This novel uses your phone’s GPS to make you explore London

There’s something pleasantly uncanny in reading a novel set in the place you’re standing. Everything you see, everything the character sees, and everything the author see all slump on top of each other like pieces of an ill-fitting jigsaw. It makes the world seem both more and less real.

This novel uses your phone’s GPS to make you explore London

Writer James Attlee’s new project takes this phenomenon to a new level, situating a book around real locations in London, relayed using the GPS in your smartphone. The Cartographer’s Confession tells the story of a young immigrant in post-WW2 London, via audio recordings, letters and old photographs dotted around a handful of places in the capital.

If you download the app, you’ll first be faced with a short video of a fictional screenwriter in the present day. She talks about working in a map shop, and how it led her to research a certain mapmaker, called Thomas Andersen. From there, it’s onto the streets of London to trace Andersen’s memories from the early 1950s, from Southbank to Leicester Square, culminating in a climactic chapter in Bermondsey.

The backbone of the piece is a series of audio recordings, set-off when you enter certain sites on the app’s map. Around this is a plethora of documents and actual photographs from the period, as well as a side-narrative based on non-fictional events in 1931. The whole thing, if done in one go, will take around four hours including tube travel.

“I’m very aware it goes completely against the received wisdom of people’s attention span on the internet,” Attlee tells me over the phone. “But I feel there is a hunger for writing that is multi-layered and complex in digital media, just as there is in books.”

Readers can tackle the project in pieces if they’d prefer – with the story broken into three distinct chapters. There’s also an “armchair mode” where you can virtual navigate the map and listen to the recordings without having to traipse the streets. I’d very much recommend leaving the house, however. Navigating the story with your feet on the cobbles is a memorable experience – one that puts you in the role of reader, filmmaker and detective all at once.

Attlee has previously written a number of travel narratives, including Isolarion, Nocturne and Station to Station. He’s also just published a book on Picasso’s Guernica, titled Guernica: Painting the End of the World. The Cartographer’s Confession is the second commission from the Ambient Literature research collaboration between the University of West England, Bath Spa University, and the University of Birmingham. We’ve previously written about that wider project here. You can download the app for free on iTunes or Google Play.

Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.

Todays Highlights
How to See Google Search History
how to download photos from google photos