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Hurrah! Brave New Reads 2016 is here!

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 17 May 2016

May heralds the start of summer and the beginning of the bank holiday season. But most importantly, May brings Brave New Reads back to libraries in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

What’s Brave New Reads, I hear you cry!

Well, it’s a book club like no other. It recommends six brilliant books, chosen by readers for readers. It invites people (like you!) to go further with their reading, through book clubs, author events, book quizzes, creative writing workshops, and much much more.

Brave New Reads takes place in 18 libraries across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. In each of these libraries you can borrow the books, come along to the events, chat about the titles and pick up an array of our very beautiful print (including collectible bookmarks!). 

As I said earlier, Brave New Reads is special because the books were chosen by readers. We call these literature lovers the Reader’s Circle, and they hail from all walks of life and all parts of East Anglia. To choose the final six, this dedicated crew read a longlist of over 120 books and whittled down the selection again and again until we ended up with the crème de la crème of modern publications. 

Without further ado, the books are:

The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

‘First light was a diesel spill across the sky. The ground was gray. The hard silence of the desert sung.’

Technically brilliant and emotionally charged, this novel will transport you to America in the early days of the space race. Jim Harrison is in training to break the sound barrier, poised to become one of the very first astronauts, but his promise will be tested by a family crisis of stellar proportions. Discover a different world in this economic, elegant, and hugely powerful book.

‘An outstanding read: riveting, snappy, and very very cool.’ – Sam, Norwich Readers’ Circle





The Secret to Not Drowning by Colette Snowden

‘“The secret to not drowning,” she says, “is to get out of the pool before you get too tired to keep swimming.”’

Marion can’t do anything without Him knowing. Her only escape is her weekly swimming trip, but soon she’ll learn that taking the plunge creates far-reaching ripples. An intimate and immersive glimpse into emotional abuse, The Secret to Not Drowning shows how the smallest of acts can be the bravest. Take a chance with this compelling and quietly wonderful novel.

‘A humorous and imaginative page turner, written with a terrifying sense of menace and discomfort.’ – Ruth, Cambridge Readers’ Circle





Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

‘I was wrong to try and impose something of my humanness upon you, when being human never did me any good.’

The story of a lonely man, and his one-eyed rescue dog. One Eye and his owner are both outcasts from society, clumsily navigating the world as best they can, each completely dependent on the other. Simultaneously tender and tragic, this is a compassionate and claustrophobic tale of loneliness and friendship. Dog-lover or not, this poetically poignant novel is sure to touch your heart.

‘I found myself engrossed in this jewel of a story. Sensitive, funny and hugely affecting, Baume’s language ribbons naturally out onto the page.’ – Alvina, Ely Readers’ Circle




Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

‘We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.’

This crucial and devastating non-fiction book takes us to death row, showing the heartbreaking histories of the prisoners and revealing the inherent prejudices of modern-day America. A scathing, virulent, and utterly necessary condemnation of the US justice system, this book is sure to leave you gasping, crying and raging, but also filled with gratitude and hope. Absolutely not to be missed.

‘An autobiography, a social history, a treatise on the importance of equal justice, and a gripping thriller.’ – Kathryn, Norwich Readers’ Circle




Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (Translated by Lisa Dillman)

‘They carried photos like promises but by the time they came back they were in tatters.’

Makina is gutsy, determined and not frightened of anything. When her mother asks her to travel from Mexico to the US to find her brother, she sets off almost immediately, pausing only to meet the local underlords. Carrying an unknown package from a kingpin, she traverses underworlds, borders, and boundaries, crossing dreamy lands. Echoing Greek myths, this breath-taking novella will move you to other planes of existence.

‘Full of heart and guts, poetic, brief and rich – nothing short of stunning.’ – Roland, Norwich Readers’ Circle




The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

‘He did what they told him to do. He would have done anything they told him to do. He hid inside the pronoun we.

An uplifting tale of interconnection, coincidence, and the strangeness of life, this striking novel explores the impact of small actions. Moving across time and space, from wartime Britain to modern-day California, The Illusion of Separateness shows the tenderness of people, and how seemingly simple actions have great consequences. Haunting, luminous, and totally absorbing, this book will give you a fresh perspective on what it means to be human.

‘Beautifully written. A magical read, which kept me captivated until the very last page!’ – Joy, Huntingdon Readers’ Circle

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In Memory of Lakshmi Holmström

Posted By: Kate Griffin, 10 May 2016

Associate Programme Director Kate Griffin pays tribute to Lakshmi Holmström, the preeminent translator of Tamil literature, who passed away this week.

I first came to know Lakshmi Holmström when she took part in the Worlds literary festival, with the writer Ambai. Lakshmi had been translating Ambai’s work from Tamil into English since the early 1990s. As well as giving readings, they visited groups in local libraries and shared with them Ambai’s short stories, an unusual opportunity for readers in Norfolk to learn about the lives of Tamil women in India. And it is for this that Lakshmi will be remembered, for bringing contemporary Tamil writing to world readers. The editor R. Sivapriya has written a tribute to Lakshmi Holmström and her translations in Scroll.in 

In recent years, Lakshmi focused on translating poetry, particularly poetry from Sri Lanka during and after the war. At the British Centre for Literary Translation, Lakshmi gave a workshop with acclaimed Sri Lankan poet R. Cheran; her translation of his collection of poetry is published by Arc Publications. And in February this year, we were delighted to host at Dragon Hall the launch of Lost Evenings Lost Lives, a bilingual anthology of Sri Lankan war poetry edited and translated by Lakshmi Holmström and Sascha Ebeling. It’s a powerful anthology, with a range of poets and styles, and many poems by women. You can listen to a recording of this very moving event here.

Lakshmi was particularly dedicated to bringing into English the work of Dalit (formerly known as ‘Untouchable’) writers such as Bama, and the voices of young women poets. Her anthology Wild Girls, Wicked Words, featuring Kutti Revathi, Sukirtharani, Malathi Maitri and Salma, was last month included in the Best Translated Book Award poetry longlist. One of the judges, Deborah Smith, wrote about the significance of this controversial collection here.

Lakshmi Holmström was widely recognised as the preeminent translator of Tamil literature, receiving a number of prizes, including the prestigious AK Ramanujan Prize for Translation in South Asia in spring this year. She was also a dedicated teacher and mentor, generous with her time and keen to nurture the next generation of Tamil translators. For the last year or so, she taught (with Subashree Krishnaswamy) the Tamil strand of our Translators Lab, determinedly balancing her bouts of chemotherapy with the more enjoyable demands of the online course, and encouraging her students, of whom she was proud. 

Lakshmi was an inspiration to all of us who knew her, and we will miss her very much. 


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(tags: Translation)


Our Communications Intern Jo Thompson picks her highlights from the City of Literature programme

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 09 May 2016

Simon Armitage, Irvine Welsh, Jackie Kay; our new Communications Intern Jo Thompson picks favourites from the City of Literature line-up at Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016.



Seeing Simon Armitage and Daljit Nagra billed for appearance, I booked two tickets for Fierce Light before I’d started at WCN, or checked whether my partner had the night off. I now know this world-premier event commemorating the Battle of Somme is a part of the City of Literature Programme. The programme is the biggest it’s ever been, and working to prepare this bumper crop of big names and exciting events has, needless to say, resulted in buying more tickets.

It’s also meant bothering my friends. Every event is likely to appeal to someone. Fans of Trainspotting have been alerted to an evening with Irvine Welsh in the Adnams Spiegeltent. My fellow medievalists were made aware of the discussions on Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, two of the first women ever published. With Ben Rawlence talking from experience about life in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, bestselling authors like Kate Summerscale sharing their latest novels, graphic novelists discussing their craft, and the biggest names in poetry performing, the festival really packs a punch. Browsing the events is a joy, and real confirmation, if any were still needed, that Norwich deserves its UNESCO City of Literature status.

Fierce Light remains a standout event for me. New work has been produced by the poets to think seriously about war, its immediate complexities and what it can mean to us now, 100 years on. Accompanying the poetry are short films, specially commissioned. In one of her poems for the event Jackie Kay writes ‘the past is lively, impossible to pin down’. Perhaps this is why mixing film, poetry and images in an attempt to in some way recapture World War feels so appropriate. Jackie has worked with her father, discussing his experiences of war, as well as her son, a filmmaker, to create the multi-media work that will be showcased at Fierce Light. It all promises to be something really special, and I’m glad I’ll be there for it. 

I was less immediately sure what to make of The Story Machine. It’s enigmatic, advertised as a literary event like nothing you’ve experienced before, powered by literature and oiled by theatre, and has become the feature I’m most excited about. The participants hear live stories from world-renowned writers, but not from the usual distance, sitting in rows with an author at a microphone. The Story Machine will be held at Dragon Hall, the stunning medieval home of WCN. Attendees are encouraged to wander through its rooms, garden, cellars at their leisure, making use of the street food pop-ups and specially-curated bar, taking in short stories in unexpected, intimate, immersive, truly one-off ways.

It feels unusual to not know exactly what you’re in for with this event, the charming twists held back to genuinely surprise and enchant on the day, but the more I think about it the truer it seems to storytelling. Hearing about the plans in the office feels like a spoiler.  

The Story Machine is full of surprises, delights that must be discovered, live literature truly alive. It asks the audience to shift gear, let their cogs turn over in fresh ways, and put a little trust in an innovative literary festival bound to please.





Click to see the full City of Literature programme.

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French Tear, Red Lotus, Mr Jameson...our literary themed taster cocktails for The Story Machine

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 06 May 2016





Things are stepping up a gear at Writers' Centre Norwich, Dragon Hall as we begin preparations for the immersive, interactive, multi-sensory Story Machine.

With three hours of video projects, illuminations, live performances and more set within the (hopefully) sunny grounds of our beautiful medieval building, we're expecting you to get a little thirsty. So what's on the menu you ask? Take a peek...


COCKTAIL TASTING MENU

Our taster menu - kindly invented by the cocktail connoisseurs at 42 King Street - corresponds with some of the stories taking place during the day. 


‘Theatre Six’ by Sarah Hall
French Tear: spiced rum, orange liquor, and fruit juice provide a tart accompaniment to this troubling picture of the near future. 



‘Here We Are’ by Lucy Caldwell
Red Lotus: a romantic combination of lychee liqueur, vodka, cranberry juice and fresh lime. A drinkable, fruity cocktail with a bright pink colouring resembling the neon of the early 1990s.



‘The Fly’ by Katherine Mansfield
Rum and Raisin Old Fashioned: a modern take on an old whiskey classic.



‘Mr Salary’ by Sally Rooney
Mr Jameson: whiskey with a mixture of melon liquor and fresh kiwi to create a unique and unexpected mix. 



‘A Cruelty’ by Kevin Barry
Unexpected Classics: a choice between a rum based classic and a popular tequila cocktail served with an unexpected twist. Breaking the routine of classic cocktail drinking.


‘Still’ by Anna Metcalfe
Plum Negroni: a fitting twist on the timeless classic using plum liqueur to resemble the plum tree and creating a glorious culmination to the evening. 




Cocktails are £5 each, or you can have a taste of all six over the course of the event for £20. Steady on now, though...these will be smaller measures!

We've also got food available from the lovely Purple Plum Catering, including vegetarian and vegan options. Each meal comes with your choice of story: 'The Reader' or 'The Writer' by Etgar Keret. 


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(tags: Festival, NNF16)


Young Norfolk Poetry Competition

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 06 May 2016

In the run up to the Young Norfolk Poetry Competition deadline on Thursday 2 June 2016, successful young UK poets will share their advice on how others can break into the scene.




Katherine Stansfield

'Think small, because small in poetry doesn't have to mean unambitious or unsatisfying. In the small things in life we often find the big themes: a poem celebrating a sandwich can reveal the truth of a relationship, bus stops can talk about death. Tackling big themes straight on can lead to rather shouty, empty language. Speaking with smallness often says far more, and with far more power.'

Katherine is a poet and fiction writer. Her novel, The Visitor, won the fiction prize at the 2014 Holyer an Gof awards. Her debut poetry collection, Playing House, includes 'The woman on my National Library of Wales library card' (winner of the 2014 PENfro poetry competition) and 'Canada' (Poem of the Week in The Guardian). Website




Steve Hitchins

'Write about where you are now, about what is happening to you right now. Pay attention to everything: things you can see, things you can hear, things people say. Write it all down and try not to change it too much. Try not to make it a poem. The things you write that you don't even think of as poems are probably your best poems.'

Steven Hitchins is a poet from the South Wales Valleys. He grew up in Abercynon and is currently living in Pontypridd. His poetry has appeared in Poetry Wales, Fire and Chimera, with articles in Junction Box. He has read at the Hay Poetry Jamboree 2011 & 2012 and at Poets Live in Paris. Publications include Bitch Dust (Hafan 2012) and The White City (Aquifer 2015). Website





Young Norfolk Poetry Competition 2016

Write lyrics? Poems? Aged 14-18?

We're looking for the freshest, boldest words in Norfolk.Send us your very best writing and you could win amazing prizes, including performance opportunities and professional mentoring.


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(tags: Poetry, Young People)


UNESCO Creative Leader Nicholl Hardwick reports on her experience so far

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 03 May 2016





This week we caught up with UNESCO Creative Leader Nicholl Hardwick. Nicholl has been very involved with the Creative Leaders' programme so far and has been instrumental in delivering key creative workshops to young people. Below, she offers her perspective on the positive outcome of these sessions for those involved.


'The Lynx in Thetford Forest' Workshop at Avenue Junior Primary School

Young minds are the future of the generations to come. Children approach, explore and attack life in a way that can sometimes get lost as we grow older. We become aware of how the world around us expects us to be, and we can allow that to become our substance when this shouldn’t be the case. However, in today's society, it seems as if children are taught to dampen their creative senses in order to become more ready for the fast world they will soon be working in. To me that is a loss. A loss of talent, a loss of gift, and most of all, a loss of creative exploration.

This is why I wanted to take part in this workshop. The children were given full reign to create a collaborative poem not only with the volunteers, but with one another. They decided the sounds the poem would make, they decide the path the story would go and they let their creative senses run free, not feeling limited by sounds, expressions or movement. The poem we created together revolved around the subject of the Lynx and the possibility of it being re-wilded into Thetford Forest. The children had complete authoritative control over the Lynx’s behaviour, how it would think (because of course a Lynx wouldn’t think in sentences!) and how it feels whilst residing in Thetford Forest. The entire class were encouraged to become involved in shouting sounds and performing movements. The whole process was a chance for kids to really connect with their creative talents without restriction or the need to feel regimented in one way of learning. 

I adored the class and the entire experience, and I was hugely impressed with the classes enthusiasm as well as the work they produced. When children are given the freedom to enthusiastically create something new and imaginative, the outcome is always beautifully unpredictable.





Harriet Martineau Creative Writing Workshop

Taking part in this workshop was a huge honour for me. Not only was it about a locally born woman who achieved amazing heights in the persual of equality and fairness, but it was also a chance to hear from the young women of today, and give them a platform for creative freedom and expression. The whole point of this session was to create a discussion, allow thoughts to be verbalised, and encourage ideas to become engaged. 

Harriet Martineau created literature for those, who at that time, did not have a platform for their voices to be heard. Women, the poor and non-white citizens were all silenced through oppression in the 1800’s, and it is through this lens we wanted the young women of the session to start thinking. Who is silenced in our community today? Why are they silenced? How can we make them heard?

This sparked off a very challenging discussion which encouraged the young women to not only bring in their own experiences as females, but also to include the perspectives of a whole spectrum of people who continuously fail to have their voices significantly heard in today's society. The main groups they came up with were the silenced voices of the young generation, women of all races and ethnicities, and those who suffer from mental health problems. Of course there are so many voices that go unheard in the society we live in, but in a short workshop session, these were the ones the young women decided to focus on. 

Not only did we want to identify certain silenced voices, but we also wanted to deconstruct why these voices were being excluded from main stream discussions. The overall consensus was that it was down to the media, the patriarchal institutions around us and also the need for people to feel safe and not wanting to approach a stigma because that would then involve them being seen as disruptive to the status quo. 

The discussion allowed the whole group to get involved and share personal stories as well as critically observe the world around them. The workshops aim was to hone in on the groups creative talent. We wanted to build a vision around them and their own personal ideas. Hence why once the discussion took place we challenged the girls to take everything they had learnt and contributed and use it to create an idea for a revolutionary novel. It could be in any format they wish, whether that be prose, fiction or non-fiction, poetry, visual art etc. The main rule was that it had to be something which resonated with them personally.

Far too often are not only women, but so many other demographics forced to silence themselves in order to conform to the pre-existing order of things. This workshop aimed to break away from that and allow these young women to really engage with the world around them, and feel confident enough to criticize its flaws in order to work towards effective change. 

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Killing the Poet Laureate: Jarred McGinnis enters the Story Machine

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 26 April 2016




In the third installment of our Story Machine blog series, author Jarred McGinnis tells the story of how he became involved in the project and offers from tantalising tidbits from two of the stories.



We were delighted when Sam from Writers’ Centre Norwich asked us to bring the ‘Raffish and Overread’ approach of the Special Relationship to his fledgling idea for the Story Machine. We met at the Southbank Centre shortly after our multi-sensory live reading ‘Moby-Dick Unabridged’ had opened the 2015 London Literature Festival. It quickly became clear that we shared a vision for how literature might leap off the page in live events, and he commissioned us to produce two of the eighteen stories that make up The Story Machine. 

The first will be Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Fly’, which we came to having seen the opportunity to tell a story in the offices of Dragon Hall. Telling a tale about post-WW1 grief from amidst the 21st century computer equipment was a contrast we couldn’t turn down. It also offered an opportunity to revisit something we did for ‘Moby-Dick Unabridged’ and create a script of the story dividing the text between two or more readers to emphasise the voices and characters. It only works for certain texts and ‘The Fly’ is one of them. 

We wanted to get the local community involved, too, and found two of Norfolk’s own, John Underwood and Steve Highton, who have volunteered to read the story. We learned from ‘Moby-Dick Unabridged’ that - more often than not - volunteers give the best readings: they bring an enthusiasm that some professional authors have lost since public reading became part of the day job. I have no doubt John and Steve are going to make this powerful text come alive. And fair warning: bring tissues. Mansfield knows how to tug at tear ducts in a mighty way. 

The second story we are producing is one of my own, ‘Charles III’. It is about to be published with Galley Beggar Press. I was surprised when Sam suggested this story. It’s a strange story and well… it involves the hanging, drawing and quartering of living national treasure Carol Ann Duffy. (And before I go further, let me say I have nothing against the Poet Laureate. In fact it is because I am a fan of Duffy’s work that she had to die. I need to say that lest I appear in The Daily Mail under ‘Migrant Author Threatens English Letters’.) 

The story is about the things I have come to love about this country and how they are being systematically and unpoetically undermined. It sometimes feels like the future of the UK might have more in common with the civil war divisions and religious persecutions of Charles I and II, and so I have conflated the atmosphere of those times with the near future under Charles III’s rule. 

The other complication is that it required me to get permission from the Poet Laureate because I quote her poetry in the text. Rather than putting me on Teresa May’s hit list, Mrs Duffy sent me an email that said ‘Permission Granted, you sick bastard’. Oh yeah, that’s going on the blurb page. We definitely had to produce the story now, but how? The story is about a man who must take the quarter limb back to Scotland along the M6. The Special Relationship has always been keen (if Americans are anything, it’s keen) to collaborate. My own work is more often informed by visual arts than literary canon, and I’ve always found it exciting to see how artists respond to my written work. By luck, I came across the ceramicist Martha Todd.

Her work captured the tension between the grotesque and beautiful that was my aim in ‘Charlies III’. What she made is worth the ticket price alone. It’s simply exquisite. I thought Carol Ann Duffy might be interested in what she would look like as the victim of a royal treason charge so I sent her an image of Todd’s sculpture. She wrote back, ‘For fuck's sake!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ Another blurb, methinks.

I look forward to seeing you at The Story Machine in May. 

Jarred McGinnis is an author and one-third of The Special Relationship.

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(tags: NNF16)


UNESCO Creative Leaders: The Lynx in Thetford Forest

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 26 April 2016




Earlier this year, WCN launched our first UNESCO Creative Leaders programme; offering volunteer-training to university students and young adults. Our Creative Leaders will be reporting back to us on a regular basis with blogs about the projects they have undertaken. To kick things off, Amy Palmer reports on her experience running a 'Lynx in Thetford Forest' prose workshop with North Walsham High School.



The Lynx project promotes the powerful influence of creative writing in changing attitudes and the importance of young people’s voices in contributing to the debate on issues such as the rewilding of the Lynx. Ultimately, the workshop is about appreciating different perspectives and allows students to express points of view through a short creative writing exercise. 

In March, I participated in two sessions at North Walsham High School and in both classes all students were thoroughly engaged in the topic of the Lynx in Thetford Forest. In particular the character profile cards seemed to really capture the student’s imagination and they created some fantastic pieces from their chosen character’s perspective, ranging from biological scientists to local farmers. The creative pieces took the form of speeches, diary entries, letters and even in the form of speech bubbles, articulating a conversation between two voices. In future sessions, it might be useful to start with an activity that introduces the topic of ‘perspectives’ and demonstrates how an image, for example, can be seen or interpreted in many different ways.

During the session, one of the tasks carried out was the weighing up of the ‘pros and cons’ of the re-introduction of the Lynx. The students were given a fact sheet to discuss what they thought about each point, which allowed for the understanding of ‘perspectives’ to develop. To enhance this task, it might be interesting to use cards labelled with ‘pros and cons’ and ask students to arrange them into groups. At the end of the workshop, the students had the chance to comment on what they had learned from the session. It was great to hear some thoughts on the different character profiles and also some of the problems they had to overcome when forming an argument for their characters.  I think it could be useful to extend this reflection to allow some students the opportunity to read their work aloud to the rest of the group, or perhaps ask a group of students to perform their pieces in a mini discussion. 

I personally valued the opportunity to develop my confidence and experience in working with young people and in education. I was impressed with the enthusiasm and detail that the students put in to the workshop; it made my experience even more enjoyable. I am looking forward to bringing together some of the creative pieces written by the students to incorporate them in to the Norfolk Festival of Nature (October 2016). 

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Fierce Light

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 07 April 2016




Just over a month remains until the world premiere of Fierce Light, a major national co-commission from 14-18 NOW, Norfolk & Norwich Festival and Writers' Centre Norwich. Below, WCN Programme Manager Sam Ruddock allows us to peek behind the curtain at what lies in store at this very special commemoration of the Battle of the Somme.

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The past is lively, impossible to pin down.

So writes Jackie Kay in the brand new commissioned poem she has produced for Fierce Light, a commemoration of the Battle of the Somme. And it’s this challenge of how we make sense of such vast and indescribably bloody events as the Battle of the Somme – casualty figures numbered around 57,000 for the British on the first day alone, of which nearly 19,000 were deaths – that inspired the idea for Fierce Light in the first place. The changes wreaked on our world by World War One reached beyond politics, economics and technology into the very fabric of our daily lives, our communities and relationships. It was the artists of that war – perhaps the poets above all – who took on the challenge to make sense of a world transformed almost beyond recognition.

So, to commemorate the centenary anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, Fierce Light has brought together outstanding poets from the UK and around the world to look once more at the legacy of battle, the forces changing our world, and the struggles we face to make sense of them.

Jackie Kay has gone back to explore the story of her grandfather, Joseph Kay, who fought in the second Battle of the Somme, was captured, and injured, and survived the conflict. She visited Imperial War Museum North in Manchester and with an historian tracked down the records of her grandfather – including the date he was captured as a prisoner of war and the names of the medals he was awarded. He’s remembered in Jackie’s poem as a ‘shy man, bit withdrawn, shrapnel in his arm’, singing the miners lullaby Coorie Doon in the pre-dawn light. 



On telling her ninety year old dad about this, Jackie reported that he was overcome with new knowledge and memories of his father. He appears in Jackie’s poem, too, remembering seeing his father up early to polish the buttons on his tram drivers uniform, and he, still singing Coorie Doon, ‘still singing his father.’ 

Jackie has subsequently worked with her filmmaker son, Matthew, on the film of Fierce Light, meaning that in one way or another, four generations have been involved in what you will see at Fierce Light. 

The psychological fallout of war, which can be explored in our event with Matthew Green, author of Aftershock: Surviving War, Surviving Peace, is also mined by Daljit Nagra, in his response to Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘A 1940 Memory’. There’s a passage in Nagra’s piece which I find almost unbearably moving and utterly poignant to the memory of war, impossible as it is to pin down.

Dear Jack, what blurs you most
so great words forever moral
your mind to war recall? 
Is it the soldier smithereens 
at your arm, the Hun dispersed 
by your pluck that day you lay 
in their bunker to read sonnets?
Or how you just couldn’t die? 

Look at you now, our haunted
hero.

Elsewhere, Paul Muldoon’s takes us into the mind of a young infantryman from the Ulster Division, on July 1st 1916 - the first Day of the Battle of the Somme. It’s barely three months since the Easter Rising, and he finds himself ‘entrenched/no less physically than politically’ in the struggle for Irish independence. But he’s also a young soldier, big questions of national struggles and the world, take a backseat when compared to memories of home, and of Giselle, the girl he met just before departing for the front. It’s classic Muldoon, and the pastoral offers a contrast to what we know is coming in the forthcoming battle. This contrast, and what it opens up in contextualising the destruction of the battle and the fall of man, is also at the heart of Simon Armitage’s ‘Still’ that will be presented alongside Fierce Light. I’ll write more about that – and Yrsa Daley-Ward and Bill Manhire’s work in the coming weeks, as well as the wonderful filmmakers, who have been adapting these great new works of poetry. 

We hope to see you at the Fierce Light event at Norwich Playhouse on Friday 13 May, and the exhibition that runs at East Gallery throughout the Festival.


Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, Norfolk & Norwich Festival and Writers’ Centre Norwich.

  

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Spring Short Story Competitions 2016

Posted By: Anna Scrafield, 05 April 2016



Spring is the time of plans and projects, according to Tolstoy, and who are we to disagree?
Forget the spring cleaning, and get stuck into these short story competitions. With prizes ranging from cash, to publication, (and even a rather quirky competition for those interested in writing the future!) there's a lot to keep you away from the hoover and focused firmly on the keyboard!

Happy writing, and do let us know if you are successful!

Deadline: 25 April 2016
Open to publish and unpublished writers from the UK and abroad, this competition accepts short stories up 2200 words, and has an £8 entry fee. First prize is £1000, and winners will be published in the anthology. 

Deadline: 29 April 2016
This year, the festival is seeking stories of up to 1000 words written by or for children. Winners will read their work at Oxford Festival of the Arts in June. 

Deadline: 30 April 2016
Open to published and unpublished writers, both UK and overseas, this competition is very open with entries welcomed from any genre. There's an entry fee of £8, and a first prize of £1000 available.

The Cardiff Review Short Story Award
Deadline: 15 May 2016
Open to new and unpublished writers, this competition seeks short stories of between 1000-5000 words, and winners will be awarded a cash prize of £150. Entry fee £2. 

The Sunderland Short Story Award
Deadline: 1 June 2016 
Open to younger writers too, with categories for 11- 16 as well as Adults, this competition not only has a cash prize, but those shortlisted will have their work read by a literary agent and by publisher Unthank Books, who will consider work for publication in their anthology.

Deadline: 10 June 2016
A prize for both short stories and flash fiction, The Brighton Prize folk have asked to be challenged and excited. Prizes of up to £500 available. 

Deadline: 20 June 2016 
A prize founded in commemoration of the centenary of one of our finest short story writers of the 20th Century, the annual prize of £1000 goes to the best unpublished short story and is published in Prospect, and RLS Review. 

Deadline: 30 June 2016
A new short story competition, with a little bit of a twist! Entrants are asked to submit poems or short stories on the theme of an imagined future England, and the competition features a twist... but we'll let you find out about that yourself! Winners will be published online, and there's no entry fee. 

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A Factory of Art; Bringing The Story Machine to Life

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 30 March 2016




In our second Story Machine blog from WCN Programme Manager Sam Ruddock, we're given a sneak preview of the accompanying sculptures, drawings and soundtracks that have been commissioned by talented artists in order to bring the Story Machine to life.



One of the great and unexpected joys of producing The Story Machine has been the other art works we’ve helped bring to life. Illustrations, drawings, sculptures, soundtracks, audio recordings, and more, all commissioned, designed, and developed to help explode the eighteen amazing stories off the page. 

Our first task was to acquire a leg. And not just any leg, either. This leg had to represent the severed limb of a Poet Laureate who has been hung, drawn and quartered and is now being dragged to Scotland as a demonstration of England’s power! Given the illustrious subject matter, a manikin simply wouldn’t suffice. Film prosthetics proved a little lifeless, and not sadly in the way we wanted. We thought about trompe l’oeil painting to see if we could recreate the rotting look on a manikin. But nothing felt quite right. 

That was until we came upon the work of Martha Todd, a ceramic artist. Although not produced to imitate flesh, there was something in the angles of her feet that gave them a deeply human look. In one, the toes were curled underneath the foot, as though the entire weight of the body was crushing down upon it. In another, the toes were pointed, calling to mind crucifixion or other long-abandoned methods of execution. There was suffering in these sculptures, and something almost painted and metaphorical about their composition. We were enthralled and - after much hard work to source materials so that we could afford this beautiful, troubling limb – commissioned Martha to sculpt it for us. This is the first glimpse of that limb, ghostly white, spectral, shockingly disembodied.

Next up, Adam Avery AKA The Suffolk Punch Press, was invited to produce a show poster to help visualise the extravaganza. We wanted to capture both the feel and textures of Dragon Hall, – essentially the canvas we are painting The Story Machine upon - and the sheer multiplicity of stories that are being produced. His response is one you will be familiar with: the wooden beams of the Great Hall adding texture to a series of icons that represent themes across the different stories. There’s a quirky feel to them, a sense that nothing may be quite as it seems. I love it and we’re hoping to have limited edition prints for sale on the day. I’ve already reserved one for me! 

Elsewhere Beverley Coraldean of Geneality Art came on board to produce pencil drawings to accompany our grand climax to the show: Anna Metcalfe’s transcendent exploration of the power of art to transform the everyday into the universal. I don’t want to give too much away about the story itself, other than to say that it revolves around the pictures that a boy and his father take each year as the last leaf of the plum tree in their garden falls to the ground. Beverley is producing thirty-two new images to accompany the show, and we have plans for them to become something altogether more dramatic in the final crescendo.

No tale of the lengths we’ve gone to for The Story Machine would be complete without the international exploits to record Etgar Keret reading his stories. He has done so, directly and specifically for The Story Machine. Huge thanks for this to Yochai Maital and Mishy Harman who produce and present Israeli Story, modern stories about the ancient land of Israel and the people who live there. Without their assistance, Etgar’s remote involvement would not have been possible.  

This has been a multimedia experience like nothing I’ve done before. It’s been a thrill to have new pieces of art float across my desk on a weekly basis, and I can’t wait to see them come together with the audience in May. 

Come and be part of our grand experiment. 


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The Best of Brave New Reads

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 29 March 2016


For seven years, Brave New Reads (formerly known as Summer Reads),  has been recommending brilliant books to the people of East Anglia (and those further afield too). We’ve suggested intriguing works in translation, scintillating non-fiction, stunning poetry collections, amazing novels, and fantastic short story collections. We’ve included recommendations from all around the globe; from Australia to Kazakhstan, Jamaica to Mexico, Japan to India.

Over those seven years, we’ve advocated for almost forty titles, encouraging people to try something new and exciting. We’ve heard from many readers, saying how much they’d enjoyed the books and the programme, how they’d discovered new authors because of Brave New Reads and found new genres and styles to enjoy.

So, to celebrate seven years of brilliant books, we asked the Readers’ Circle and the WCN staff to tell us their favourite books from Brave New Reads gone by. After many suggestions, much deliberation, and lots of enthusiastic exclamations and comparisons, we’ve settled on nine books which we think showcase some of the best of Brave New Reads.

Without further ado, they are:

 

A Light Song of Light
Kei Miller

Jamaican poet Kei Miller’s poems are presented in two parts; Day Time and Night Time. Day Time is soon undermined by a Night Time place where cool caves and bat wings tickle the neck. This collection faces the tough stuff of life but through it all the Singerman calls as Miller uses rhythm and song to pull you through his laments towards a praise of light in language that truly sings.

“I’ve always proclaimed not to understand poetry... but the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I loved this book.” - Readers’ Circle





 

All the Birds, Singing
Evie Wyld

Jake Whyte is running from something. But what?

Living alone on a British island, her only companion is Dog, who helps her tend her sheep. Dog’s whimpering and scared though; something is coming. Something that’s picking off the sheep one by one, creeping through the evening as a stranger lurks by the trees over the field...

Flashing through it all there’s Jake’s former life in the heat and rough of Australian sheep farms, the life she ran away from overseas. Why?

“A star of a book! Gritty, brutal and strangely witty in parts.” - Readers’ Circle

 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Katherine Boo

What is it really like to be poor in Mumbai? Follow the daily lives of slum-residents Abdul, Manju, Sunil, One Leg and Asha who live next to a toxic pond facing Mumbai Airport and its luxury hotels.

Pulitzer prize-winning Boo gets behind the statistics to give lively voice to these slum-dwellers and their stories; the different ways that they deal with thwarted hope, envy, corruption and religious divide in a new India full of possibilities that are constantly just out of reach.

“A spectacular book that deserves each and every accolade it has received.” - Readers’ Circle

 

 

Beside the Sea
Véronique Olmi

A single mother takes her children on their first trip to the seaside. As they run from rain to hot chocolate to the fun-fair we see the woman’s close and complex relationship with the two little boys unfold. These are precious children whom she wants so badly to protect from the very unkind world, from hunger and pain. But we find that the severest danger can lurk much closer to home in this emotionally tough but brilliantly written read.

“Bleak yet riveting. Be brave: this is life at its harshest and writing at its most affecting.” - Readers’ Circle

 

 

Down The Rabbit Hole
Juan Pablo Villalobos


Holed up in his Mexican castle, Tochtli is getting along playing with his collection of hats and taking daily lessons. But when his teacher disappears and Tochtli finds out that his gangster father has been lying to him, even the promise of a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus doesn’t help.

This delicious, neatly written short novel reveals the hectic world of precocious, likeable seven-year old Tochtli just as it starts to unravel.

“Tochtli is a brilliant narrator. I defy you not to be charmed by his tale of a world that, for all his young awe, is far from innocent.” - Readers' Circle

 

 

Fallen Land
Patrick Flanery

Fallen Land charts the downfall of three generations of land-owners and the disintegration of their American dream. Louise reluctantly sells her family land, property developer Krovik builds on it and goes bankrupt, and the Noallies family move in, ready for an untainted future but unprepared for what’s to come. Saturated with an eerie menace, the prose shifts and mutates to create an unsettling and gripping novel.

 "A chilling portrait of obsession and how it can get out of control. Fallen Land is a brilliant and compelling read." - Readers' Circle

 

 

Strange Weather in Tokyo

Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Allison Markin Powell)

Tsukiko navigates the Tokyo of her thirties in a solitary path from her flat to work to the local bar. One evening she comes across her old school teacher there, the upright, quiet ‘Sensei’. A gentle relationship develops over good beer and delicious morsels and they end up gravitating towards each other more and more. They attend a cherry-blossom party together, but both end up leaving with other people, and silence ensues. Will they ever get past their mutual loneliness and fear?

“A wonderful, beautiful, slowly engulfing novel” - The Readers’ Circle


 

The Beautiful Indifference
Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall’s stories are a portal into the fascinating inner lives of women who are often hiding or recovering from something untold. From one women in search of excitement, to another waiting for her lover to leave so she can make the biggest decision of her life, this collection of carefully crafted moments engages all of the senses, using the rhythms of body and landscape to tell beautiful stories that will stay with you.

“These fabulously written, looming and austere stories are beautiful and a joy to read.” - Readers’ Circle






This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You
Jon McGregor


You never thought that kind of thing could happen to somebody like you. But then it does. Set in the lowlands of the fens, these brooding stories evoke quiet menace – from the drama of buried bodies that risk being dug up, to the buried crisis of an everyday break-up. The book’s very readable style masks fierce technical skill as McGregor builds tension and plays with your expectations to keep you hooked all the way through.

“These stories are creative, strange, sometimes genius, reflections on life. Read them, you won’t be disappointed.” - Readers’ Circle

 

Let us know your favourites in the comments, or tweet us @WritersCentre using #BraveNewReads.

All of these books are available to borrow from the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Library Services.

The 2016 Brave New Reads books will be announced at the start of May. Sign up to the Writers’ Centre Norwich e-news to be the first to know which six made it through!

Find out more about Brave New Reads.

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Oranges & Haiku: Kate Griffin reports on a fortnight in Japan

Posted By: Anna Scrafield, 22 March 2016

WCN Associate Programme Director Kate Griffin spent two weeks in Japan as part of our programme to encourage translation and publication of contemporary Japanese writing, supported by the Nippon Foundation. During the Tokyo International Literary Festival, WCN organised a workshop and panel discussion, led by WCN Programme Director Jon Morley and writer and translator Kyoko Yoshida, exploring the synergies between creative writing and literary translation. After the festival, Kate visited Kyoto and Matsuyama, to build WCN’s network of literary contacts in Japan.


I arrived in Matsuyama mid-evening. It’s a city on the north coast of the island of Shikoku, but in the dark we hadn’t even seen the bridge connecting it with the main island of Honshu from our express train. I was travelling with the writer and translator Kyoko Yoshida; she was on a research trip, I was coming along for the ride. We were met by Kyoko’s former classmate, Tomoka Kai, and taken to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner. Sitting at the counter, Tomoka’s eyes lit up when she heard I was from Norwich, as she has plans for Matsuyama to become Japan’s first UNESCO City of Literature. And there are plenty of reasons why, as I learned over the next thirty-six hours.

First and foremost, Matsuyama is a haiku city. The tradition of writing haiku, senryu (humorous haiku) and tanka was revived in Shikoku in the late nineteenth century by the local poet Shiki, and continued by his followers after his death. Salons, clubs and journals dedicated to haiku flourished in Matsuyama, and the countryside is scattered with standing stones inscribed with haiku by generations of poets. This tradition continues today, with an annual haiku championship, haiku posters and engravings across the city, and daily programmes dedicated to haiku. Each week there’s a particular theme, to which the public responds by sending in their haiku; on Monday the presenter reads the worst of those received, but as the week continues the quality improves and the best are read on Friday.

Next day, after a stroll around the port of Mitsuhama, we visited a restaurant in an old-style house with a record playing on the gramophone. Everyone sat on the floor, eating off a tray, but when the waitress spotted my western sprawl she brought me a low stool and table, so that I could enjoy my fish and rice, black seaweed and orange juice in comfort. The same family had lived in the house for decades, and upstairs we visited their museum and archive, dedicated – of course – to haiku. The family business was originally commerce, and the current owner showed us the family logo on ancient curtains that used to hang in the doorway when the building was a shop. One of his merchant ancestors would travel around the country, allegedly on business, but in fact would spend most of his time on the road writing a haiku diary, proudly on display. 

Another ancestor was the patron of a haiku club, the second oldest in the country. The club had its own journal, printed exquisitely on single sheets of paper using woodblocks, with the print getting smaller as the membership of the club grew, until a magnifying glass was needed to read the poetry. We saw copies of the final issue from the early twentieth century, still waiting to be sent out to subscribers, one of whom was the author Natsume Soseki, then a student. Although we now think of it as a novel, Soseki’s first book, I Am A Cat, was serialised in a haiku journal as prose haiku. At the back of the museum we entered a room that Shiki, Soseki and others had used for their haiku salon, with low tables and notepads laid out, waiting for twenty-first century poets to come and write their own haiku.

On the outskirts of Matsuyama we paid a visit to the lifelong learning centre, which was hosting an exhibition dedicated to Goken Maeda, the subject of Kyoko’s research. He was a poet, broadcaster and artist, producing beautiful scroll drawings and journals that combined words and pictures to charming effect. On display was his diary of life in wartime, when his house burnt down during a bombing raid, so for a month he and his family had to camp, along with many refugees flooding into the city. Although the subject matter was difficult, the ink drawings were imbued with an infectious humour. 

There was also a delightful scroll diary of a trip that he and some friends took in 1948, which seemed to involve a lot of drinking; although himself a teetotaler, Goken Maeda’s fame stems in part from his enjoyment of the haiku drinking culture. As well as editing a literary baseball journal, he was the manager of the local baseball team; after his team lost very badly to a team from a neighbouring prefecture, Goken Maeda invented a baseball version of the rock, paper and scissors parlour game that continues to be performed in Matsuyama to this day.

In the neighbouring room we perused an exhibition of famous people from the region. Alongside the rows of haiku poets, I spotted various cartoon characters, which turned out to be characters from the novel Botchan, by Natsume Soseki. The novel is set in Matsuyama, but isn’t exactly complimentary about the place; the narrator Botchan hates the slow pace of life and everything about the city, eventually quitting his job as a school teacher to make his escape. Despite this, or perhaps as the city’s revenge, nowadays Botchan is everywhere, with sweets and streetcars dedicated to him, and crowds gathering around a clock waiting for Botchan characters to appear on the hour and re-enact the story. Tomoka told us that in some hotels, instead of a religious text in the bedside drawer, you can find a copy of Botchan.

Unlike Botchan, I was sad to leave the city after so short a visit, though perhaps if Tomoka Kai achieves her ambition of UNESCO city of literature designation, there’ll be more literary exchange between Matsuyama and Norwich. As the express train wove its way slowly along the coast, with views of sea and small islands on one side and low mountains on the other, past small towns, ports, rice fields, allotments and orchards full of the fifty varieties of citrus fruit for which the region is famous, I composed my own small contribution to the poetic tradition of Matsuyama.


Monday haiku
(for Tomoka Kai)

Fish out of water
The non-poet perches on 
Her stool, dropping rice



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International Women's Day 2016 - WCN Reading List

Posted By: Anna Scrafield, 08 March 2016

Yes, it's International Women's Day! To celebrate, and to honour the achievements of women in literature, the Communications Dept. sent a little email to everyone at WCN asking for their favourite female writer. We wanted to hear about writers that they connect with, that have moved them, stayed with them or have truly captured the female experience. We thought we'd tweet about everyone's favourite, and assumed that some people wouldn't get back to us... But then suddenly our inbox exploded with suggestion after suggestion, with passionate discussions on the power, beauty and passion of a whole colourful swirling kaleidoscope of writers, from Aphra Behn to Han Kang. Well, what could we do but commit this fantastic list to a blog post!

So here's a hastily-compiled reading list from the staff at WCN, comprising our own personal favourites, and a, possibly fascinating, insight into the kind of group emails that dart around our organisation:


Our Chief Exec, Chris Gribble, was first out of the blocks, with a swift first response to our email, simply reading; "Gertrude Stein!"

After that, they came thick and fast. Freya, our Business Development Assistant shared her favourite quote from Helene Cixous' The Laugh of the Medusa - "Censor the body and you sensor breath and speech at the same time. Write yourself. Your body must be heard"

Then Programme Coordinator Melanie Kidd took a theatre route and suggested Sarah Kane

Communications Coordinator, Brave New Reads, Rowan Whiteside shot back with her current list - "My favourites at the moment are Lynne Reid Banks (oh, The L Shaped Room!) Barbara Trapido (Temples of Delight), wonderful Margaret Atwood, the wondrous and incomparable Ali Smith, brilliant South African writer Henrietta Rose Innes, the phenomenal Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie..... I could go on, but I’ll stop." (clue: she didn't stop, but more on that later)

At this point our inbox had a meltdown, as Sam Ruddock, Programme Manager, shared his list - 

"My choices would be (somewhat obvious) and cover most of the last 200 years." 
- Mary Shelley – Daughter of one of the founders of feminism,[Mary Wollstonecraft] a writer who lived and loved and wrote way beyond her historical age. 
- The Brontes – all for different reasons. Mostly because their prose is some of the finest ever produced. 
- Harriet Martineau – the world’s first female retained journalist, don’t you know! 
- Virginia Woolf – because, while she was an incorrigible snob, those books never stop ringing out
- Daphne du Maurier – Because Rebecca and Jamaica Inn are two of the finest books of the 20th Century. 
- Doris Lessing – for the character of her writing and her life
- Hilary Mantel – Because there’s no-one better in the world today. 
- Eimear McBride – for doing something remarkable and new with prose.
- Sarah Perry – a writer of supreme talent most definitely going places.

And of course the fabulous women featured in our NNF City of Literature Programme this year:
- Una and Nicola Streeton who are writing about gender specifically


(Khairani Barokka performs at Translation in the Margins, Free Word Centre, Oct 2015)


Our Finance Officer Annelli Clarke then recommended Viv Albertine’s autobiography Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys which she described as "a real, authentic and inspiring telling of one woman’s tale. She’s bloomin' brilliant!"

Rowan, meanwhile, was having reservations about the length of her list and replied:
"HOW COULD I NOT PUT MAURIER AND LESSING. *hangs head in shame forever*"

At this point, the emails had become something of a whirlwind, with everyone throwing names into the mix. Chris came back with another name for us - Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann 

Freya added in - "Also, Han Kang... Just finished Human Acts and wow. Since the International Women’s Day hashtag is #pledgeforparity, a women that writes so existentially about broad human experience (albeit in a time of monumental horror), with such harrowing integrity... phwoar. And hats off to Deborah Smith for translating it ... " 

(Want to find out more about Hang Kang and Deborah Smith? Deborah recently started Tilted Axis Press, which has pledged to commit to the Year of Publishing Women 2018, as suggested by Kamila Shamsie in our National Conversation last year. Other publishers to sign up included And Other Stories)

Then Fundraising Fellow, Christie Johnson, threw in some of her favourites: "Majority of them oldies, but <3", 

Head in hands, Communications Director Alice Kent wails "There're just so many emails flying around!!!" before adding her own names to the list:

"- Nature writer Annie Dillard 
Jeanette WintersonThe Passion is particularly good if you read it on New Year's Day when you are 21…
Tove Jansson – Moominpappa sat and thought of the utter meaninglessness of everything……and it’s for kids …brilliant!" 

Having sent her email, she went on to eulogise about Annie Dillard's description of a pond and the way it transports the reader to a whole new world. 

Meanwhile, Programme Assistant Tina Garcia recommends:  "Irène Némirovsky, the Ukrainian author who wrote the beautiful and moving Suite Française before dying at Auschwitz. A must read.
Or any book by the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska, for example Leonora: A Novel, a biography of the British-born surrealist painter Leonora Carrington"

And who does this blog-writer recommend? Well, my one true love is A.S. Byatt. I can re-read Still Life over and over, and draw more from it every time. In fact the entire Frederica Quartet is a revelation. I could go on to list every book of hers that I love, but it's easier to simply say "everything she has ever done"! (And if you enjoy reading Cixous' Medusa, take a look at Byatt's The Matisse Stories, too.) 

Who else? Angela Carter, especially Wise Children and The Magic Toyshop, and then of course Iris Murdoch, and Margaret Drabble, and although they've already been mentioned, I have to stick my own oar in to declare my undying devotion to Hilary Mantel and Doris Lessing. Plus, Elizabeth David's approach to life and food writing deserve a mention, then there's Sylvia Plath who with the title of her novel alone, captures the stifling, deadly, invisible yet all-encompassing horror of depression. Olga Kenyon, who tragically died a few years ago, wrote some fantastic books on women writers, and Marina Warner's work on mythography and feminism is brilliant. And finally, Dervla Murphy, for doing, writing and saying whatever she wants. 


But who have we missed out? Share your thoughts below, tell us who else we should add to our teetering towers of "to read" piles, or tell us why you share our love for some of the authors mentioned above. 













(left, Harriet Martineau)

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The Story Machine

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 02 March 2016

 

 

This year's City of Literature programme at Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016 features a brand new style of event for the literature sector - The Story Machine. Powered by literature and oiled by theatre, this is a unique interactive and immersive experience where stories from world-renowned writers seduce participants at every turn.

As a brand new event with a lot of surprises planned for the day, what can we expect in advance? Sam Ruddock, WCN Programme Manager and the driving force behind The Story Machine, will present a series of blogs over the coming weeks that helps to shed light on how he will bring The Story Machine to life and why it's such a ground breaking literary event.



The Story Machine is the literary festival I have always wanted to produce: a funhouse jam-packed with interactive, immersive, and brilliant short stories. There will be no lecterns, no audience sat quietly in ordered rows, no discussion about the author’s childhood or where – and on what – they write. Nothing but brilliant stories given the space and time to shine as brightly as they do on the page.

In the first of a series of blogs about The Story Machine, I want to share some of how we came to produce it, and what you might expect if you come along to its premier in May. 

It all started with a team discussion of the art that’s made our hearts sing and our brains fizz over recent years. As we talked, what became apparent was that we all loved immersive experiences : theatre that asks the audience to get involved and shape it alongside the actors, Secret Cinema showings that let you step inside the world of the film, exhibitions that you can touch and feel and sometimes even taste.

Why, we asked ourselves, had we not encountered a literature festival experience like that? One answer that came immediately to mind was that we don’t need festivals for that. We’ve long believed that the reader is an active co-curator, conjuring the story in their mind every time they open a book. Recent research into the neurology of reading has even suggested that there is little more immersive for our brains than deeply settling in to read a book. So we changed the question: how we might recreate that immersive feeling of reading in a literature festival?
In searching for the answer, two things came in handy: the mass production of Moby Dick  at the Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival and Iliad by National Theatre Wales. I had never seen any literature festival treat a text with such dedication, respect, or joy as these did. In doing so, each showed that great literature, great writing, and great stories might be right at the centre of an event, rather than a small add-on as it so often is. Back at work I sat in the glorious glass-fronted gallery at Dragon Hall pondering these questions and came across an article about those amazing short story vending machine that had appeared in Grenoble. In that moment, it all came together in my mind.  

This building might become a machine for discovering and engaging with great stories. An idea was born.  

Stepping into The Story Machine will feel like you are entering a secret garden, or disappearing down Alice’s rabbit hole. There might not be a magic potion that shrinks you down to size – or for that matter a talking Mock Turtle (one day, one day!) – but as you explore our 15th century Grade 1 Listed home at Dragon Hall, you’ll encounter all sorts of beguiling characters and tales taking place in nooks and crannies in, outside, and under, this wonderful building. Over the course of three hours you’ll plot your way through stories by thirteen hand-picked writers from all over the world, sample story-themed food and cocktails, and uncover secret stories where you’d least expect them.

Jon McGregor – whose provocation at the National Conversation also helped shape some of our thinking – will tell a story from the driver’s seat of a car. Israeli superstar Etgar Keret – one of the most cheekily playful writers I know – will whisper true stories across space and time in the dark of our cellars. In the Great Hall an unpublished new story by Sarah Hall kicks off a series exploring the relationship between humans and nature, that which we can create and that which we cannot control even in ourselves, life and art. We finish with a glorious crescendo as Norwich-based writer Anna Metcalfe’s debut collection blinds us with a moment of pure transcendence.  


In curating the Story Machine we read hundreds of stories to find the ones that thrilled us. We weren’t short of talent, and I emerge with a renewed belief in the vitality, creativity and heart in the writing of this most difficult of forms. Along the way, we’ve been delighted to work with The Special Relationship who produced Moby Dick at the Southbank Centre, Granta’s exceptional New Irish Writing edition, our good friends at Galley Beggar Press, and Cathy Galvin’s Word Factory. 

What is literature when it steps off the page to dance with us? What are stories when we find them to be so much more, or less, than we imagined? Come along to The Story Machine, and you might just start to find out. 

Happy Reading.

Sam

Tickets for The Story Machine will go on-sale on Thursday 3 March 2016 from the Norfolk & Norwich Festival website www.nnfestival.org.uk

Illustrations by Adam Avery.


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