Writing and psychology: the key to writing a great story

Once upon a time

Books and literature are entwined with human culture. Reading brings with it a touch of magic, saves us time, and turns us into citizens of the world. But when it comes to literature, we tend to think only of those books that we have enjoyed, or those we know have sold well, or those that form the literary canon. Of course we know, somewhere in our minds, that there are also countless other books and stories out there, sitting unread or unpublished, or still swirling around the minds of aspiring writers. So how do stories make the grade and leave a mark in our minds or our culture? What, in other words, makes a great story?

We know that some have taken a scientific approach to answering this question. For others, like Zadie Smith, it has less to do with science, and more to do with “the truth”. It is a question that has been asked – and answered – in different ways for generations, and in 1986, the great Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner weighed in with his own ideas.

Bruner had precedent when he wrote his essay collection Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, which explored the role of the mind in creation of creative works. Two decades previously, he had pioneered the modern study of creativity in the 1960s, and his collection of essays On Knowing suggested creativity was entwined closely with “passion”. This, he said, “like discriminating taste, grows on its use. You are more likely to act yourself into feeling than feeling yourself into action.”

The ideas incepted then stayed with him all those years, evolving in his own creative mind. In one immensely insightful piece from Actual Minds, titled “Two Modes of Thought”, Bruner writes:

“There are two modes of cognitive functioning, two modes of thought, each providing distinctive ways of ordering experience, of constructing reality. The two (though complementary) are irreducible to one another. Efforts to reduce one mode to the other or to ignore one at the expense of the other inevitably fail to capture the rich diversity of thought.

Each of the ways of knowing, moreover, has operating principles of its own and its own criteria of well-formedness. They differ radically in their procedures for verification. A good story and a well-formed argument are different natural kinds. Both can be used as means for convincing another. Yet what they convince of is fundamentally different: arguments convince one of their truth, stories of their lifelikeness. The one verifies by eventual appeal to procedures for establishing formal and empirical proof. The other establishes not truth but verisimilitude.

[…]

A story (allegedly true or allegedly fictional) is judged for its goodness as a story by criteria that are of a different kind from those used to judge a logical argument as adequate or correct.”

For writers, it’s interesting to note how Bruner highlights the way storytellers are primarily concerned with the question of how to endow experience with a meaning; and points out the vital distinction between truth and meaning. Scientists find ways to come at a binary truth, which leaves their minds closed and narrow; storytellers explore different “truths” and realities in order to discover new ways of looking at the world, and encouraging readers to do the same – even though there is no single answer; and indeed, only ever countless possibilities.

Bruner contrasts the two modes, which he calls the paradigmatic or logico-scientific, and the narrative, arguing that each is animated by a different kind of imagination:

“The imaginative application of the paradigmatic mode leads to good theory, tight analysis, logical proof, sound argument, and empirical discovery guided by reasoned hypothesis. But paradigmatic “imagination” (or intuition) is not the same as the imagination of the novelist or poet. Rather, it is the ability to see possible formal connections before one is able to prove them in any formal way.

The imaginative application of the narrative mode leads instead to good stories, gripping drama, believable (though not necessarily “true”) historical accounts. It deals in human or human-like intention and action and the vicissitudes and consequences that mark their course. It strives to put its timeless miracles into the particulars of experience, and to locate the experience in time and place.

[…]

In contrast to our vast knowledge of how science and logical reasoning proceed, we know precious little in any formal sense about how to make good stories.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that story must construct two landscapes simultaneously. One is the landscape of action, where the constituents are the arguments of action: agent, intention or goal, situation, instrument, something corresponding to a “story grammar.” The other landscape is the landscape of consciousness: what those involved in the action know, think, or feel, or do not know, think, or feel.”

Looking at the specific, unique landscape of narrative, Bruner writes:

“Narrative deals with the vicissitudes of human intentions. And since there are myriad intentions and endless ways for them to run into trouble — or so it would seem — there should be endless kinds of stories. But, surprisingly, this seems not to be the case.

[…]

We would do well with as loose fitting a constraint as we can manage concerning what a story must “be” to be a story. And the one that strikes me as most serviceable is the one with which we began: narrative deals with the vicissitudes of intention.”

Crucially, Bruner notes that this “intention” will forever be beyond the control of the storyteller or writer; for it belongs solely to the reader (or readers) of the work itself. Just as Sylvia Plath observed that a poem, once made available to the public “belongs to the reader”, so is all art and storytelling, Bruner contests. And he considers how the psychology of this interpretation factors into the question of what makes a great story:

“It will always be a moot question whether and how well a reader’s interpretation “maps” on an actual story, does justice to the writer’s intention in telling the story, or conforms to the repertory of a culture. But in any case, the author’s act of creating a narrative of a particular kind and in a particular form is not to evoke a standard reaction but to recruit whatever is most appropriate and emotionally lively in the reader’s repertory. So “great” storytelling, inevitably, is about compelling human plights that are “accessible” to readers. But at the same time, the plights must be set forth with sufficient subjunctivity to allow them to be rewritten by the reader, rewritten so as to allow play for the reader’s imagination. One cannot hope to “explain” the processes involved in such rewriting in any but an interpretive way, surely no more precisely, say, than an anthropologist “explains” what the Balinese cockfight means to those who bet on it… All that one can hope for is to interpret a reader’s interpretation in as detailed and rich a way as psychologically possible.”

Making a great story, therefore, relies upon a reader’s interpretation of it. It is down to a reader to make a text their own, and extract meaning from it in a way they find suitable. Bruner illustrates this using an extract of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which Marco Polo describes a bridge to Kublai Khan (stone by stone).

‘“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks.

“The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.”

Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.”

Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”’

On this, Bruner reflects that this extract itself can be used as an allegory to explain the key to great storytelling:

“But still, it is not quite the arch. It is, rather, what arches are for in all the senses in which an arch is for something — for their beautiful form, for the chasms they safely bridge, for coming out on the other side of crossings, for a chance to see oneself reflected upside down yet right side up. So a reader goes from stones to arches to the significance of arches is some broader reality — goes back and forth between them in attempting finally to construct a sense of the story, its form, its meaning.

As our readers read, as they begin to construct a virtual text of their own, it is as if they were embarking on a journey without maps — and yet, they possess a stock of maps that might give hints, and besides, they know a lot about journeys and about mapmaking. First impressions of the new terrain are, of course, based on older journeys already taken. In time, the new journey becomes a thing in itself, however much its initial shape was borrowed from the past. The virtual text becomes a story of its own, its very strangeness only a contrast with the reader’s sense of the ordinary. The fictional landscape, finally, must be given a “reality” of its own — the ontological step. It is then that the reader asks that crucial interpretive question, “What’s it all about?” But what “it” is, of course, is not the actual text — however great its literary power — but the text that the reader has constructed under its sway. And that is why the actual text needs the subjunctivity that makes it possible for a reader to create a world of his own.”

How does one write a great story, then? Simply perhaps, by reading the great stories of others. As Bruner writes: “the great writer’s gift to the reader is to make him a better writer.”

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#Blink! A new Twitter contest for writers

Writers! Twitterers! Creatives! Social Media Gurus! There’s a new competition just for you.

The fabulous literary publisher and resource for writers, Tethered By Letters, has launched a new Twitter contest.

If you think you can tell a story in 140 characters or fewer, TBL want to hear from you!

Every two weeks, an acclaimed judge will choose the winning story. The winner will receive a free digital copy of F(r)iction, and potential publication of the Tweet in a future issue of F(r)iction.

Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it! Tweet your tiny narratives using the hashtag #BlinkTBL, and be sure to check the @TethrdByLettrs and @FrictionSeries Twitter pages for start dates, deadlines, and judging info!

 

10 Writing Rules from Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith

Writing, and advice for writers on how to write, is the topic of so many internet articles and forums. There can, at times, be a feeling that writers spend more time talking about writing and how to do it than they spend actually, well, writing.

Yet of course there’s a balancing act between ‘going at it’ and writing for the sake of writing, and learning what one can about the craft from those who have devoted their entire lives to the cause. As such, there remains inherent value in listening to the wisdom of great writers and working out which of their tips are the most suited to our own writing skills, habits and routines.

In 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked authors for their personal lists of dos and don’ts. We’ve gone through the full list, and here bring you some timeless counsel from one of the great writers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Zadie Smith.

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your “vocation.” You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle.’ All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

 

If you’ve enjoyed Smith’s mix of practical, philosophical and poetic advice on writing, why not check out some of the other great pieces of advice from literary greats? And, while you’re at it, send us your own writing tips – how do you write? What gets you through each chapter? Let us know in the comments below.

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Poets on poetry – poems for the soul

cursive handwriting

The importance of poetry, and the innate, natural beauty of it has been acclaimed for generations. JFK wrote that poetry was “the means of saving power from itself, for when power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

Yet the ability to write poetry is also known as being incredibly difficult. Elizabeth Bishop, former Poet Laureate of the United States, said it was “an unnatural act”, which took “great skill to make it seem natural. Most of the poet’s energies are really directed toward this goal: to convince himself (perhaps, with luck, eventually some readers) that what he’s up to and what he’s saying is really an inevitable, only natural way of behaving under the circumstances.”

Poet and journalist, Rishi Dastidar, meanwhile said that writing poetry was “a patient game”; and that it was a fine balancing act between being “a post-modern Casanova” and “on a bad day: a failed post-modern Casanova.”

So what exactly makes a good poem? What makes a good poet? And, ultimately, what’s this poetry business all about, anyway?

This #WorldPoetryDay, we’ve brought together a collection of some of the best quotes about poetry – by poets, for poet – to try and make the day more than a Twitter #Hashtag and into more of a real celebration of what poetry is, and what it ultimately does for the human soul.

Enjoy!

 

  1. William Wordsworth

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.”

 

  1. Robert Graves

“A perfect poem is impossible. Once it had been written, the world would end.”

 

  1. H. Auden

“A poet must never make a statement simply because it sounds poetically exciting; he must also believe it to be true.”

 

  1. Percy Byshhe Shelley

“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”

 

  1. Rita Dove

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.”

 

  1. Lucille Clifton

“Remember that the first poems didn’t come out of a classroom. Poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, “Ahhh.” That was the first poem.”

 

  1. Virginia Woolf

“Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”

 

  1. Plato

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.”

 

  1. Robert Frost

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”

 

  1. Charles Darwin

“If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.”

 

  1. Charles Bukowski

“Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.”

 

  1. Vincent van Gogh

“I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”

 

  1. Emily Dickinson

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that it is poetry.”

 

  1. John Keats

“Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by a singularity – it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.”

 

  1. Salman Rushdie

“A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, to start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.”

 

 

Of course, these are but a few of countless thoughts on the subject of poetry. Which ones are we missing? Let us know in the comments below!

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Bad Sex In Fiction Awards: The Connoisseur’s Compendium

Spasming muscles, groans, whispers, licked ears, sweat, bucking, otherwise central zones: if you hear those terms, you know you can be only be reading about one thing: the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, a prize established 23 years ago by the Literary Review.

Each year since 1993, the Bad Sex in Fiction Award has honoured an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel. The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.

The Award was established by Rhoda Koenig, a literary critic, and Auberon Waugh, at that time editor of Literary Review.

Because we wouldn’t want you having to sift through the archives, we’ve brought you this: a compendium of all the winning entries, featuring extracts of the very best bad sex in fiction. Enjoy!

 

1993: Winner – Melvyn Bragg’s A Time to Dance – “the ram of sex”

“We came together, do you remember, always tenderly, at first standing, like a chivalric introduction to what was to be a voluptuous sensual battle? Just stood and kissed like children, simply, body to body, skin to skin, you slightly stirring against me, myself disregarding for those seconds the ram of sex aching below.

And then we would be on the bed and I touching you, hungry. Eyes closed, fingers inside you, reaching into the melting fluid rubbered silk – a relief map of mysteries – the eager clitoris, reeking of you, our tongues imitating the fingers, your hands gripping and stroking me but also careful not to excite too much. […] and so I would fuck you gently and then more strongly and finally thrust in hard and suddenly let everything go. “Slam into me,” you used to say. “how you just slam into me!”

 

1994: Winner – Phillip Hook’s The Stonebreakers – “mad mobile sculpture”

“His hand set out on a magnificently daring journey across limitless expanses of thrillingly unfamiliar flesh, exulting in the possession of unknown territory. He traced an exploratory path from the nape of her neck, over her breasts, under her straining buttocks

 […]

Soon they were no longer bodies on a bed. They became some mad mobile sculpture manipulated this way and that in the throes of its own creation; two forms in search of positions of perfect linkage.

 

1995: Winner – Phillip Kerr’s Gridiron – “gnomon”

“Quickly he threw off his own clothes and rolled on top of her. Detaching mind from over-eager gnomon and its exquisitely appointed, shadowy task, he began to make love to her.

When they had finished they lay under the sheet and watched TV. After a while Mitch glanced at the gold Rolex submariner watch on his wrist.

‘I ought to be going,’ he said.”

 

1996: Winner – David Huggins’s The Big Kiss: An Arcade Mystery – “Squeaked like wet rubber”

“’Stick it in’, she whispered. I moved up the bed and pushed inside her. Liz squeaked like wet rubber. She grabbed my love-handles and ground her hips against me, her eyes black saucers staring into mine as she hooked a yoga-leg onto my shoulder. We went through a medley of our favourite positions. When Liz saw that I was about to shoot my blob of Lo-Cal genetics she turned onto her stomach, lifting her arse to get a hand to her clitoris and chase me to an orgasm. She made it just in time.

We lay panting with the sweat cooling on our bodies.

Things were better between us after that but it didn’t last long.”

 

1997: Winner – Nicholas Royle’s The Matter of the Heart – “making a noise somewhere between a beached seal and a police siren”

“But Ambrose banished the thought and reached for a condom. Yasmin grinned and writhed on the bed, arching her back, making a noise somewhere between a beached seal and a police siren. And then he was there. Slowly at first, dead slow – she liked that, he knew. Then speeding up gradually to gain a rhythm until he was punching smoothly in and out of her like a sewing machine. Her noises increased in volume until she was producing a throaty ululation.”

 

1998: Winner – Sebastian Faulks’s Charlotte Gray – “a means to some vague, profounder union”

“It seemed incredible to her that this bodily feeling was so specific, when her purpose in it all was to use the act only as a means to some vague, profounder union, far removed from flesh and sheets and physical sensation. Meanwhile her ears were filled with the sound of a soft but frantic gasping, and it was some time before she identified it as her own.”

 

1999: Winner – A.A. Gill’s Starcrossed – “like a cigar”

“His tongue is long and hard and tastes of mint. We don’t say anything, but he pushes me to my knees in the middle of the shop. It’s difficult to undo his flies. I put my hand in. It’s hot and damp, and then, Christ; it’s amazing, huge. It just goes on and on, as thick as…’

‘As a magnum? A jeroboam? A methuselah? A bitter pump?’

‘A fucking salami. Shut up, John.’

***

‘…he takes his clothes off until he’s just wearing his boots. I hook my nails into his really taut bottom and he pumps and nearly chokes me.’

‘How did he get his trousers off over his boots? I mean, does he take his boots off and put them back on again?’

‘Shut up. I pull my dress off and I’m naked. He reaches down and roughly grabs me between the legs. I can feel his long, bony finger slip inside me. His thumb slides into the crack of my bottom and lifts me like…’

‘A bowling ball? A six-pack?’

‘Like I was light as a feather.’

***

She got to his cock and stuck it between her teeth like a cigar.”

 

2000: Winner – Sean Thomas’s Kissing England – “his dinky little JVC”

“It is time, time … Now. Yes. She is so small and compact and yet she has all the necessary features … Shall I compare thee to a Sony Walkman, thou art more compact and more – She is his own Toshiba, his dinky little JVC, his sweet Aiwa … Aiwa, aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh …”

 

2001: Winner – Christopher Hart’s Rescue Me – “like Sir Ranulph Fiennes”

“Her hand is moving away from my knee and heading north. Heading unnervingly and with a steely will towards the pole. And, like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Pamela will not easily be discouraged. I try twitching, and then shaking my leg, but to no avail. At last, disastrously, I try squeezing her hand painfully between my bony thighs, but this only serves to inflame her ardour the more. Ever northward moves her hand, while she smiles languorously at my right ear. And when she reaches the north pole, I think in wonder and terror….she will surely want to pitch her tent.”

 

2002: Winner – Wendy Perriam’s Speak Softly – “a seductive pin-striped foreskin”

“She closed her eyes, saw his dark-as-treacle-toffee eyes gazing down at her. Weirdly, he was clad in pin-stripes at the same time as being naked. Pin-stripes were erotic, the uniform of fathers, two-dimensional fathers. Even Mr Hughes’s penis had a seductive pin-striped foreskin.”

 

2003: Winner – Aniruddha Bahal’s Bunker 13 – “the Aryan denominator”

“Her breasts are placards for the endomorphically endowed. In spite of yourself a soft whistle of air escapes you. She’s taking off her trousers now. They are a heap on the floor. Her panties are white and translucent. You can see the dark hair sticking to them inside. There’s a design as well. You gasp.

‘What’s that?’ you ask. You see a designer pussy. Hair razored and ordered in the shape of a swastika. The Aryan denominator…

As your hands roam her back, her breasts, and trace the swastika on her mound you start feeling like an ancient Aryan warlord yourself…

She sandwiches your nozzle between her tits, massaging it with a slow rhythm. A trailer to bookmark the events ahead. For now she has taken you in her lovely mouth. Your palms are holding her neck and thumbs are at her ears regulating the speed of her head as she swallows and then sucks up your machinery.”

 

2004: Winner – Tom Wolfe’s  I am Charlotte Simmons – “otorhinolaryngological caverns”

“Hoyt began moving his lips as if he were trying to suck the ice cream off the top of a cone without using his teeth … Slither slither slither slither went the tongue, but the hand that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns.”

 

2005: Winner – Giles Coren’s Winkler – “like Zorro”

“And he came hard in her mouth and his dick jumped around and rattled on her teeth and he blacked out and she took his dick out of her mouth and lifted herself from his face and whipped the pillow away and he gasped and glugged at the air, and he came again so hard that his dick wrenched out of her hand and a shot of it hit him straight in the eye and stung like nothing he’d ever had in there, and he yelled with the pain, but the yell could have been anything, and as she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath, she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times, in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro.”

 

2006: Winner – Iain Hollingshead’s Twenty Something – “bulging trousers”

“I can feel her breasts against her chest. I cup my hands round her face and start to kiss her properly. She slides one of her slender legs in between mine.


“Oh Jack, she was moaning now, her curves pushed up against me, her crotch taut against my bulging trousers, her hands gripping fistfuls of my hair.


“She reaches for my belt. I groan too, in expectation. And then I’m inside her, and everything is pure white as we’re lost in a commotion of grunts and squeaks, flashing unconnected images and explosions of a million little particles.”

 

2007: Winner – Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest – “as soft as a coil of excrement”

“Then she was on him. She did not know if this would resuscitate him or end him, but the same spite, sharp as a needle, that had come to her after Fanni’s death was in her again. Fanni had told her once what to do. So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One – that she knew. From there, the impulse had come. So now they both had their heads at the wrong end, and the Evil One was there. He had never been so close before.

The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. it surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.”

 

2008: Winner – Rachel Johnson’s Shire Hill – “like a cat lapping up a dish of cream”

“JM’s hands are caressing my breasts, now, and I am allowed to kiss him back, but not for long, for he breaks off, to give each breast the attention it deserves. As he nibbles and pulls with his mouth, his hands find my bush, and with light fingers he flutters about there, as if he is a moth caught inside a lampshade.

Almost screaming after five agonizingly pleasurable minutes, I make a grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside, but he holds both by arms down, and puts his tongue to my core, like a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop. I find myself gripping his ears and tugging at the locks curling over them, beside myself, and a strange animal noise escapes from me as the mounting, Wagnerian crescendo overtakes me. I really do hope at this point that all the Spodders are, as requested, attending the meeting about slug clearance or whatever it is.”

 

2009: Winner – Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones – “a soft-boiled egg”

“Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair. She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn’t even bother to lower her panties, just pushed the lace to one side and spread her buttocks with both hands: in the slit, nestling in hair, her anus gently contracted. I spit on it. ‘No,’ she protested. I took out my penis, lay on top of her, and thrust it in. She gave a long stifled cry. I was crushing her with all my weight; because of the awkward position – my trousers were hindering my legs – I could only move in little jerks. Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: ‘I’m going to pull the lever, I’m going to let the blade drop.’ She begged me: ‘Please, fuck my pussy.’ – ‘No.’ I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.”

 

2010: Winner – Rowan Somerville’s The Shape of Her – “it tore a climax out of him”

“Naked from waist to toe, a faint wedge of paleness from a few hours of sun, streaked with shadows in the candlelight; the triangle of pubic hair, blond, a thin line bunched darkly, like desert vegetation following an underground stream. He placed his hand on the concave stretch that was her belly, letting two fingers rest in the yawn of her navel. He slipped downwards, grazing the tight skin of her waist with his fingertips. He reached her hair line and the muscles of her belly hardened as she raised herself up onto her elbows. She stayed his hand and drew him, yanked him, into a smothering kiss. She released his hair from her fingers and twisted onto her belly like a fish flipping itself, her movement so brusque his chin bounced off her head.

He grasped the side of her hips, pushed her away and pulled her to him with a slap. Again and again with more force and velocity. Tine pressed her face deeper into the cushion grunting into the foam at each thrust.

The wet friction of her, tight around him, the sight of her open, stretched around him, the cleft of her body, it tore a climax out of him with a final lunge. Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.”

 

2011: Winner – David Guterson’s Ed King – “the family jewels”

“In the shower, Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap. After a while he shut his eyes, and Diane, wielding her fingernails now and starting at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels, the other vigorous with the soap-and-warm-water treatment. It didn’t take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch.”

 

2012: Winner –  Nancy Huston’s Infrared – “a delirium of restrained desire”

“In a delirium of restrained desire, I weigh, stroke and lick Kamal’s balls, then take his penis in my hands, between my breasts, into my mouth. He sits up, reaches for me and I allow him to explore me in turn. He runs his tongue and lips over my breasts, the back of my neck, my toes, my stomach, the countless treasures between my legs, oh the sheer ecstasy of lips and tongues on genitals, either simultaneously or in alternation, never will I tire of that silvery fluidity, my sex swimming in joy like a fish in water, my self freed of both self and other, the quivering sensation, the carnal pink palpitation that detaches you from all colour and all flesh, making you see only stars, constellations, milky ways, propelling you bodiless and soulless into undulating space where the undulating skies make your non-body undulate…”

 

2013: Winner – Manil Suri’s The City of Devi – “statisticians the world over rejoice”

“Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.”

 

2014: Winner – Ben Okri’s The Age of Magic – “the universe was in her”

“When his hand brushed her nipple it tripped a switch and she came alight. He touched her belly and his hand seemed to burn through her. He lavished on her body indirect touches and bitter-sweet sensations flooded her brain. She became aware of places in her that could only have been concealed there by a god with a sense of humour.

Adrift on warm currents, no longer of this world, she became aware of him gliding into her. He loved her with gentleness and strength, stroking her neck, praising her face with his hands, till she was broken up and began a low rhythmic wail … The universe was in her and with each movement it unfolded to her. Somewhere in the night a stray rocket went off.”

 

2015: Winner – Morrissey’s The List of the Lost – “the otherwise central zone”

“At this, Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.”

 

2016: Winner – Erri De Luca’s The Day Before Happiness – “my body was her gearstick”

“My prick was a plank stuck to her stomach. With a swerve of her hips, she turned me over and I was on top of her. She opened her legs, pulled up her dress and, holding my hips over her, pushed my prick against her opening. I was her plaything, which she moved around. Our sexes were ready, poised in expectation, barely touching each other: ballet dancers hovering en pointe.

She pushed on my hips, an order that thrust me in. I entered her. Not only my prick, but the whole of me entered her, into her guts, into her darkness, eyes wide open, seeing nothing. My whole body had gone inside her. I went in with her thrusts and stayed still. While I got used to the quiet and the pulsing of my blood in my ears and nose, she pushed me out a little, then in again. She did it again and again, holding me with force and moving me to the rhythm of the surf. She wiggled her breasts beneath my hands and intensified the pushing. I went in up to my groin and came out almost entirely. My body was her gearstick.”

 

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Who needs “Millennial Advice” columns when you’ve got a long-lost 350 year old book about young people?

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‘A Guide To The Childe And Youth’. 

Everywhere you look these days, people seem to be talking about the youth. The youth have it pretty bad. They have sky high rents and miniscule wages because young people don’t vote for neoliberal capitalists, but neoliberal capitalists have all the power. They have to work harder than any previous generation because all the older generations left them so much stuff to do. They have a dying planet they have to work out how to save, because all the older generations loved fossil fuels too much and didn’t like the thought of doing anything differently. So, they’ve got a lot on their plate.

But of course we also know that young people – “Generation Y” or “Millennials” – are self-entitled, arrogant, lazy and prone to whining about the fact that they have no jobs, no prospects, nowhere to live, etc. etc.

And we also know that the youth “are the future” (to quote every school head teacher). And millennials are being more than a little disruptive to the way businesses and government try to deal with everything.

Because of this, there are more than a few columns printed at an increasing rate across the interwebs. They range from giving Millennials “twenty things to do in their twenties” (did you see what they did there?), to telling them where to live, through to telling them not to be single if they want any chance of not dying in poverty.

All of which is good advice probably/possibly/maybe not/definitely not/what are you talking about that’s not good advice? (delete as appropriate to your world view and current living circumstances).

Yet when there is such a plethora of advice out there, it can be hard to work out exactly what to do, especially for aspiring creatives. Which articles should writers, artists, photographers, illustrators, comedians and just normal members of Gen Y pay attention to? Which should they ignore?

Our advice? Ignore all of them. None of them say anything that hasn’t been said before (even this hasn’t been said before; Thucydides beat us to that almost 2.5 thousand years ago).

More importantly, none of them say anything better than a recently unearthed 350 year old book in North Staffordshire.

The leather-bound book, currently held at Keele University Library, was first published in 1667 – one year after the Great Fire of London. Titled A Guide for the Childe and Youth, it’s target demographic is perhaps a little younger than the twenty-somethings currently stepping out blinking into a world spiralling toward economic, humanitarian and environmental disaster. Yet the book still teaches valuable life skills that the cash-strapped, asset-poor Millennial could do with knowing.

Indeed, the book’s several chapters on “How to work out a sum of money and count up the pence” are probably of far more practical use to the youth of today than Guardian advice columns telling them to “fall in love 10 times a day, or at least have sex”.

Fortunately, Millennials won’t have to travel to Keele University Library to check out the sole existing copy of this marvellous little book. The university is planning to make A Guide for the Childe and Youth digitally accessible, so Millennials can read advice on how to prepare for “a life of trade-based work” on their smartphones as they commute to their unpaid internships.

Disappear Here – Coventry Ringroad Made New

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Disappear Here Logo: designed by Emilia Moniszko

Disappear Here is a project that aims to bring together nine writers and nine film-makers to make a series of films about the Coventry ringroad. We are currently crowdfunding start-up support to get the project off the ground and, to-date, we are almost half-way to our target figure of £1000.

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‘Untitled’ by Adam Steiner. This image first appeared in Foxhole magazine, Vol. 2.

The challenge of Disappear Here is to bring together artists of different stripes, some more experienced practitioners, others up and coming and hungry; native Coventrians and people who might be coming to the city for the first time and seeing it with fresh eyes; expressing the human aspect of what is so commonly seen as an inhuman structure, another one of HRH Charles’ “concrete monstrosities” – by way of contrast, witness the faux-Kensington banality of his ideal housing estate, Poundbury – but it is also fair to say that few near-monolithic concrete structures inspire such intense feelings of love and loathing.

But there is a positivity to the project. As much as it is anything, Coventry Ringroad is an archetype of reinvention. Each time the same A4053 road, but every journey around it different. It is the eye through which Coventry is (notoriously) seen, and can be seen, from above and below; a looping horizon where tarmac sea and brilliant blue sky meet and form a sinew of shuffling perspective. Here is one of the first videos we created a test-run for the Disappear Here concept – Antony Owen – The Dreamer of Samuel Vale House:

Having spent many hours, day and night, circumnavigating (traipsing about) Coventry ringroad, I became fascinated with its welcoming overhang of proud underbelly. The swell of concrete, the gross lump of potential energy as mass is a perpetual question – round and round, enacting flux, but arriving at no answer, generating only questions.

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Photography by Adam Steiner.

Coventry is an ex-working-class city, chock-full with post-industrial grit from crumbling fire of red brick, after many of its 70s, 80s and 90s industries successively closed down. As such, the city has become an affordable and welcoming haven for artists with a burgeoning community of creative and socially-conscious practitioners – there is a story to be told there. I think the people and the city’s physical attitudes speak to this, guarded but protective. As both defensive wall and encircling stranglehold – the ringroad echoes this taut insularity, but also provides us with a blank canvas for reimagining public space. I think this push/pull reflex makes for an interesting tension as to how we define a city and its search for its centre.

It’s an irony that the creation of the ringroad brought about a series of displacements (the least of which being the destruction of the childhood home of errant Coventrian poet, Philip Larkin, more rightly, of Hull) that sought to unite and focus the city as shopping precinct, promenading arcades and preservation of ruins and sites of heritage, including the Coventry Baths Elephant, a modernist beast of epic girth that was sadly not granted listed status and is due for demolition.

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Photography by Adam Steiner

But in place of fear, new generations of artists, eager to look beyond the apparent greyness of concrete, swept-up in the internationaliste fervour of post-Situationist post-Ballardian psychogeographic dogma that has voraciously absorbed hipsters/Brutalism/Iain Sinclair/The Guardian/Shoreditch wankers/Will Self with gruff uniformity of common interest – thus what’s brute is automatically beautiful (Milton Keynes?) – but each will have their own stories to tell – whether they are born-and-bred citizens, London ex-pats, outsiders or newly-arrived to the city (unlike other UK centres, Coventry has a strong reputation for inclusively welcoming and embracing immigrants and refugees a la Two-Tone). There is an argument that the self-loving lust of interstices and abandoned spaces (ruin porn) has become insular and in its own way alienating, which is where Disappear Here has a fresh perspective around urban space, to aggravate as much as analyse the good, the bad and the less deceived of Coventry ringroad.

As Larkin identifies in his poem, Here, so many modern cities share a history and formation of modernist town centres as well architectural and town-planning follies, such that they could be mistaken for one another. For me, this makes many themes of Coventry ringroad universal to citizens across the UK (and the rest of the world), both as physical space and in the social make-up and attitudes of its population. In spite of its relatively small size, Coventry is one of the most diverse cities in the UK which is something to embrace in the relatively niche world of poetry films; an emerging medium that is highly adaptable in creating impressionistic, conceptual films, or more straightforward narrative performances, often clocking-in at under 5 minutes. The mercurial nature of a written poem then read or performed alongside visuals is actually a highly-accessible medium as it breaks down barriers of language and can be enjoyed on many levels.

So, if you want to see alternative histories, new beginnings and the creation of unique poetry/film collaborations about Coventry ringroad (and future cities) please support the fundraising campaign, submit your pitches once the project is launched and SHARE and disseminate our propaganda:

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Disappear Here | Indiegogo

Facebook – Disappear Here

About the author of this post

Disappear Here is a project created by Adam Steiner, an artist who co-founded the Coventry-based not-for-profit publisher, Silhouette Press and Here Comes Everyone magazine back in 2012, as well as holding various literary events across Coventry, including the Fire & Dust poetry open-mics at The Big Comfy Bookshop (Fargo).

Trends in publishing: books, data, and Big Brother analytics

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Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

Giving up five chapters into a book? You’re not alone. Newly published data by Jellybooks shows that 90% of people reading e-books gave up after only five chapters.

Jellybooks, a reader analytics company based in London, mined troves of data collected from e-books to discover more about the reading habits of “e-readers”.

The company is hoping to sell its analytics work to publishers, helping them produce books their readers read from cover to cover (and not abandon 50 pages in).

While readers of traditional print books can read how they want, when they want, as much as they want and where they want without being tracked by a profiteering corporation, readers of e-books are not so fortunate, as Jellybooks can track your reading behaviour in the same way Netflix knows what you binge-watch and Spotify knows what you listen to (and what you don’t).

But it’s not all bad news for fans of e-books. Jellybooks offers readers a group of free e-books, often before publication. Rather than asking readers to review these books, it tells them to click on a link embedded in the e-book that will upload all the information the device has recorded.

It is this information that shows analysts what books people are reading, when they are reading, and how long they spend reading. It tells them how far readers make it through a book and how quickly they read, among other details.

The process resembles how e-book retailers, like Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble, are able to track reader trends by looking at data stored in e-reading devices and apps. Therein lies the less good news for fans of e-books; as Amazon et al are getting all their valuable data and information automatically, with no need to offer readers a free e-book in exchange for their data.

The service offered by Jellybooks could prove invaluable to major publishing houses whose focus lies in traditional print publishing. Yet initial published research may prove hard reading for publishers.

The majority of readers, it turns out, finish fewer than half the books they are given to read. Women are the most persevering of readers; typically lasting between 50 – 100 pages before they give up on a text, while men are much quicker to judge; quitting after just 30 or so pages.

What does this mean for the book industry?

As this New York Times article noted, publishers can use the findings of Jellybook’s data to shape their marketing plans; withdrawing funding from books that readers don’t like, and putting it into books that readers love.

Yet for writers, there may be concern that publisher’s editorial decisions will increasingly be informed by metrics and data, which may somewhat miss the point of what literature is actually for. What is more, the readers who participate in data studies like those conducted by Jellybooks may be unrepresentative of the real, “average reader”. And writers may also fear the relatively small sample sizes of Jellybook’s studies – of groups between 200 and 600 readers – may distort the picture and misrepresent the reactions of a more general, larger audience.

Readers may not feel comfortable with the Big Brother image of some unknown figure essentially reading over their shoulders. While those that sign up for Jellybooks actively consent to having their data tracked in exchange for free e-books, the worry surely comes from the knowledge that e-book retailers like tax-dodging Amazon are doing this – and have been doing this – relatively under the radar, and without getting any direct consent from the readers they are monitoring.

The NYT article points out that “regular e-book readers might not realise that digital retailers are recording and storing their data.” Yet is this necessarily surprising? In our increasingly heavy digital world, analytics and data are transforming the way companies operate. We might not like the thought, as human beings, of being reduced to a set of numbers and percentages, yet we don’t seem inclined to do very much about it.

Of course, while fans of TV series and music may have to accept that their every action is being watched as they stream shows and songs, book fans don’t have to worry: as there is a very real and simple alternative to the e-book.

The humble print book has been with us for generations. And it still does a pretty good job. As the author Jonathan Franzen said: “The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now. So no wonder the capitalists hate it. It’s a bad business model.”

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring.”

“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

 

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Henry James vs H.G. Wells: Write Off!

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Henry James

HG Wells

H.G. Wells

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrated author E.B White once asserted that writers “do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.” Yet the idea of what the true “role” for writers and artists is – or if there even is one – has been debated for centuries. Galileo, for instance, suggested that the artists’ role was “to communicate his deepest thoughts to another person”.

Many of us will have been party to debates that attempt to define the purpose of the artist and the creative works they produce. How useful is literature? What is it for? What is the purpose of writing? What is the point of art?

Few of us will have participated in such thorough debates as the one held between two giants of literature a century ago.

Wells vs James: fight (with words)!

Indeed, in 1915, Henry James and H.G. Wells, both men champions of free speech, both known for their social commentaries and strong political views (James is often described as a reactionary and social conservative; Wells described himself as a socialist), and both were absolutely committed to contrasting opinions on the purpose of art and literature.

These differences in opinion are, fortunately for us, preserved to this day thanks to the written word the two men argued so much about. Indeed, it is fascinating to see captured in written form a division within creative culture and between creative practitioners that continues to this day.

James first wrote to Wells  in friendship – declaring his admiration for the emerging writer and telling him he was “the most interesting ‘literary man’ of your generation; in fact the only interesting one”. Yet James, who had previously described the act of creativity as being “an intimate restlessness of projection and perception”, soon changed his tune as he realised that Wells – a trained biologist known best for his science fiction – considered himself more than anything a journalist, and measured writing by its usefulness and practicality.

In 1915, these core differences were laid bare a year before James’s death, when Wells published a satirical novel – Boon – in which he parodied James’s writing and caricatured his writing style as a hippopotamus trying to pick up a pea in a corner. Wells argued that James “never discovered that a novel isn’t a picture … that life isn’t a studio.”

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Illustrations from Boon. More at Project Gutenberg

Had one artist attacked another with such a sideswipe in today’s digital culture, we might expect an instant, albeit brief and perhaps less-than-dignified rebuttal, from the accused via Twitter. However, in 1915, James took the time that so often seems absent in today’s Instaworld to compose a much more considered defense using the timeless, humble medium of the postal letter. Within this letter, James argues that the artist is ultimately beholden only to one measure of success and purpose: the “fullness of life and the projection of it, which seems to you [Wells] an emptiness of both.”

Wells responded thoroughly. The pragmatist to James’s creative idealism:

“To you literature, like painting, is an end, to me literature like architecture is a means, it has a use. Your view was, I felt, altogether too prominent in the world of criticism and I assailed it in lines of harsh antagonism. And writing that stuff about you was the first escape I had from the obsession of this war. Boon is just a waste-paper basket. Some of it was written before I left my home at Sandgate (1911), and it was while I was turning over some old papers that I came upon it, found it expressive, and went on with it last December. I had rather be called a journalist than an artist, that is the essence of it, and there was no other antagonist possible than yourself. But since it was printed I have regretted a hundred times that I did not express our profound and incurable contrast with a better grace.”

Despite Wells’s wish that the two authors might express their differences with “better grace”, James took affront and responded in outrage. He forthrightly condemns Wells’s view that writing and literature must be, above all else, created for a specific purpose:

“My Dear Wells

[…]

Your comparison of the book to a waste-basket strikes me as the reverse of felicitous, for what one throws into that receptacle is exactly what one doesn’t commit to publicity and make the affirmation of one’s estimate of one’s contemporaries by. I should liken it much rather to the preservative portfolio or drawer in which what is withheld from the basket is savingly laid away.

[…]

have no view of life and literature, I maintain, other than that our form of the latter in especial is admirable exactly by its range and variety, its plasticity and liberality, its fairly living on the sincere and shifting experience of the individual practitioner. That is why I have always so admired your so free and strong application of it, the particular rich receptacle of intelligences and impressions emptied out with an energy of its own, that your genius constitutes… For myself I live, live intensely and am fed by life, and my value, whatever it be, is in my own kind of expression of that.”

James concludes his rebuttal with a final retort against the notion of art as some perfunctory thing.

“I absolutely dissent from the claim that there are any differences whatever in the amenability to art of forms of literature aesthetically determined, and hold your distinction between a form that is (like) painting and a form that is (like) architecture for wholly null and void. There is no sense in which architecture is aesthetically “for use” that doesn’t leave any other art whatever exactly as much so; and so far from that of literature being irrelevant to the literary report upon life, and to its being made as interesting as possible, I regard it as relevant in a degree that leaves everything else behind. It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process. If I were Boon I should say that any pretence of such a substitute is helpless and hopeless humbug; but I wouldn’t be Boon for the world, and am only yours faithfully,

Henry James”

Where do you stand on the debate between James and Wells? What is the purpose of art? What is the purpose of the writer? Let us know in the comments below!

Some of the most incredible libraries in the world

Long before we had smartphones, laptops and the seemingly limitless expanse of the internet, libraries were the place to go when you wanted to learn everything about anything. Yet seemingly gone are the days when libraries would be crammed full of students desperately trying to fill their minds with knowledge when exam week came about, or entrepreneurs with new business ideas would roam around the business section gathering scraps of knowledge from each book, collecting notes as they went. An aspiring pilot now doesn’t have to go out of his way and make it to the Aviation section to pore over books on the history of flight and aerospace design.

You get the point…

Despite these changing times, libraries remain a magical place. Loved by so many, they have drawn praise from artists, writers, scientists, politicians – described by astronaut Neil Armstrong as being fundamental to all human achievement. Part of their power surely lies in what they represent: infinite knowledge stacked up high on shelves, labyrinths of books, enough to overwhelm even the most diligent imagination – knowing that each and every weighty tome was produced with love, care and passion by the author. And all this accessible for free, through the awesome power of the humble library card.

The importance of libraries absolutely cannot be emphasised enough, they are after all ‘The ideal sanctuary for books’. What is more, they play a vital role for writers; and are integral to our collective cultural desire to read.

So, we’ve done you a solid.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of a few interesting and unique libraries from across the world. In no particular order, we hope they inspire you.

Trinity College Library – Dublin

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Trinity College Library – photo by Max, via Flickr 

Located in the heart of Dublin, and the walls of it’s prestigious college, lies the Trinity College Library. A place which instils wisdom, inspires the artist and motivates the architect. Built back in 1592, the structure is not only beautiful to look at, but a true marvel of architecture. The high shelves hold roughly six million volumes, ranging from Mathematical Engineering to Geology. A vast collection of maps, manuscripts, journals and sheet music are also stored. Utterly priceless.

Bedales Memorial Library

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Bedales Memorial Library – photo credit George Wilson via Flickr

Designed by Ernest Gimson and Built in 1921, The building is regarded as truly one of the best Arts and Crafts building in the country and is Grade 1 listed. The vast hall, complete with small nooks and comfy cushions by the windows, high shelves covering two floors and a balcony is home to some twenty six thousand volumes, four thousand of which are said to be works of fiction. A small film was dedicated to the library, which can be found here.

Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination 

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Walker Library – Image Courtesy of WALKER Digital

Now this, dear reader, may be the most interesting thing you have seen all day. Perhaps all week. This ‘Library’ deserves an entire feature to itself, but to do so accurately, and to give this place any justice at all, one would need to travel there and see it in the flesh.

Housing not only a vast collection of somewhere in the region of 50,000 tomes, this ‘library’ is more of a museum. Tucked away in the many nooks and crannies are rare and interesting artefacts ranging from 45 million year old cat sized dinosaur fossils to a full set of glass eyes. The Russian Sputnik space probe to century old anatomical etchings. The facility is heavily inspired by invention, innovation and science with some serious Juxtaposing; An Apple II computer sat next to the first typewriter. Books bound in rubies and laced with gold are hidden away, treasures to be found only by the worthy.

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Cat sized dinosaur – photo courtesy of WALKER Digital

The high walkways are glass bottomed. The illuminated, colour-changing glass panels are etched with scientific and astrological symbols and from the M.C Escher inspired maze like staircases right down to the ‘Tumbling Block’ Floor pattern – Again, M.C Escher – the true design of the place is breathtaking and enough to make your ‘jaw hit the floor’ like an old cartoon.

Unfortunately, the wonderfully designed building is an extension to Jay Walkers home in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and is subsequently off limits to the general public.

Calais Migrant Library – Livres de la Jungle

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Not your traditional Library, this masterpiece was set up by British teacher, Mary Jones, who lovingly dubbed it ‘Jungle Books’.

Ms Jones began taking books up to the library a few years back, but decided she could and would do better.

Turns out, she did just that.

Since it began, she hasn’t only managed to stockpile hundreds of books, but also board games, generators and a 4G internet router. A router isn’t useful without a device to search the web – so, by popular demand, Ms Jones also managed to source a few laptops. This way, the frequent visitors to the library, which is housed in a makeshift shed, can do online research, use translations tools and even Skype loved ones. She listened to what the people of The Jungle required and delivered; making a real difference.

Ms Jones has said the library isn’t just a place for books; but a place for people. Where people with nothing can go to learn and to read. To interact and inspire themselves. It’s a place which will make life slightly more bearable for refugees fleeing their homes and countries from the devastating effects of war. Though the library is being overwhelmed with donations of books, there is emphasis on books in the native language of the refugees.

Unfortunately, recent events drove the occupants of The Jungle to set fires to their camp in an attempt to stop demolition experts from levelling the shanty town. According to Ms Jones, the fires,fed by the blowing winds, came dangerously close to the Library. She also stated that she didn’t mind taking it down if the frequent users of the library moved on and found asylum. It has served it’s purpose and she seems happy. If and when Jungle Books gets destroyed, she hopes another will be set up.

We do too.

To support Jungle Books, feel free to contact Mary Jones at maryjones@orange.fr.

The Klementinum library – Czech Republic

 

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Klementinum Library – photo via Disclose.TV

A true beauty, and a seemingly rare jewel hidden away in the deepest darkest depths of Prague. The Klementinum Library was opened in 1772 as the place of learning and knowledge for the Jesuit University. Jesuit being ‘Society of Jesus’. They founded schools and universities, colleges and places of research – cultural pursuits.

The fantastic and beautiful looking building  houses close to twenty thousand books. Some of the rarer scripts in the native Czech language have been carefully removed and taken to to be scanned, so as to be made available to us all at a laptop near you.

The ceiling was painted by the artist Jan Hiebl, and with an astonishing level of detail, appears at first glance to be vaulted with a windowed roof. This is all a clever illusion to create the appearance of space and light; but, from the right angle, even the most diligent observer might be fooled for just a second. The beautiful varnished and spiraling shelves house a number of interesting and knowledgeable reads. A balcony on two levels overlooks the main hall, lined with ornate globes and gold leaf pillars.

This place is truly a beauty, and if you’re ever in Prague – Czech it out!

The library of the future

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We’ve seen some of the magnificent places in which treasure troves of knowledge, culture and literature are housed. But where will our books be housed for future generations? In Norway, The Future Library has been set up as a 100 year project by Scottish artist Katie Paterson.

From 2014 until 2114, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished for up to 100 years. Each writer has the same remit: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

The manuscripts will be held in trust in a specially designed room in the New Deichmanske Public Library opening in 2019 in Bjørvika, Oslo. Intended to be a space of contemplation, this room – designed by the artist – will be lined with wood from the forest. The authors’ names and titles of their works will be on display, but none of the manuscripts will be available for reading – until their publication in one century’s time. The library room design is in collaboration with Lund Hagem Architects and Atelier Oslo.

If you’ve been inspired by some of these incredible buildings, why not head over to your local library. You could use it to finally read those books you haven’t read (even if you say you have) or maybe some delightfully odd poems about carrots. Whatever you do, make sure you sign up for our newsletter – a free, regular digest of everything interesting.

About the author of this post

Ben Garland is an aspiring writer of novels, short stories and, when he feels particularly inspired, the occasional screenplay. Based in the UK, he’s inspired by the written word on page and on screen. A blogger and news writer for Nothing In The Rulebook, Ben can be found most days and nights by his typewriter. He Tweets at @BenGarland8