2016 marks the fifth birthday of Cityread London and our festival, which kicked off in 2012 and aims to bring the whole capital together in the reading of the same novel, has got a lot to celebrate this April. This year, we’re asking Londoners to read Ten Days by Gillian Slovo.
At Cityread we’re always looking for new ways to bring our stories to life, working with multiple partners each year, crossing art forms to reach new audiences. 2016 sees Cityread working with Audible for the first time, embedding audiobook content into a cutting edge digital installation which is running in the Gallery at Foyles on Charing Cross Road until 8th May. As libraries are at the very heart of Cityread festivals, we’ve also created mobile ‘Evidence Booths’ based on the main exhibition, which will tour 12 London libraries throughout April, alongside our wider programme of author events and local history talks.
We always choose a book set in London - a city rich in stories - and our selection panel was delighted when Canongate submitted Ten Days for consideration. Gillian’s novel follows the course of a riot that breaks out in the capital and spreads across the country, told from the perspectives of police, politicians and community figures. The storytelling is textured, fast-paced, time-stamped, interspersed with descriptions of helicopter surveillance photos and police reports.
As an audience member at our installation, you are cast in the role of an investigating police officer, and invited to select ‘evidence’ on clipboards from around the gallery (or from the Evidence Booth) to find out more about the disturbances in Rockham, the fictional housing estate in Ten Days. The clipboards are RFID tagged and, when placed on a digital plinth, trigger audio content relating to the key characters, giving the audience a teasing two-minute slither of the novel.
Cityread founder Andy Ryan with author Gillian Slovo in front of an evidence board at the Stories from the Streets installation at Foyles. Picture: © Cathy Myers Photography
Previous Cityreads have seen us hosting Dickensian tea parties in Queen Victoria’s bedroom (Oliver Twist, 2012) and working with immersive theatre company Look Left Look Right to create fully immersive interactive performances for Louisa Young’s My Dear I Wanted to Tell You and Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London. The Cityread team felt that the format and the themes and the ‘now-ness’ of Ten Days pulled us in a different creative direction. On the flimsiest of briefs from me ("d’you think we can do some sort of digital storytelling with this book?"), creative director Jon Slack rounded up digital installation experts Stand + Stare and set to work.
Cityread is a conversation. We’re inviting discussion and response, to the novel itself, to its themes of power/powerlessness and political disenfranchisement, and reflections on the 2011 riots and other moments of civil unrest in the capital. Audience members are prompted to answer broad questions about demonstrations and democracy, or about whether fiction helps us to understand the world around us, and feed these back via a post-it note wall (reminiscent of the community boards that sprung up in the wake of the 2011 riots) or through our social media channels.
Stories that explore and question the city we live in are at the very heart of Cityread. Novels such as Ten Days really cry out for this rich creative treatment, and it’s been wonderful to be given the chance to work with with audio and digital partners this year, tinkering with new ways of drawing people into our fictional world.
Andy Ryan is founder of Cityread.
- Stories from the Streets will be running in the Gallery at Foyles, Charing Cross Road until 8th May.
- For the full Cityread programme visit the Cityread website, Twitter @cityreadlondon or Facebook page.