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26 Treasures

An illustrated anthology in which 26 writers respond to 26 treasures in 4 museums, using only 62 words by John Simmons

This book is published, but you can still pledge for rewards!

26 Treasures cover

The Synopsis

Imagine you’re in a museum. You might spot a gargantuan four-poster bed that was a 16th century pub tourist attraction or a threadbare sackcloth robe worn in church by a 17th century adulteress.

Yet despite their rarity, we often fail to engage with these extraordinary objects. We simply nod and move on.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Through its 26 Treasures project, writers’ collective 26 is exploring how to create emotional connections between objects and individuals.

In 2010, London’s Victoria & Albert museum chose 26 objects from its British Galleries and randomly assigned them to 26 writers. Each person wrote exactly 62 words – 26 in reflection – in response to the object.

The results were beautiful, surprising, lyrical, sometimes comical. Andrew Motion wrote about a bust of Homer, a 17th century Chinese porcelain figure reminded a writer of a pub landlord in Inverness, while the wedding suit of James 11 inspired 62 words about “a suit as full of scratches as a rose-garden”.

In 2011 we took the idea to the National Library of Wales, the Ulster Museum and the National Museum of Scotland, where writers were let loose on objects as disparate as a mediaeval illuminated book, a beggar’s badge and a 16th century Scottish guillotine.

Now we need your help. We want to produce an anthology containing the results – including writing by Lucy Caldwell, Gillian Clarke, Alexander McCall Smith, Paul Muldoon, Bernard McLaverty and Maura Dooley.

It’s a fascinating insight into 21st century writers' perspectives on British cultural history. So please help us publish this beautiful collection of visual and verbal curiosities.

The Excerpt

The Gough Looking-Glass

The notes suggest it’s all about this frame;
Plague, Restoration, London frosts or flame,
gesso, paint, glaze, specks of gilt and varnish,
silver leaf that turns each day to tarnish.

I think within is where the spirit dwells.
Whose face dipped in this pool to glimpse herself?
What shadow slipped through that straight gate as cloud?
Memento mori, hour glass, Turin shroud.

Writer Maura Dooley,
Treasure Mirror,


The Reviews

This book has 1 review with an average rating of 5 stars.

This book has a treasured place on my bookshelf, it's there right to hand, I love nothing better than to pick it up and dip into it, randomly opening the book and discovering a historical treasure and beside it a poem inspired by the item, from James 2nds Wedding Suit to a Shoemakers Last and everyhting... (read more)

The Author

John Simmons is a writer and co-founder of the writers’ organisation 26. John has written many books on creative writing for business (yes, it is possible). The most recent is Room 121, co-written with Jamie Jauncey, another contributor to 26 Treasures. Before that were We, Me, Them & It, The Invisible Grail, Dark Angels and 26 Ways of Looking at a BlackBerry. The Dark Angels writing courses – run with Stuart Delves and Jamie Jauncey – have become legendary.

John’s first novel The Angel of the Stories was published in 2011. He’s been a writer-in-residence at Unilever and King’s Cross tube station, and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by University College, Falmouth this year. John invented the sestude and has contributed two to this collection, based on objects from the V&A and the National Library of Wales. He’s a director of The Writer.

In 2003, with six other writers, John founded 26, a not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better writing in all areas of life . This has grown into a thriving membership organisation that holds events and carries out interesting writing projects (such as 26 Treasures) with different partners.

26 Treasures started as a speculative idea. It’s spread surprisingly beyond the expectations of its originators. It seems that all writers and readers treasure connections with the past through objects – personal ones and those displayed in museums. There have been more than a hundred writers involved in this collection, including many of the best-known literary authors in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: Andrew Motion (former poet laureate), Paul Muldoon, Bernard MacLaverty, Alexander McCall Smith, Gillian Clarke (Welsh laureate). You will also find many authors on the rise such as Lucy Caldwell, Laura Forman, Sara Sheridan, Elise Valmorbida, captured at a crucial time by the charm of a new, challenging literary form. This will be the world’s first-ever collection of sestudes.

Questions & Answers

Has the book got photos of the items as well as the text?

Unbound Unbound replied:

Hi Caroline,

Yes it does - it's a full colour book with images. The book even won in the Literature category for the 2013 British Book Design awards, so is really rather beautiful. I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Caitlin - Community & Events Manager

The Rewards

This book is now published. You can still pledge, but you won't get listed as a supporter in the back.


ebook edition and your name in the back of the book

Special Edition
1st edition hardback and the ebook edition.
Sold out

1st edition hardback copy of the book signed by at least four of the authors, & a copy of the ebook.

26 Membership - SOLD OUT

3 years membership of 26

1st edition hardback copy of the book signed by at least four of the authors, with your name in the back, and a copy of the ebook.

Sold out

Tour with an author to see featured treasures in one of three museums (Edinburgh, Belfast or London - your choice, includes coffee with the author)

1st edition hardback copy of the book with your name in the back and a copy of the ebook.

Sold out
Writing Workshop - SOLD OUT

Half-day creative writing workshop

1st edition hardback copy of the book signed by at least four of the authors, with your name in the back, and a copy of the ebook.

Sold out
Dark Angels Discount - SOLD OUT

40% discount on a Dark Angels course

1st edition hardback copy of the book signed by at least four of the authors, with your name in the back, and a copy of the ebook.

Sold out
  • Format: Hard Back
  • ISBN: 978-1-908717-36-8
  • Published: 09/2012
  • Format: Hard Back
  • ISBN: 978-1-908717-37-5
  • Published: 09/2012
  • Format: Hard Back
  • ISBN: 978-1-908717-37-5
  • Published: 09/2012