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Last Updated: Monday, 2 August, 2004, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
The art of not writing books
By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Imaginary novels and incredible stories are being collected for posterity in an unconventional UK arts project, the Library of Unwritten Books.

The Library of Unwritten Books
Tales are recorded then transcribed and turned into mini-books
You will not find these titles on bookshelves or bestseller lists - One-Eyed Olaf, The Man Who Was Addicted to Seeing, Poke the Pig and Scrumping in Persia.

These books, along with many others, have not been written - so they are only to be found in the Library of Unwritten Books.

An art project travelling the UK, this library is collecting stories and ideas for books people would like to write - but never have, and probably never will.

Its two librarians - Sam Brown and Caroline Jupp - have collected more than 400 stories over the last two years, and are aiming for a total of 1,000.

Armed with a "mobile recording unit" - a converted shopping trolley - they have been eliciting stories from strangers before turning each tale into its own mini-book.

Library of Unwritten Books
The library collection is currently at Portsmouth's Aspex Gallery
At just a few pages each, these are pamphlets with the barest bones of an idea - and are distributed to libraries, pubs, community centres and doctor's waiting rooms.

Whether they are personal memories, wild fantasy or family history, these are stories that have never been told outside the author's circle of family and friends.

The original concept comes from the library of unpublished books in Richard Brautigan's novel The Abortion - and it was the desire to bring unpublished ideas into the open that brought the library into reality.

"I think it's curiosity about other things that drives me," Ms Jupp says. "The uncovering of those hidden things - that's a bit of a challenge."

'So much potential'

In Portsmouth recently, one day saw the pair collect stories from a man with cerebral palsy about education, a man who went on an anti-Hitler pilgrimage to Austria, someone who had done children's illustrations of a family of conkers but not yet written the story, and an author of Chinese philosophical poetry.

"I think there's so much potential, there really is," Ms Jupp says. "But a lot of people just don't have the skill or the time - that very specific ability that it takes to write a book."

The following day included a story from an 80-year-old woman whose father was born in 1876 and served on HMS Terrible.

In a story that has all the hallmarks of a bestseller, her mother was originally engaged to one man - who went to war and was thought to have been killed.

So her mother married another man - only for the original fiance to come home alive from China with a Chinese wedding shoe.

The Library of Unwritten Books
The Library of Unwritten Books is aiming to collect 1,000 stories
Another participant, Fiona Davonport-White, 33, from Cambridge, came up with a tale about a middle-aged man whose life is changed after a conversation with a stranger in a pub.

"I was intrigued by the trolley," she says, adding that she had taken creative writing lessons but was too busy to write a real book.

"You get the overwhelming feeling that there's too many books already," she says. "I think the thing is to get myself a blog or something first to try it out."

When approached on the street, some people blankly refuse Ms Jupp and Mr Brown's advances - but a surprising number are willing to share their intimate thoughts, the pair say.

'They'll confound you'

They say they have learnt to stop making assumptions about the people they encounter.

"They'll confound what you were thinking - which is a great part of the project," Mr Brown says.

Some want to use the experience as a personal catharsis, Ms Jupp says, but many have a message they want to convey to the world.

Giving the reader some little clues about the bigger picture is just as nice as giving them the whole picture
Caroline Jupp
"A lot of these things are going to remain unwritten," Ms Jupp says, before Mr Brown adds: "And it's better that those ideas are out there in some form."

But not all concepts could or should be turned into full books, Mr Brown says.

"Unwritten books are different to the books that they would write," he says. "A good unwritten book doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be a good written book."

They are nice as "short snippets of people's lives", Ms Jupp adds. "Because they're so small, and you can't get everything in there, they're just suggestions of what could be.

"Giving the reader some little clues about the bigger picture is just as nice as giving them the whole picture and the whole book."

The Library of Unwritten Books is available to read at the Aspex gallery in Portsmouth until 28 August.

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