#MondayBlogs Spoof adverts to promote reading

dotu on computer

For 12 years I was the literature editor of LeftLion magazine. It was an incredible experience, particularly the editorial meetings where it was compulsory for everyone to smoke and swear. The LeftLion attitude back then was not to take yourself too seriously, prod and poke at anyone who thought they were summat, and to find unique ways of saying stuff that had been said many times before. In local dialect this meant being chelpy.

It’s probably because of this that I’ve enjoyed creating these spoof adverts with help from a very talented English student called Izaak Bosman. A lot of the adverts below appeared in women’s magazines, many from a period in history when the only purpose of a woman was to look pretty, get a man, and do as she was told. You could say that we’re subverting meaning, that these appropriated adverts represent semiotic warfare, but the truth is we just like fannying about on a computer and this is more fun than tweeting me me me me me.

DotU edit 1 jealous

We’ve all been in relationships where it suddenly ends and you have to start sharing out the possessions…which is why I’ve always insisted on keeping my books on my bookshelf so that none of them get pinched. To this day I am still fuming that an ex kept my first edition copy of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin when we went our separate ways. The cover, its place on the bookshelf are so vivid I have nightmares still to this day. So the advert above is for all of those with a broken heart (and a stolen book).

kiss jpeg x 2

You want a man to kiss you? Get the right lipstick! But from our perspective the only thing that will put you both ‘on the same page’ is reading the same book. This advert was also an opportunity to promote Five Leaves Bookshop. At every opportunity Dawn of the Unread has tried to promote and support other organisations.

WelcometotheFutureDOTU (1)

DotU4edit ashamed

what is she reading

We added the ‘what is she reading’ to this one. I can’t remember what ‘she’ should have been doing. It was probably something like ‘But what is she cooking?’

we can read

“We Can Do It!” is one of the most iconic adverts in history. It first appeared as an American wartime propaganda poster produced by J. Howard Miller in 1943 for Westinghouse Electric as an inspirational image to boost worker morale. The little brain on the lapel relates to one of the four tasks we set readers on our App and coincided with the launch.

DotU3 jpeg

If you google ‘woman reading’ you’ll find millions of paintings. I particularly like this one by Charles Edward Hallé (1846–1914), an English painter of history scenes, genre scenes, and portraits. Expect many variations on this in the future…

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.


#Mondayblogs: Shakespeare Off the Map


This guest post is from Abigail Parry, the National Videogame Arcade’s writer-in-residence. Here she discusses an innovative poetry challenge that involves Shakespeare and Twine for the Off the Map Interactive Text competition.

Alrighty. What is it?

Off the Map is a yearly competition run between the British Library and the National Videogame Arcade, which invites participants to respond to a text by ‘gamifying’ it, or making it in some way interactive.  There are three categories in the competition: 2D games, 3D games, and Interactive Text.  It’s the last of these I want to talk about.

The 2D and 3D categories demand some affinity with game design software – but the Interactive Text category does not.  We really want to encourage Humanities students to participate in the Interactive Text category of the competition this year.  We’ll be looking for entries that respond innovatively and creatively to the resources available – and if your flair is for storytelling, or intertextuality, or wordplay, or any other form of textual manipulation, then we want to see something from you.

Hmmm.  Do I smell an agenda?

Quite right.  I’m a sucker for cross-disciplinary collaboration, and literature and games are two mediums with a lot to say to one another. The NVA, my hosts, are committed to bridging the divide between tech and the Humanities, and I mean to do my damnedest to help.  I want to see everyone getting into in bed with everyone else.  Creatively speaking.

twine image

This is how a Twine story looks.  Don’t be scared!

Fair dos.  As you were.

If you’ve never used an interactive text tool before – well, chances are you’ve read a Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook.  It’s the same thing – a means of presenting a branching narrative – but with a computer programme doing most of the work.  I’d recommend getting started with Twine, which is free to download and easy to use.  We’ve put together a guide to getting started, which can be found here.  Alternatively, you may prefer Inklewriter, which has its own excellent tutorials on the website.

(Confession time: I wish I could say the tech bit of my brain was all sleek chrome and orderly banks of purring consoles.  It really isn’t.  It’s staffed by a wheezing nonagenarian on unpaid overtime who blinks myopically at me when I come knocking.  My background’s in the dusty end of academia, not in sexy STEM stuff – so I don’t use a word like ‘easy’ carelessly.)

Abigail poet

Is there anything else I need to know?

Yes!  Actually, one very important thing: the theme of this year’s competition is Shakespeare.  You’re free to approach this in any way you like, as long as it speaks to the British Library’s resources in some way.  You can work with the text itself, or rework a story, or focus on a bit-part character, or on a single line or stage direction.  One of the reasons for Shakespeare’s enduring popularity is the facility with which his work can be picked up and played with.  Go nuts.  Entries are invited on one of three themes: ‘Castles’, ‘Forests’ and ‘The Tempest’ – but these may be interpreted broadly.

The British Library have made a load of Shakespeare-related images and sound files available through their digitised archives, and if you’re feeling adventurous, these can be incorporated into an Interactive Text submission (this may require a degree of tech nous – but the internet is there to help).  This certainly isn’t expected, however, and it won’t count against you if you don’t.  The judges will be looking for inventiveness, and that doesn’t have to mean digital wizardry.  Your entry must respond to these resources in some way, however.

The competition will be judged by a panel of industry professionals and academics, and the winning entries will be exhibited at GameCity Festival in October.  There’s also a big goody bag of books involved.

Anything else?  Oh yes – the deadline for entries is the 1st of July 2016.  Also, you must be a full-time student to enter the competition.

Further details, together with resources and submission guidelines, can be found on the National Videogame Arcade’s website, here.  At the time of writing, we’re in the process of updating these guidelines, so it might be best to check back in a week or so.

If you have any questions, you can email me at abigail.parry@gmail.com.  Please do.  I still get disproportionately excited when someone sends me an email.

If you’re after additional inspiration, the BBC has made hundreds of TV and radio programmes from its Shakespeare archive freely available HE students, and they can be found here.

Also, Ryan North has reworked Hamlet as an adventure gamebook, To be or Not to Be, which is available as both a physical book and a playable game.

I think that’s all.  As the man himself says – bid the players make haste.


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.


#MondayBlogs B S Johnson and the art of digital gobbledygook


You are not radineg tihs wnorg. All wlil be eplxaneid ltear. And pselae be paniett. I do ellevntuay get on to B.S Jhnsoon

The theme of this year’s Being Human Festival is creativity and as part of this I gave a talk on digital storytelling. The aim was to explain the nuts and bolts of putting together a large multi-collaborative multi-platform literary project.

There are many explanations as to why writers bother putting pen to paper but I think we can probably boil it down to two: therapy and control. Is this why more people are writing now than at any other point in history? Are we more fucked up (and can’t afford an hour on the proverbial couch) or are we all feeling a lack of control as our lives become increasingly mediated through the virtual? Answers, please, on an ecard.

It’s certainly easier to get published now (we’re all one click away from a bestseller on Kindle) and so this may have raised confidence and accessibility. As well as delusion. Or perhaps the Selfie generation has taught us our opinions matter and we have 900 followers on Twitter to prove it (or 9,000 if you’ve decided to buy some). But less sceptically, I think more people are writing because it’s a cheap and easy way to make sense of our lives in an increasingly noisy world. The irony, of course, is one of the things that is making the world so noisy is the endless digital platforms encouraging us to speak up.

Issue 12 of Dawn of the Unread explored some of these issues.

Issue 12 of Dawn of the Unread explored some of these issues.

Writing enables a weighing down of the self. We create characters and situations and through this explore all of those important issues about the human condition: how does it affect me. If writing is about control then I must be a serious control freak because instead of mastering one world I am attempting to master entire universes and solar systems. Digital storytelling projects such as Dawn of the Unread are not just about thinking yourself into the mind of a character but into how that character exists across mediums and digital platforms, all of which come with their own grammar.

One argument levelled at the Selfie generation is that we are no longer able to focus on one text. Consequently, our attention spans are diminishing. There may be more people writing books, but, equally, there are less people reading. Hmm. In the worst case scenario this is seen as a dumbing down of culture. A more pragmatic view is that our brains are adapting and instead we are able to consume multiple forms of bytesized chunks of information at once. Hence, the physical book can’t compete with the latest HBO series that can be binge watched in one sitting while texting, emailing and arranging the latest date on Tinder.

Another argument levelled against digital is that it is lowering literacy levels. As culture becomes more visual language is lost as a result. With it goes rationality and logic, the grammar of this medium. Texting is seen as the epitome of this malaise. Not only have words been replaced with emoticons but the few words we do use are reduced to abbreviations and informal language. Do U C what I mean? But our brains are incredible complex machines that are constantly seeking out patterns so that order can be restored out of any gobbledygook.

As lnog as the fsrit and lsat ltteer of erevy wrod are in the cocerrt oderr our bnairs wlil mkae snsee of a stnenece.

All of which brings me onto B.S Johnson (5 February 1933 – 13 November 1973), one of the greatest digital writers of all time. Even though he died way before Google, Facebook and the smartphone were invented.

B.S Johnson’s best known novel, at least in these parts, is The Unfortunates (1969). This was published roughly around the same time as the US Department of Defence had developed packet network systems, such as Arpanet, that connected up computers so that everybody could communicate underground if there was a nuclear war. This was the beginning of the internet as we know it today. The Unfortunates takes on many of its characteristics.

The novel was originally published in a box with no binding so that readers could assemble 25 of the 27 chapters in any order. The only rule was the first and the last chapter had to be read in order. The chapters vary in length from a single paragraph to 12 pages. Johnson’s other books include one which has a hole in it so that readers can see what is coming next and another comprised entirely of case-notes. I guess my point is that writers have been attempting to escape the confines and conventions of the page for decades. Digital has simply made this process more explicit.

The Unfortunates tells the story of a sportswriter sent to a city on an assignment. But instead of reporting on the match he is confronted by ghosts from his past and the tragic passing of a good friend. Although the city and match are unnamed, it is quite obviously based on Nottingham.

To capture the spirit of the book, playwright Andy Barret has created an event called I Know This City where there will be readings of individual chapters at various locations. Andy said, “The venues will be cafes, benches, pubs, the corners of shops, theatres and hotel foyers. They will be near enough to each other so that people do not find themselves following a similar route”. It all sounds very digital –the non linear way he is encouraging us to navigate the city, the way we will make sense of random locations, and how a physical book will become a living breathing experience rather than an ordered page of words.

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.


#MondayBlogs Untold Stories: Building a digital project with students

This is our first draft of a logo by Paul Fillingham. I wanted to use the Russian artist Petr Pavlensky as it's such a great image. The quote is adapted from Oscar Wilde.

This is our first draft of a logo by Paul Fillingham. I wanted to use the Russian artist Petr Pavlensky as it’s such a great image. The quote is adapted from Oscar Wilde.

Last month I wrote to every UNESCO City of Literature to see if they were interested in being a partner on Dawn of the Unread II: Untold Stories. To be a partner I have requested that they fund a writer and I’ll take care of the rest (the letterer, colourist, artist, script editor, digitiser, etc). There are three reasons I approached the UNESCO cities. Firstly, part of their remit is to build global relationships, particularly between the Creative Cities network. So providing projects that achieve their goals means you are more likely to get a response. Secondly, this means the marketing takes care of itself. Dawn of the Unread was successful because it involved so many people. Extending this globally is a natural progression. Thirdly, in order to achieve Arts Council Funding I need to bring in money and support in kind. This is why multi-collaborative partnership take so long and on average it’s usually around 8 months of planning before I submit a proposal.

New College Nottingham students

New College Nottingham students

In thinking through the concept of Untold Stories I’ve approached two ‘focus’ groups. Richard Johnson of New College Nottingham has created coursework for FdA Design students where they will either create an alternative logo for Untold Stories or pitch an idea of the kind of stories they would like to see in the comic serial. By making it a formative assessment I am guaranteed that the students will take the work seriously. The benefit for the college is they link up with external stakeholders who offer creative industries experience. To quote Del Boy, everyone is a winner. I gave a talk at the college for a couple of hours and offered tutorial support. So it hasn’t really been too time consuming. They were given one month to complete the coursework and it was handed in on Friday.

You can read the coursework brief NCN brief untold_stories_2015-16

I first met Richard Johnson at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio in 2009 and was impressed with how he had used social media to engage with his audience by asking them to draw characters from his Erth Chronicles. Reading is a completely individual experience in that we all conjure different images from the words. Richard (who writes under the pseudonym of James Johnson) got unique feedback from this which in turn shaped the way he went about describing future characters and situations.

I’ve also created a focus group of ten students from NTU as part of their Humanities at Work Module which requires them to fulfill a 30 hour placement. I want them to have some kind of ownership from conception to inception. Too often placement students are used as an expendable workforce to do the jobs other people don’t want to do. I’m hoping that involving them from the planning stage will either help to create a great project for us or show them exactly how these projects are born so that they will go on and do similar one day.

Employability is one of the key goals of NTU’s strategy and they recently achieved a top 20 ranking for its teaching quality in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016. Vice-Chancellor Professor Edward Peck said: “Our pledge is for every course to contain strong links to employers and we are already a long way down this road with associations to businesses who offer work placements; many courses offer professional accreditation of periods of work experience.”

This animation is from Issue 1. You can view the animation here.

This animation is from Issue 1. You can view the animation here.

There’s also some tidying up to do with Dawn of the Unread which is delaying the publication of the physical book. With this in mind I’ve been working with a Korean-Italian student studying B.A (Hons) Media at NTU called Vincenzo Yun Chang Huh who is creating animations for six of our 16 comics. Every issue has one tiny animation but we didn’t have time to do it all when the project was live because a) it was something we hadn’t budgeted for and b) it was something I realised I wanted to do once our first issue came out. I felt the last page of our opening issue didn’t have enough Nottingham references and so I had the eyes of a ‘zombie’ flickering between Shippos and Home Ales Breweries. Having one animation per issue brings in another gaming element to Dawn of the Unread in that readers have to find them. This is exactly what our target audience (Youtube generation) would enjoy.

Vincenzo also created the above video which explores locations featured in Dawn of the Unread which he’s filmed and then overlaid with pages from the comic.

vinceLet me tell you a little bit about Vincenzo’s ‘Untold Story’ and why I think it’s important to give students a chance. He was born in Caserta, Italy, spent seven years in Brazil and finished off his secondary school education in Moscow. During his schooling he set up an advertisement service group and went on to produce promotional videos for Zeitgeist Literary Magazine and producing presentation slides for TEDx speakers. He even found time to work with some independent game developers as well as get involved with a family entertainment show.

Perhaps because of his nomadic adolescence, and a bright mind that seems to be satiated through entrepreneurialism, Vince suffers from anxiety issues and describes himself as an introvert. Social media and creative projects have offered a means of connecting with the outside world, albeit from the safety of a laptop. Dance has also served as an outlet to express himself and he’ll be performing United the Scene on 6 November. You can also catch him busting some moves in this coursework (designing an App) he did at Nottingham Trent International College.

I can’t believe how lucky I am to have someone like Vince working on both Dawn of the Unread and Untold Stories. One of the reasons he wanted to be involved is because he believes in the principles that underpin these projects. He said:

“Youtube introduced me to short-films which taught me inspirational life lessons and different perspectives in life. One of my all-time favourite short-film that moves my heart is called With a Piece of Chalk by JuBa Films. One of the goals of Dawn of the Unread is to combat illiteracy. Producing a promotional video for them could change some people’s lives for the better. I may never find out who these individuals are or how it affected them, but I feel good knowing that I produced something that could have a positive impact.”

Untold Stories will have a theme for every issue which will shape the story. The embeds will include a philosophical discussion of the theme and a Call to Action from a real life case study (Amnesty, English Pen, Liberty, etc) Our first theme will be ‘Anxiety’.

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.


An Apple a Day Keeps DH Lawrence Away


DOTU on Ipad

Since having this absurd idea of creating a graphic novel I’ve had the flu twice, suspected shingles, a panic attack and a nasty facial virus that left me looking like I’d gone a few rounds with Bendigo. This is inevitable with the start-up of any project but now that the main framework is in place things are starting to calm down and I’m making it to bed before 1am.

One reason for my stress is the delay of the App and iPad versions of Dawn of the Unread. This has now been put back to 8 May. Paul Fillingham, who deals with the digital side of any project I run, has had to make quite a lot of coding revisions after working with actual content. Consequently we’ve been unable to re-use web-content and instead had to programme everything into Apple’s Native iOS code for things such as gestures to control page-turns (left/right swipes). This is time consuming.

An apple a day may keep the doctor away but working with Apple is not good for your health. Paul has found it increasingly difficult to get content through their gatekeepers with recent projects and is cautious to the point of paranoia in complying with the Apple Human Interface Guidelines. And he has good reason to feel like this. One App he recently put together for a WWII project took two months to get approval due to references to the Holocaust. It is frightening how fearful organisations have become about broaching complex sensitive subjects. This is no doubt a fear of being sued and as a result, certain words must get flagged up on their database.

Nottingham's favourite Potty Mouth, DH Lawrence

Nottingham’s favourite Potty Mouth, DH Lawrence

I mention this because our front cover has a picture of DH Lawrence stumbling about muttering ‘f*ck’. This is of course a reference to the acquittal of Penguin Books in the Lady Chatterley trial. Writing in the Guardian, Geoffrey Robertson QC said: “The Old Bailey has, for centuries, provided the ultimate arena for challenging the state. But of all its trials – for murder and mayhem, for treason and sedition – none has had such profound social and political consequences as the trial.” So basically, a Nottingham man made it possible for everyone to swear more freely.

Fast forward 54 years and Paul Fillingham is advising me that we cut the ‘F*ck’ from the front cover for our iPad and iPhone versions because this will be the main landing page for the App and consequently the first thing Apple will focus on. The DH Lawrence trial may have ‘provided the ultimate arena for challenging the state’ but it’s a very different arena when submitting work to Apple as if they don’t like something it simply won’t happen. ComiXology recently decided to bar a SAGA issue from the App Store to second-guess approval policy.

All of which raises the issue of censorship, because this is what we’re really talking about. And should Apple be dictating content to creators? Surely their only concern should be that the technical aspects of production and industry standards are met. I appreciate there will always be some form of regulation, and rightly so, but not to the detriment of legitimate educational content.

I love words. They are the most important thing in the world to me and when someone steals one it is like sending your dog to be castrated. But in a project of this size and scale you have to concentrate on the battles you can win. The main issue is to get it through Apple’s stringent vetting process so that schools can start downloading it. If that means losing a f*ck’ then fuck it. We can always resubmit the cover at a later date. And I have an obligation to reclaim my ‘f*ck’ for DH Lawrence. For as he once wrote: “Do not allow to slip away from you freedoms the people who came before you won with such hard knocks.”