City as Material: Norwich

Tim Wright joined Giles and I for our second City As Material outside of London on Tuesday, as we took a trip to Norwich, where Tim spent his early years.

The train from London seemed distinctly commuter-free compared to our journey to Bristol, with only a handful of people in our carriage. We bagged table seats, and sat down to some much needed coffee, battling against the dreary weather outside. Mucky, sepia-tinted windows gave the landscape outside a grainy, nostalgic vibe, the perfect accompaniment to tales of Tim’s childhood in Norwich.

Arriving there, after setting up the GPS tracker and sound recorder Tim had brought, we walked down the main stretch of tacky nightclubs and kebab joints, possibly not the best introduction to the city. However, we soon spied Norwich castle, a curious structure, almost too uniform and perfect considering it dates from the 11th century. Tim said it looked like a fairy-tale castle, a manifestation of the first thing you’d see when you heard the word “castle”. Next to it, a space-age cylindrical lift ferried visitors to and from the lower levels – a bizarre combination.

We descended to the city centre, passing the market, towards Elm Hill, a historic cobbled lane with houses and shops dating from the Tudor period. This amazing street is home to the Strangers Club, set up to entertain those from outside Norwich, and where Tim’s father regularly took him to lunch. I couldn’t resist a peek through a lofty window, and was greeted with the sight of a woman carrying flagons from the kitchen, hastily ducking before she noticed. Further up, the window of an antique and curiosity shop in a side court displayed Crowley-esque goat horns and all manner of surreal exhibits.

After passing through the beautiful cathedral and it’s ornate cloisters (and a hilarious sign outside which read “We apologise for the untidy appearance of these ruins”), we popped into the Writer’s Centre, recruiting Chris Gribble briefly as our tour guide. He mentioned that Norwich was barely affected by the industrial revolution, apparent in the structures pre-dating it which are so common. We cut through the shopping centre, past the cinema where Tim first saw Star Wars, and arrived by a huge derelict building adorned with a giant graffiti mural; originally zoned for development, but now a victim of the property crash. A dystopian counterpart to the medieval niches of the city.

Before departing, Chris recommended The Window, the “world’s smallest coffee shop” (appropriately next to the “UK’s best pizza and kebab” shop – a dubious claim). After lunch in the refreshingly different Cinema City dining rooms (housed in a building where parts date back the the 14th century, yet the courtyard is sheltered by a modern glass roof), we stopped by. It resembles a tiny kitchen, with only a small bench and a chair or two to perch on, but has a great atmosphere. We chatted with the owner and several locals, and left with the after-glow of a dynamic and friendly venture trailing behind. Tim’s previous statement that nothing much had changed since he left, and that the pulse of the city was definitely on the slow side, had a small, yet charming, contender.

All day we had noticed plaques underneath various street signs, some with slightly vague origins; the phrases “may have been named because” and “could be” were used an awful lot. Paired with peculiar names, such as “Rampant Horse Street” and “Tombland”, these gave us the idea of perhaps creating some Storycubes with street-sign images, and fictional explanations on the other side, which could be fun. We were also interested in using GPS data and sound recordings from the day for an eBook output, particularly Tim’s childhood memories, and the peaks and lulls in conversations when passing through certain areas, so that we could contrast the physical experiences with raw data, examining the correlations and disparities. We’ll be starting work on those soon, so keep an eye out on Diffusion.

View our photos from the day on the City As Material Flickr page.


Pitch Up & Publish 2011 – Book a place now

Giles posted about our upcoming Pitch Up & Publish workshops for 2011 last week – we’ve just confirmed the dates, and the Eventbrite page is now live. The sessions are taking place on:

Tuesday 22nd March 2011, 12.00 pm – 2.00 pm

Tuesday 12th April 2011, 12.00 pm – 2.00 pm

Tuesday 26th April 2011, 12.00 pm – 2.00 pm


Proboscis Studio
4th Floor 101 Turnmill Street
EC1M 5QP London
United Kingdom

Event Details

A series of workshops to help you make the most of bookleteer : guiding you from concept to publication and beyond. The 2 hour workshops will be held at our studio every 2-3 weeks and will have a maximum of 6 places. We will help beginners get started and offer more advanced users a collaborative space in which to explore new uses and ideas, sharing our knowledge and experiences.

The sessions will cover everything from basic level introduction to specific topics – such as designing project notebooks, embedding multimedia links via QR codes and preparing books for printing via our Short Run Printing Service. We also plan to run specific themed workshops to share our experiences and methods of using bookleteer to work with kids in schools, with community groups and in other more specialist settings.

Participants will become Alpha Club members, getting early access to new and exclusive features (such as the bookleteer API) as well as benefitting from discounts on Short Run Printing service and a free pack of medium size StoryCubes.

Book A Ticket

Tickets will cost £20 plus booking fee and are available from

View photos from previous Pitch Up & Publish sessions below, read about them here.






Diffusion Archive Highlight: A Sort Of Autobiography by Warren Craghead

I mentioned this set of Storycubes briefly in one of my first ever blog posts, “Comics, Cubed”, but it’s elaborate concept deserves another shout-out. Warren Craghead, an artist and curator, created ten Storycubes depicting a fictional autobiography, each representing a decade of his life (the last, in a touch of dark humour, simply shows an urn). Starting with his birth in 1970, and ending with his “death” in 2060, the cubes are drawn in different style and tones, the surreal, abstract illustrations portraying the world view and imagined future of a man who, in his own words, “is constantly drawing”. Warren’s cubes have received some pretty positive reviews from the comic scene as well – Matthew Brady described it as “a sweeping, fascinating portrait of a life” on his blog.

Download and make “A Sort Of Autobiography” for yourself here.


Diffusion Archive Highlight: Icons of Rijeka

During research visits to Riejka, Croatia, Andrew Hunter of Dodolab took the photographs of signs and graffiti that adorn this set of four double sided Storycubes. Accompanying the Icons Of Rijeka eBooks, they display some peculiar and amusing images, and are given a bold physicality by the three dimensional form of the cubes – almost as if someone has excavated a chunk of wall! I particularly like the sign which shows several figures appearing to clamber over a car, but what it denotes I have NO idea.

Download, make and decipher them for yourselves here.



Outside The Box – Prototype

Here at Proboscis, we’ve just recently finished a prototype of “Outside The Box”, created by Many Tang.  The project was conceived back in September, spurred by the Love Outdoor Play campaign, and we’ve been constructing and tinkering with it since. Last week blazed past in a frenzy of activity, with everyone pitching in to get a working set finished. On Saturday, Alice took a set to “Re-Thinking Space”, a day-long discussion in Nottingham organised by Learning Space, to play around with.

A set of  27 Storycubes to inspire children’s play, indoors or out, alone or with others, this cube of cubes has 3 layers of games which can be used in endless variations. We’re currently thinking about different ways to play, and producing an eBook of game suggestions, so we’ll soon be having fun testing them on ourselves and with kids. See more photos here.


Diffusion Archive Highlight: Bird Song By Melissa Bliss

I’ve just noticed a handful of eBooks and Storycubes in the Diffusion Archive that relate to songs and sound, particularly relevant with our last Pitch In & Publish: City As Material event – “Sonic Geographies”, being held this Friday (which you can book a place for here).

Bird Song was created to accompany a sound installation at the Chiswell Walled Garden in Dorset, for this years b-side festival in September. Each side of the Storycube portrays a silhouette of a different bird in its natural setting, with its particular call represented in onomatopoeic text. It must have been a great visual piece when paired with the sound, especially with the three dimensional form of the Storycube, as the silhouettes start to resemble the shadows of actual birds.

I’ll be looking at the other song themed items soon, and starting to pick up on other collective trends when delving through the archive.


Diffusion Archive Review: What Type Are You? – A Storycube game by Mandy Tang

This archive review comes courtesy of my fellow Future Jobs Fund employee here at Proboscis, Mandy Tang. The Storycube and accompanying eBook were actually the very first publications she created here – the ambitious concept speaks volumes about her work.

Picking a path, the player follows the line around the cube, until they reach one of six destinations, each with a different icon representing a personality type. The player then checks the eBook to read the corresponding description.

“What Type Are You?” really takes advantage of the cube form – the shape is integral to the game (as Mandy says: “When holding a cube you find yourself tempted to see whats on the other faces”). It’s also the first game in the archive – hopefully it will inspire fellow game-makers to create more. Download it here, and play it for yourself.


Diffusion Archive Review: Perception Peterborough

This set of Storycubes was part of a briefing pack for the Perception Peterborough workshops, set up to develop environmental initiatives and tackle green issues that Peterborough might be facing in the future. Created by Matt Huynh and Proboscis, these beautiful cubes were intended t0 visually display the themes in the project and kick start ideas. A set of eight cubes, linked together with stickers, they can be manipulated into many shapes, each formed side showing a set of illustrations with a common theme.

I love Matt Huynh’s style; wonderfully quirky and charming, they work so well on the small panels, almost resembling an abstract comic, or an illustrated Rubik’s cube. Whilst twisting the cubes into different forms, its hard to resist becoming mesmerised, as the different colours and shapes unfold inwards and outwards, kaleidoscopically.

It would be interesting to see comic authors working within this format, each set of panels representing short tales that can be switched around, letting the reader form the story by making different shapes. This relates to Hypercomics, which I’ve blogged about before, where different outcomes are possible with each read, shifting the reading experience from flat and passive, to three dimensional and interactive.

examples publishing on demand

Some Recent PPOD books

September was a busy month here at Proboscis and on bookleteer: we sent seven books to be printed via the PPOD service as well as 10 different StoryCubes. The range of publications was very broad, from books about exhibitions and art projects to a book in Arabic about a major archaeological excavation in Sudan and a special notebook for a symposium on digital engagement and another full of QR codes. The StoryCubes included an 8 cube ‘cube of cubes’ set by artists Joyce Majiski and Alice Angus on their Topographies & Tales project, a promotional cube about bookleteer itself and a cube by artist Melissa Bliss to promote her installation, Bird Song, at the b-side media festival in the Isle of Portland.

The photo above shows the various StoryCube and printed eBooks :

  • Excavations in the Temple Precinct of Dangeil by Julie Anderson & Salah eldin Mohamed Ahmed (in both English and Arabic versions)
  • In Good Heart; what is a farm? by Alice Angus
  • where it ends and we begin by Fian Andrews
  • Tales of Things: Objects, Stories & Voices from the BME Communities in Greenwich by TOTeM
  • Graffito by BigDog Interactive & Proboscis
  • Inspiring Digital Engagement Festival by Ann Light & Karen Martin
  • Bird Song by Melissa Bliss
  • bookleteer StoryCube by Proboscis
  • Topographies & Tales by Alice Angus and Joyce Majiski
  • Categories
    inspiration making

    Sneaky peek at Mandy’s desk

    While Mandy was out at lunch Alice and I pounced on the StoryCube puzzle she’s working on because, well, because it looks gorgeous! Pencil sketches of farmyard animals, sea creatures, flowers, kittens, insects and snakes are scattered across a set of nine cubes and lie on a background of  shades of blue. The sketches cross over from one side of the cube to another but change as you rotate the cube so that viewing different sides give the sketches a fantastical feel where kittens have flowers for feet and cows have snakes instead of mouths.

    The nine cubes are intended as a puzzle with the goal being to match up all of the sketches of one type across all nine cubes. Sounds simple doesn’t it.. well, Alice and I didn’t manage it in the time Mandy was out for lunch!

    ps. I also have to say good-bye today. This will be my last regular post for the bookleteer blog because I begin a full-time research position on Monday. I’ve been working with Proboscis on and off for the past five years and it’s been an incredible journey. I can’t thank Giles and Alice enough for the opportunities I’ve had while I’ve been here – and especially for giving me the chance to meet and work with all the fabulous talented people who’ve been in the studio over that time. Good luck with everything, folks!