Synaesthesia Magazine Cities - Page 39

Gimbal app with the commuter in mind. He catches the same tube to work every day and he finds it boring. He distracts himself by reading or listening to audio books. Now, Jim gimbals; using the app to let the grey journey to work dissolve around him. He prefers to go on an imaginary journey instead. Today, Paris. Tomorrow, maybe Sarajevo.

He notes that the success of the app so far is the ease of selection: “It doesn’t matter if your journey length is 15 minutes or an hour, you can fit the story in with your journey length, or choose by genre or location. It’s straightforward, and people love the discoverability of stories within the app too.”

The stories available on the app are set in different cities – Prague, Barcelona, Istanbul, Riga and plenty more. Comma Press partnered up with European literary exchange program Literature Across Frontiers and set up exchanges between writers in different cities. Together, they sent eight writers to visit different cities, writing stories specifically for the Gimbal app.

Read the city

The point of the Gimbal app is to discover a new way of ‘reading the city’. It encourages feelings for the city that often get lost on a mundane commute, like curiosity and affection. And short stories, above all else, encapsulate those moments. “Short stories encourage you to read harder, read better. They demand more of the reader, a bit like poetry,” says Jim. “You have to wade in carefully, but the rewards of a short story are usually greater.”

We asked Jim what he thought it was about city stories that seem to appeal to us again and again. “They say an awful lot about the way we live,” Jim explains. “Cities and short stories are about chance encounters in municipal spaces, like alleyways and cafés.”

It’s precisely this transient aspect that appeals: “All short stories are about strangers. You, as the reader, are a stranger to the characters. The characters are often strangers to each other on the page. Look at Istanbul at the moment; so many of the short stories from that city are about politics and the way the geography of the city affects that.* The city is a place for people to meet, mingle, protest and demonstrate, and no-one wants to relinquish control over that. It’s a prime example of why public spaces and cities affect people’s interactions with each other; it reveals character.”

Every brick counts

Thinking about it, it’s an almost perfect marriage. Think of how a city relies on structure: sewn together by railway lines and tall buildings. New York is sectioned into blocks; London, Berlin and Paris are linked together with underground railway systems. Every brick counts; without that topographical structure, a city would collapse. Novels have structure, sure, but they’re less restricted by time, a bit like driving along winding country roads. Short stories are buildings. One dodgy brick, and the story comes tumbling down.

*The Book of Istanbul: A City in Short Fiction, edited by Jim Hinks and Gul Turner, Comma Press

"Cities and short stories are about chance encounters in municipal spaces, like alleyways and cafés"

Find out more about the Gimbal app on www.letsgimbal.com, and Comma Press on www.commapress.co.uk.