Monday, July 17, 2006

Starting at the very beginning

In the spring of 2005, the then director of the Manchester Poetry Festival, Chris Gribble, approached me to ask if the-phone-book Limited wanted to do a new commission. New for them because the Manchester Poetry Festival was about to close, to be replaced by a brand new organisation - the Manchester Literature Festival. New for us because we had already made significant changes within our own company and were looking to develop new projects. New is good.

Not wanting to bore anyone too much with a large history (we are over six years old as an organisation now) we are called the-phone-book because we started out with a project that quite literally turned peoples mobile phones into books. In 2000 we - ben and fee - saw the potential of mobile devices as a creative challenge and an innovative distribution platform. While other companies dismissed the small format and minimal technology as 'crap', we saw the future and claimed wireless data space for artists, writers, musicians, and educators.

Our first project,, commissioned ultra-short-stories (max 150 words, min 150 characters) for mobile phone internet - WAP1.0. We didn't charge anyone to submit their stories, paid them professional rates when we published them, and didn't charge anything to our audiences for reading them. Not the greatest business model in the world, but it certainly proved the wealth of writing talent in the North West of England, and beyond, and has also educated a new generation of writers and readers, not to mention established a new genre of literature.

Since then we have commissioned artists to make ringtones and logos, developed an online and performative education programme which is now being taught by other trainers internationally, exhibited in Japan, USA and the UK and presented to artists and businesses at conferences all over the world. See for the list, and eventual archive.

It was our innovative combination of literature and technology that had attracted Chris in the first place. The fact that we also love to commission new work through our own projects was a bonus. The new Literature Festival would have a literature and technology strand, Freeplay, and Chris wanted a showcase project to launch both the festival and that strand. So he said 'come up with something entirely new'. And we did.

In the year that followed, we devised the new concept and started to get partners and funding in place. We knew it had to be something to do with mobile phones, had to commission new writing from the region's best writers, and feature a well known Manchester writer as a starting point. Why? Well the first one was obvious - we're the-phone-book, so we work with phones, right? Secondly, through we had access to a wealth of talent that we had badly missed since 2003 when the project closed after three successful years, and we knew we would be working with the local arts council, so any new commission would need to benefit local writers. Thirdly, it was the Manchester Literature Festival, so we felt we had to have a focus on someone from Manchester as our 'source material'.

Some brief websearching later, we realised that Anthony Burgess was a great choice. He was born in Harpurhey, North Manchester and moved around the city, studying at Xaverian college and Manchester University - a local boy indeed. His catalogue of work included not only 'A Clockwork Orange' (his most famous publication, made so by the Kubrick film adaptation that Burgess didn't even script) but a wealth of novels, short stories, translations and musical compositions. The man was prolific beyond comparison.

Even though he left Manchester after University in 1956, he never forgot the city and his experiences here. To honour his memory, there is a foundation - the International Anthony Burgess Foundation - in Withington. We contacted them, as well as the latest biographer Andrew Biswell (who also happens to be a lecturer in Creative Writing at MMU) to see if they fancied playing with us, and to our extreme delight, they not only came on board with enthusiasm, but the IABF have granted us full copyright waivers on any of his work. What more could we ask for?! They have also given us the use of their building for both the writing process and our launch party, a bundle of wonderful photos from their archives and put us in touch with Douglas Milton who has developed a one-man show based on Burgess' autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God. I cannot thank them enough.

The next step had to be funding. Which really brings me up to date because last Wednesday we got confirmation of our grant from the Arts Council. I didn't include the notion of a blog in my application - it's not like it costs any more, after all! - but I did plan to produce a documentary style DVD about the project and its process. So a blog can only help me keep track of the project and also makes an interesting piece of reading for those who eventually become our audiences! Especially as one of our intentions is to promote Burgess' back-catalogue - beyond A Clockwork Orange!

So, here you will find updates on the project as we head off on our psychogeographic tour of Burgessian Manchester, develop new writing with some of the North West's finest, create new technological toys to distribute the rich media archives to mobile phones, and then follow the project around the city when it all happens live in October!

Photo courtesy of the collections at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, used with permission.


Blogger c&v said...

great blog - great project - great start!

11:34 pm, July 24, 2006  
Blogger the-phone-book Limited said...

thanks c&v. we miss you, keep up the blog even though you're not a mancunian anymore :(

9:56 am, July 25, 2006  

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