William Booth celebrated on LeftLion front cover

Illustration for LeftLion article in Issue 69 by Alix Verity
Illustration for LeftLion article in Issue 69 by Alix Verity.

To celebrate the Salvation Army’s 150th birthday the front cover of issue 69 of LeftLion features a mock-up of William Booth’s religious Utopian vision In Darkest England and the Way Out.  The Sally’s CV includes providing humanitarian aid across the globe, radically transforming perceptions of the poor, and a charismatic leader with more hubris than Tony Blair. With such an incredible story it was no wonder William Booth was the first literary figure in Issue 1 of Dawn of the Unread.

William Booth was born on 10 April 1829 at 12 Notintone Place, Sneinton. He learned his trade at the Wesley Chapel, opened on Broad Street in 1837. This six pillared colonnade was an imposing structure on the local community and cost £11,000 to be built – a fortune back then. Here he encountered celebrity preachers such as James Caughhey, who would swoop down from the pulpit in a black cloak, a bit like a religious Batman, playing on the fears of his congregation. His histrionics infuriated the conservative members of the religious establishment but Booth was transfixed, realising that the performance was as important as the play.

This attitude is perhaps unsurprising given Booth’s utter contempt for theological study, dismissing the intellectualisation of religion as “egotistical introspection”. As Roy Hattersley notes “William Booth was by nature a soldier, not an intellectual. He wanted to fight the good fight, not study the battle plan.”

In Issue 1 William Booth appears in our remake of the classic Nottingham Tunes advert 'Second class return to Dottingham'
In Issue 1 William Booth appears in our remake of the classic Nottingham Tunes advert ‘Second class return to Dottingham’

Despite his aversion for reading and study Booth found time, with a little help from W.T. Stead, to outline his masterplan for salvation in In Darkest England, and the Way Out. Drawing on the popular travel book by Henry Morton Stanley he made the simple observation that the “foul and fetid breath of our slums is almost as poisonous as that of the African swamp”.

This chart is a pictorial representation of the benefits envisaged from the application of the Salvation Army’s scheme for dealing with the social problems of `Darkest England’, as described in William Booth’s book “In Darkest England and the Way Out” (first publ.1890). See British Museum fmi.

Booth sketches an utterly depressing view of the slums as a drink sodden world inhabited by vice, crime and starvation. A bit like a city in Grand Theft Auto. Over 200 pages are dedicated to the way out of Darkest England which centre around three self-sustaining but overlapping communities. The City Colonies offered basic support and temporary employment for those who had messed up; Once hope had been installed they would return back to society as fully functioning individuals. Those unable to progress to the next level were shipped off to the Farm Colonies, where comfy cottages and a slower pace of life awaited. Acquiring useful skills in cultivating land and self-containment prepared them for potential new lives in the Overseas Colony.

This was an early draft of the cover
This was an early draft of the LeftLion cover.

The LeftLion cover gave Paul Fillingham and I the opportunity to take a tongue-in-cheek look at contemporary Nottingham via Booth’s ideology. The city has received a lot of funding and investment recently through the Creative Quarter who’ve made an incredible impact, helping to regenerate derelict areas and transform them into independent hubs, such as Cobden Chambers. At a strategic level they are the people leading Nottingham out of creative darkness.

The downside to this is culture is reduced to a neatly packaged postcode, which, as has happened in places such as Leicester, can push up rental prices so that the locals can’t afford to live there. But there is definitely a real buzz at the moment and consequently new businesses are investing in the city, such as the recent opening of Rough Trade Records on Broad Street. But for every Rough Trade there are at least ten Poundlands. Let us forget the ‘Uncreative Three Quarters’ at our peril.

There have been various attempts to ‘salvage’ Nottingham over the years. In Booth’s Utopian vision the fallen are drowning in a sea of illicit temptations. In our version the fallen are drowning in banality. This is represented by ‘intu’ the British Real Estate Investment Trust who are flatpacking shopping centres so that every city is identical. They have the keys to the Broadmarsh and Victoria Centre, and Derby’s Eagle Centre up the A52. But nothing sums up our lack of imagination quite like the ‘Slanty N’ (rebranded City logo), where we officially declared we were a generic bland provincial town without an ounce of history or individuality. 

slanty n
LeftLion cover.

The message on our front cover is don’t believe the hype. There’s still a lot of work to be done. Nottingham remains a factory city but without any factories. Perhaps the Creative Quarter’s purpose is to create digital lathes? Or perhaps the only industry we can rely on is the education sector, given every new building is converted into student flats.

student flats
LeftLion cover.

Nottingham has a rich history of defiant individualism and being a bit rowdy. Our character is shaped out of endless struggles. We flattened our mayor with a cheese in 1766, burned down our castle in 1831, and smashed up our most famous invention in 1811. William Booth was a rebel who was incapable of considering he might be wrong about anything. Basically, he was ignorant; something Nottingham can’t afford to be.

DOTU Round logo

Dawn 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.


Always judge a book by its cover: Judit Ferencz

Usually in blog posts I blather on about this and that but sometimes images are worth a thousand words. In Judit Ferencz’s case, images are worth a million words so I’m going to keep this post short so you can gorge on her incredible artwork. Judit is the artist for our Alma Reville chapter and you can listen to her discuss her collaboration with Nicola Monaghan in the video above, which was created by local filmmaker Will Price.

I wanted Judit as an artist for Dawn of the Unread primarily because she has illustrated for LeftLion for free in the past and this is my way of literally paying her back. For those who don’t know, LeftLion is a bi/monthly (monthly as of October) arts and culture magazine in Nottingham that would not be possible without the free labour of local artists and writers. I’ve done ten years already. Yes, I know. You get less for murder…

The Scientist
The Scientist by Judit Ferencz

Another reason for including Judit is because she has done various illustrations for publishers and magazines and so was perfect for our book-loving project. In addition to illustrating for the Economist she has created book covers for Laughable Loves by Milan Kundera and Gun by Mark Haddon for Granta Britain and James Joyce reprints for Vintage.

Judit is great at conveying stories within a story and this is most evident in the film reels for our Alma Reville chapter where Kerrie-Ann Hill, the feisty protagonist of Nicola Monaghan’s The Killing Jar, meets Mrs Hitchcock in a disused library now functioning as an illegal rave. What I love about these drawings is people who have read Nicola’s debut novel will know they refer to key scenes in the book. But if you haven’t read it, there’s enough detail there for you to imagine her life.

Judit has also created her own graphic novel The Scientist (see top of the blog), which won a silver medal at the 3×3 illustration proshow, and expanded into shop window fronts, such as Ridley Café and the Invisible Line Gallery. If those drawings don’t lure you in I don’t know what will. Dawn of the Unread will be visiting this shop very soon and will report back.

Photograph by Judit Ferencz

A good book always leaves a little to the imagination so that the reader has some investment in the story. Judit’s beautiful line-cut drawing style strikes that balance perfectly. I love her drawing of Kerrie-Ann Hill dancing with her partner at an illegal rave. I love the grin and the jutting elbows and the simplicity of bodily movement. Go check it out for yourself.

‘Psychos’ by Nicola Monaghan and Judit Ferencz was published on 8 August 2014. You can read it here


#KickLeftLion: The importance of local magazines


In the noughties people from Nottingham were so poor that they used to eat each other. Sometimes they did this for fun. There was at least one hundred shooting per day, everyone was permanently hammered, and the average IQ was 11 (pushed up thanks to folk from West Bridgford). Of course none of this is true but it felt like it was due to negative headlines in the media. At one point we were ‘Shottingham’, on account of some sporadic shootings, as well as binge capital of Britain (labels we addressed in our first issue)

Sex and violence.

It all happened here.

Yeah, right.

Three men from Nottingham were irritated by these negative stereotypes and so set up LeftLion, an arts and culture listing magazine that is somewhere between Time Out and Viz. For nearly ten years now I’ve sweated my guts out for this bi-monthly rag and never been paid a penny. I’ve done it because you have to shape the kind of city you want to live in. If other publications aren’t doing their job, do it for them. Get meh?

I mention this because LeftLion is now threatening to go monthly if successful with a Kickstarter campaign started on 16 August. If we raise our goal of £10,000 then that means I will have to give up even more of my free time. The money raised will pay for the extra editions and to help widen our distribution. LeftLion is completely funded through advertising and has never received any form of grant or funding. So it’s about time we asked you lot to dip your hands into your pockets.


As the Literature Editor I have organised spoken word events such as Scribal Gathering, bringing the likes of Chester P to Nottingham, literature podcasts, mini festivals such as The Canning Circus Festival , taken the piss out of Damien Hirst at the British Art Show at the ‘Tempreh, as well as created and developed the WriteLion brand, which at present dedicates two pages to poetry and literature. We have our own literary cartoon in Readers’ Wives (see above) and after discovering that Katie Price outsold the Booker Shortlist created Katie Half-Price reviews. But our primary aim is to support and promote local events at every opportunity. For example, we feature reviews of the entire shortlist for the East Midlands Book Award as well as interviews with the featured authors. Who else does this locally? With a readership of around 40,000 we easily offer more exposure to books and poetry than specialist publications.

Three of our featured artists in Dawn of the Unread have illustrated articles in LeftLion in the past: Judit Ferencz who helped create our current comic Psychos; Rikki Marr, who is working with former LeftLion editor Al Needham on our Bendigo chapter; and Steve Larder, who will be working with Alan Gibbons on our Geoffrey Trease comic.

All of our commissioned writers (except Kevin Jackson) have either written for LeftLion or had their work reviewed in it at some stage. I met our script editor Adrian Reynolds after interviewing him in the mag, and Aly Stoneman, who writes about Ms. Hood, is the LeftLion Poetry Editor. LeftLion are also a partner with Dawn of the Unread, and have lobbed over a bit of cash as well as offering discounted advertising, support through social media and just stuff.  So you can see why I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s blog to their (our) Kickstarter campaign.

Dawn of the Unread is a celebration of local literary history. It strives to support libraries and independent bookshops and any other organisation which helps promote reading. LeftLion is integral to this process and one of the few magazines actively dedicated to reviewing at least one self-published book, pamphlet or DIY zine per issue. They are integral to Nottingham’s current bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature as they demonstrate our thriving grassroots literary scene. It was LeftLion that started the ‘there is a lighthouse and it never goes out’ campaign, asking people to post pictures of themselves reading Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse to help support her Booker nomination.

But be under no illusion that the Kickstarter needs to be successful because it sends out the message that Nottingham demands quality, irreverent publications. If you like culture and chelp support it now. If you don’t know what chelp is, read LeftLion. And if you want the rest of the planet to think we eat our babies and have an IQ of 11, do nothing at all. VISIT THE KICKSTARTER PAGE HERE

Dawn of the Unread would like to thank two of our commissioned authors, Nicola Monaghan and Alison Moore, who have kindly donated lots of signed copies of their books to be given away as prizes in the Kickstarter campaign. I’d like to thank their publishers Salt and Vintage too. Nicola also appears in our Kickstarter promotional video.

LeftLion interviews with our authors.

Al Needham: Ray Gosling’s natural heir

Al Needham is one of the most gifted writers on the planet. His bawdy, irreverent observations of life in Nottingham have entertained listeners on BBC Radio Nottingham as well as readers of LeftLion magazine over the past decade. But like many talented writers he has the occasional pangs of self-doubt. This seems to be a particular affliction of freelancers who spend far too much time locked away in the garret peddling for work, without even a miserable Christmas do to look forward to.

When Al is not peddling for work he can be found pruning his many Bonsai trees, polishing his Golden Cock with wings (he won this for Todger Talk, the sex blog of the year), or watching episodes of Top of the Pops pre-1984. He believes that culture effectively stopped after 1984 (nothing to do with the book, telly just went rammel) so don’t be surprised to find TV Guides with Jim Bowen and Bullseye scattered around the house. He’s bought them off eBay. You’ve not entered a time portal.

Al exudes charisma and along with Andy Croft, is one of the funniest people I’ve met. Therefore he was born for the Bendigo chapter. William Abendigo Thompson was a flamboyant bareknuckle boxer who would taunt opponents with verse. He turned to prize fighting to provide for his family after the death of his father at fifteen and to save his mother from further time in the workhouse. When he retired he would turn to drink and find himself committed 28 times to the House of Correction.

Previous to Dawn of the Unread I commissioned Al to write about another hard-drinking icon of local legend, Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958). This was for The Sillitoe Trail which was published on BBC/Multimedia platform The Space.. In the novel, Arthur falls down the stairs of The White Horse pub after a skinful of ale and collapses in a heap at the bottom. I was interested in how Arthur would perceive modern day Nottingham, if, on awakening with a sore head, he found himself in the murky present. Al captured this beautifully in four short essays.

James Walker, Adrian Reynolds, Al Needham and Rikki Marr at an editorial meeting on Valentine's Day...hence the prop.
James Walker, Adrian Reynolds, Al Needham and Rikki Marr at an editorial meeting on Valentine’s Day…hence the prop.

In addition to this he also wrote an extended piece about his life story told through pubs. He visited the pubs of his youth, many of which had been frequented by previous generations of his family, and discovered that nearly all of them from the past 21 years had disappeared; becoming Tescos, playing fields, carpet shops and flats. It was an incredibly moving piece that showed how quickly the symbols of his life – the 18th birthday, the wedding reception, the wakes – had been completely eradicated.

This led to a similar commission with Inside Out which is broadcast tonight (BBC1 7.30pm, 17 February 2014) where Al examines the role of pubs in binding communities together. If you watch this short documentary you’ll notice Al’s ability to engage with ordinary people, make them smile, and getting them to talk about things that are important to them. It is a quality that has long since been missing on the screen since the passing of Ray Gosling, of whom Al is his natural heir. I just hope that some commissioning editor out there recognises this because it would be absolutely criminal to let his talent rot, though I’m sure the Bonsai tress won’t complain…

For Dawn of the Unread, Al Needham and Rikki Marr will be bringing Bendigo back to life for a fight with Carl Froch in the spirit of DC Comics Superman vs Muhammad Ali (1978) The chapter is released on 8 October 2014 


Tunnel vision: The 5th Duke of Portland

Photographs of T.C. Druce, 1860s Source wikipedia.

The aristocracy of Nottinghamshire has produced more than its fair share of mad gets over the centuries and it’s time to celebrate the most sartorially challenged of them all, The 5th Duke of Portland. Andrew Graves (Mulletproof Poet) gives us a little insight into his chosen literary figure for Dawn of the Unread as well as a poem. If ever there was a figure perfect for a graphic novel it’s Willy Cavendish…

Apparently, only the rich are afforded the luxury of being truly eccentric in this country; the rest of us poor boggers have to make do with being a bit mental. But as eccentrics go, you can’t get much more entertaining than the late great 5th Duke of Portland: failed politician, underground phantom, sartorial nightmare and proper Notts nutter.

The Duke, otherwise known as William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, spent much of his life residing at the once-impressive Welbeck Abbey, taking up the title of Duke when his father died in 1854. Although no-one has been able to pinpoint the beginning of his strange behaviour, certain historians believe it stems from the period up to the assumption of his duties; not only was he shunted up the pecking order upon the sudden death of his older brother, but his one and only marriage proposal was knocked back by the actress Adelaide Kemble.

Whilst his early military career had been nothing less than honourable, his life in the political arena – as a Tory MP for King’s Lynn – had been a notorious disappointment. With a mid-life crisis looming and all other toff-related avenues explored and blocked off, there was nothing else for it but to devote time and money into being a full-time mentalist.

The first thing one would have noticed on the rare occasions that the Duke sallied forth from Welbeck Abbey was his appalling dress sense; it would have had the Victorian equivalent of Gok Wan reaching for his pistol. On a good day, he would wear up to three frock coats – yes, all at the same time – and his wig-encased head would be topped with a two foot-tall stovepipe hat. He would also fasten pieces of string around his ankles, for no apparent reason, finishing off the ensemble with the application of false beards and moustaches.

The Duke’s obvious discomfort with the outside world – there were rumours, never confirmed, of him suffering some sort of skin condition – manifested itself in the extreme lengths he went to in order to remain hidden from the general public. His extremely put-upon valet was the Duke’s sole conduit to the outside world, with tasks ranging from nipping over to Worksop to collect the racing results by telegraph to acting as the go-between for the Duke and his doctors, who were denied actual physical contact with him. Various ailments and symptoms were communicated to the doctors, and the recommended treatments would be sent back.

Predictably, and probably unfortunately for him, he was the biggest employer in the area. He was actually seen as a very decent gaffer for the times, with his workforce being treated and paid well (and being gifted with free umbrellas, something the Duke carried with him whatever the weather), as long as they didn’t look, point at or touch their boss. One worker made the mistake of saluting his painfully shy employer and was sacked on the spot. He also built an ice-rink for his staff, and was extremely narked when it wasn’t used. According to the records of a relative, the Duke “wished his housemaids to skate, and if he found one of them sweeping the corridor or stairs, the frightened girl was sent out to skate whether she wanted to or not”.


The true legacy of the Duke was, by far, his insatiable mania for building projects. He went on a huge rebuilding binge at the Abbey, adding a peach wall that stretched for a thousand yards. a ballroom (that was never used), a mirror-lined riding stable with 4,000 gas lights (where overfed mares grew fat through lack of exercise), and a miniature railway network. What’s more, much of his additions were all built underground, linked by a secretive network of dimly lit tunnels. His subterranean obsession made it difficult to cope with those who – strangely – preferred walking on the ground, in daylight. “Here have I provided for you at enormous expense a clean pathway underground, lighted with gas too, and you will persist in walking above ground”, he said, in a rare outburst.

Even his death – in 1879, in London, at the age of 79 – was bestowed with the Tales of the Unexpected treatment, in the shape of the infamous Druce Case, when it was claimed that not only had he lived a double life as an upholsterer called Thomas Druce, but he’d fathered kids who were, in effect, the heirs to the dukedom. That particular episode took twenty years to clear up and was exposed as false. When the 6th Duke of Portland took residence at the Abbey after his uncle’s death, amongst other things he found hundreds of unframed masterpieces, crammed haphazardly around the edges of the riding stable. There was also an impressive Gobelin’s tapestry which, according to Catherine Caulfield’s book The Man Who Ate Bluebottles and Other Eccentrics, was ‘rolled up and packed with peppercorns in an old tin box’. Whether barmy, reclusive, or simply a rebel with an urge to build, the 5th Duke of Portland remains a truly unique local legend.

by Mulletproof Poet
beneath the weight of a century
and its spare change seasons
beneath the jet fighter trails
a future and reason
wrapped in ambiguity
and garments of wire
the house that never rests
welcomes or smiles

where tunnels spread as arteries
pulsing under woodland skin.
where bleeding gaslight scabs old wounds
and long forgotten things
where ghosts of obese horses
stare always at themselves
where no dancers waltz to memories
and distant church bells

where time takes a holiday
and masterpieces hide
to consider their tin box options
of oil based suicides
a recollection of a workforce
digs deep and shields its eyes
and chambermaids skate eternally,
carving stories in the ice

where authorities of silence
command the passages of age
cursing lonely circumstance
and a name scrawled on a page
where a duke found no peace,
company or home
but a necessary labyrinth,
a forever in which to roam

Mulletproofpoet’s website

Welbeck Estate website

This article was originally published in LeftLion