Highlights from the London Book Fair – part 1

Let’s do some gimballing!

Too many good things happened at this year’s London Book Fair to include them all in one blog post. So I’ll start with the first. It’s a project initiated by Jim Hinks from Comma Press in Manchester, in cooperation with Alexandra Blücher from Literature Across Frontiers and Toru Interactive supplying the technical knowledge, and it’s called the Gimbal App. Whether you live in Zagreb, Gdansk, Barcelona or indeed any city and commute, or if you are visiting and want to dip into the city’s geography in a literary way, you can using Gimbal. The name comes from a mariner’s instrument which was a metal sphere used to maintain a fixed point by keeping the compass in place, explains Jim at the app’s launch on Tuesday at Earl’s Court. Writers take on the role of “gimbals”, the fixed point in a city foreign to the reader. You open up the navigation on your smartphone, iPad or iPod and choose by location, genre, journey length or mode of transport where you’d like to go: here you find stories written by  contemporary short story writers including Roman Simic, Michelle Green or Alison McLeod in both audio and text versions. So, selecting the “by bicycle” option in combination with “34 minutes” and “Europe”, you will find a drop-down menu of the stories featuring this combination. As the story starts, you can see the journey it recounts mapped out in typical Google map style and you, the reader, can add Instagram photos or comments of the places visited.

It’s a beautifully intuitive app and one that appeal to literature lovers, especially those used to multi-tasking in busy cities and having to do their reading as they commute, for instance. Jim points out that short stories – Comma Press’ staple – are very compatible with mobility and mirror the chance interactions and accidental encounters possible in cities. Writer Alison MacLeod is quick to point out that it is not due to shorter attention spans that the short story is experiencing a revival in the UK because, she claims, it is a denser, more intense form that requires if anything greater focus from the reader. Michelle Green qualifies this by saying that there is certainly less pressure to have certain resolutions in the short fiction genre. For her, in any case, the landmarks of her short story set in Zagreb provided the story’s drive. Stories on the app were mostly commissioned for the initial phase from the writers as part of an LAF exchange programme – Simic travelled around Manchester on a tram while Green went to Zagreb but the “book” can feasibly grow, concertina-style, as additional stories are suggested by readers, translators and publishers, with relevant travel and city themes.

This is good news for translators especially as all stories can be listened to or read in both the original or English.

Simic, the Artistic Director for the Festival of the European Short Story in Zagreb, says he’s sure the gimbal will soon enter the English language as a verb: let’s do some gimballing!

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