At this year’s Birmingham Spring Thing festival, myself and the novelist David Calcutt unveiled our brainchild Bugged – a massive and memorable creative happening. Writers have always eavesdropped – in cafes, in car parks, in stately homes and railway stations. We need to hear voices other than our own, and begin stories that fall outside our own experience.
Everybody does it. Bugged allows us all to celebrate this disgraceful habit, in a collective happening on a single summer day. It’s a simple idea: on July 1st, writers across the UK are asked to eavesdrop. Wherever you are, listen in. Start thinking. Make notes. Write something from what you’ve heard – perhaps quoting it directly, perhaps using it only as your starting point. Submit it to Bugged by August 15th, by email. As the process goes on, our writing community will grow. Share your overheard gems via Facebook and Twitter – talk to other writers about what they are doing – and send in pictures of yourself in the location you chose.
The best results will appear in a rolling blog from July 2nd, and the very best of the best in a print-on-demand anthology in October. Already recruited are novelist Jenn Ashworth, Guardian journalist Mil Millington, children’s novelist Leila Rasheed, Archers script-writer Mary Cutler, and poet Daljit Nagra.
Bugged is a big creative experiment using new technology – and reminding wirters to enjoy themselves. Established names and first-timers alike all have a common starting point. Those ghastly, dispiriting phrases like ‘new media’ actually represent brilliant new ways for people to create, to meet, to talk to one another and share ideas. Bugged will engender a lively, friendly and properly interactive community where writers can meet, support one another, share links and resources.
We’re not just sparking off new writing: we want the results to make good reading. As the submissions come in, co-editor David Calcutt and I will be looking over our pince-nez at every one of them. The best incoming material will be posted on the website, and we hope that readers will be drawn to revisit it time and time again.
As soon as submissions close on August 15th, we will start choosing material for an anthology. This too harnesses digital media: print-on-demand means the book can be turned around quickly and cheaply, yet without compromising on quality of design or content. New writers with no publications to their name will appear alongside Ian Marchant, David Gaffney and Stephanie Dale. Established writers can buy as many copies as they need to sell at readings. Manchester Literature Festival and Birmingham Book Festival are launching the book in October.
We will have gone from first principle to finished publication just over four months. We’re offering up a shared mission for thousands of writers. Now, let’s see what happens. Bugged is both site-specific and global; completely individual, but pleasurably collective; and above all, it should be fun. After all, it is summer.
Jo Bell is a poet and producer of poetry events. She is this year’s Glastonbury Festival website Poet in Residence, and the Director of National Poetry Day.