THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Inspired by... blog

24 posts categorized "Books"

21 January 2015

Bye for now...

Add comment Comments (0)

Fran Taylor British Library

Happy New Year!

After looking after our creative industries blog for a few years, I’m going to be moving to a new role within the British Library to promote our Shop and commercial services. 

It’s been an absolute pleasure writing for you, building up a loyal following for our blog and working on projects like Spring Festival and our Jewellery designer in residence. I'd also like to thank all our guest bloggers including fashion forecaster Geraldine Wharry and writer Emma Tucker.

Although you won’t be hearing from me, you might also like to check out our Innovation and Enterprise blog for entrepreneurs and our Living Knowledge blog to get a ‘behind the scenes’ view of the British Library. Find me on Twitter and via my website.

All the best,

Fran

04 November 2014

Interview with music writer Zoë Howe on The Slits and The Jesus and Mary Chain Story

Add comment Comments (0)

Music writer Zoë Howe has used our collections to research many of her books, from Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits to Barbed Wire Kisses - The Jesus and Mary Chain Story. I got in touch with her to find out her story.

Zoe Howe

Image: Ian Treherne 

Hi Zoë. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello! I’m a music biographer and I am in the process of writing my ninth book to date (or tenth, if you count the rock ’n’ roll novel in the drawer). My books include: Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits, ‘How’s Your Dad?' Living In The Shadow Of A Rock Star Parent, Wilko Johnson - Looking Back At Me, Florence + The Machine - An Almighty Sound, Barbed Wire Kisses - The Jesus and Mary Chain Story, Stevie Nicks - Visions, Dreams and Rumours and I co-authored British Beat Explosion- Rock ’n’ Roll Island, a book that celebrates Eel Pie Island’s place in music history.

I also write sleeve notes and biogs for artists on request, very occasionally pen things for magazines and sites including The Quietus and Play the drums.

The book I’m working on right now is about much-missed Dr Feelgood frontman Lee Brilleaux.

Zoe Howe 2

Image: Ian Treherne 

Can you tell us how you did your research for your book ‘Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story’ at the Library? Did you find anything surprising in the archive?

I actually started to use the British Library when I was working on my first book about The Slits, but that time would set the blueprint for how I would continue to work on non-fiction - I love to work from home, but I knew I could lay my hand on anything I needed at the library in terms of research materials. Going online for information is never enough, but at that time, hard as it is to believe now, there really was quite a limited amount of information online about The Slits anyway, comparatively speaking. I also prefer pages to screens wherever possible. So I really valued being able to dive into the archives of music papers (I’m obsessed with old music papers anyway) and get a sense of historical context as well as adding to the information I’d garnered from interviews.

I used the collection in pretty much the same way subsequently, for ‘Barbed Wire Kisses - The Jesus and Mary Chain Story’. There was more information about the Mary Chain out there than there was about The Slits, but as I say, with research, you can always go further. Time is often an issue, of course, so sometimes you can only do so much, but any time spent at the BL in this way is well spent; it’s such an incredible resource that it’s like opening a casket of treasure, all of that information, all of those articles, even tiny news stories, some of which might not have been read since they were published! Those are the jewels that I’m looking for; there might just be one scrap of information that sheds some light on something you’ve been puzzling over, clarifies a date that no one can quite remember, or displays a perspective that, thanks to hindsight, has either been forgotten or morphed into something completely different over time. It’s painstaking but worth it.

What is strange about working this way is that it’s so intense, and I spend so many hours reading music paper after music paper from the time that I’m writing about that, if those are the only papers you’re actually reading every day, you have to keep reminding yourself that this isn’t actually 1978, 1985 or whatever. I’d find myself flicking through the pages and after a while the bondage trousers advertised in the back of the NME would start to look increasingly appealing, or I’d suddenly get excited: “Ooh, Echo and the Bunnymen have got a show coming up at the…. ok, hang on…” Weird bubble to live inside, but also strangely enjoyable. Basically, thanks to your collection, considering the theory that perception is reality, I was living through the 1980s again, immersed in the pop world, but also safe in the knowledge that Thatcher wasn’t actually in charge any more.

Zoe Howe 3.jpg


Do you have any tips for writers who want to use the British Library’s archive?

YES. Eat something substantial before you go in to start your research, because, obviously, you can’t take food in, but you can’t exactly nip out and grab something if you’ve set up your laptop and chargers and the papers you’ve finally found. Some of the blood sugar lows I have suffered in there have been monumental. I still associate using the library with feeling light-headed and weird, although that might just be me.


Last question. What are you working on next?

Thank you for asking, I am in the midst of working on a new book about the phenomenal singer and all round rock ’n’ roll gentleman Lee Brilleaux, which I’m very excited about. I get very excited about all of the books I work on, it wouldn’t be too good to basically spend about two years (if you’re lucky) with these characters living in your head (and sometimes keeping you up at night) if you weren’t passionate about them, of course, but the Lee project is particularly close to my heart.

You can find out more about Zoë on her website

 

22 October 2014

Typography: From Gothic to Blackletter

Add comment Comments (0)

17. Morte d'Arthur (G.10510) - taken from 'Section 1 - for Dale' folder
Image: Morte d'Arthur

As part of our Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition, we asked writer Emma Tucker about gothic fonts (of which there are lots of examples in our archive). Emma is a writer covering design, music, and culture. She's currently working on a new design and type-focused print magazine for Monotype

There's no argument that cultural perceptions of the gothic come with a set visual language, informed by years of book covers, film posters, and history. Stereotypical graphic images of the gothic are often accompanied by appropriately spiky typography; the severe angles and points of the letterforms calling to mind engravings on ancient tombstones and the spikes of stakes. In fact, the typographic link has become so overt that too 'obvious' depictions of the gothic now feel inauthentic, or mocking.

There's also the borrowing of gothic type – or blackletter, as the script is commonly known – for music subcultures: punk, heavy metal, black metal, death metal. There's no doubt that, in the eye of today's culture, blackletter references the dark, the unapproachable, and somehow the undefinably supernatural.

The dark undertow of gothic literature is reflected in gothic type's own dark history, from its time as a vehicle for German national identity, through to its cultural appropriation by the Nazis. The more correct term for gothic type – blackletter, also known as broken script – refers to the calligraphic script of the Middle Ages, often hand-written by monks transcribing religious texts.

The very first metal type was born from this calligraphic style, and Johannes Gutenberg's 42-line Bible of 1455 used a blackletter which was based on liturgical scripts of the time. However, while roman types - the kind you're reading now - were embraced by most of Europe, and prevalent in England by the 17th century, Germany remained faithful to blackletter until well into the 30s.

Other European nations had jettisoned gothic letterforms in favour of the more 'simple' and 'graceful' characteristics of roman type, as opposed to the dark, angular, 'fussy' nature of gothic – barely legible to contemporary readers. The two styles were set against each other as polar opposites, with the very character of gothic type portrayed as somehow darker in nature. In his 1900 essay, Plain Printing Types, typographic scholar Theodore Lowe DeVinne issued a damning statement, describing blackletter as “a degenerate form of the roman character.”

Despite criticism, blackletter became a defining part of the German nation's visual character, with everyday books and newspapers published in gothic type, and children learning blackletter script at school. Some scholars even refused to read German publications set in roman type. However, during WWII blackletter was characterised as the 'German type', and debased and militarized by the Nazis for propaganda. Although the script was forbidden in 1941 – ironically by the Nazis themselves – blackletter remains touched by its cultural associations, unable to entirely shake free of its history.

Today gothic letterforms retain a dark historical resonance, but have also found new homes in visual language, particularly in that of subcultures. Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin says, “For current music and youth cults, blackletter is a means of proclaiming multiple identities: a collective, a people, a race, a nation, heavy metal, black metal, gothic – all of which celebrate brutality, or in a highly artificial way, the symbolism of death and destruction.'

Designer David Rudnick's HyperZeit typeface, a contemporary take on traditional blackletter
Image: Designer David Rudnick's HyperZeit typeface

Gothic lettering proliferates in the visual language of the music scene, particularly in those pitching themselves as musical minorities. It's also the stereotypical type style associated with horror, which seems to reference the fear and darkness associated with its historical connotations. Type designer Gunnar Vilhjálmsson compares the typeface to dressing up in a leather jacket and ripped jeans, saying, “It's this naïve way of looking scary or getting respect. The blackletter or gothic types have that insult. That's the design programme of these typefaces, these letterforms. They have some kind of mystical dark history even though, if you know anything about it, you would see it's a normal letterform.” Some of the gothic power of the style also lies in the striking appearance of the script – diagonal, clearcut, and bringing to mind its original use in bibles and latin texts, which adds to the mysticism. “There's no other style of writing the latin script that is as bold and powerful” says Vilhjálmsson.

You can view examples of Gothic typography from the British Library archive on our Discovering Literature website.

13 October 2014

Interview with Dave McKean on Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

Add comment Comments (0)

As I mentioned in a recent post, Dave McKean designed the wonderfully macabre artwork for our Terror and Wonder: The Gothic imagination exhibition artwork. That means that his image appears in all our marketing materials, from leaflets to tube posters. I asked him a few questions...

Mckeandevil

Hi Dave. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have worked for the past 25 years as an illustrator, artist, photographer, designer, writer, musician, composer and film maker. I've illustrated around 50 books for an assortment of authors including Ray Bradbury, Heston Blumenthal, Richard Dawkins, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, David Almond, SF Said and John Cale, and I've made hundreds of CD and book covers including the entire run of Neil Gaiman's popular Sandman series. I've written and directed three features and several shorts, including MirrorMask for the Jim Henson Company/Sony, The Gospel of Us with Michael Sheen and my new film Luna.

How did you first get involved with the British Library and the Terror and Wonder exhibition?

I was asked to design the previous exhibition, Comics Unmasked, by co-curator Paul Gravett. I really enjoyed working with the British Library, and problem solving on such a large scale. The curators of the Gothic show were also interested in aspects of my work, especially my illustrations for Neil's book Coraline, so then it seemed possible that I could do the poster as well.

Can you tell us about the creative process behind the artwork?

I drew out six or seven rough ideas, trying to find an image that was not a single specific character or story, some way of representing the breadth of work in the exhibition, but touched on key Gothic texts - Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, and for me, The Hands of Orlac. Something that suggested the psychological aspects of these stories seemed appropriate. I also wanted a simple, bold, almost silhouetted flowing image, something that would stand out in a variety of formats and sizes. The drawing was made in ink and graphite and simply toned in Photoshop. The strange shadowy smoky face was an abstract ink stain, distorted into a face in Photoshop.

What are you particularly excited about seeing in the exhibition?

The design and presentation of the narrative. It was a steep learning curve for me creating the Comics show, so I'm now very interested to see how others approach storytelling in an exhibition space. And of course, I'm sure the British Library archives have unearthed another fascinating collection of work.

What’s coming up next for you? I know you're speaking at one of our upcoming events.

Yes, I'll be speaking with Vaughan Oliver, one of the most important influences on my early art school self, and he still is to this day, so I'm a bit daunted. I have a new film out called Luna, currently doing a small indi tour of the UK via PictureHouse. I have an exhibition of drawings in Paris at Galerie Martel, a new book of covers out from DC Comics called Dream States, and new collection of short stories out from Dark Horse Comics, Pictures that Tick Vol.2, I'm planning a new film with the theatre company Wildworks, and drawing more comics, including a new graphic novel inspired by the wonderful expressionist film the Cabinet of Dr Caligari. I'm hoping to create a new performance piece for the British Library as well, as part of the Gothic exhibition.

You can see Dave's artwork for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination below.

Dave McKean

 

01 October 2014

Be inspired by the Magic of Birds

Add comment Comments (0)

Did you know the British Library has a Publishing team? They release lots of great titles, and have just launched a new book called ‘The Magic of Birds’. 

You can find examples of imagery and symbolism of birds in cultures from around the world. They have captured people’s imagination since earliest times, with their beautiful plumage, behaviour and ability to fly. Birds are often linked to themes like birth, death, freedom and captivity.

Our author Celia Fisher has traced the ways in which artists, writers and storytellers have depicted them, from the myths of ancient Egypt to humble garden birds.

You can find out more on our Shop website and read a guest article  with Celia on our Asia and Africa studies blog. In the meantime, here are some of my favourite images from the book:

Magic of birds 1

Arctic Tern from The Birds of America by John James Audubon, 1827-38.

Magic of birds 2

Earl Mar's daughter, illustration by Arthur Rackham from Some British Ballards, 1919.

 

Magic of birds 3

Florican from Oriental Memoirs by James Forbes, 1813. 

Magic of birds 4

Golden oriole among leaves from Kyomjae hwachop, 'Album of paintings by Kyomjae', c.1900. 

 

Magic of birds 6

 

Page from Tennen hyakkaku (Tennen's one hundred cranes) by Kigai Tennen, Kyoto, 1900.

24 September 2014

Meet the Makers: Terror and Wonder in the British Library Shop

Add comment Comments (0)

Next week sees the opening of our latest exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ and once again the Shop area has been transformed. This time, we are entering the study of an old English country house where, by the flickering candlelight, we can see our host opening a leather-bound volume and inviting us to take a seat.

British Library Shop

We spoke to two of the people responsible for supplying the props that transformed this area: Guy Arzi and Cog O’ Two.

Guy Arzi is a designer who uses reclaimed architectural salvage to create modern decorative and functional objects. His repurposed candelabra are perfectly suited for the gothic shop, as they are a modern reinterpretation of a classic icon of gothic melodrama.

Terror and Wonder Shop2

How did you get started in design, and why architectural salvage?

I am a fine art graduate, but I have also studied Architectural Conservation, and I worked as a Conservator for St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

As a conservator looking after the interiors of some beautiful old buildings you get to look closely at objects and architectural features and you get to understand the materials and the craftsmanship involved in making them.

It seems to me that we don’t make things as we used to, by which I mean the quality and longevity of everything we produce isn’t as good as it used to be. So I feel the need to recreate some of the old craftsmanship, and salvage it from distraction or decay - or maybe I simply can’t resist old objects!

But while working at Westminster Abbey I really started to appreciate carvings and the general wit in old art so it came naturally to me to use reclaimed architectural salvage in my art.

Terror and Wonder Shop3

Is there a particular age or style you like to use in your work?

I like mixing styles a little; it is like how our street architecture is full of buildings from different times. When you mix styles you realize how much these styles are a repetition of themselves but with a little twist. And the streets of London can often be a good source of material that I can rework into new pieces.

ArziLamps

You’ve worked at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and you’ve created work for the British Library and The National Maritime Museum, do you enjoy working with museums and galleries?

Yes, I’m a museum junky! I love so many museums across London for so many different reasons - The Wallace Collection, British Library, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, John Soane Museum, Hunterian Museum, I can go on and on. My all-time favourite museum is the Victoria and Albert; I would love to make a massive work for the V&A.

British Library Shop

 

Cog O’ Two is a real family business. Jon and Micheala and their sons Liam and Nathan produce laser-cut steampunk-inspired props. For Gothic, their aesthetic worked beautifully, being at once antique and modern, ambiguously aged and curiously contemporary. The hanging keys and clock hands help create the ambiance of the gothic study, and the ominous birdcages add a touch of drama.

We asked Jon how Cog O ‘Two came about.

I’ve always been into making things even as a child and probably inspired by my dad who was a keen model engineer and model boat enthusiast. As part of a fancy dress party for my 40th I was persuaded to buy a decent set of Star Wars Stormtrooper Armour and afterwards join The UKG. The UKG ( UK Garrison ) is the UK arm of global costuming group The 501st. Their sole aim is to raise money for nominated charities and have fun whilst doing it – in 2013 the UKG raised over £66,000. The whole family ended up getting involved, Michaela as Ghost Rider with Nathan as Wicket and Liam also as The Ghost Rider, participating at many events all over the UK in a variety of costumes we had made. From there we made a number of props for friends, and since then we’ve just grown.

JonMichaelaNathancrop

Cogtwo

And did you have experience with laser cutting and etching before this business, or did you learn to make these pieces?

Neither of us had any experience other than my attending FabLab Manchester and using their machines, which was a really good foundation in lasers and 3D printing. FabLab was a wealth of knowledge with their staff and volunteers and a plethora of people that popped in to use the machines. So other than learning the basics at FabLab we’re pretty much self-taught.

And it is a real family business, isn’t it?

Liam, our eldest, is 19 years old and he actually created the first cogs we made into sets and sold. Since then he’s designed a number of our products and generally looks after all the cutting and maintenance of the machines. Nathan is our youngest son and is 13 years old, and he helps out with some drawing, selling on the stall when we do events and doing odd jobs around the workshop.

Why steampunk? Was this something you were already interested in, or did it develop through the business?

As well as the UKG, some of our friends within that group were also into Steampunk and we were invited up to Whitby Goth weekend in April 2010. This is probably the second biggest event where Steampunks meet, as there are many crossovers with the Goth scene, and our passion for it grew from there. Our business actually grew through our love of Steampunk, as we’d already made bits for friends in the Steampunk community. Michaela saw an opportunity to take that one step further and provide components that weren’t readily available in a material that was light weight and cheap enough that any Steampunk could afford. Already having the laser at this point made quite good business sense and the machine could be put to good use.

British Library Shop

As well as selling to other Steampunks, who else do you work for?

We’ve created props for The National Maritime Museum, The National Space Centre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Harvey Nichols, Various TV and Theatre companies, and many high street retailers.

And if money and size was not an issue, what would you most love to make?

A full size Nautilus Submarine from 20,00 Leagues Under The Sea!

Thanks to Guy and Jon for answering our questions. Full length versions of these interviews can be seen on the ExhibeoVM website.

You can also see our full range of Gothic products on the British Library Shop website.

12 September 2014

Follow the British Library on Instagram

Add comment Comments (0)

Hello readers, I have some good news for you. I'll be looking after the British Library Instagram account for a while; I'll be posting pictures of our flagship St Pancras building, amazing collections, exhibitions, events and the people that use us. If you post a picture of us, tag it with #britishlibrary and I'll 'regram' some of the best.

21 August 2014

Brand new Gothic artwork from artist Dave McKean revealed

Add comment Comments (0)

Gothic Terror and Wonder exhibition artwork Dave McKean
We’re delighted to reveal the exciting new artwork created exclusively for our upcoming exhibition, Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination. Designed by Batman Arkham Asylum artist Dave McKean, the new image takes inspiration from the iconic Gothic titles in the show, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Terror and Wonder celebrates 250 years of Gothic literature and shows how the genre has inspired so much of the pop culture that surrounds us today, from Whitby Goth Festival to catwalk looks created by Alexander McQueen.

Greg Buzwell, co-curator of the exhibition, gave us a quote:  “Dave’s artwork brilliantly captures the drama and intensity of the Gothic imagination, something which we explore in detail in Terror and Wonder. Ever since the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in 1764, Gothic themes and ideas have provided a rich source of inspiration for writers, filmmakers, artists, musicians and fashion designers; adding colour, wonder and a dash of delicious fear to our lives.”

The new artwork will appear on the exhibition poster across London (look out for it on the tube) and as a six metre high installation in our entrance hall. 

The exhibition opens on 3 October and runs until 20 January 2015. Tickets are already available to book online, and we’ll have a full events programme for you including comedian Stewart Lee, Sarah Waters and a very spooky Halloween LATE.