News and views
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
I can never resist a good Hitchhiker’s reference, and my imminent departure from WCN seems like as good a time as any to hail the great Douglas Adams.
Yep, after two and a half years of copywriting, blogging, tweeting, events, and everything else, I’m off to seek my fortune in pastures new. Except they’re not really pastures new at all, as I’m merely heading across the city to the University of East Anglia, where I'll be studying on the Creative Writing Masters (Prose).
In the time I’ve worked at Writers’ Centre Norwich the organisation has evolved dramatically. For starters, we successfully led the bid to become Norwich, UNESCO City of Literature. We’ve begun our fundraising and received planning permission for the National Centre for Writing. (I’m already putting my name down for a Writers’ Colony spot.) We’ve launched lots of new projects, from SPACE to the IdeasTap Inspires Writing Competition.
I’ve been involved in some hugely exciting projects, and met some amazing writers; from Booker winners to Nobel Laureates, and (of course) I’ve benefitted from working with some brilliant colleagues.
It’s hard to pick out highlights, but I’m going to do my best.
The Summer Reads project has been one of my favourites from the very beginning. As a bookseller, I like nothing more than telling people to read books, so Summer Reads with its hand curated selection of titles is right up my street. (My favourite from this year is Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic.)
Last year, as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival City of Literature events Ali Smith gave the inaugural Harriet Martineau Lecture. I can hands down say that this was the best literary event I’ve ever attended. And I attend a lot. You can listen to a podcast of the event, or read a blog from my colleague Katy. Plus, I am now utterly in love with Ali Smith and her phenomenal writing – I’m particularly fond of her short stories.
Worlds Literature Festival is an annual event which brings internationally renowned writers to Norwich for a week of public and private events. Worlds is an amazingly stimulating (and quite intense) week of private salons and big events. I’m normally sat in the back of the room desperately trying to capture the discussion in 140 characters or less, whilst making mental notes of all the things I need to google, all the books I need to read, and all the literary definitions which have fluttered out of my brain. Nevertheless, I’ve always found Worlds an incredibly inspiring experience, not least because it reminds me that you have to strive to be a writer.
I was also reminded of the necessity of striving when I attended a workshop led by A.L. Kennedy. I’ve missed a lot of the WCN workshops because I work (at my other job) on Saturdays, so snapped up the chance to attend a weekday writing workshop with A.L. Kennedy. The class was fascinating and funny, and I particularly enjoyed making up a new character packed full of foibles and quirks on the spot. (My character ended up being rather distressing. He probably won’t ever come out again.)
Then there’s Escalator. Although the programme is on a temporary pause, Escalator was always one of my favourite projects to work on- I loved getting to read our Escalatee’s writing, and it was so satisfying to hear how the programme had helped them develop their writing skills. Not only that, but it meant that I got to meet some great local writers, including my brilliant friend Lucy Yates.
So, it’s been great. It really has. Thanks for reading my blogs, chatting with me on Twitter and Facebook and loving books as much as me. I hope to see you again soon...
...If you’d like to keep in touch, you can follow me on Twitter @DilysTolfree or check out my website.
The UEA Ziggurats in all their glory.
PS. Richard is particularly GREAT.
PPS. Katy is also AWESOME.
A Criminal Celebration: Announcing Noirwich Crime Writing Festival
The two men are skulking in the shadows of the cloisters. They talk in muffled voices.
“Have you heard the news?”
The short man adjusts his trench coat and pulls out a slip of paper. The paper is embossed with a black scrawl, the sleek lettering marred by a blotch of heavy red.
“You mean this?”
The tall man spits onto the floor. “This city ain’t in need of any more criminals.”
“I say we watch and wait. You got the low-down?”
“A five day criminal celebration, that’s what it is. They think they’re being so clever, doing it right under our noses. We know this ain’t no literary festival.”
They walk away from the Cathedral, the spire a dark dagger in the sky.
Noirwich Crime Writing Festival
Taking place from the 10th-14th September, Noirwich Crime Writing Festival brings the best criminal masterminds to Norwich City of Literature
for readings, events, masterclasses and more. Organised by The Crime Writers' Association
, University of East Anglia
, Writers' Centre Norwich and Waterstones
wich promises a series of brutally brilliant events for you to enjoy.
Read on for details of all the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival events:
Wednesday 10th SeptemberA Forgotten Mystery: The Life and Works of S.T. Haymon with Dr. John Curran6pm, Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, Free
The opening Noirwich event celebrates the life of S.T. Haymon; an unjustly forgotten crime writer. S.T. Haymon lived in Norwich for most of her life and wrote childrens’ fiction before turning her hand to murder. Haymon’s crime novels were hugely popular, garnering her multiple awards as well as an almost guaranteed spot in the bestseller lists. Dr John Curran, who describes Haymon as one of his favourite writers, will lead this event exploring her life and work. Book your free ticket | More information
New Voices, Old Places with Tom Benn, Eva Dolan and Oliver Harris7.30pm, Waterstones Castle Street, £6 / £4 conc with £3 redeemable against the price of a book at the event and a free glass of wine.
Meet Tom Benn, Eva Dolan and Oliver Harris; the next generation of crime novelists, and get a guided tour around the mean streets of crime writing. These up and coming writers will discuss how setting has influenced their writing, and their burgeoning careers. The conversation will be expertly guided by Waterstones Manager Ben Richardson. Book your ticket
| More information
Thursday 11th SeptemberThe New Hercule Poirot Mystery with Sophie Hannah and Dr. John Curran8pm, Norwich Playhouse, £12/£10 conc
Join us for the launch of the first Agatha Christie novel in almost forty years. Sophie Hannah, who is best known for her twisted psychological thrillers, will discuss the challenges and delights of resuscitating the cultural institution of Poirot and give a short reading from The Monogram Murders
. She’ll be joined on stage by Christie expert John Curran, and together they’ll discuss the life, legacy and writing of Christie, Queen of Crime.Book your ticket
| More information
Friday 12th SeptemberThe Skeleton Road: An Evening with Val McDermid 8pm, Norwich Playhouse, £12/£10 conc
Val McDermid, an icon in the contemporary crime world, joins us to launch her latest book The Skeleton Road
. McDermid, an award-winning novelist known for her chilling psychological thrillers and cutting edge procedurals, will discuss the challenges and delights of writing murderous mysteries with Henry Sutton. Book your ticket
| More information
Saturday 13th September
The Golden Age of Nordic NoirA Crime Thriller Masterclass with Henry Sutton10am-1pm, Writers’ Centre Norwich, £40 or £60 with Simon Brett Masterclass.
10.30am-4.30pm, Cinema City Education Space, £40/£30 conc
Enjoy a day dedicated to the art of Nordic Noir. Trish Sheil, film academic, and Barry Forshaw, a leading expert on crime fiction and film, will help you to explore the all-pervading influence of the Scandinavian wave. Using short clips, iconic moments in film history and their personal knowledge, the tutors will guide you through the history of Noir, focussing on the Nordic classics and then exploring French crime film and television, and the blossoming of UK crime drama.
Book your ticket | More information
Hoping to turn your hand to murder? Get to grips with your crime novel under the expert tutelage of Henry Sutton, co-director of UEA’s Creative Masters and accomplished author. You’ll work on enhancing characterisation and cementing motivations, making sure your characters are believable and well-rounded. Henry will also advise you on writing innovatively within the crime thriller genre.Book your ticket
| More information
A Detective Fiction Masterclass with Simon Brett2-5pm, Writers’ Centre Norwich, £40 or £60 with Henry Sutton Masterclass
Get your detective novel up to scratch with expert crime writer Simon Brett, author of over 90 books. Simon will guide you through the traditions of the detective novel, using classic examples to illuminate your successes and failures, and helping you to strengthen and polish your novel.
Sponsored by CWA Diamond DaggerBook your ticket
| More informationCelebrating the CWA Diamond Dagger with Simon Brett and John Harvey7.30pm, Waterstones, Norwich, £6/£4 concessions with £3 redeemable from Simon’s latest book at the event and a free glass of wine
Simon Brett and John Harvey, CWA Diamond Dagger winners, will reveal the secrets to a long and successful crime writing career, offering you an intriguing glimpse into the mind of an experienced novelist. Book your ticket | More information
Sunday 14th SeptemberNoirwich Crime Writing Festival Presents Megan Abbott2.30pm, Norwich Cathedral Hostry, £6/£4 concessions with £3 redeemable off the price of the book at the event
Megan Abbott is known for pushing the crime genre into new and compelling places, and is already being compared to Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame. In this rare UK appearance Magena will be joined by Henry Sutton for a discussion around the art of crime fiction, including suspense, secrets and desire. Book your ticket
| More information
The Killer Inside Me: A Noirwich Frank’s Bar Film ScreeningSunday 14th September 2014, 5pm, Free
Top off the week with a Bloody Mary and a screening of The Killer Inside Me at Frank’s Bar in Norwich. Based on Jim Thompson’s bestselling novel, The Killer Inside Me tells the tale of meek and mild-mannered deputy sheriff Lou Ford. Lou’s got problems- with women, with his job, with the corpses which just keep piling up. And then there’s his own unsavoury habits; from sadistic sex to sociopathic rages. This 2010 adaptation stars Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, and has garnered critical acclaim and controversial commentary - there’s no need to book, just turn up!More informationAs part of Noirwich Crime Writing Festival you can buy a reduced price Festival group ticket – more details below:
If you’re attending all five of our paid-for author events, you can get a 15% discount
on the total cost. Simply add the below five events to your online shopping basket. Once all five have been selected, add the code Noirwich5
in the ‘promotion code’ box and click ‘proceed’. Your discount will then be applied.
New Voices, Old Places with Tom Benn, Eva Dolan and Oliver Harris
The New Hercule Poirot Mystery with Sophie Hannah and Dr. John Curran
The Skeleton Road: An Evening with Val McDermid
Celebrating the CWA Diamond Dagger with Simon Brett and John Harvey
Noirwich Crime Writing Festival Presents Megan Abbott
is brought to you by The Crime Writers' Association, University of East Anglia, Waterstones and Writers' Centre Norwich.
Writers' Centre Norwich Announces ACE NPO Award
Writers’ Centre Norwich is delighted to be awarded National Portfolio Organisation funding to the amount of £466,405 today as part of the Arts Council England National Portfolio settlement.
The decision to award WCN these funds is justification of the exciting plans that WCN has developed to become a National Centre for Writing from April 2015.
The total award also marks an exciting collaboration between WCN and the British Centre for Literary Translation (with the support of University of East Anglia) whereby the previously ACE funded public programmes of BCLT will be transferred to the National Centre for Writing from April 2015.
This collaboration responds to both the ever closer working relationships between the two organisations, and the need to deliver outstanding work in the most efficient way possible.
As such, today’s funding award is not an increase in funding for WCN in real terms. Instead, the settlement offers great value for money as the combination between BCLT’s public programme of work and WCN’s programme offers a small reduction in overall costs, achieved through cost savings in office administration and other efficiencies.
As well as a chance to work more efficiently, it was a shared belief in the centrality of literary translation, creative writing and reading, and the desire to put those beliefs at the heart of our culture that prompted the partners at WCN, BCLT and UEA to explore new ways of developing and delivering programmes focusing on talent development, engagement, innovation, access for young people and international exchange.
Whilst the public programme of BCLT’s work is taken on by the National Centre for Writing, the non-public programmes will remain at BCLT’s vibrant academic hub at UEA. The close working relationship that this will foster between UEA, BCLT academic and the National Centre for Writing will be reflected in ambitious new programmes and activities nationally and internationally.
Chris Gribble, CEO of Writers’ Centre Norwich says:
“We are absolutely delighted that Arts Council England has recognised our expertise, track record and capacity in these areas. WCN and our key partners are developing a new organisation as well as a new physical space for the National Centre for Writing in the heart of Norwich, England’s UNESCO World City of Literature. This award is a great endorsement of that aim.”
Dr Duncan Large, Academic Director of BCLT says:
“The BCLT welcomes this wonderful news. It crowns our many successful collaborations with the Writers' Centre Norwich, and marks a new era in our partnership. We are immensely excited at the prospect of helping to shape the new National Centre for Writing as a centre of excellence in literary translation.”
Prof Peter Womack, Head of the School of Literature Drama and Creative Writing (UEA) says:
“We welcome this decision very warmly, not only because of the joint initiatives the funding will make possible, but also because it marks and recognises a new kind of creative co-operation between the university and the public realm.”
‘The Unexpected Professor’. John Carey in Conversation with D.J.Taylor.
‘Reading makes you see that the ordinary is never ordinary’.
As part of the 2014 Worlds Literature Festival, literary critic and Professor of literature John Carey was joined in conversation by local writer D.J. Taylor at Norwich Playhouse. Full of tales of grammar school, Oxford colleges and a historic London, the evening was very fitting to the festival’s theme of nostalgia; a very English nostalgia.
The evening began with both John Carey and D.J. Taylor reminiscing about their respective days as an Oxford student. Taylor recalled his fellow students’ impersonations of their excited literature professor as he spoke of the work of Charles Dickens- that lecturer was John Carey.
The theme of nostalgia continued as Carey spoke of his
childhood in 1930s London and how his reading in this time developed his feelings towards literature. Carey stated that his childhood was especially middle class using the example of his regular browsing of huge bound copies of turn of the century Figaro Illustre in his father’s drawing room. It was noted, however, that middle class childhood generally receives less exposure in art and literature than that of the working classes. Perhaps then, this type of nostalgia may be seen as relatively scarce and slightly unusual.
Carey explained how his childhood shaped him through his upbringing, education and reading. He attended a London grammar school where a teacher recommended Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter. This book in which humans were only the hunters and the enemies, opened his mind to a new way of feeling and thinking, specifically towards literature. Carey claims that he is who he is today because of his grammar school education, that without it he would not have been able to achieve what he has. Carey was quite defensive of the grammar school system, but sees its disadvantages. He believes that he would not have been able to thrive at other schools and that even today he can see many middle class children feel they must hide their backgrounds from their peers, a view which members of the evening’s audience certainly agreed with.
After receiving a scholarship for Oxford University and later a Congratulatory First in his degree, Carey began to teach at Christ Church College, Oxford where his class consciousness developed. Describing this period as ‘Brideshead Revisited in the 1950s’ and ‘incredibly aristocratic,’ Carey spoke about being referred to as a ‘no-one’ and the attitude of entitlement which many of the students there held. An unusual environment for a former grammar school boy.
As a lecturer at Oxford, Carey campaigned for a change in the Literature syllabus, a move away from the previous reforms of J.R.R Tolkein and C.S. Lewis. Until Carey’s intervention (alongside others) little literature produced after 1832 was taught at Oxford. Carey called for a need to keep up with current literature and it was through this that his interest in Victorian literature continued to grow.
D.J. Taylor used this moment to describe Carey as ‘an anti-academic academic,’ a label which Carey approved of. Perhaps this term appears so apt due to Carey’s views on the opinion of art. According to Carey, when it comes to art, whether that be an extravagant painting or a short story, there is not an absolute judgement. He asks how one person’s opinion can be more valuable, or even more correct than another’s and suggests that if he is unable to persuade a person to his own opinion of a piece of art, ‘they are not inferior, they are just different’. Indeed, all art is subjective. If something is classed as great art it is not, as Carey proposes, ‘written in the sky’.
Interestingly, Carey described how we, as a people, have always strived to place value on art. He first gave the example of theological art; it is God who chooses what is good and bad art. He also spoke of neuro-aestheticians who research the reactions of the brain when viewing art during a scan. Ultimately, positive reactions to art in these scans would determine what can be classed as ‘good’.
To conclude the evening’s conversation, Carey expressed his views on reading and the benefits and advantages it undoubtedly brings. He stated that by reading, one is inviting self-doubt and showing willingness to challenge one’s own perceptions. ‘Book burners,’ stated Carey ‘try to destroy ideas different from their own, readers do the opposite’.
By the end of the evening, audience members were full of feelings of self-belief and felt that their opinion mattered equally as much as the next person’s. The conversation between John Carey and D.J. Taylor proved to be insightful and inspiring, leaving the audience with a long reading list, many of which are Carey’s own titles.
Find out more about the 2014 Worlds Literature Festival.
Find out more about John Carey.
Tarka the Otter- Henry Williamson
Lord of the Flies- William Golding
The Hanging- George Orwell
What Good are the Arts?- John Carey
The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life- John Carey
Thackeray: Prodigal Genius- John Carey
Worlds 2014: The Ecstasy of Impossibility – A Provocation from James Scudamore
Our fourth provocation is from author James Scudamore, and explores a nostalgia manufactured by reading.
James begins by saying that he will be giving a more whimsical provocation on his young reading experiences. He says that he envies his young self and the way he devoured books, gulping down 1984, The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby in just one week. As a young reader, he was an intense reader, wantonly unleashing seminal classics and texts upon his unformed mind. Now he feels he has to ponder so much more on his reading.
As a boy James spent a great deal of time living in foreign countries; finding his surroundings strange and pining for the familiar. He found his home in books and the characters he identified with the most were the ones who had buried themselves in books, finding solace in reading like James himself had done. These characters and James himself are nostalgic for a world which doesn’t exist, preferring the imagined fictions to the real world.
One of the first books in which James found a character submerging themselves in fiction was Le Grand Meaulnes by the French author Alain-Fournier. James Wood describes these characters as ‘enchanted narrators’- those who prefer to wrap themselves in worlds of make-believe and may or may not survive encountering the real world. In Le Grand Meaulnes, James Scudamore said he first found evidence of the impact of reading, that his early reading experiences were shared by others, and, more, written about. The Great Gatsby and The Go-Between can comfortably be included in this doomed fantasists club.
But this doomed fantasists club, these enchanted narrators, show that through literature we can remember experiences we’ve never had, visit places that we’ve never been to and that may not even exist. They show that we inherit our dreams from fiction. This longing is even more pronounced because it is unattainable.
This unattainable longing is perhaps responsible for the once widely held belief that reading too much fiction will make you mad.
Don Quixote was one of the first fictions which was self-analytical. It invented the modern notion of imagined truth. In Don Quixote there is a simple joy in taking refuge in imagination. In Madame Bovary Emma also takes refuge in fiction, yet as Don Quixote bends Emma breaks. Emma’s familiarity with her surroundings breeds cohesive contempt, her imagination is soaked with the romantics and she is drawn towards the tumultuous. Her nostalgia for the imagined world leads to disaster, whilst Don Quixote is able to meld his nostalgia for fiction with the reality of life.
As James says “it would have done Emma good to get more!” Had she done so she would have experienced other realities and the advantages of her home would have stood out in contrast to the foreign. The familiar creates blinkered vision, removing the positives and focusing the negative, so we long for the alien, imagining it a perfect world precisely due to its unattainability.
This yearning is almost an addiction: one which can never be satisfied. As Philip Larkin writes in his poem 'The Importance Of Elsewhere', home is unsatisfactory because “here no elsewhere underwrites my existence”. The things we miss are the things we have invented, all the more desirable because of our rose-tinted glasses and our smoothing of the sharpened edges.
This is how we miss things – we invent them. We create fictions and imaginary homelands. After all, if what we seek can never be realised then it can never let us down. The South, James’ favourite Borges story, proves Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s dictum that “What matters in life is not what happens to us but what we remember and how we remember it”.
Much of James’ writing is heavily influenced by nostalgia and longing for fictional worlds. His first novel, The Amnesia Clinic, was partly generated by his longing for his childhood home, and partly by his desire to create a character who preferred the fictional world to reality. His writing and key characters were heavily influenced by Le Grand Meaulnes, Madame Bovary and Don Quixote.
When James was writing his third novel, Wreaking, he spent a lot of time in disused psychiatric hospitals, spending hours at a time in these abandoned buildings. A heavily affecting and isolating experience, James spent time ruminating about the emotional quality of the building, and came to realise that he felt undeniably nostalgic about the institutions which used to exist. Even a hand-written sign requesting that litter is put in the bin created a feeling of loss and longing within him.
Real life has a way of rejecting all logical series of events – it’s messy, unwieldy, unpredictable, unlike the ordered world of fiction. One of the greatest luxuries of being able to write for a living is that it makes you feel that life has meaning.
James’ finishes on a rousing note: if we can take the opposing forces of what we experience and what we can imagine, we can create something alive, burning with longing.
The discussion focused around the semantic limits of nostalgia and whether nostalgia translates into other languages and cultures.
There are more than ten words in China which describe nostalgia, yet the vocabulary is very politicised. Nostalgia is built into Chinese culture, you cannot change your family name, you cannot change your cultural identity or separate it from the past. The past in China is forever there. You follow the past- the present is not important to the Chinese, instead their behaviour and beliefs are informed by the past. In China there is a nostalgia for their culture, rather than their past - many writers want to find the root to Chinese culture, but don't know where the root is.
There are three words for nostalgia in Japanese, one from the French root as in Korean. References to nostalgia in Korea are mostly found in literature, but there is one word which specifically refers to the loss of home, called into action by the partition of North and South Korea.
In Welsh there is the word ‘hiraeth’ which has no direct English translation. It is defined partly as a homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed, partly a longing, or yearning for the Wales of the past.
In Italy they live and thrive on nostalgia. Nostalgia is a very normal daily life concept. They’re so connected to the past and place, that nostalgia is a very physical thing. According to our visiting delegate, Italians thrive on the nostalgia that other people feel for them.
The conversation moved on and focused on defining nostalgia, exploring whether nostalgia is to do with a particular time or place, if there is a space or zone before nostalgia.
Is nostalgia over romanticised? Is nostalgia a capitalist emotion? Is the idea of a homeland the biggest mistake the human race has ever made? This question around homeland brought ideas of territory and ownership into play. Is politics about someone's nostalgia versus another’s?
Countering the invented concept of nostalgia, was an examination of the physical manifestations of the emotion, from phantom limbs to nature reclaiming land.
The salon finished by wondering if we invent the very things we lack – is imagination vested in loss? Do we desire the loss and make things up to fill the holes?
Is a writers’ job a nostalgic digression, an exercise in wish-fulfilment?
Find out more about Worlds Literature Festival.
Find out more about James Scudamore.
Watch James' Provocation:
Listen to James' Provocation:
– George Orwell
The Catcher in the Rye
– J.D. Salinger
The Great Gatsby
– F Scott Fitzgerald
Le Grand Meaulnes
– L.P. Hartley
- Miguel de Cervantes
– Gustave Flaubert
Worlds 2014: The Want of War – A Provocation from Owen Sheers
Our second provocation of Worlds Literature Festival was given by Owen Sheers, poet, scriptwriter and author. What follows is a summary of Owen’s provocation, and the discussion it inspired. (I’ve endeavoured to be as accurate as possible, but you can watch or listen to the provocation below.)
Owen begins by placing his provocation on The Want of War in the context of his own work. Owen’s writing has often explored war; his verse drama Pink Mist counterpoints soldiers’ experiences in Afghanistan with the feelings of their wives, mothers and partners when the soldiers return home. His most recent play, The Two Worlds of Charlie F. was created with wounded soldiers, and won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award at the Edinburgh Festival.
Owen then explores ideas of nostalgia and war through distance- the distance between home and battle ground, society and soldiers, war and peace. Most contemporary soldiers suffer nostalgic urges more on returning home then when stationed overseas. Melancholia, post traumatic stress disorder, exhaustion, shell shock, war neuroses, are just some of the terms that the military have used to try and define the psychological effects of war, and most of these conditions only become apparent when the soldier returns home.
Nostalgia is defined as a desire to be somewhere else, in another time or another place. For soldiers, this nostalgia is often perverted, so the longing becomes for combat and war. Nostalgia is inverted with post traumatic stress disorder.
Robert Harris says; “There’s a hole in modern man where war should be.”
Soldiers have a professional desire to experience combat, for if they don’t it’s like going to a fairground and not going on the rides. Added to this professional desire is the fact that the majority of British soldiers are recruited from disadvantaged areas, meaning that many join the army to escape their homes and hometowns.
For soldiers going overseas to fight, it means that they can finally put their training into action, and do the job they are being paid to do. Yet, when the soldiers start fighting they find that fighting the enemy is no longer just about ‘doing the job’. Instead the soldiers experience a compression of belonging; from belonging strongly and loyally to your country, battalion, regiment, division, brigade, commanding officers, fellow soldiers. This loyalty becomes a form of love, and then this love is transformed into a desire for revenge, when those you love and are loyal to are injured or killed.
Loss becomes the reason for fighting. You want to kill the enemy because they hurt your friends. Owen explains that for the soldiers the sense of attachment for their fellows was the strongest emotional bond they had experienced, beyond that even of family. This bond is heightened by the extreme pressures of a warzone and the constant possibility of death. Fighting gives a strong sense of identity and purpose; the soldiers’ lives may be more precarious but also more precious.
On returning home the soldiers lose these heightened qualities of life. This is what lies at the heart of the pain they experience when they return. Many young men returning home live in a world of aftermath... This is to do with what conflict provides and society does not.
The soldiers’ internal scales are tipped off balance due to their experiences of conflict. The rapid transition from warzone to home-life exacerbates this, as the speed of their physical travel is far more rapid than the psychological shift.
The second distance is harder to explain and harder to broach: it is the distance between the soldiers and the rest of society- they have experienced horrors on behalf of society, but society seems unaware of what the soldiers have experienced.
The narratives we hear of war are very one sided and manipulated by the media. We do not hear what our soldiers have done and how our soldiers have been affected by their actions in war. It's this gulf that soldiers want to breach; they want the public to know about their experiences. It is a failure of story that the true costs and experiences of war are glossed over.
Owen follows this by saying that the best thing to cut through bland, homogenised propaganda is the well-told personal story. But how can we best capture these stories, and who should be telling them? In the past our soldiers wrote these stories (Sassoon, Owen, etc), but now these stories tend to be told by professional writers, outsourced and slightly dislocated, the primary source story modified by the lens of the writers’ distance.
Owen asks if it is not our duty as a society to work harder and give those who experience conflict the tools to write about it. He then wonders if we are guilty of a nostalgia for the easy narrative of past wars, taking comfort in the familiar and simple dialectics of World Wars, rather than tackling the more difficult situations of our present wars.
Perhaps literature can no longer realistically expect to be at the forefront of war- is this now the space for short films and YouTube etc? How can we make sure that stories of modern conflict are heard?
Our delegates began by discussing the lack of female voices in Owen’s provocation. Owen stated that he has very much wanted to interview women soldiers, but wasn’t able to. Instead, Owen explored the female experience in Pink Mist
, telling the stories of the women left at home.
Returning soldiers may feel exiled at home, in part due to their previous urge to escape their home. This urge to join up and fight, and escape ordinary life, is a thread which runs through war narratives – Homer’s Odysseus couldn’t wait to escape home. When soldiers return home they often find they are unable to be close to their mothers and partners, instead longing for war.
War can give people emotional comfort- for soldiers they are living an intense life of risk, as well as being involved in a grand narrative of patriotism and history. But on returning home, the soldiers experience a second death, their sense of purpose removed and the society they were fighting for seeming to ignore them. It is extremely difficult for soldiers to listen to TV and the radio, and hear the war described as a waste of time and waste of life – it further ostracises the soldiers from society. There is a gap between the false narrative of war at home, and the real narrative at war.
It is necessary to listen to soldiers’ stories and get inside their wound, but there’s concern around these stories acting as propaganda for war, encouragement rather than deterrent. Already there is an industry of toys, comics, television and films which glamourises war and violence. Literature is a meaningful tool to react against the inbuilt propaganda of war.
Yet the idea of stories is to make sense of things- but how can you make sense of futile deaths and war, and how much do soldiers create revised narratives and stories of their experiences of war? Whilst Owen interviewed many soldiers to create his play, he was only able to interview them on one occasion, so wasn’t able to identify revised narratives, or discover how the soldiers’ stories had changed.
The discussion ended with a debate around authenticity in fiction – when writing about real events, and using people’s stories, how do you maintain the authenticity of the event, while moving further away from the truth? As a writer the challenge is to find the alternative imagined event that captures the authenticity of the real event
The conclusion? You need to write something which contains the truth even if it is not true.
Find out more about Worlds Literature Festival.
Find out more about Owen Sheers.
Watch Owen's Provocation:
Listen to Owen's Provocation:
Worlds Literature Festival Provocation - Owen Sheers by Writers' Centre Norwich
Owen Sheers – Pink Mist
Kevin Powers- The Yellow Birds
Erich Maria Remarque- All Quiet On the Western Front
Richard Yates – A Good School
Ford Maddox Ford- Parade’s End
Dave Eggers- What is the What
Denise Riley opens the Worlds Literature Festival Salon
What I want back is what I was
Before the bed, before the knife,
Before the brooch-pin and the salve
Fixed me in this parenthesis;
Horses fluent in the wind,
A place, a time gone out of mind.
From ‘The Eye-Mote’ by Sylvia Plath
In this, the tenth year of Worlds, forty writers gathered from across the globe to sit around a table in the beautiful Cathedral Hostry and introduce themselves to each other before settling in for four days of discussion, provocations and thought around the theme of nostalgia.
Is nostalgia a bromide? asks Denise Riley in the first of our Worlds Literature Festival 14 Salon provocations. Denise’s approach is indeed provoking. Introducing the theme a couple of hours earlier, Jon Cook talked of Odysseus and his epic quest, and the classic painful pull of home. Many of the writers around the room said that they often feel the siren call of nostalgia threading throughout their work. Their initial response to the term was mainly positive.
Yet Riley has no soft feelings for nostalgia. She says that the current usage of the term represents ‘a virus of weakening which is spreading all over our culture like an oily paste.’
Bromide is a popular 19th Century sedative which induces a state of detached sleepiness. Riley suggests that our current use of the term nostalgia as representing an idealised version of the past, is a kind of verbal bromide.
As nostalgia is not the same as reminiscence. It sanitises as it is expressed. It places the past at some safe distance, allowing us to believe that the past is over, that it is more sealed off than it actually is. It smoothes over like a tranquiliser, like a bromide, what ought to be raw and jagged.
Why is this weakened form of nostalgia so rampant? Watered down versions of the overused term abound. What are the sources of this cloudy vagueness? asks Denise.
Nostalgia is not the same as the search for the past or some lost good. There’s something a lot riskier going on than that; the underbelly of sanitised nostalgia is dark. Nostalgia doesn’t repeat or duplicate memory. It may even distort or evade the real work of memory.
Could nostalgia be a form of self deception, a social disease? Part of a profoundly conservative narrative indicating a lack of authenticity which is hostile to lived history?
Denise moves on from these questions to point out that you can in fact be nostalgic for a place you’ve never inhabited. And yes, nostalgia is a useful consolation which offers not only escapism, but also solace and self understanding for those who have been displaced. Indeed, you can feel nostalgia not only for the past, but for the future.
Could it be that nostalgia is a search for wholeness? A wanting to become that which you have always felt that you should be. Riley reads the final stanza from Plath’s 'The Eye Mote', and the memorable lines: ‘What I want back is what I was.../A Place, a time gone out of mind’. These lines evoke a wish for a past that may never have existed in the first place. The desire for an impossible wholeness.
More worryingly, the grand identifications of our social structures and religions may well rest on the same shaky foundations of the consolations of nostalgia. Reams of people pushing aside lived experience in search of an idea of what we must once have had in the past. But probably never did. Premature attachments to invented identifications.
Riley ends by positing that it is dangerous to pack so much into the hazy land of nostalgia. It holds too much. Instead we need to unpack the term, and look details of the past in the eye; using various forms of critique rather than the simple dark pull of nostalgia.
The discussion following the official provocation, starts with a defence of the term. Perhaps in the West nostalgia is somewhat embarrassing, but in other countries that are still searching for an identity, they need to look to their past in order to form their nationhood. When there is no collective meaning of the word home, then nostalgia can be useful. There are so many narratives that have not been written or told yet, so in many countries nostalgia is not narcissistic or conservative, but instead urgent and critical.
Yes, there are endless examples of how nostalgia is and has been put to political use for nefarious means. The nostalgic constructed version of the past always serves a present purpose in these cases. People are invited to feel sentimental about the past due to a realpolitik.
So is nostalgia intrinsically conservative? And therefore, for artists, to be avoided?
There is however, a difference between historical nostalgia and reflective nostalgia; the latter can be more personal and idiosyncratic, it can work as an individual approach to the past and an antidote to the official versions of things. As nostalgia doesn't have to have an object. Could that objectless personal desire perhaps not be a pure thing; a limitless urge for an integrity that has been lost?
Un-syrupy nostalgia can often be a call to action. Good writers can use that. In order to revive the term, the knowingness of nostalgia has to be deployed now, rather than dismissed. We have to sharpen up and remain authentic, without giving in to sentiment.
The writers end by agreeing that we need to separate out the various types of nostalgia in order to redeem the category. Maybe there’s a better word or words for the many different forms of nostalgia that we’re discussing, as the word nostalgia is too compromised, soft-focused for the complicated forms of personal experience it seeks to describe. The word nostalgia in its current incarnation obfuscates more than it clarifies.
Listen to Denise Riley's provocation in full here:
Judging Poets by their Picture.
Tamsin Flower, Literacy Coordinator at Writers’ Centre Norwich, blogs on a national touring project Picture the Poet, managed by The National Portrait Gallery, The Literacy Trust and Apples and Snakes and facilitated locally by ourselves, The Forum and City College.
Picture the Poet
is a digital exhibition currently showing in the Forum Fusion gallery until the 28th of June. Curated by the National Portrait Gallery
with outreach and education activities and facilitated by Writers’ Centre Norwich, Apples and Snakes
and The Literacy Trust.
This exhibition features a host of iconic portraits of poets; figures such as Anne Stephenson, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Hegley and Roger McGough, who have published widely, read internationally and taught generations of up and coming dreamers.
What can you learn about a poet and their work from an image?
Children attending the exhibition have focused on reading expressions, setting, clothing and objects within the frame. It’s really helped them to think about the relationship between the poet, the poet’s work and the poet-persona - and has been a great way of getting them interested in poetry.
Encouraging young people to create their own questions as the exhibition unfolds, has been especially rewarding and surprising. One year-seven from Heathersett Academy wished to ask Christopher Reid ‘Do you like animals? Is this what your poetry is about and how are you at the moment?’ Another wanted to ask Paul Farley, why he decided to cover his face with the writing on a café window. An inspired student suggested that Michael Morpurgo’s background tells us ‘the writer is mystical and green-fingered…’
Helping young people in schools engage with poetry through this display has turned out to be a very useful process. It’s also been particularly heartening to witness the great creative writing work being done by primary level teachers. Shining examples of inventive, passionate teaching can be found in the smallest of village primary schools and in the libraries of Norfolk’s bustling comprehensives.
I highly recommend the display which offers glimpses of the private and public personas of these poets. If you come down to visit it you will also find images of ten Norwich based poets, who have collaborated with budding photographers from City College Norwich
. Poets included are: Helen Ivory, Heidi Williamson, Andrea Holland, Martin Figura, Tom Warner, Sarah Law, Nathan Hamilton, Moniza Alvi, Jonathan Morley and Tim Clare. Celebrating Norwich as an international City of Literature, this local collection puts children and young people in touch with poets in their own area and connects the poets themselves with the next generation of wordsmiths.
All in all it is a great display, and well worth a visit. So if you are in The Forum
over the next month (the exhibition runs until June 28th), be sure not to miss a unique exhibition that ties together the threads of our national, local and future literary heritage.
Find out more about the Picture the Poet Exhibition
A collection of Picture the Poet photographs by photography students from City College. With thanks to Jon Clark of City College and his students.
Find out more about Apples and Snakes
Find out more about The Literacy Trust
NUA Needs Writers!
NUA Needs Writers!
Writers, Norwich University of the Arts Illustration students are offering you the chance to participate in their Final Degree Show, where you’ll participate in a unique workshop, have your writing showcased, and have the opportunity to network.
Norwich is home to a great number of prolific writers. This is the reason why we, the NUA's third year Illustration Course, would like to collaborate with local writers for our final show.
The Degree Show is an annual event which provides an opportunity for the public to see the work of over 500 new graduates.
This year, the illustration course decided to incorporate a series of four consecutive creative workshops into their Degree Show. These workshops will be modelled on an illustrative interpretation of Graham Wallas’ Four Stages of Creativity - preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.
Each day will directly inform the next, holistically following the illustrative journey. The illustrative process is often fed by narratives, which is why we are looking for talented writers to participate in this unique experience. Throughout the process, writers will be on site to provide the workshops with a narrative, facilitating the public’s response to the workshop exercises.
The first day of the workshop will be ‘Preparation’. We will provide a selection of found objects, and participants will be invited to create tools which will produce printed and textured material, which can also act as sculptural pieces.
The second day of the workshop will focus on nurturing ideas or ‘Incubation’. Schoolchildren will be invited for a day of mask making, using materials created during the previous day.
These masks will then be used in ‘Illumination’, a reflective process that will collate and explore ideas to create an illuminated sculptural outcome. This workshop will be focused on light, shape and composition.
The workshop will culminate in a day of ‘Verification’; an exercise in editing, consolidating and curating the previous outcomes to produce a zine which will showcase the work created during the series of workshops.
Writers will benefit from this experience by having the opportunity to showcase their work to the local community in a very interesting and unique way. They will also have the opportunity to do some networking. This is a one of a kind opportunity to see how people respond to their narratives and a great way to exercise their creativity by producing work on the spot.
Ideally, we would like to have writers on site, but if writers can’t make it to the workshop we will also consider existing pieces of writing that they might like to contribute. All genres are well received and narratives will be suited to each workshop (narratives for children will be used on the second day of the workshop since children will be attending on that day, for example).
The Degree Show will run from the 2nd until the 5th of July, and it will take place at The Norwich University of the Arts.
If you would like to contribute and be part of this event, please contact me at: email@example.com
. We will get in touch to provide a more detailed description of the workshop and how the day will be structured. Please feel free to ask any kind of question - we will be happy to hear from you.
NUA Third Year Illustration Course
Follow @NUAnews and @NUAIllustration on Twitter.
Judging the IdeasTap Inspires: Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition
Laura Stimson, IdeasTap Inspires judge and project manager, shares her thoughts around the tricky process of judging a writing competition, and exactly what it is that makes an entry a great one.
The inaugural Ideas Tap Inspires competition
raised over 270 applications. It was a real privilege that so many young writers wanted to share their work with us at Writers’ Centre Norwich, and is a testament to how many talented creators of fiction there are out there, waiting to be read. And that’s no lip service. We were delighted by the level of ambition, originality and craft exhibited in these applications, although it made the task of judging so difficult.
To explain my part in the project and judging process; as a part of the Writers’ Centre Norwich team (and manager for this project) I have helped judge seven years’ worth of talent development schemes. I wasn’t a lone voice and worked alongside our other trusted readers to select the writers for the masterclass series. I read every single one of these entries with enthusiasm. I hoped to find something I loved. I hoped to be transported, affected, amused, intrigued and horrified. But my purpose wasn’t to find work that fitted my preferences as a reader, but to find work that showed promise, passion and skill. My responsibility as a judge was to see sparkle despite tastes and preferences.
I was genuinely excited by the sheer breadth of these stories in both content and genre. The entries included stories that navigated the globe, journeyed to other worlds, and travelled through time and memory. The beauty of reading is to be delivered to another world in the space of a few words. This is the writers' most privileged and most difficult job: to transport; to create and manipulate a whole world.
So, thinking about all these things, what are my top tips for competition entries? Firstly, that they need to grab, to be instant. Writers, by trade, delight in language. Words become visceral, intoxicating. But a story is made of more than words. Underneath all those gorgeous words something extraordinary needs to be happening, otherwise you wouldn’t be so passionate about sharing this story.
Technical things; take care in your work. This may sound like a strange word to choose but taking care over your work is the most fundamental thing you can do when entering a competition. Check for spellings and grammatical errors. Make sure your point of view and tense doesn’t flip. (If you haven’t shown care then I have to work extra hard to care for it myself.)
Writing, like all wonderful things, takes time. It isn’t instantly gratifying and doesn’t exist in a bubble. An understanding of the craft leads to mastery of it. Many of the applicants were creative writing graduates, or currently studying. Some of the work chosen was from applicants who hadn’t studied formally but showed that informally, perhaps as attuned readers, they had an understanding of story. Whichever writing path you choose, you will ultimately need to do the same thing; read, read, read, write, write, write. You may wrack up a thousand hours before you actually write something you’re happy with. But those hours are never wasted; they lead you toward learning the craft. You learn by making mistakes. Nothing is wasted.
Bravery can also go a long way. An interesting idea or an interesting voice may win out over how accomplished the actual writing is. (I mean this as a compliment.) Sometimes new writers are still learning the craft and get things wrong but if the voice or the idea is so relentlessly interesting, you can’t ignore it.
And so we’re back to story. Some of the stories that caught the judges' imagination were vast; they travelled and encompassed multiple characters, dealt with challenging subjects and asked questions. Some of these stories were small and concentrated and explored the human condition; presenting compelling vignettes of what it is to be that person at that time.
It was a joy to read all of these stories. Thank you for them. And whether you were shortlisted or not, keep reading, writing and sharing.
Oh, and if you're on the look-out for more writing competitions and opportunities, give us a follow on Twitter @WritersCentre
Stop, Collaborate and Listen: Live Literature Symposium 2014
Writers' Centre Norwich's Marketing Intern Sarah, reflects on her experience at the Live Literature Symposium 2014.
I think I’ll start with a confession. I’m not a writer. I’m certainly not a poet or a Live Literature performer. I am, however, a reader and a lover of performance. Live Literature though? Spoken Word artists? In all honesty, when I was invited to attend the Live Literature Symposium: Stop, Collaborate and Listen, I wasn’t entirely sure if I had ever seen anything which may class itself as such. Nevertheless, my curiosity took hold and I made my way to Norwich Arts Centre to gain an insight into the world of Live Literature and the wonders it has to offer. What wonders they were.
Throughout the day, Hannah Walker
did a wonderful job of leading the debate and discussion. The day began with a provocation from poet, Fergus Evans
who discussed the idea of art forms working together, a theme which would come to underly the entire day. Fergus described what Live Literature artists are doing as not being new; “there have been storytellers and poets as long as there has been people,” but “what we do as artists in important and meaningful and can be life changing.”
Discussion opened up to the well-versed attendees very quickly leading to a conversation about the labelling of art. It seems that within the Live Literature world (and perhaps that of all writers) it can so easily be deemed as a betrayal if a writer chooses to step outside of their chosen art form and use different aspects in their creation. It appears that it is all too easy for audiences, critics or even other artists to snatch away performers’ titles claiming ‘you’re not a real poet’ simply because the story being told called for something more.
It emerged that categorising is a necessary part of human nature, for we have a need to define something in order to fully understand it. For example, audiences leave a performance stating that it was an evening of comedy and create expectations for future audiences, despite the performance perhaps being more than this. It is understandable why marketing and programming teams feel they must label performances because they aim to attract an audience. Audiences require a definition in order to prove that they will enjoy the show, that it isn’t a risk to part with their money. Yet, it should be the responsibility of marketing to approach the artist and discover how they wish their work to be labelled. Without communication, categorising causes harmful boundaries for Live Literature. Many artists at the symposium agreed that these boundaries must be broken in order for the art form to expand and grow.
The next part of the day was a discussion between Live Literature performer Ross Sutherland
and his producer Tom Searle. The conversation of categorisation continued as Ross spoke about how pigeonholing can cause an artist to remain inside their familiar sphere. It is exciting to step outside of your own genre as an artist, to break the boundaries and to challenge the labels; it is what stops your work from being mechanical.
Discussion swiftly turned to the collaboration between Ross, a performer, and Tom, a producer. It was hinted that collaboration may be seen as a battle, limited to only heated conversations than any full blown fights. Ross explained that bureaucracy is a necessity in performance and Tom helped to take care of the ‘donkey work’ so that Ross could concentrate on the creativity. A producer’s role is more than simply writing press releases, they offer critique. Through dialogue with attendees it was agreed that collaboration was often better when the producer had some creative experience for they were more able to offer advice when it is going wrong and reassurance when it is going right.
Over lunch we were treated to a preview of Byron Vincent
’s show ‘Talk About Something You Like’
and I must admit, it was this performance which made me come to the realisation that Live Literature is for me and I think it is for everyone. Byron’s show explored the issues of mental health through dark humour and was met with a rapturous applause. It was funny yet poignant and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
After lunch, Francesca Beard
offered her provocation entitled ‘Are You Tough Enough on Your Work?’ Bravely, Francesca began by stating that she wanted to make the audience angry and then proceeded to say that it was the accessibility of Live Literature which makes it so great, but it also this which can make it so terrible and often mediocre. This mediocrity stems only from artists deciding that what they are doing is ‘good enough’. If artists care about their art, it needs to be more that just entertainment, it needs to be better than ‘good enough’. Most of all, artists need to be honest with themselves and honest with each other.
Next, poet Luke Wright
gave his provocation ‘Survival of the Fittest’
arguing that artists should be rooting for each other and that there should be more faith in the area of Spoken Word. It is important for artists to invest in producers and promoters and in their own brands for it is this which will get audiences. If the area is to grow, then investment of all kind is necessary.
The symposium ended with an array of views from attendees, many whose opinions had changed from when they first arrived that morning, including myself. With little knowledge of Live Literature, I had not quite known what to expect, but to be able to step into the world of writers and performers, if only for a day, proved to be a real treat and very beneficial. My eyes were opened to the issues which artists face daily, from categorisation to financial matters. Live Literature is entertaining and moving, exciting and innovative and deserves a great deal of attention. Mostly, the symposium resulted in an understanding of different art forms and how collaboration, sharing support and sharing knowledge can be beneficial for all.
See what others had to say on Twitter #livelitsymp
Stop, Collaborate and Listen: Live Literature Symposium 2014 was organised in collaboration with Apples and Snakes.
Choose the Heroines You Need: Reporting from the Literary Festival in the Day
Our festival in a day took place on a idyllic summer’s afternoon at Norwich Cathedral, the spire in perfect relief against a wide blue sky, the pair of peregrine falcons taking turns around the turret.
We were lucky to have writer and tutor Rachel Hore presiding over events, a thoughtful interlocutor who fully engaged with all of the writers and the texts, drawing out the stories with aplomb.
The Lives of Great Women Writers started at pace as Hermione Lee gave a fascinating talk on Penelope Fitzgerald. Best known for The Blue Flower, Fitzgerald’s story is an encouraging one for any writer who may feel like it’s too late– she started publishing at 60, and got through 12 books by 80.
Her life story is also inspiring as a feat of endurance; after a promising start Fitzgerald went on to find hard times, starting with the scattering of her life with the coming of the war. Her beloved husband Desmond came home from war changed and struggled to ever get back on his feet. Penelope and her three children struggled financially, facing destitution when Desmond had to leave his job, and desperation when the houseboat that they were living on sank.
When her husband died, Fitzgerald finally took to writing and the experiences she’d stored up over the years formed the subjects of her first novels. But interestingly, it was when she turned away from these personal experiences that, according to Lee, Fitzgerald created her greatest work.
What was special about Fitzgerald as a writer? The clash between reason and emotion is foremost; her writing has violent troubling stuff in it (a theme throughout the day). As with the other writers present this day, Fitzgerald believed that it is the unexplored that can destroy. The dark power of the buried is what she fought with.
As such Fitzgerald was drawn to obsessives and compulsives. Her world was full of ‘exterminators’ and ‘exterminatees’ and she felt herself to be one of the latter. The world was not necessarily a kind place for Fitzgerald and this is conveyed in her work, however she valued kindness, truthfulness and fortitude. She was interested in hope.
Lee talks of the incredible condescension Fitzgerald faced in the literary world, her slightly bumbling older lady persona a foil that it was up to those around her to work out. Similarly, in her work Fitzgerald never gave everything away, she held back, leaving a great deal of mystery in there. She researched heavily but conveyed this research lightly in her perfectly formed worlds; ‘storing up knowledge and leaving it to ripen’. She said she was interested in writing fragments; a dream like series of events that shouldn’t have to cohere.
The talk flew by, Hermione Lee’s luminous phrasing leaving me inspired and wanting more, just as Fitzgerald did. Her biography is surely a work of art in itself, and highly recommended.
Unfortunately there isn’t time or space to give each event its due, so leaping through, here are some of the highlights:
Samantha Ellis talked warmly and engagingly about the genesis of her book How To Be A Heroine
; a re-evaluation of the heroines she adopted as a child.
Her story is one of self discovery through the characters she identified with when growing up, characters who offered different ways of being; alternatives to the projected life her Iraqi-Jewish family expected for her.
Reading here was fundamental, life-changing, and the audience was fully engaged when talking of their own relationships with Anne of Avonlea (interesting reading of Anne on Jezebel here
), Posy from Ballet Shoes
, Katy Carr from What Katy Did
(close to my own heart!) and of course Catherine Earnshaw v Jane Eyre.
Growing up Ellis identified with Catherine. Why? Because at the time she needed Catherine’s intensity, her selfish passion.
Interesting idea – that we choose the heroines we need at the time. There aren’t enough spinster heroines, and too often fictional girls as they grow up become boring, pale, according to Ellis. Think of Anne of Green Gables, the demise of the sisters from Little Women as soon as they settle down. And what of today’s heroines?
The choral accompaniment of evensong faded as Brian and Mary Talbot took to the stage to talk about their collaborative graphic novel, Sally Heathcote: Suffragette
The novel came out of Mary’s desire to learn about the Suffragettes more fully; and this is a theme – writers following their instinct for a story, knowing that it’ll deliver if they follow their nose.
In this case the story unearthed a rather unflattering side to the famous Mrs Pankhurst as well as many divisions in the movement. It also high-lights the very real suffering the suffragettes underwent through hunger strike and force-feeding.
Mary, who also wrote the prize-winning Dotter of her Father’s Eyes
, (next on my reading list) is working on another feminist icon for her next book; one to look forward to.
We enjoyed the tolling of the bells as the peregrines called and Diane Setterfield took to the stage.
Author of the famous The Thirteenth Tale, her new novel Bellman & Black is ghostly in a subtle way. Focussing on the power of the past, and of the dark stories we hide from, (the theme of the day), this gripping story also gives corvids a voice (Norfolk is the best county for crows, says Setterfield).
A crow is not just a harbinger of death, but also a ghostly presence that really looks us humans in the eye, and what do they make of us? Their wing breaks up the light, reflecting colour back at us from out of the dark, much as Setterfield reflects light out of the dark story that William won’t tell himself.
Finally, Raffaella Barker gave the first ever reading of her new novel, From A Distance, which is set around Norfolk and Cornwall. (Raffaella’s account of growing up in Norfolk was in the Guardian recently and makes for a fascinating read). The prime mover in the novel is Luisa, an Italian mother, who is watching her children grow up and move away. It was satisfying to hear from a fictional mother, as Ellis had earlier remarked how mothers often get a rough deal in fiction and that there isn’t enough work from their point of view. Barker also talked of how important humour is in a story, how writers should be able to make their readers laugh and cry, as well as how important place is in a novel, both fictional and geographical.
In all it was an inspiring afternoon of readings and conversation in a beautiful setting, a thoroughly enjoyable set of events. Many thanks to all of the writers involved, and to Rachel Hore for guiding us through the day with such skill.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the works and the writers involved, do see the links below:Visit Hermione Lee's website
or read a review of Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.
Visit Samantha Ellis' website
or read a review of How to be a Heroine.Visit Mary and Bryan Talbot's website
or read a review of Sally Heathcote: Suffragette
Visit Diane Setterfield's website
.Visit Raffaella Barker's website
or read a review of From a Distance.Visit Rachel Hore's website