Whilst the superhero of comic books and blockbuster movies may be a quintessentially American invention, the cultural DNA of the superhero can arguably be traced to a much older, more progressive, British tradition. The Cuckoo Cage is the result of twelve collaborations between leading authors and historians tasked with devising new origin stories for this pack of 21st century protest heroes.
Chaired by Ra Page, this panel brings together authors Courttia Newland and Bidisha with the historians who informed their stories. Together they will share the folk tales and true-events from British protest past which have inspired the origin tales for their modern day superheroes as well as delving into Comma’s unique approach to putting history back into fiction.
Courttia Newland and historian Dr Richard Sheldon will chat through the creation of superhero Jack-a-Lent, the statue toppling, portal-hopping Bristolian hero inspired by a 1749 anti-tollgate riot.
Bidisha and Rose Wallis will dive into the backstory of the arsonist warrior for worker’s rights, Captain Swing, directly inspired by the larger-than-life folk heroes of the 1830 rural Swing Riots.
Courttia Newland is the author of eight books including his much-lauded debut, The Scholar. His most recent novel, A River Called Time, was longlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize. He co-edited The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain, and his short stories have featured in various anthologies and been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a screenwriter, he has co-written episodes of Steve McQueen’s 2020 BBC series Small Axe.
Bidisha is a broadcaster, journalist and film-maker. She specialises in human rights, social justice and the arts and offers political analysis, arts critique and cultural diplomacy tying these interests together. She writes for the main UK broadsheets and broadcasts for BBC TV and radio, ITN, CNN, ViacomCBS and Sky News. Her fifth book Asylum and Exile: Hidden Voices of London, is based on her outreach work in UK prisons, refugee charities and detention centres. Her first short film, An Impossible Poison, received its London premiere in March 2018 and has been selected for numerous international film festivals. Her latest publication is called The Future of Serious Art and her latest film series is called Aurora.
Dr Richard Sheldon is senior lecturer in social and economic history at the University of Bristol. He is working on a book The Politics of Bread in Eighteenth Century Britain and is also currently working on global histories of protest movements.
Rose Wallis is a senior lecturer in British Social History and Associate Director of the Regional History Centre at the University of West England. Rose’s published research considers the dynamic relationship between the law and society, with a particular focus on the regional judiciary, criminal justice and social protest. She is also consultant historian at Shire Hall historic courthouse museum in Dorset, and works with a number of heritage partners on public engagement with criminal justice histories and their relevance in the present.
Ra Page is the CEO and Founder of Comma Press. He has edited over 20 anthologies, including The City Life Book of Manchester Short Stories (Penguin, 1999), The New Uncanny (winner of the Shirley Jackson Award, 2008), and most recently Resist: Stories of Uprising (2019). He has coordinated a number of publisher development initiatives, including Literature Northwest (2004-2013), and the Northern Fiction Alliance (2016-present). He is a former journalist and has also worked as a producer and director on a number of short films.