Traditionally people turn to travel guides for the facts about a city they plan to visit or which arouses their curiosity – but arguably it’s fiction that gets under a city’s skin.
A new phone app called Gimbal – named after a device used to steady a ship’s compass in ancient times – offers an alternative travel guide and a slice of site-specific fiction.
Renowned poet Sean O’Brien, professor of creative writing at Newcastle University, is one of the writers whose work features on the app, which also means people can ‘travel’ from the comfort of their armchair.
Two of his short stories are among the 25 set in cities all over the world, the idea being to transform an everyday journey into an alternative sightseeing trip through the eyes of a fictional character – but with real points of interest in each location.
Sean, who has won many awards for his poetry, but has also written plays, short stories and a novel, contributes the Newcastle short story on the app which was devised by Manchester-based Comma Press, which supports new writing, and an organisation called Literature Across Frontiers which develops word-based cultural initiatives between countries.
Sean’s tale, Not in Gateshead Any More, is described as darkly supernatural.
Taken from his first collection of short stories, The Silence Room, published in 2008, it features a woman whose life changes in an unexpected and sinister way when she wins a writing competition.
“I’ve written a lot of stories set on Tyneside, including several set in the Lit and Phil (where the actual Silence Room is), and a murder story set on Tynemouth Metro Station,” he said.
“Comma Press are always coming up with interesting projects to promote the short story form and this is a complete contrast to my work as a poet – a different discipline, very refreshing.”
Sean’s work also features as the short story for Berlin, with Kiss Me Deadly on the Museum Island described as a kind of black comedy about the Cold War.
Gimbal is a free iPhone app in which stories can be selected according to location, genre, mode of transport or journey length.
You can then either simply read the text or listen to an audio recording, accompanied by an interactive map which moves as the story progresses, highlighting existing points of interest along the way.
So you could be on a tram in Manchester, for example, but be reading or listening to a story set in Paris.
Other featured cities include Baghdad, London, Naples and Zagreb.
“As zealous advocates of the short story, we believe this is an excellent way to engage readers in the digital age and encourage them to discover unknown voices from Europe, the Middle East and beyond,” said Jim Hinks of Comma Press.
“Many stories on the app can also be heard in the original language of the author. This feature will be expanded in future, building a compendium of work from different cultures and languages.”
Details on www.letsgimbal.com