Thursday, 3 February 2011

Banging the Digital Drum

I've just completed a collaboration with on-line site Book Drum that has given me the opportunity to enhance my short story collection We Never Had It So Good using pictures, videos, maps and music to recreate the spirit of the late 1950s, where the stories are set.

Book Drum ( has adopted what they call the companion model. Using contributors, they provide page-by-page commentaries and  multi-media content to complement a wide range of classic and contemporary titles. I'm pleased with the company I'm keeping - We Never Had It So Good, which is about growing up in a North East mining community, has taken its place on the site alongside such well-loved books as To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Catcher in the Rye, and today’s favourites such as The Kite Runner.

Talking to the editor Hector Macdonald about creating a profile for We Never Had It So Good, we both felt these particular stories would lend themselves well to this interactive treatment because on just about every page there are references to the way people were living their lives fifty years ago that could be brought to life the Book Drum way. So, for example, you can read about the boy watching the TV western Wagon Train in one story, and go to the appropriate bookmark on the site to see the opening titles and listen to the theme song  of that very programme; or you can recapture the sights of the 1950s fairground you read about in my story Fair Fight by looking at some period images that have been kindly supplied by the National Fairground Archive.

To show you what I mean, I've tried to do a sort of mini Book Drum mock-up below, using the examples I've mentioned.

Bookmark Page 23. " On Wagon Train, a telly programme I used to watch... "

Wagon Train was an American TV series that ran from 1957 in the USA and in Britain from 1958 to 1964. (See the British TV nostalgia site Whirligig.) The series was so popular in the UK that Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell wanted the General Election of 1959 held on a day when Wagon Train wasn't screened, in case it kept voters at home.

Click to listen to the Wagon Train theme tune on Spotify.
Here's the original TV intro (contemporaneous with the story).


And here are the intro and closing credits of the early 60s colour version (look out for a famous name in the credits):

Bookmark Page 133. "This booth has two giant pictures of boxers painted on boards either side of a red curtain."
Though boxing booths are no longer a feature of touring fairgrounds as a result of tighter regulation, they had been popular since the Restoration, and generally attracted good crowds in the 1950s when local lads would take on the hard-bitten professionals.

There is much more like this in the Book Drum profile for We Never Had It So Good. The whole profile took about four months to complete. Apparently the editor is very pleased with it, and intends to make a special feature on the site. Currently the profile is handily placed top right of the home page on the site. Just go to and click the cover picture for We Never Had It So Good. Let me know what you think.

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