#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.


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!


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.


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.





#MondayBlogs: NEW The 5th Duke of Portland

At long last we can finally share our new version of issue 8: Duke and Disorderly which tells the story of a posh duke with a very long name: William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (17 September 1800 – 6 December 1879). I wanted this story changed for two reasons: Firstly, the original narrative was over crammed with information which made it difficult for our target audience to follow. This is my fault because I wanted certain things including (the parallel lives of Sarah Winchester and the Duke represented by their respective building projects and influential father figures; the Archduke Ferdinand shooting incident).


Secondly, the focus was too much on the two young characters in the story and not enough about the Duke of Portland. When you’re producing a monthly digital comic you get caught up in the flow of deadlines and it’s only as a project develops and more content comes in that you realise exactly what it is you want to achieve. I wanted the stories to have more literary facts, such as David Belbin and Ella Joyce’s Shelves (Stanley Middleton) and Kevin Jackson and Hunt Emerson’s D.H Lawrence Zombie Hunter. The below panels are examples of how we added text and images to build up a more comprehensive biography of the Duke.

duke stuff

Bottom left panel: We were able to add additional biographical facts about the roller skate rink, ballroom and observatory by linking to the books. The drawing on the right is new too.

duke with text

Originally this panel had no text. Now it gives info about the Duke as well as explaining why Ben (the character being run over) is on the Duke’s land.

There were too many characters in the original story and so the first thing we had to do was sharpen the reader’s focus. We did this on page 8 by removing the two characters in the top left panel and introducing Suzy and her new meathead boyfriend. This meant they appeared throughout the page and became more significant to the narrative. The additional text helped us introduce bullying to the story.

dinner time montage


We introduced a new character towards the end, a young black girl who Ben hooks up with. She is the opposite of Suzy and likes reading, which fit better with the overriding theme of Dawn of the Unread. Again, this meant erasing peripheral characters so that the reader could focus on key characters.

Point 1: Is the original page and has no text and too many characters.

Point 2: Originally had a random girl taking a photo. This was changed to the black girl taking the photograph (3) as it enabled us to introduce her into the bottom panels.

Blk girl montage

We had to redraw the last two panels to sharpen up the narrative. In the previous pages we had seen how money has had a damaging effect on the Duke of Portland and Sarah Winchester. Now we could demonstrate that Ben had learned something and therefore isn’t tempted to sell his signed book on eBay.


All of our comics include a small animation (again, this was something that was decided latterly). In this issue I wanted the inside of a trench from WWI to turn red to represent blood. This was vital in the rewriting of the story as it helped better link Sarah Winchester and the Duke of Portland as additional text added later on discusses the Duke’s love of the colour pink.

red trench

The red blood slowly fills the trench on this page.

pink duke

This is the linking panel on the following page. I’d like the pictures on the wall to disappear too as later on in the narrative we discuss how the Duke got rid of pictures.

The writer for our Duke of Portland issue is Andrew Graves who has been shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards for his spoken word show God Save the Teen. I’ve seen it three times, and I hope he wins because he’s a brilliant writer who is able to blend compassion, wit and politics so that you leave feeling a host of emotions.

There’s also good news regarding playwright Nick Wood, who wrote an embedded essay for us about his hopes of one day staging an adaptation of Mick Jackson’s Duke inspired book The Underground Man.  It’s coming to the Nottingham Playhouse later this year.

You can read the new Duke of Portland issue 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.

#MondayBlogs: The Nottingham Essay – Slavomir Rawicz

In Dublin today representatives of the 20 UNESCO Cities of Literature are gathering to have a good old natter about what the status means to them and how they are defined through their literary heritage. Nottingham’s representative is David Belbin, Chair of the City of Literature team. In exactly one month today (23 June) there will be a national custody battle to decide who gets ownership of the UK. Both of these issues can be understood in terms of literature, in particular Slavomir Rawicz, but I’ll come back to this in a minute.

Dawn of the Unread was at the heart of Nottingham’s UNESCO City of Literature bid in so many ways. We highlighted Nottingham’s incredible literary legacy; we positioned illiteracy as a form of child abuse; we demonstrated digital innovation through storytelling across multiple platforms; and we consistently promoted other organisations at every opportunity.

I mention this as plans for a part II have been in progress for the past year and I am now finally ready to put forward an arts council bid after securing various match funding and partner organisations. Collaboration is at the heart of everything I do and this underpins the ethos driving the UNESCO Creative Cities network. This is in stark contrast to the linear views of Michael Gove, who is spearheading the ‘leave’ campaign for the Brexit debate. To quote D.H Lawrence, I don’t want to “stuff newspaper in your ears.” You can make your own mind up about Europe. Instead I’d like to turn to Slavomir Rawicz, the author of The Long Walk who featured back in Issue 2 of Dawn of the Unread.


Chinese student Weng Wa, Si Tou

Rawicz features in our ‘Nottingham Essay’ series which are now available on our Youtube channel. The essays were originally published in LeftLion magazine when I ran articles for one year about why we deserved UNESCO accreditation.  Since then, I’ve been working with Nottingham Trent University students who have been creating photoessays as part of a Humanities at Work placement. The Rawicz essay has been visualised by a 2nd year media studies student called Weng Wa, Si Tou (Coco). Coco (above) is a Chinese student and so it’s been really interesting working with her as she has no cultural frame of reference for European history and so adding images to the audio has been very difficult. But hasn’t she done a good job, mixing humour with facts to guide the viewer through the talk.

Rawicz famously escaped from a Russian gulag camp in 1941 and eventually found freedom. His story was recently turned into a film called The Way Back (2010) and starred Colin Farrell. Rawicz is one of many Polish people who eventually settled down in Nottingham, something that would not be possible if Britain votes to come out of the E.U. Rawicz recorded his incredible story in the ghost written memoir The Long Walk, a book which caused much debate as some people argued that it was inaccurate and was perhaps a composite of other stories. Whatever the truth, it’s a story of hope and endurance which has universal appeal, hence why it has shifted millions of copies.


When Michael Gove was the education secretary he had a parochial view of literature, removing John Steinbeck and Harper Lee from G.C.SE reading lists. Books which got millions of kids reading, including myself. This infuriated Graham Joyce (whose daughter Ella collaborated with David Belbin for issue 14 of Dawn of the Unread) and he started a petition for Gove’s removal which attracted over 110,000 signatures. Now Gove wants us out of Europe altogether.

I will reiterate once more in the simplest language possible. Dawn of the Unread featured the story of a Polish immigrant called Slavomir Rawicz. His story has been turned into a photoessay by a Chinese student embracing British history as part of her studies. Dawn of the Unread takes Nottingham’s literary history as a means of encouraging people to read and feel proud of their history. Nottingham is one of 20 cities around the world using literature as a means of finding commonality rather than difference with each other.

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 – Crosswords open mic night


Since we’ve become a City of Literature there seems to be a new spoken word event popping up every week. But we’re really excited about Crossroads, not least because it takes place in the the Malt Cross, a Grade 11 listed building in Nottingham with a Victorian Music Hall. Organiser Leanne Moden explains more…

Crosswords is a new spoken word open mic night, which was established in Nottingham in December 2015. Host and organiser Leanne Moden founded Crosswords after taking a heritage tour around the Malt Cross pub, where she fell in the love with the sandstone caves underneath the building. This spooky subterranean venue now plays host to Crosswords shows every second Wednesday of the month, and it’s probably the quirkiest poetry night in town!

Leanne says “After moving to Nottingham in the summer of last year, I was looking for the opportunity to set up a new event, having loved hosting Fen Speak, the spoken word night I ran in Cambridgeshire. I wanted to recapture the sense of community that I’d found working as a compere on the open mic scene, and I also wanted a chance to showcase all the talented performers I have met since I started working as a poet in 2010.

“Part of the reason for wanting to start my own night was purely selfish – it’s a brilliant way to make new friends in a new city! And, if I’m honest, having access to such an amazing venue is also a big part of the appeal. The caves are fantastic, and I think this unusual venue has really shaped the personality of Crosswords. There’s a weird sort of womb-like quality to the space, and that seems to make our audience even more open and supportive of all our performers. The vibe is relaxed and welcoming, and I think that’s why people enjoy coming along.”

As well as a range of spoken word open mic slots, Crosswords also promotes local talent, with a ‘featured performer’ appearing at each event.

“It’s really important to champion local talent,” says Leanne, “and there are loads of amazing spoken word artists in the East Midlands at the moment, so it’s a really exciting time to be a promoter. We’ve had some incredible talent on the stage so far this year, and we’ve got a great line-up planned for the rest of 2016.

“We’re also massively grateful to the Malt Cross, who have been so incredibly supportive. Their commitment to the Arts is completely phenomenal, and we really appreciate all they do to support these events.”

The next Crosswords open mic is happening on Wednesday 11th May, with a featured set from Leicester-based poet Shruti Chauhan! Shruti has performed across the UK and around the world, including events at the Royal Albert Hall, and the US Embassy’s American Centre in New Delhi. She also toured ‘Three the Hard Way – Part 2’ nationally with Jean Binta Breeze MBE and Lydia Towsey. She’s a Breakthrough Artist at Curve Theatre, Leicester, and is currently writing her first solo show.

Lydia Towsey was also a big part of Dawn of the Unread, coordinating a Leicester version of the comic in collaboration with Bright Sparks and the NHS called The Writings On The Wall. Lydia was also the host in a game of MasterBwainz at the 2015 Festival of Words, when dead writers were brought back from the grave and quizzed about their literary lives. Masterbwainz was an attempt to play around with the form of a spoken word event to find new ways to engage people with reading. Although there won’t be any bwain eating at Crosswords, you can enjoy my Zombie Love Song above to get you in the mood for our next event…

Arrive at the Malt Cross (St James Street, Nottingham, NG1 6FG) at 7:30pm on the night to book your five-minute open mic slot. The team love hearing poetry, prose, storytelling, a cappella singing, and monologues. Or you can just come along to listen – everyone’s welcome! Entry is £2 per person and refreshments are available.

For more information, check out the facebook group

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: The Masked Booksellers


Photograph: Mike Finn

For the last decade ExLibris, part of the Federation of Masked Booksellers, have been salvaging disregarded books and selling them to raise money for charity. In this guest blog Bob and Chris Cann explain that the wearing of masks is in homage to Victorian bibliophile Josiah Saithwaite and that books can really change people’s lives in many ways….    

For over ten years, Nottingham people visiting festivals and fairs, and sometimes even wandering Carlton streets, have encountered a stall selling second–hand books.  Maybe not so unusual, until they noticed that the books are very cheap and the booksellers are masked.  What’s going on?

ExLibris, the Masked Booksellers, are book-loving volunteers who can’t bear to see books thrown away.  And they’re aware that too many local good causes are under-funded, and that landfill isn’t infinite.  So, joining the dots, they began rescuing books – first, from libraries and charity shops that were disposing of them, and then also from increasing numbers of friends and well-wishers who had to clear houses or make space on their shelves.  Books were picked off pavements, out of skips, and on one occasion intercepted as they were being chucked, down at the dump. Then more were donated by friends of friends of friends.


Photograph: Mike Finn

ExLibrisers stored all these books in their Carlton home.  Their home (which is also the home of their own very substantial book collections) filled up.  And still the books kept coming.  Sometimes ExLibrisers would return home to find boxes and bags of books piled up outside their house.  Visitors had to sleep wedged in between boxes of books, and relatives complained.

Eventually, for storage reasons, certain categories of books could no longer be accepted,  ExLibris naturally started by rejecting anything by Jeffrey Archer.  Outdated travel guides and computer manuals and tatty books were added to the list, but it proved impossible to predict all the unwanted books that would arrive.  The list now has to include books about Nazi regalia and cookery books with bits of food stuck to them.  However some wildly unpredictable titles have been welcome and aroused curiosity.  A favourite was “The Mastery of Sex through Psychology and Religion”.

Of course, books were not only coming in.  They were offered for sale at very low prices (to be affordable to all) on stalls at festivals such as the Nottingham Green Festival and Lowdham Book Festival, where they were delivered by Polo with roofbox, and displayed under a gazebo.  But this system meant that only a tiny proportion of the stock could be displayed at any stall, and so the Carlton megasales began.

Once a year, in Carlton all around the ExLibris home, the entire stock is offered for sale. The megasales have grown from using just the front of the house and the front of the garage, to using every nook and cranny. Now books are displayed in the garden, in the front porch, in the back porch, in the garage, in the purpose-built shed, in the car boot, under cold frames and in a specially-bought toilet tent – anywhere that a book can reasonably or unreasonably be sold from.  And all books are categorised and sorted, to make it easy to find particular topics.  Saithwaite House (that’s the purpose built shed), was bought to store more books, and is the venue of the booksale café “Josiah’s” as well as somewhere else to display books during the megasales.

This year’s sale will be the tenth. The first megasale in 2007 raised £189.  The ninth in 2015 raised £2023.  With prices starting at 10p, that’s a lot of books rescued, and a useful contribution to good causes.  Since ExLibris’s first ever stall (June 2006, Green Festival, £116), £10,500 has been raised and donated to good causes, mostly local.

Two charities have been the main beneficiaries – Nottingham & Notts Refugee Forum’s anti-destitution work has received over £5,800.  Hayward House, caring for people at end of life, has received over £3,600.  Other beneficiaries have included Stonebridge City Farm, the Sumac Centre, School for Parents, the Sparrows’ Nest, Nottingham Green Festival, other refugee organisations and local food banks.


Over the years, there have been some very special book donations.  Bromley House Library donated some nineteenth century overstocks.  A local businessman and collector of first editions is a regular donor, giving away previous copies if he finds a better one.  The entire personal collection of the late Keith Leonard, Mushroom Bookshop co-founder, was donated by his daughter.  Many of the books belonging to Nottingham writer, activist and broadcasterRay Gosling were donated by his sister.  Some of these books are still in the stock.

This year the megabooksale becomes a megamegabooksale, and moves from autumn to spring.  The first was held on one day.  This soon expanded to a weekend, and then three days.  This tenth sale will be held over two weekends (seven days), so even books which can’t find shelf space to start with can be put out as other books are sold.

The 10th Annual Second Hand Charity Book Sale Weekends 2016 are again in aid of Nottingham & Notts Refugee Forum and Hayward House.

Since the last sale, hardly a week has gone by without a donation of quality books.  These include: books for children and adults; new, genre, unusual, modern and classic fiction; every non-fiction subject under the sun; local interest; books on leisure pursuits such as gardening, crafts and cookery; hardbacks and paperbacks and books in really beautiful bindings; superhero comics, music scores and maps; books in many languages; collectable books at much lower prices than online, and the odd really weird book that you wouldn’t believe could or should exist.

As it’s the 10th anniversary sale, there will be surprises and treats, such as a free raffle entry for people who come wearing a mask.  And again visitors will be able to take a break from their browsing to enjoy refreshments, including drinks and home-made cakes, in “Josiah’s”.  Budding artists will be encouraged to decorate the garden path with coloured chalks.  And anyone who wants is invited to bring a tin of vegetarian food, to be donated to local food banks.

Last year’s sale raised over £2000 for charities.  ExLibris hope to see the celebratory tenth sale raise even more.  There are certainly enough books to do this!

So, why the masks?  ExLibris follows in the tradition of maverick Victorian bibliophile Josiah Saithwaite, who, it is said, rescued and distributed books very cheaply to the poor workers of Manchester, but was always masked because he believed in “doing good by stealth.”

The tenth mega charity booksale started on Friday 29 April and will be at 16 Vernon Avenue, Carlton, Nottingham NG4 3FX, from 11am – 7pm. You can still catch it on these days: Monday 2 May, Friday 6 May, Saturday 7 May, Sunday 8 May. ExLibris on Facebook   ExLibris website 

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.