Museums-and-literature project 26 Treasures to form basis of new book

Museums-and-literature project 26 Treasures to form basis of new book

The collection of 'sestudes' will be published by Unbound

When 26 Treasures came to the National Museum of Scotland between December 2011 and January 2012 it was well received by artists and visitors alike. 26 writers were assigned 26 objects from the museum's vast collection of historical artefacts (including the Arthur's Seat mummies, pictured) and asked to write 62 words (26 backwards) inspired by their chosen piece.

During the project, the organisers of 26 Treasures developed a new unofficial literary form, the sestude, which has been adopted by other writers inspired by the project. It has no requirements for rhythm or rhyme, but must be only 62 words.

Online publishing platform Unbound will produce the world's first-ever anthology of sestudes collected from each leg of 26 Treasures. The first edition will be published in hardback and eBook in mid-June by Unbound, but will also be released in September by publishing house Faber.

Just six months old, Unbound is a crowd-sourcing site that allows authors to pitch ideas for books directly to the readers. In turn, if the reader likes a book they can donate money to help publish it. Once a book reaches it's full quota of donations, it is printed and in return the reader will receive rewards ranging from having their name in the back of the book to discounted writing courses.

26 Treasures started at the Victoria and Albert Museum two years ago after creative writing organisation 26 approached them with the idea. After its success there, historical novelist and 26 board member Sara Sheridan pitched the idea of doing another at the National Museum of Scotland.

'Many aspects of the writing industry are London-centric,' she says, 'so it's nice to be able to bring it up here and let that talent shine. We chose the National Museum because wanted somewhere that could span the whole of Scottish history.'

The project spread throughout the UK, and 26 objects in the Ulster Museum, Belfast and the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth became the subject of writers' attentions. Together with the pieces from the V&A and the National Museum of Scotland, they make up the anthology published by Unbound.

Co-founder of 26, John Simmons, says this modern method of publication lent itself to the inclusive nature of the project. '26 Treasures comes with so many different authors as part of it and it helped the crowd-sourcing idea because there's a large community who are already involved,' he says. 'It does give you this extra connection with the publication that you don't have with conventional publishing.'

The National Museum of Scotland say they are 'excited' about the anthology. Learning officer Claire Allan agrees that Unbound is the perfect platform to publish the book. 'Writers got involved because they understand the importance of these real objects,' she says. 'I think the fact that there's going to be a physical end product is very apt.

'Our own labels for these artefacts are only 25 words long, but there's so much more that can be said about them. This project gave people the freedom to come at it from a completely different perspective, whether it was a story or an individual reaction.'

Having the anthology will bring together all of these artefacts in a kind of literary exhibition, something that wasn't available during the project itself. 'If you'd wanted to go through the museum and find all 26 objects it would have taken you a good hour and a half,' Allan says.

Other 26 projects are planned for the future, including 26 Treasures of Childhood at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London. Can Simmons see this becoming a book too? 'I'd certainly love to do more,' he says, 'but lets get this one under our belt first.'

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