Mud, books, and Greek mythology: interview with David Henningham

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David Henningham 

When we first caught up with David and Ping Henningham, of Henningham Family Press, they had just been commissioned to make a major public arts contribution to the Central Hall of Artists in Moscow.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the duo behind this dynamic printing press are once again deep into an exciting new creative project – and getting knee deep in mud to do so.

‘Mud’ is the new book by Chris McCabe, which follows his debut novel, Dedalus, also published by Henningham Family Press (HFP).

The couple have been raising funds to support the publication of the book through a recently launched Kickstarter project. And yet, in typical HFP fashion, this is no ordinary printed book – but rather one that blurs the boundary between art and writing.

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‘Mud’ – the new book by Chris McCabe, published by Henningham Family Press

Described by the creative duo as ‘an Artists’ Book in exquisite handmade and paperback versions’, Nothing in the Rulebook caught up with David Henningham to find out more about the project.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about Chris McCabe’s new book ‘Mud’ – and what you’re planning on doing with it.

HENNINGHAM

Mud is a story re-imagining Orpheus & Eurydice in contemporary London. Borak and Karissa must find a bubble buried in mud, somewhere. Along their way into the Underworld beneath Hampstead Heath, to scour the 24 types of mud, they are followed by their film crew and its odious Director. As they chance upon bones, bricks and talking Moles, they must restrain themselves from throttling each other. And falling in love all over again.

We have begun a quest with Chris McCabe parallel to that of his characters underground; an addition to the conventional editing process. We’ve been collecting different types of London mud to use as pigments and salvaging a half-brick, involved in a car crash, to use as our printing block (the perfect metaphor for Borak and Kar’s relationship). We used the faces of the brick to cast Orphic shapes resembling thresholds, mounds and tunnels of the Underworld.

This process will produce three versions of the book that use the same printed pages:

  • High-quality Paperback
  • Deluxe Hardback, representing a mud type with unique limited edition print
  • Deluxe Hardback, representing a mud type, in solander box with unique sculpture

INTERVIEWER

Why Mud?

HENNINGHAM

I can’t answer that, except to say that the notion there are 24 types of mud has totally changed the way I see the world. I keep spotting muds with extraordinary colour or texture and thinking ‘we missed that one!’ I suspect that somewhere in there, this sensation that language variegates experience of the world is “why Mud”.

INTERVIEWER

In an era of digital publishing, amid the rise of e-books and audiobooks; how important is it, do you think, that as readers we return to the physical value books have and invest in printed copies? Do you see your production of hand-made books to be a revolt against artifice or digitalisation?

HENNINGHAM

No, digital technology makes book production and selling cleaner, quicker, cheaper and easier at every stage, which is the most important aspect to us. Our handmade books are enabled by digital technology.

Ebooks are just a copyright thing, they prevent creative opportunity in my experience, but audiobooks are interesting to us. We love moving texts into different creative forms. I like the fact that our books will be among the best someone will handle, and that there’s something you can only get from the book because that means it is a book that has fully exploited the form. But I’m not interested in dominating anything. If someone thinks books aren’t important to them, I’ll wave them on their merry way. If they don’t like stories, I refer them to a special watch list at the Dept of Culture, Media, Sport, Shopping and Lawnmowers.

INTERVIEWER

In your Kickstarter project, you say you believe artist-Writers shouldn’t just be producing radical words; but also radical means of production and distribution. Can you expand on this – is there a Marxist element to your publishing ethos?

HENNINGHAM

Not Marxist, although I’m sympathetic to the Socialist publishing aspirations of B.S. Johnson you can find in Jonathan Coe’s biography, and admire Marxist friends who find a way to navigate the book Market.

What I mean by it is that, instead of approaching the current system of commissioning and selling books and trying to publish books that will change the world, the system itself must be changed in the process. Take diversity. Rooms full of privileged people are saying “how can we publish more diverse writers?” I suspect it isn’t working because the system is token operated. Not only are the people in the room almost all privileged, they begin by saying “how can we help these people?” The Hogarth Press had a fantastic record on publishing women writers. Because of what it was, not because of any policy. So if you want to make a Press that publishes X kind of writing, you need to make a Press the shape that will produce that writing. Not a mini-Corporate.

INTERVIEWER

How can aspiring artists and writers – or newly established publishing houses – reclaim the means of production and distribution from the corporate behemoths who dominate the publishing (and indeed wider media) landscape?

HENNINGHAM

The difference is between big organisations and partnerships of smaller organisations. Become a member of a group of smaller organisations and work together cooperatively if you want to take on the corporates.

If you simply want to make a few things and get them out there, you just need to find the right printer (production) and attend DIY book or arts fairs (distribution).

INTERVIEWER

Can you talk us through the sensation of crafting one of your books – is there a connection, do you think, between publisher and physical book that goes beyond a desire to sell copies? And where does the line between art and writing collide and/or blur?

HENNINGHAM

When I’m binding I’m very much thinking with my hands. I’m sort of aware of language, and thoughts apparently located in my head, but mostly it’s my hands working almost independently. I also stopped thinking ahead much, I seem to know what to do next without planning.

Afterwards, for me, it’s about getting the fruits of that process as close to readers as possible, but I suspect most publishers aren’t approaching it this way. They have babies, while I’m more of a midwife. Or a sorcerer.

INTERVIEWER

In many ways, the focus your project places on words influencing the physical design of the book – as well as the structure and form – makes this a thoroughly modernist piece of art and writing; yet the source material for the novel is from Ancient Greek mythology. What is the relationship, do you think, between the classical and the modern? And how important are the works of literary figures like James Joyce to informing any such debate on this topic?

HENNINGHAM

Well as you suggest, Ulysses took myth as its structure and embedded it in modernity. We don’t get equally influenced by all world mythologies, though. Some ancient stories are simply bizarre to us. It’s not just that we’re used to Greek myths, there’s something recognisable about the people and gods in them, and the themes, such as metamorphosis, we carry with us.

In the Penelope section at the end of Dedalus (his sequel to Ulysses), I suspect Chris McCabe wrote a kind of manifesto for himself, about writing myth. If so, he’s delivered in spades with Mud.

INTERVIEWER

Can anything ever be truly ‘new’, ‘modern’, or ‘unique’?

HENNINGHAM

It’s interesting to push it to the other extreme; to try making something the opposite of unique. It will always have this stubborn singularity.

INTERVIEWER

What’s been your experience of using Kickstarter to support your project? What role do crowdfunding models have to play in the current publishing and artistic sectors?

HENNINGHAM

We have been able to share our excitement around a project while we are still genuinely excited about it. Marketing afterwards is fun, but it’s more about sustaining that excitement and sharing a finished product. Involving people in the process and having a way of updating them as we make things for the book changes it too. The rewards structure has obliterated the barrier between our trade and handmade versions.  

Quick fire round!

INTERVIEWER

Modernism or post-modernism?

HENNINGHAM

Modernism

INTERVIEWER

Curl up with a book or head to an art gallery?

HENNINGHAM

Book

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

HENNINGHAM

Cult classic

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated writer/artist?

HENNINGHAM

Such a contested field! Agota Kristoff? Or I’d like to see Darker With The Lights On by David Hayden (which was acclaimed in the small press world) accepted wholeheartedly by mainstream booksellers and readers.

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated writer/artist?

HENNINGHAM

Again, such a contested field! J.K Rowling. So slow and clunky. Magic for people who don’t like to be surprised. Why bother. Ctrl+v Diana Wynne-Jones.

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think people should know more about?

HENNINGHAM

British Viceroy Robert Bulwer-Lytton was a famous poet and responsible for the deaths of between 6 and 13 million Indian subjects in the Late Victorian period.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

HENNINGHAM

Drawing road-markings made Doug’s handwriting taller.

INTERVIEWER

What 5-10 pieces of advice can you give to people thinking of exploring crowdfunding as a means of getting their writing or artwork out there?

HENNINGHAM

  • Get advice and key questions from their representatives or online knowledge base and do everything they tell you to. They’ve done it a million times.
  • Contact 30 committed supporters and get them ready to pledge in the first 48 hours.
  • Involve people in a process. Make sure you are doing something for the project other than talking about money in that 30 days and make daily updates of the work in progress.
  • Have a theme derived from your project and apply it to all your reward names and updates.
  • Make a video. If it’s just you, a selfie stick and windows movie maker, that’s fine. Without it nobody really knows you.
  • Look out for trolls. If someone spends big, have a look at their identity before announcing you’ve hit your target and raise it with Kickstarter if you think they look suspicious.
  • There will also be spam.

 

To find out more about Chris McCabe’s new novel, and to pledge your support for this fantastic project, please visit the Kickstarter page

 

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Electric literature – five digital projects that make you think about books in an entirely new way

 

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Digitally mapping literature: the project ‘Mapping Emotions in Victorian London’ takes data from readers and primary texts to create a graphical visualisation of emotions in fictional Victorian London. 

Here’s a new one for you – what if we were to argue that literary scholarship and the general study of literature no longer requires you to actually read any books? Instead, the same results could be achieved by using computers to crunch “big data” and stores of literary information to provide new insights into the way we think about books, literature, and stories.

This obviously flies in the face of the standard understanding of literary study that for centuries has insisted upon the close reading of texts. Yet it is not a unique argument.

We’ve previously considered whether, with the rise of Apps and digital programming influencing the way we publish stories, the future of literature may be electric. And there is now an increasing number of groups and individuals who believe a similar approach could be taken towards academic literary theory. Indeed, they term this “computational criticism” – that is, the analysis of literature in a statistical way using computational models and digital programming.

Why now? Simply, because modern digital technology permits it. Since Google developed an electronic scanner capable of digitising books in 2004, the written words of all literature can be turned into data – and computers can scan and process this information to pick out trends and identify new areas of insight. They can create graphs, tables, and visual representations of this data that is – arguably – more engaging and interesting to consider than a 100,000 word treatise on the relationship between Kafka’s shoes and modern anti-establishment sentiment (please note: this may not in fact be an actual PhD thesis title – but there are some great ones out there, see for yourselves).

Of course, the idea of visually representing literature as data is not new. One of the great masters of the written word, Kurt Vonnegut, proposed mapping the plots of stories, as well as character development arcs, onto graphs. In 1952, the satirist’s work Player Piano predicted a dystopia in which giant computers have taken over the work of the human brain – and in his later lectures on the shapes of stories he opined “there’s no reason why the shapes of stories can’t be fed into computers.”

Needless to say, this topic has drawn some controversy among the literary establishment. Harold Bloom, one of the best-known literary critics and Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University, has described the idea of digital literary theory as “absurd […] I am interested in reading; that’s all I’m interested in.”

Others are, however, more receptive to these ideas. Jonathan Franzen, for example, says: “The canon is necessarily restrictive. So what you get is generation after generation of scholarship struggling to say anything new. There are only so many ways you can keep saying Proust is great.”

“It can be dismaying to see Kafka or Conrad or Brontë read not for pleasure but as cultural artefacts,” Franzen continues. “To use new technology to look at literature as a whole, which has never really been done before, rather than focusing on complex and singular works, is a good direction for cultural criticism to move in. Paradoxically, it may even liberate the canonical works to be read more in the spirit in which they were written.”

We’ll let you decide for yourselves what you think of this new world of literary study. Below, you’ll find five of our “picks” of digital projects in the humanities. Let us know what you think in the comments section at the end!

 

  1. Mapping Emotions in Victorian London draws on annotations made by readers on passages of Victorian novels, to generate an “emotional map” of London. You can navigate the map online, exploring the emotions of the readers, as well as the underlying fictional passages, to discover the ways in which London was constructed, navigated and represented emotionally in its fiction.
  2. BookLamprecognises how similar one book is to others in the same genre. Simply type into BookLamp’s search bar one of your favourite novels and it will return a data-driven list of 20 more titles that you’ll like.
  3. VisualEyes, developed by the University of Virginia, is a web-based tool that uses data to digitally map, graph and chart important historical events, searching through vast online databases to pinpoint where concepts first appeared and how they spread across the world.
  4. ‘A View of the World Through Wikipedia’is a time-lapse video made by Kalev Leetaru, a researcher at the University of Illinois, charting how writers have expressed generally positive or negative sentiments towards the places they have written about. Leetaru has done similar analyses with books, social media and online news in a project entitled Culturomics 2.0
  5. The Circumstance art collective in Bristol is an interactive online model: a combination of a print book and an urban-walking app that overlays an imaginary world onto the physical.

 

 

 

 

Literary oddities: the book that makes you solve a puzzle before you can turn each page

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The Codex Silenda – brainchild Brady Whitney

As mind-boggling literary challenges go, there are a fair few books for you to choose from. You could navigate your way through the odyssey that is Joyce’s Ulysses, you could put your biggest hipster hat on and work your way through Wallace’s Infinite Jest, or you could try to solo your way through One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez. Alternatively, you could try your hand at this fascinating little oddity we’ve stumbled upon during our general exploration of the creative world: the Codex Silenda.

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Created by puzzle designer Brady Whitney, this wooden book has only five pages – but it may well still take you a good deal of time to finish, since you’ll need to solve a complex mechanical puzzle on each one before you can turn to the next.

Made entirely of laser-cut wood, the short story within the Codex Silenda is about an apprentice in Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshop who stumbles across a similar tome, except the version they find is actually a trap created by the artist that you’ll need to help them solve in order to escape.

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A Kickstarter campaign to fund the mass-production of the books has already far surpassed its original US$30,000 target. Whitney and co are now creating the codices for their Kickstarter backers, aiming to deliver the first books in May 2017 – after which point they will begin taking orders once again. If you’re keen not to miss out, you can sign up to the email waiting list to hear news on when the next Codices will become available.

As literary oddities go, we hope you’ll agree that this is a good one. We’ll be sure to keep bringing you more, so keep your eyes peeled for more examples of the weird and wonderful!

 

White winter mist

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The woods are shrouded in a white winter mist. Snow falls from the sombre sky, trees twist and creak in the icy wind. There is someone lying in the woods. A girl.

Her skin is as white as the snow around her, and yet it is a sickly pallor. Her mouth, once as red as blood, is now pale and lifeless. Her hair, as black as ebony, is unkempt and lies straggled on her shoulders. Her figure is delicately cracked in place, as if she were porcelain. Yet the cracks are tinted with faint blue hues – the tell-traces of cyanide.

She had always been so lively – scampering and exploring the woodlands which had become her home. Her eyes had shone with bright delight whenever she found a new fruit, flower or animal.

Everything she encountered seemed to befriend her. She was the darling Snow White; her pure white skin, her vibrant red lips, her glossy black hair made her perfect.

She was irresistible.

She was envied.

The girl was exploring in the woods, when the Queen – the Hag – crept up to her, offered up the cursed fruit. She had seen the young girl’s beauty, and was overcome with jealousy.

“An apple darling?” she rasped, outstretching a withered hand.

The girl should have run – she might have been spared. Yet alas, she was blind to the Hag’s wicked ways.

“For me?” she cried, her innocent eyes, widening in surprise.

“For you,” replied the Witch, in her feigned, scratchy voice.

The girl gazed at the fruit: its red flesh looked positively divine. “It’s to die for.” the old woman chuckled. Like Eve, the girl was tempted. Like Eve, she couldn’t stay strong. She gave in, took a bite, and fell. Her body collapsed upon the freezing snow, her limbs spread-eagled, her mouth parted slightly in shock. The Hag vanished – victorious.

The girl grew weaker and weaker; the poison grew stronger and stronger. It surged through her veins, controlling her, overwhelming her. She could not move. The snow whirled, the winds howled furiously, as if to rouse her from her sleep – her nightmare. She could not sleep. She could not wake.

There was no-one to save her; the pulse slowed in her wrist. The girl’s heart stopped beating in the white winter mist.

 

About the author

Profile Picture.jpgJudith Webster is an English student and aspiring journalist who loves reading and analysing books, which inspired her to start her own blog. Her favourite books to read are classic novels, Gothic novels and a little mix of Horror and Young Adult books, too. She has always been quite a creative person, as well as a bookworm, and so always wrote stories as a a child. As she makes her way as an aspiring creative writer, she is inspired by reading other people’s posts and watching “BookTube” videos on YouTube. You can find her on Goodreads, here.

Poetry writers wanted!

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Disappear Here Logo: designed by Emilia Moniszko

Disappear Here – a project founded and crowd funded by the artist Adam Steiner – are looking for writers/poets/artists to submit THREE ideas / proposals / full poems for a collaborative poetry-film project about Coventry ringroad.

The 18 artists selected will (in pairs) produce 3 poetry-films between them that explore the ringroad as brutalist/modernist structure/setting/inspiration.

The organisers are interested in artistic approaches to urban space, telling city stories and re-imagining the cyclical ringroad as an (in-between) area of change/flux/progress.

Selected artists will be commissioned for the production of up-to three poems, at a fixed-fee of £350 (to include all travel and costs – with a focus upon paying writers to write) and will work alongside the film-maker in performance/production/consultation of their work.

There will be a summit meeting in Coventry (SAT – 23/7/2016) between all of the participating artists – if applying – please ensure you are free on this date.

DEADLINE for applications is midnight 15/6/2016

TO APPLY

There is a simple application form to be completed – more information: http://www.disappear-here.org/submit

CONTACT

If you have any questions, wish to talk through initial ideas, plesae email: adam@disappear-here.org

21 things no one tells you about becoming a writer

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A writer in its natural habitat. Photo by Naesvold Garveri

“Catching the muse”; “Doing an Ernest”; “Shooting the black stuff”; “Clobbering the pencil”; whatever you want to call it, the decision to chuck in your job security, risking debt, isolation and insanity in favour of a career as a writer is undoubtedly a momentous one. But being prepared for what awaits you on your writing journey is vital as you pursue that first publishing contract. So here are just a few of the things you need to know as you set out on your journey.

 

  1. You no longer use pens: you use The Porlington Pontiff.

 

  1. All the important scenes in your books take place on hot air balloons.

 

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Why would you even consider setting your scene anywhere else? Photo by Jaybee Bondoc

  1. The thought of wearing a waistcoat fills you with unbearable excitement.

 

  1. You use poems instead of more traditional methods of currency

 

  1. The majority of your stories involve men gradually transforming into smartphone cases

 

  1. You discover the real name for a duck is actually a cazoogle

 

  1. When you run out of paper, you’ll be surprised at how often you end up writing on significant others, strangers on the street, and family pets.

 

  1. Your favoured item of clothing attire quickly becomes the Lucifer Thigh Throttler

 

  1. You’ll complete your first novel in less than thirty minutes, and spend the next twenty four years working out what to do with it.

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  1. Books need watering, like plants. But you must never feed them in the afternoon.

 

  1. Nothing gets the creative juices going like hanging upside down like a bat, slapping yourself on the cheeks shouting “No, no, no, no, no!”

 

  1. Every coffee stain has a poet in it. They’re just really small and they all look like Sylvia Plath.

 

  1. As a writer, you no longer drink water: you’re only able to drink a long-forgotten Scotch Whiskey known as Blackbeard’s Watercloset.

 

  1. Most of the characters you write about will come alive at some point. The majority of them are fabulously rude and only eat oysters. The best thing to do is ignore them: they will go away eventually and become rejected contestants for The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent.

 

  1. The only way to cure writer’s block is by making a human pyramid with at least seven world leaders.

 

  1. You’ll receive a call from your favourite author, who will tell you the secret ingredient in Quorn meatballs.

 

  1. In order to find a literary agent you must perform a mystical ritual. This means purchasing an Apple Macbook, visiting a chain coffee store (preferably owned by a company that doesn’t pay tax), and drinking a mocchalattecino while reciting the 5th Amendment of the American Constitution. You must also be wearing your best pair of Seamen’s Curtains.

 

  1. When it comes to choosing what laptop to buy, the bigger the better.

 

  1. On your third night as a writer, William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe will visit you in your dreams. You must choose to make out passionately with one of them. Choose wisely.

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  1. Writing Flash Fiction really is as easy as writing the word “flash” over and over again until your word count reaches 500.

 

  1. Strangers will always be offering you free vegetables.
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Get ready to see a lot more of these. Photo via Flickr

Join the gang as one of our contributors!

Nothing in the Rulebook – a literary and new writing blog dedicated to new ideas – is looking for contributors.

We are a collective of creatives bound by a single motto: ‘there’s nothing in the rulebook that says a giraffe can’t play football!’ Our news, opinion and interviews are read around the world and attract on average 20,000 unique views a month. We’ve featured writers and artists such as Iain Maloney, Julia Bell, Paul M.M. Cooper, Russ Litten, Asher Jay, Tim Leach, Rishi Dastidar, Eric Akoto, David Greaves, Charlotte Salter and many more.

We are looking for people who think just because there’s one way to do things, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way.

We’re commissioning a wide range of articles including opinion, commentary, news and features. You can get an idea of what piques our interest on our website, Twitter and Facebook.

Nothing in the Rulebook was established by Warwick University creative writing alumni with over ten years’ experience in journalism, marketing and communications. We’ve won awards for short fiction, poetry and writing and our work has been published in national newspapers, literary anthologies and magazines.

If you’re interested, get in touch via email at nothingintherulebook@gmail.com, Twitter or Facebook.

The NITRB internship

Nothing in the Rulebook – a literary and new writing blog dedicated to new ideas – is looking for an enthusiastic and passionate individual to join our team as our creative intern.

We are a collective of creatives bound by a single motto: ‘there’s nothing in the rulebook that says a giraffe can’t play football!’ Our news, opinion and interviews are read around the world and attract on average 20,000 unique views a month. We’ve featured writers and artists such as Iain Maloney, Julia Bell, Paul M.M. Cooper, Russ Litten, Asher Jay, Tim Leach, Rishi Dastidar, Eric Akoto, David Greaves, Charlotte Salter and many more.

We are looking for people who think just because there’s one way to do things, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way. We are looking for creative writing and journalism students or bloggers to help us run our project. This means maintaining our social media presence, writing articles for our blog and commissioning and reviewing new work.

Nothing in the Rulebook was established by Warwick University creative writing alumni with over ten years’ experience in journalism, marketing and communications. We’ve won awards for short fiction, poetry and writing and our work has been published in national newspapers, literary anthologies and magazines.

This is a great opportunity to build connections with publishers, literary agents, writers, artists and photographers while learning how literary journalism works from the inside. You’ll gain hands on experience in marketing, social media management, copy-editing and commissioning.

If you’re interested, read some of the stories and articles on Nothing in the Rulebook and pitch us five articles you’d like to write. Send us an example of writing of no more than 500 words to nothingintherulebook@gmail.com. Don’t forget a brief cover letter and your CV.

You don’t have to be Kurt Vonnegut – what’s most important to us is enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

We look forward to receiving your applications!

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

 

The satire that sold a thousand stocking fillers: Ladybird books mimic satirical hit ‘We Go to the Gallery’

Penguins new Ladybird books

Two titles from the new Ladybird book series, published by Penguin

Book publisher Penguin has launched a new series of spoof Ladybird book titles, modelled on the Peter and Jane learning reading books from the 1960s and 70s.

The eight books include ‘The Ladybird Book of Sheds’, ‘The Ladybird Book of the Hipster’, and ‘The Ladybird Book of the Mid-Life Crisis’, as well as ‘How it Works: The Husband’ and ‘The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness’. They feature original Ladybird artwork alongside new, deadpan text from Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris.

“Leanne has been staring at this beautiful tree for five hours. She was meant to be in the office. Tomorrow she will be fired. In this way, mindfulness has solved her work-related stress,” goes the mindfulness spoof, later adding, alongside an image of a woman in a field of flowers: “Sophie is concentrating on her breath. It smells of Frazzles. She says she has light for breakfast, air for lunch and love for supper, but Sophie has also secretly had some Frazzles.”

Book sellers have already shifted over 600,000 copies of the mini-hardbacks in less than two months, as people rush to fill stockings for Christmas, according to book sales monitor Nielsen.

All eight of the titles are in the top 50 selling books, with the biggest sellers – ‘How It Works: The Husband’, and ‘How It Works: The Wife’ – both in the top 10.

Penguin originally printed 15,000 copies of each title, but the publisher now has over 1.5 million copies in print. Some bookstores have reported struggling to get their hands on stock, with the titles proving so popular.

At Waterstones, non-fiction buyer Richard Humphreys said the chain was doing “amazingly well” with the spoof Ladybird books. “These strong sales are down to a number of factors: it’s been Ladybird’s 100th anniversary this year and almost everybody will have a fond memory of the Ladybird books of their childhood,” he said.

But this has been done before, hasn’t it?

While Penguin and others count revenues from these books, many will be inclined to think they have seen something similar before.

In 2014, artist Miriam Elia was behind the runaway success of her satirical art book, ‘We Go to the Gallery’ – a spoof version of the same Ladybird books Penguin is now spoofing itself.

In 44 pages, Elia poked fun at the art world, using simple scenes reminiscent of the Peter and Jane series alongside new vocabulary at the bottom of each page. Described in The Guardian as “funny, smart and – to any parent who has tried to introduce small children to modern art – excruciatingly recognisable”.

We Go to the Gallery - Miriam Elia

Miriam Elia – ‘We Go to the Gallery’

“The rubbish smells,” says the girl, standing by a binbag installation. “It’s the stench of our decaying Western civilisation,” says Mummy.

Elia raised £5000 through Kickstarter to publish the book, marketing the idea by putting sample pages out on social media. By the time the first edition of 1000 books had been released, it had gone viral.

Miriam Elia - We Go To The Gallery

Miriam Elia – ‘We Go to the Gallery’

Those with memories of this will remember that Penguin did not take too kindly to Elia’s ingenuity, threatening her with court action to seize the books and have them pulped.

“It was really distressing,” she says. “I’m not a very professional person. Millions of people around the world were sharing pages of the book, but nobody knew what it was.”

In an attempt to divert away from legal proceedings, Elia rebranded the books under the publishing title ‘Dung Beetle Limited’.

“We set up Dung Beetle Limited as a joke,” she laughs, “and it’s become a corporation with a ‘fulfilment centre’ to send out the books.” By we, she means herself and her older brother, Ezra, who is cited as co-author, and with whom she created a previous hit: The Diary of Edward the Hamster, 1990 to 1990. Their childhood memories of owning a hamster were the basis of this mordant story of an abused pet, which began life as a satire for Radio 4 before becoming a Sony-nominated animation and a book. It is a memorial to the suffering of the only pet the siblings were allowed growing up in north London, when they would really have preferred a dog. “Wednesday May 5: Why exist?” writes Edward. “Wednesday May 7: Two of them came today, dragged me out of my cage and put me in some kind of improvised maze made out of books and old toilet rolls.”

Elia hits back at book publisher

The similarities between Penguin’s new book series and the Dung Beetle copy they threatened legal action over have not been missed by the artist.

In a brilliant, scathing rebuttal on her website, Elia writes:

“Penguin books […] were right to threaten me with legal action when I first released We Go to the Gallery, and right also to force me to pulp all remaining copies of the first edition. They were right to call my work morally bankrupt (which it is), and infer that it would corrupt the minds of young children (which it certainly has). They were right also to lie about the fact they owned the copyright to the original illustrations, because to do good, sometimes you have to be bad.

Indeed in the long run, independent artists like myself are worthless to the national economy, because Penguin employs more people and therefore feeds more children, who will read Ladybird books. I have learnt my lesson. I have learnt that Penguin are a force for goodness, innocence and purity in this shitcan we call real life, and that I was mentally deranged to attempt an upturn of the status quo. In the future I will always ask for permission before I decide to rip the piss. I would also like to apologise to the teams of lawyers who nobly slogged night and day to crush my artistic integrity. Without their weighty correspondences I would never have gained the means to see the error of my ways.  

Furthermore, I would like to personally congratulate the creative team at Penguin- they have ingeniously manages to come up with an original concept, that they copied from me. Almost word for word in places.  And they were right to do that. Their new books clearly demonstrate that it is the working class, not the intelligentsia, who present the greatest hazard to our cultural, artistic and political heritage. And also hipsters, who in their frivolous narcissism also represent a tangible threat to good taste and common sense. They are so right to choose superfluous targets that won’t be there in a year’s time.”

And Elia has gone further, adding a new title to her Dung Beetle series, ‘We sue an artist (and then rip off her idea)’.

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Miriam Elia’s latest guide for children to help them learn about corporate intimidation.