Stories from the streets with Gimbal

A new app lets you see a city through the eyes of fictional characters and experience an alternative view of familiar streets.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Waseem Obaidi / Bloomberg
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Waseem Obaidi / Bloomberg

It’s a typical metropolitan scene; urbanites walking the streets, headphones plugged into their own personal soundtrack. But what if, instead of nodding their heads to the beat, they were instead navigating the city via its -stories?

This is the idea behind Gimbal, a new app devised by the Manchester-based Comma Press and Literature Across Frontiers (LAF). Combining LAF’s short story projects with Comma Press’s Reading the City anthologies, a wealth of fictitious tales from around the world – including Dubai, Riyadh and Baghdad – has been amassed and recorded. Downloading Gimbal means you can see the city through the eyes of fictitious characters, take imaginary journeys through literature, or experience an alternative view of familiar streets. Comma Press’s Jim Hinks explains more.

The app

“All the stories feature journeys. So you choose where you want to go in the world, pick a story and as it starts, a map charts an approximate route of the narrative, noting locations that are mentioned. One thing we’re finding people are really liking is the ability to arrange the stories by length. People know their regular commute will be, say, 25 minutes long – so they can choose a story to fill that time. The primary idea is for a collection of imaginative journeys, but conceivably it’s a tour guide to a city you’ve arrived in, too – both the Dubai and Manchester stories begin at their airports, for example.”

The stories

“At Comma, we’re very interested in translation, and short stories translate very well. They’re very good for cultural dialogue between nations and languages, too. Novels can get bogged down in context, but short stories tend to be more transferable. They often feature encounters between strangers, and very often this happens in public municipal spaces: a piazza, a train, a restaurant. So short stories are an amazing way of exploring the space and the psycho-geography of the city and how it effects the way people interact with one another.”

Dubai and Riyadh

“The Week Before the Wife Arrived, set in Dubai, by Fadwa Al-Qasem and Yousef Al-Mohaimeed’s Riyadh-based There’s No Room for a Lover in This City are both really nice introductions to the cities, and what the app is capable of. They’re both really sad, featuring protagonists whose incredible emotional turmoil is hidden from the rest of the world. They feel small and powerless, ant-like in these huge metropolises.”


“Hassan Blasim’s story works really well on the app, too. It’s really easy from an outsider’s perspective to see Baghdad as a place of car bombings and explosions – not as a living, breathing place with culture and heritage. So to get down as far as possible into the city streets really brings Baghdad to life. For Blasim, too, it’s important to recreate a place in fictional terms that he can’t visit as a human being, because it’s too dangerous for him.”

The future: Gimbal 2.0

“The app is a work in progress. As it develops, we want to build in more user interaction, so readers would be able to post comments and photographs on the maps. We’re hoping to add Google Street View too, so people can see the streets that are being talked about. It’s all about taking people as far as possible out of their daily commute, and deep into these cities."


• Download Gimbal from the Apple App Store for free. Watch a demo at


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Published: May 13, 2013 04:00 AM


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