In Search Of Oldton

oldton poster

With 'In Search of Oldton', I plan to work together with people - online and offline - to build up digital evidence of a town that never really existed.

I am very keen for the project to encourage as many people as possible to try their hand at writing in a digital environment and to explore what it might mean to have a literary experience online.

Please send me texts, pictures, sounds, videos and memorabilia that I can use to build up a detailed portait of my old home town. The only rule about submissions is that they must be about a place or a person that has been lost or left behind.


Already a number of people have posted to the trAce forum, giving me leads on where Oldton might be, and what might have caused its disappearance. By email, I have also received texts, images and sounds that have been submitted to the growing Oldton archive.

Please send me your own memories, memorabilia, souvenirs and farewells from the disappeared town. You can email me, post to my blog or send items though the post to: trAce Online Writing Centre, The Nottingham Trent University, Clifton Lane, Clifton, Nottingham NG11 8NS.

Oldton postcardSEND ME A POSTCARD
If you'd prefer to collect your thoughts on paper, we have produced an Oldton postcard. A pack of cards can be sent to you on request. Please contact Catherine Gillam at . Tel 0115 8483533 for details.

Use the card to write or sketch a short message about something or someoneyou never said goodbye to properly, and post it to me.

Between March and July 2004, I'll be travelling throughout the UK, working with the people I meet to piece together the mystery of what happened to Oldton, my childhood town. Current dates include:

12th May - Lincoln Book Festival

15th May - Hay Festival

22nd June - MAC Birmingham


12th July - Incubation3 Symposium , Nottingham

Dates in Dorset, Tyneside and Norfolk are also in the pipeline. If you'd like me to come to your town and talk about the joys of digital writing, click here for details.

On my blog I am recording my work in progress: how this story is emerging, through the gathering and manipulation of assets, the building of Web pages and the development of narrative through text and voice.

The site itself currently represents a 'promotional excerpt' from a project that is due for completion in September 2004. As such I have intentionally designed it to be circular and self enclosed. The three main sections will become more discrete over time, but always will remain interlinked. They simply represent different starting points for what ends up being one big story.

I claim Oldton as my old home town, because it represents for me two important things that I lost in my own life, things that somehow still manage to be a significant part of who I am: one is my father, who committed suicide several years ago, and the other is the innocent and happy childhood I enjoyed in a secure and peaceful rural environment in the 'pre-digital' 1960s and early 1970s.

I can never get these things back in real life. But perhaps through an imaginative act of digital reincarnation, I can come to terms with my loss. Perhaps a *virtual* return to Eden is possible...

The project is a deliberate confusion of a fictional narrative and an exploration of my personal life, with the aim of discovering and defining some kind of emotional truth about my past.

This, to me, seems like a natural way for a digital writer to use the online environment - to create something of emotional significance out of the multiplicity of impersonal interactions and chaotic, shared media that the Web offers.

It is true that when I was six, we left a small village in the country where I was very happy. It is also true that much later my father killed himself. In my digital story, however, I have changed the sequence of events and compressed the period of time in which these events happened - much as anyone does when engaging with an interactive environment, whether it be a Web site or a CD ROM or a game.

We chop and change the order in which we look at things. We dwell in some areas of the virtual environment for longer than in others. Some areas we never visit at all. I wanted to create a digital story in which I could do the same kind of thing with my own past. And by doing so, I'm hoping to reveal something about how digital narratives can unlock a different kind of 'truth' about common human experiences.

'In Search of Oldton' is also, for me, a modest attempt to retell the Eden myth at a time of great technological revolution, when human beings are beginning to wonder what kind of animals we might become in a 24x7 virtual world, and what we all might lose by evolving in this way.

trAce Online Writing CentreNESTAKids on the NetThe Nottingham Trent UniversitytrAce Writing School