible was the start of a dialogue that I framed as a form of ‘child abuse’ in our manifesto. I am confident that we will be able to right these appalling literacy statistics now that we have so many organisations teamed together through the City of Literature team.


Dawn of the Unread raised awareness of various local literary organisations through our embedded essays. To find these, click on a star in each issue.

For the past decade I’ve worked voluntarily at loads of literary organisations in Notts that’s resulted in our first city-wide literature festival in 40 years and seen the Nottingham Writers’ Studio exceed 200 members. This year I’ve added the D.H Lawrence Society and Ray Gosling Archives to the list. The motivation is simple: Know thy City.

You have to work hard to create the kind of city you want to live in. That’s how I ended up as the LeftLion Literature Editor. I moaned and moaned that there was no literature coverage in their mag until they eventually caved in. But there’s an art to moaning. You need to offer suggestions and arguments rather than simply bitch. From this the WriteLion brand was created and we now have at least three pages per issue dedicated to books. Which brings me on to the point of this blog…

CF Deb steLL

To celebrate Nottingham being both a City of Literature and City of Football I created my dream literary team in the latest issue of LeftLion.

About five years ago I started a literature podcast. It was basically an extension of the WriteLion books review page, chatting to featured authors. We were getting loads of hits and at one point received more than our music podcasts. But it died a death after ten broadcasts because there weren’t enough hours in the day to maintain it.

To celebrate the UNESCO accreditation we’ve revived the podcast and it’s now blossomed into an hour long radio show. And once more it demonstrates the ethos of Nottingham’s grassroots approach to culture. It’s produced in partnership by NG Digital and LeftLion, meaning both organisations benefit in various way. LeftLion does the nattering and promotion and NG Digital does the production and hosting.

We have three sets of presenters in order to broaden our audience and to share the workload. I’m looking at the writing industry and my opening interviews include: writing for computer games (Lynda Clark), kickstarting a comic (Adrian Reynolds), writing a crime serial (David Belbin), academic texts exploring American radicalism (Christoper Phelps) and how to produce a literary audio trail using fremium software (Lucy Brouwer).


Mouthy Poets featured in Issue 16 of Dawn of the Unread as well as the Nottingham Black Archive

Our poetry section is hosted by Chris Mcloughlin. Chris is a member of the Mouthy Poets, a collective of 15 -30 year olds in Nottingham who write, edit and perform their own poetry as well as producing events, teaching poetry and helping each other to develop personally and professionally. He’ll be interviewing different members of Mouthy as well as sharing information on events and competitions. Chris emailed me to see if he could be the LeftLion resident poet. It was cheeky and typical of their ambition. We didn’t have enough space in the mag to do this and so made him our resident poet on the show instead. Pure serendipity, as always.

Our third set of presenters are from Nottingham Playhouse and were sourced from a callout on Twitter. I’m really excited about this collaboration because of the sheer diversity of our four presenters. They include Gareth Morgan who is a dramaturg (someone who works between writer and director in a production process); Two female directors in Beth Shouler and Tilly Branson. Last year Tilly’s production of Man to Man was at the Park Theatre in London and Beth has had work she’s directed performed at the National. The final host is Mufaro Makubika, a local playwright who recently had How To Breathe performed at the Playhouse and who is under commission to write another for the main stage. He was a BBC WritersRoom writer in 2014.

Producing large scale multi-collaborative digital projects like Dawn of the Unread and the Sillitoe Trail has taught me a lot about building audiences as well as the need to explore literature through different formats and mediums in order to lure in less confident readers. The WriteLion literature show is just the latest in a long line of attempts to make literature more accessible and to raise the profile of our East Midlands city that has been neglected for far too long. If you want to appear on the show come and say hello on Twitter to either @TheSpaceLathe or @dawnoftheunread. If you want to know why Nottingham is a UNESCO City of Literature then tune into our show. It will be broadcast monthly when LeftLion is published on the last Friday of each month.

You can listen to the radio show here.


DOTU Round logoDawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.


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