Some of Sillitoe’s 1958 novel was originally written as short stories. Now we have a new one, in comic form. The words come from James Walker, the pictures are from Carol Swain, and the techie bits are done by Paul Fillingham.
In this new chapter Alan Sillitoe is asked to try and help save libraries and get us reading but he won’t return while there’s a Toff government. Instead he sends us his working class creations Colin Smith (from The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner) and Arthur Seaton (from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning). Amid the Nottingham history and paraphrasing of Sillitoe’s masterpieces they encounter Ray Gosling before Seaton heads for the pub, traditionally a place of books and learning (honest). What will Seaton make of social media? Will beer and gin still be playing hide-and-seek in his gut? And what is Blakey from On the Buses doing there?
Following the comic is a video exploring the work of Alan Sillitoe and how Arthur Seaton symbolises the spirit and identity of Nottingham.
Dawn of the Unread is an interactive graphic novel that is available across all media platforms (iPad, Android, iPhone, website). It was launched on National Libraries’ Day (8 Feb 2014) as a 16 part serial and finishes on 8 June 2015. Literary figures from Nottingham’s past (real and fictional) return from the grave to visit the city as it is today. There’s a zombie theme with our poorly read nation the zombies in need of saving. Keeping our great history alive and bringing our heritage to a new readership falls on the shoulders of local contemporary writers such as Alison Moore and Nicola Monaghan. Each commissioned writer has a different local icon to feature, and each chapter has a place of reading (library, archive or bookshop) at the centre of the narrative.
The chapters come out monthly and each one ends with the chance to join the Unread Library as there are optional tasks to attempt, with scores recorded on a virtual library card and the chance to feature as a character.
It’s a big project that has involved about 100 NTU students and provides much more than the comic stories. There are ‘how to’ videos at the end of each comic and loads of hidden content like essays about the characters involved that should engage many different demographics. Think of the comic’s story as the shop window, the Brian Clough if you will, with the hidden content being the goods in the back, the Peter Taylor.
Is this project needed?
Promoting our literary heritage is important but Dawn of the Unread is taking on a more important challenge: falling literacy levels. Our libraries are having their funding slashed, bookshops are struggling (I’m told Waterstones only survived because of the money they made from Fifty Shades of Grey), and our city’s schools are propping up the tables. So how can we promote reading where it is needed the most, for the young? And why should we?Young people read, they do, but the way they read has changed. Take the short attention span of the MTV generation and let them breed, then add new technology and social media to the mix and you get toady’s YouTube generation. They have different ways of learning. They like their information in bite-sized chunks (less character-driven, more in 140 characters or fewer) and highly visual. Ebooks have helped but being digital isn’t enough. If you can’t beat computer games, join ‘em… Dawn of the Unread also uses social media, Tumblr and Instagram, embedded links, visual storytelling, video, Apps, and modern means of communication to engage younger readers. And once you have their attention you have a chance. Nottingham people are proud of their city’s legends, when made aware of them, and piquing an interest can lead to the reluctant book reader finding out more.
Books have an image problem so far as the young are concerned, particularly teenage boys. Books, however rebellious or controversial, are seen as boring. Changing that assumption is important. There’s a lot at stake. Chancellor Gideon (he prefers George as it doesn’t make him sound like a toff) Osborne deliberately baffles us with his contradictions in a world of increasing inequality. Many blindly swallow a media agenda that has us blaming benefit guzzling immigrants and lazy NHS workers. Generating a pride in our literary history and its defiance creates a wonderful marketing tool for writing, reading and thinking.
Our schools are fast becoming academies and free schools, run by local employers or religious organisations, producing doers and followers instead of thinkers. Does the government want a nation of readers, knowing that it encourages thought?
I think it was Aristotle that said ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’ He would have liked Nottingham folk and our literary legends. Questioning the accepted, challenging authority, standing up and shouting out, all qualities associated with our history. All qualities enhanced through reading. And if it takes zombies and digital technology to create new pathways to literature then great.
Dawn of the Unread is suitable for 13 year olds and all people over that age.
The comic includes ‘embedded’ content providing additional context to the story: A photo essay of a 3 year interview with Ray Gosling
A photo essay of Nottingham’s history of defiant individualism in literature
A modern Arthur Seaton standing up for Pussy Riot (voice by Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods)
A unique library bus service in Nottingham which picked up kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Neil Fulwood on The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
The history of the White Horse pub
Paying homage to the opening drinking scene in the novel with the Fish Man
The history of Operative Libraries in Nottingham
An Arthur Seaton video game with local hobbyist David Roach