DIY Series – Digital Stories with James Walker

James Portrait

Next up in our DIY series for Memories of the Future is local writer & journalist James Walker. James will be doing a talk this Wednesday with his collaborator Paul Fillingham on ways in which writers can work with digital media.

Tell us a bit about your background as a writer & editor?

I started out writing fiction and had a short collection published with Route and have written a novel called This is All I Know which an agent is currently wiping his arse on. Although I love fiction I’ve pretty much spent the last decade promoting other people’s work as a literary journalist. Journalism is a great profession because you get to spend everyday meeting and listening to interesting or quirky people and discovering what makes them tick. There’s no better way to navigate a city than through the minds of its inhabitants.

I guess I’ve largely learned my trade at LeftLion where I’ve been the literature editor for the past eight years. When I first came across the mag I was disappointed at the lack of literature features and so I started to pester them, suggesting features and ideas. They eventually caved in and I created the WriteLion brand which has now expanded to two pages and features artists illustrating poetry, up to 9 book reviews and at least one literature interview per mag. Over the years I’ve done podcasts, spoken-word events and literature events at mini-festivals like the Canning Circus Carnival, Hockley Hustle and British Art Show. My favourite memory, though, is probably Scribal Gathering events like Gunpowder, Treason and Pot with Dealmaker. Who’d of thought you could get 200 people at a literature event?! From these I quickly learned a lot about the local community, discovering, for instance, beatboxers like MotorMouf, who would stay in the back of my head until I could find a spot for him in a future project.

What have you & Paul Fillingham got planned for Memories of the Future?

Paul is going to spend the first twenty minutes discussing The Sillitoe Trail and literary heritage projects he’s created through his company Think Amigo. The second part I’ll be talking about Dawn of the Unread and mainly illustrating how you can take a book and broaden it to draw in work across creative disciplines. Afterwards we’re happy to have a natter with anyone who’s got ideas for a project and wants advice on how to make this happen. We love Nottingham and are really eager to help anyone who can make it a fun place to live in.      

How does the collaborative relationship work?

Usually there’s something that’s pissing me off about literature that means I can’t get to sleep so I call Paul up and we meet for a coffee. He’s like a digital therapist who is able to materialise my ideas. The fact that he’s an incredible artist as well is a bonus. The key to any collaboration, though, is trust. I never question his methodology because he knows what he’s doing, and likewise. Talking face-to-face is pretty important too. You can’t bounce ideas off each other over email. There’s no snarl and spit.

What is The Sillitoe Trail?

It was a commission for BBC/Arts Council multimedia platform The Space that can be viewed online, or downloaded as an App or ebook. Basically we took five themes from Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) and asked how relevant they were today. We got beatboxers, poets, historians, photographers, art students, jazz musicians, and writers to interpret these themes. Alan Sillitoe’s father was illiterate and so we wanted to illustrate how literature could be exciting and encourage reading. It really pisses me off that people are still leaving school unable to read. It’s unforgivable.

Tell us a bit about your plans for Dawn of the Unread?

The two factors pissing me off driving this project are: One, people know very little about Nottingham’s incredible literary history – something I realised after doing a literary walk with Michael Eaton for the Festival of Words. Two, Nottingham has been incredibly fortunate not to have any libraries closed down during the cuts and to prevent this happening in the future we need to ensure that people continue to use them. Dawn of the Unread is an interactive graphic novel spread out over ten chapters that will promote reading and local history and will hopefully get people into libraries via various cunning plans…

Do you feel a bit more optimistic about the life of independent bookshops now that Five Leaves have announced they’re opening one in Nottingham City Centre?

I don’t want to live in a world where supermarkets are the only place that people have access to books. This isn’t because I’m a literary snob, it’s because independent publishers can’t afford to stock their books at such a reduced rate and so get ignored. The opening of any independent shop – be it books, music or art – is fantastic news for any city because it means your money is going to a small business who want your trade and therefore they will do all sorts of weird things like talk to you when you enter their premises. And I love the location: Only in Nottingham could a bookshop open up opposite a Bookies.

How do you see Libraries developing as we move into the digital age?

Investing in new technology (iPads, interactive display walls, Apps) is one way in which this can happen. The Library of Birmingham  is a great example of how buildings can utilise technology and space to become things of beauty that people are desperate to visit. As far as eBooks are concerned this depends on the greedy piglets in publishing who place profit above ethics. For example, publishing giants like Random House have increased ebook prices to libraries by 300 percent over the last year, as well as limiting the number of check-outs per ebook. This means libraries have to lease another “copy” when their electronic version reaches a certain threshold. Similarly eBook distributors such as 3M and Overdrive are charging libraries up to ten times more than an individual consumer would pay. So unless this abusive attitude changes, libraries might not be able to afford to live in the digital age. A bit of an oxymoron given eBooks cost nowt and can be replicated an infinite amount of times at no extra cost.

Tell us a little about Nottingham Writers’ Studio & why more local writers should join?

Writers are a weird bunch. They spend most of their lives locked away in the garret writing about life rather than experiencing it. The Studio reminds them what it is to be human (laughs). Local writers should join because they are writers. The publishing industry is dominated by agents scared of venturing north of Watford and so it’s really important Nottingham pulls together to change this vulgar prejudice. There’s also free booze and crisps at our monthly socials…

What are your hopes for the next Nottingham Festival of Words? 

On a personal level, more sleep and less meetings. On a public level, more public. Nottingham really needs to get behind events like this, both in telling us what they want, helping this happen, and then turning up to support it.

Many thanks to James for answering our questions & for his continued hard graft championing the local literary scene. You can find out more about the development of Dawn of the Unread at –

Digital Stories is running at 5.30pm Wednesday 9th October at The Corner, 8 Stoney Street.

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