Steps in Time: a poem-walk through Newcastle-upon-Tyne

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We’re talking with NCLA Associate Staff Pete Hebden about his work on the app Steps in Time: a poem-walk through Newcastle-upon-Tyne, launching at this year’s festival.


NCLA: What is the Steps in Time App?

PH: Steps in Time is a poetry app that guides you on a poem-walk across Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Visitors to Newcastle could discover lesser-known places like Dog Leap Stairs and High Friar Lane, as well as iconic buildings such as the Civic Centre and Grainger Market. My colleague John Challis has commissioned sixteen poets to write poems for each of the sixteen locations.

NCLA: How does the app work?

PH: The app uses a phone’s GPS to enable users to read and listen to the poems as they journey along a pre-designed route. Reaching certain points along the route will alert users to read or listen to the poem about that place.

NCLA: What inspired the app?

PH: The locations of Newcastle and Gateshead, really. There’s a lot of history in the town. We thought that with so many people travelling to Newcastle for the poetry festival it would be nice to introduce people to Newcastle and Gateshead in a way that befits the poetry festival. It’s also a way to showcase some locally based writers, as so many writers are coming from all over the world to perform at the festival. The app also fits in with this year’s theme of In Time: notions of timeliness, music and history.

NCLA: Going back to what you said about history… do you mean literary history?

PH: More the secret histories of the places. Each place was chosen because it has some historical significance. But the poets can choose to respond however they like. Some of the places include the Law Courts, Central Station, Swing Bridge, and Northumberland Street, the main shopping street. We’re going to record all the poets as well, so we’ve got that to look forward to.

NCLA: What has been the process of putting the app together?

PH: We’ve been planning the app since late 2016. It’s been a fast turnaround. We’ve commissioned all the poets, and we’re waiting for the submissions. I’ve been creating the user interface for the app, making it work with the phones’ GPS systems, and making sure it plays audio files in a smooth kind of manner. As far as building the app goes, it’s a lot of trial and error: finding bugs and fixing them.

NCLA: What’s your experience in building apps?

PH: I have a lot of experience in building websites and have recently started building apps. I’m currently working on the Bloodaxe Poetry app with Bloodaxe Books (an app that is allows people to read poems, listen to poems and view videos on a mobile device).

I did my MA in Creative Writing (short fiction and screenwriting) in Newcastle. I wrote poetry while I was doing my MA, and then I used the MA to do other kinds of writing like short fiction or screenwriting. While I was doing my MA I became interested in how literature and digital technology overlap. And that led me to here.

NCLA: Excellent. How did you choose the contributors?

PH: They all have some connection to Newcastle in that they either live or work here.  We’ve also partnered with a diverse range of organisations: Gem Arts, Cuckoo Young Writers, Aging Creatively, The Writing Squad.  We also have poems from past and current PhD students. There’s a real mixture of different voices, ages, and writing styles.

NCLA: How will you launch the Steps in Time app?

PH: We’ll be putting it on the App Store and Google Play before the festival, but Steps in Time will be officially launched at this year’s festival with readings from some of the contributors hopefully. We’re very excited about it. It’s interesting to find new and creative ways to bring new writing to people. And this app is one of those.

Dog Leap Stairs, one of the 16 locations in the Steps in Time app
Pete Hebden, working on Steps in Time