News and views
An introduction from our second Japanese writer in residence, Motoyuki Shibata
We're very pleased to announce our second Japanese writer in residence, Motoyuki Shibata,who will be visiting Norwich UNESCO City of Literature in August as part of a programme generously supported by the Nippon Foundation.
'I am a Japanese translator of contemporary of American fiction. Among writers I have translated are Paul Auster, Steven Millhauser, Steve Erickson, Stuart Dybek, Kelly Link, and Laird Hunt. Although I basically translate from English to Japanese, I edit an annual English-language literary journal called Monkey Business
, which aims to introduce contemporary Japanese authors to the English-speaking audience and is published in the US through a generous grant from the Nippon Foundation. I also run a Japanese-language literary journal called Monkey
, which is published three times a year in Japan, and in which I publish a lot of my own translations of stories and poems written in English.
This August I hope to get away from the infernal heat in Tokyo and work in peace on one of my projects, translating the two autobiographical books by Paul Auster—Winter Journal (2012) and Report from the Interior (2013)—at the same time editing the next issue of Monkey. Needless to say I hope to benefit by meeting literary people in Norwich, about whom and which I have heard only good things from a number of friends.'
Mariko Nagai plans for her forthcoming residency in Norwich, UNESCO City of Literature
WCN is excited to announce the first of two Japanese writers visiting Norwich UNESCO City of Literature this year, as part of a residency programme generously supported by the Nippon Foundation.
is an author, translator and photographer. She is Associate Professor of creative writing and Japanese literature at Temple University in Tokyo. Mariko's residency in Norwich will take place between 1 July and 1 August. Website
'I never know what a space would do to the projects at hand – I’ve often started a residency thinking I would work on a particular writing, only to find that the space demanded that I work on a different project. When I came across Writers' Centre Norwich's call for Japanese translators and writers to apply, I was in Singapore for a conference/research, thick in the history of karayuki-san (oversea Japanese prostitutes from the late 19th – early 20th century). Of course, I thought, this is what I want to work on, and Norwich, being in the UK, is a perfect place to work on this project. It would only make sense, I reasoned, to work on this project about imperialism and body trafficking and migrant workers in the country that was one of the imperial powers, the country which Japan looked upon as a model of imperialism.
For the month of June, ever since I found out that I got the residency fellowship, I’ve been preparing for it: reading, thinking, creating an extensive outline, and daydreaming about these women’s lives who ended up in places like Singapore, Mumbai, Vietnam, Cape Hope, whose bodies were intimately connected with aspirations of the new empire. Then a week ago, when I invited Sawako Nakayasu to do a talk on translation (the 2016 PEN Translation Award winner, The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa) at my university, her talk inspired me to dig up an old manuscript – an eight year old translation of Fumiko Hayashi’s Hourouki – and to reevaluate my relationship with it. Though portions of it have been published in journals, I didn’t revise it enough to pitch it for a book publication. Is it time to rework on it? Yes, I thought to myself, Fumiko’s book needs to be read now, maybe not eight years ago, but now – her book which deals with earthquakes, collapsing economy, unemployment, militarism, patriarchy, all the things that are relevant today, needs to go out in the world. And of course, I have a new project I’ve been daydreaming about for a year or so - about shifting borders and migrations and displacement and nationalism - that I still don’t know what narrative shape it will take.
What will I work on? These are the projects I will be packing in my bag, but to tell you the truth, I won’t know until I get to Norwich. Maybe the city will reveal to me to a project I haven’t even dreamt up yet.'
A moving tale that enriches the reader: Reviewing The Illusion of Separateness
Readers' Circle member and retired library worker Joy Travers reviews Brave New Reads pick The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy. Read on to get a flavour of this astounding novel:
This beautifully written novel tells the story of how acts of kindness and compassion can have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences. Inspired by true events from World War II, Simon Van Booy has skilfully composed an engaging read which captivates and engages from the start as we are drawn into the different life experiences of the characters.
Van Booy illustrates with clarity how the consequences of the actions of one person can shape, for good or ill, the lives of future generations. However it is one man’s simple act of compassion toward another, in a situation over which neither had control that provides the basis for the story. This act is proof that the human spirit, although sometimes bowed can never be diminished.
The chapters switch between World War II and the present day, focusing separately on each of the characters, revealing how their lives are all connected, and how a single act of mercy resonates through the decades. The author masterfully disentangles each separate thread and destroys the illusion of separateness between the characters. He shows how the human condition can be shaped by seemingly random events whose importance is revealed only when the whole story has unfolded.
The six main characters narrate their own stories with clear and understated prose describing in concise detail the events that make up their lives. Without graphic language or violence, the full horrors of war, loss, death and separation are illustrated to the reader. Van Booy explicitly conveys the thoughts and feelings of each of the characters with elegance and beauty, even when the events themselves are shocking and ugly.
There is a poetic dexterity and a delicateness of touch to the writing, making The Illusion of Separateness compelling to read even though it portrays events that are breathtakingly sad. I felt a warmth and empathy towards the characters and wanted to continue reading to hear their stories. This novel succeeds in drawing together the seemingly unrelated strands of different countries, characters and timescales weaving them into a moving tale that enriches the reader and gives hope for the survival of the human spirit.
Simon Van Booy will be at Huntingdon Library, Wednesday 29th June, 3.30m. Buy your ticket for only £2.
Alternatively, join Simon at a creative writing workshop at WCN Dragon Hall on Thursday 30th June, 6.30pm. Priced at a mere £12, this workshop is open to writers at all stages of their careers: from those new to writing fiction, to the more practised.
Read an extract of The Illusion of Separateness to get a feel of the book.
Borrow The Illusion of Separateness from Cambridgeshire Libraries, Norfolk Libraries or Suffolk Libraries.
Find out more about The Illusion of Separateness.
Find out more about Brave New Reads. About Joy Travers
I have recently retired from working in Cambridgeshire Libraries after a period of over 20 years service. At present I am using my new found freedom to travel and enjoy having the time to do the things that I like doing. Walking, keeping fit, socialising with family and friends and attending live music events are things I get a buzz from. I have also enjoyed having time to read for pleasure – not just to send me to sleep after a stressful day at work. Brave New Reads has been a stimulating and interesting way of going back to the library as a customer – a lovely experience.
Concise Novel, Epic Poem: Signs Preceding the End of the World Reviewed
Readers' Circle member Roland Ayers reviews Brave New Reads pick Signs Preceding the End of the World. Read on to see what he thinks:
Unusually there is no poetry selection among this year’s Brave New Reads. Yet with prose as poetic as Yuri Herrera’s, who needs poetry? In fact, the exact choice of words were not his, translated as they were from the author’s Mexican Spanish to English – or as the novel would put it, from latin to anglo – by Lisa Dillman. The Translator’s Note at the end provides some insight into the challenges translation presents. According to Lisa Dillman the original prose is ‘often infused with understated affection and tenderness’, its style ‘elegantly spare’, the use of language 'nothing short of stunning’. It is tribute to the meticulousness of her translation that such qualities shine through into anglo.
Language itself is one of the novel’s themes. Its sassy, yet tender-hearted young female switchboard operator protagonist Makina, operates phones in native tongue, latin tongue and the ‘new tongue’ of those who have crossed to the North. She ‘knew how to keep quiet in all three too’. The word verse is frequently used as a verb meaning to exit. In the Spanish, jarchar, from the Arabic kharja, it was inspired by concluding verses of Arabic and Hebrew poems of the thirteenth century. They would tell of a transformative exit, often a lover’s goodbye, in a feminine voice. The whole novel turns out to be just such an exit for Makina when she heads to the North (the word America never used).
The novel’s nine-chaptered structure draws on the rich literary heritage of the Meshika (known to us anglos as Aztecs) who told of nine underworlds to be passed through following certain kinds of death, each underworld the losing of something, a transition to something less human, something new. Underworld in general is a theme. An ominous opening passage sees a sinkhole open, swallowing ‘all the oxygen around and even the screams of passers-by’. Underground trains ‘ran round the entire circulatory system but never left the belly’. Tunnels lead out onto a deserted baseball arena where anglos ‘play a game to celebrate who they are’ and a top dog latin godfather plays out his own sport.
And that haunting final chapter. But you don’t want me to tell you about the final chapter, you want to be haunted by it for yourself, along with all one-hundred-and-seven pages of this concise, yet epic tale. And if you are reading this before 10th June, you will want to attend the Meet the Author event too
. If you then visit a bar in Mexico, you’ll want to order an authentically unpasteurised and delightfully alliterative pecan pulque. Alas, not served in the Norwich branch of Marzano.
Get a taster of Signs Preceding the End of the World with the opening chapters.
Borrow Signs Preceding the End of the World from Cambridgeshire Libraries, Norfolk Libraries, or Suffolk Libraries.
Find out more about Signs Preceding the End of the World.
Find out more about Brave New Reads.
About Roland Ayers
Roland Ayers is a Writers’ Centre Norwich member who is grateful to the Brave New Reads
selection procedure for exposing him to literature, good, bad and amazing, he would not have otherwise discovered. When not reading potential Brave New Reads, he reads about neuroscience, linguistics, neurolinguistics, cognitive psychology, philosophy, running and North Korea.
Introducing our Escalator Writing Competition winners 2016
Writers' Centre Norwich is pleased to announce the ten winning writers for Escalator 2016.
These promising fiction writers based in East Anglia will receive a period of structured mentoring, development opportunities, and talks and workshops as part of a residential retreat. They will also take part in a final showcase.
Lynsey Calderwood is a Scottish writer living in Suffolk who likes to tell stories about quirky, diverse characters who live on the fringes of society. Her autobiography Cracked: Recovering After Traumatic Brain Injury was published in 2002 and she graduated with distinction from Glasgow University's Creative Writing MPhil in 2004. Over the past fifteen years, her short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies including Mslexia, The Edinburgh Review and The Scotsman Orange. More recently, she was the writer-in-residence at Polmont Young Offender's Institution, and an extract of her novel-in-progress, Kingstreet, was published in Glitterwolf.
Hazel currently works in magazine publishing as an editorial assistant at Archant Dialogue, but has worked in book publishing, education and as a freelance copywriter, proof-reader, sub-editor and creative writing tutor. Always an avid reader, she was picked to be a young adult judge for the Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Baileys Woman’s Prize for Fiction) in 2010. In 2015 Hazel completed an MA in English Literature from UEA which, alongside a love of video games and dystopian satire, inspired the novel she will be working on over the next year. Her short stories have won a few prizes across the internet, including being published by Mardibooks in their 2014 anthology, Hide it!
Hazel’s novel, Re-start, is about 17 year old Laura Riley. After surviving a car crash that kills her best friend, Laura is subject to a progressive treatment – living in a virtual reality for eight years- that was designed to help her negate trauma. Waking to find she is still 17, and not 25 as she thought, it explores questions of regret, displacement and the subjectivity of one’s reality.
I could tell you that I was a lecturer and have been short-listed for this and that or that my hair is greying but I’m going to tell you why I write.
I’m a Northern woman and as a child forever witness to women’s whisperings of ‘goings on’. The folklore of the garden gate and the Co-op queue embedded itself in my psyche like coal dust in cracked skin.
The ability of these women to tell a story…as much through their pauses as through words, was monumental. I hope to do those women who inspired me to tell my own stories, absolute justice.
Midnight Gambler is a contemporary re-telling of the Fall of Man with elements of Faust thrown in. It takes place largely in New York and hopefully in parts it is horrifically funny and in others, funnily horrific.
Linden has been telling stories all her life but only had the time and the confidence to share them with others after having her children. She has worked in advertising prior to this leap and has recently moved from London to Suffolk.
Linden is working on two novels. One, The Striking Miner's Lad is a coming of age novel about a miner's son who turns to graffiti to express his feelings of injustice during the miner's strike. The second novel is called The Habit of Nice, about a woman with an inability to say no except to herself. She suffers many small indignities and lasting scars until a series of unexpected events help her find her voice and learn the consequences of standing up for herself.
Richard writes fiction and poetry. In 2010 he graduated from the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia with a distinction. In poetry, he has had a pamphlet published. A first collection, Night Journey, came out in 2012. Individual poems have appeared in The Spectator, The TLS, Poetry Review, PN Review, The Rialto, and The Forward Anthology 2014. Richard is currently working on a novel set in Paris in the 1920s, about a forger, and this is the project he will work on during the Escalator scheme. He lives in Norwich.
Tom grew up in Suffolk and lived in Brighton and London before returning to East Anglia. He began writing fiction while studying politics. His influences include Ali Smith, Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Lorrie Moore. His favourite novel is Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman.
Tom is working on a novel called Terrarium; it's about a doctor and a newspaper reporter.
Sally-Anne shot to fame at the age of twelve when she won Little Miss Go-Go Dancer at a Butlin’s Holiday Camp. Just two years later she made it into the Guinness Book of Records by creating the World’s Longest Daisy Chain. Since then her life has been unremarkable.
She works as a television producer/director making shows like Wild Australia with Ray Mears (ITV1 Mondays 8pm) and is currently directing a documentary about Julian of Norwich for BBC 4.
Live Like Your Head's On Fire
Live Like Your Head’s On Fire follows the adventures of fourteen year old Pen Fairweather who has trouble sleeping. Pen discovers an exhilarating freedom dancing on the empty streets of suburban Birmingham in the dark hours of the night. But when Pen runs away to London the night turns against her and now she dances to survive.
Kate has lived in all four corners of England, but is now settled with her husband and young family in St Albans. She swapped a childhood of writing for evolutionary biology, publishing and charity marketing, but has recently rediscovered her love of a beautiful sentence and a gripping story. She writes at night as the family sleeps.
Kate is currently working on a YA novel which explores life for a Canadian teenager after the loss of his lifelong passion, ice hockey, due to a heart condition.
Margaret Meyer is a writer, therapeutic counsellor and reader-in-residence in the prison service. Before training in psychology she was a fiction editor with Hodder & Stoughton, publisher with the Museum of London, and director of literature for the British Council. In 2015 she decided to take her writing seriously, and since then has had success with short stories and non-fiction. She writes about women, myth, water, and not knowing. She is currently working on her first novel.
The Brimstone Nativity
The Brimstone Nativity is a psychological thriller involving rival sisters and a missing baby. ‘She wakes, calling out. The baby’s some way off. She can’t understand how in the night they’ve come so far apart. She drops down onto all fours and begins to edge towards him. She can’t move quickly enough and she’s scared about falling. When she looks again the baby is gone, dropped soundlessly out of her life.’
Emma is from Edinburgh and - after stints in Brussels, Paris and London - now lives in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire. She studied Social Anthropology at Manchester University and has a Masters in Urban Planning from UCL. She was a journalist for 15 years, reporting from over 30 countries in six continents, and now has her own storytelling consultancy Kagisha Ltd. Her non-fiction work ranges from journalism to academic writing and includes Schizophrenie Francaise, a book on French politics and society published in 2007. Yoga is her third novel and the project she is most excited about writing, ever.
After finally finding the courage to call time on a doomed marriage, Truly joins a yoga retreat in a remote part of Sri Lanka. The experience is both maddeningly intense and spiritually liberating - until boom! Into camp one morning drives a jeep full of men with Kalashnikovs.
The following writers were highly commended by the judging panel:
The Escalator Writing Competition is supported by the Leverhulme Trust and the Michael Marks Charitable Trust.
Just Gripping: The Last Pilot Reviewed
Sarah Salmon, Brave New Reads Readers' Circle member and librarian, reviews her favourite book of 2015: The Last Pilot. See what she thinks...
I am so happy that this book made it into the 2016 Brave New Reads as I’ve loved it for over a year and in fact it was my favourite book of 2015 – and I read over 200 books last year so this is quite a feat!
I knew this book was coming - the author Benjamin Johncock wrote it in the library where I work. We’d met, chatted, and discussed the book in advance of its release and I was haunting the Net Galley website* daily looking for the chance to read an advance copy. I was worried that this much expectation would only result in disappointment...
The Last Pilot follows the life of Jim Harrison, who doesn’t just fly planes – he tests them (to destruction). Jim is working in a famous test pilot school in the Californian Desert when he is picked to join the Astronaut corps. This, however, is during the time of the early space programme, when being an astronaut really meant you had to have “the right stuff”. Emotional weakness meant that at best you’d wash out of the programme and at worst the distraction could kill you. Jim is about to be tested to his limits.
I’m not going to say more about the plot because I want everyone to have the excitement of reading this book for the first time. Instead I’m going to say why I loved it so much.
I am a space nerd (I’m not hugely into the technology and the big rockets but I love the human stories). I’ve read numerous biographies, autobiographies and history books about the early manned space programme (and the later ones) and I’ve been privileged enough to meet, listen, and talk with these personal heroes. They were brave men (women didn’t join the programme until 1978) and they were foolhardy. They were also flawed, despite being presented as infallible heroes to the public.
The Last Pilot conveys all of this, and despite being fiction I was constantly convinced that Jim was one of the original astronauts from the era. The details were all so much in tune with what I’ve read and heard that as I was reading the book, I was walking in the same places and ‘seeing’ the action unfurl. I’ve read other novels set around the space race and they’ve either missed the feel completely or read like a history book – The Last Pilot was just a gripping read, and one that you can enjoy without being a space nerd like me (I can prove this as I lent my copy to a non-space-enthusiast family member and they read the book in just two sittings).
If you wonder if all of the elements in this book could happen—and there are some events that I thought did stretch credibility a touch—further reading and watching assured me that such scenarios could and do take place. This book is an incredible reconstruction of the heady early space program.
If you’ve read the book and want to read or see more about the space race then these are my top books and films:Last Man on the Moon
(film) – currently available to download from iTunes and other platforms, DVD due soon.A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin
(book)The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
(book and film)Moondust by Andrew Smith
(book)Carrying the Fire by Mike Collins
(book)An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
The astronauts from this era are all in their late 70's and older now but they do still travel to the UK, along with men and women from later missions. If you’d like to hear them speak then I recommend looking at the Science Museum events page, the National Space Centre in Leicester and also the wonderful team who run Space Lectures
who really take the motto ‘Failure is not an option’ to heart!
Benjamin Johncock launched Brave New Reads in Norwich with Colette Snowden (author of The Secret to Not Drowning). Listen to a podcast of the event below.
Read an extract of The Last Pilot to get a taster of the novel.Find out more about The Last Pilot.
Meet Benjamin Johncock at Wisbech Library on the 16th June or at Woodbridge Library on the 19th July.
Borrow The Last Pilot from Cambridgeshire Libraries, Norfolk Libraries, or Suffolk Libraries.
Find out more about Brave New Reads.
About Sarah Salmon
I am an avid reader and self-professed space nerd who will travel silly distances to meet these pioneering icons. One of my proudest moments is getting a tweet liked by astronaut Tim Peake while he was serving on the ISS!
When not reading about the space program I can often be found at the theatre which is another passion, or out and about with my camera trying to capture photo of a barn owl. Despite the love of all things space and astronomy I have no wish to actually travel in space myself – I know I’d get space sick and not enjoy the ride!
*NetGalley is a site where book reviewers and other professional readers can read books before they are published, in e-galley or digital galley form
Hurrah! Brave New Reads 2016 is here!
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!
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’ CircleThe 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
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
In Memory of Lakshmi Holmström
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 Live
s, 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.
Our Communications Intern Jo Thompson picks her highlights from the City of Literature programme
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 Wels
h 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.
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.
French Tear, Red Lotus, Mr Jameson...our literary themed taster cocktails for The Story Machine
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.
Young Norfolk Poetry Competition
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.
'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
'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
, 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
‘If you’ve ever said YES or NO and been heard, you know the power of a word. Poems are that power multiplied by metaphor, resounding with rhythm and roaring with your voice. If you’ve ever felt silenced by what someone else says of you, a poem lets you spit out the pebble that sits on your tongue.’
Sophie is a UK-based writer, editor, educator and activist with a passionate commitment to arts and social justice. She publishes with independent presses Arc, Lark Books, Salt, Shearsman, IB Tauris, and Wallflower. She is a member of queer feminist film curation collective Club des Femmes and feminist film activists Raising Films, a lecturer in film at LCC and Queen Mary University of London, and a film journalist for Sight & Sound
and The F-Word. Website
‘Poetry is language before anything else. It is made of language as a material. All of the millions of tiny experiences of language which make up your life, your personality, your thoughts - they are your material. Use them, and ignore what poetry is 'supposed' to sound like if you want to be original.’
SJ Fowler is a poet, artist & curator. He works in the modernist and avant-garde traditions, across poetry, fiction, theatre, sonic art, visual art, installation and performance. He has published multiple collections of poetry and been commissioned by Tate Modern, BBC Radio 3, The British Council, Tate Britain, The London Sinfonietta and Wellcome Collection. He has been translated into 18 languages and performed at venues across the world, from Mexico City to Erbil, Beijing to Tbilisi. He is the poetry editor of 3am magazine, Lecturer at Kingston University, teaches at Tate Modern and the Poetry School, and is the curator of the Enemies project. Website
'If you want to write, read. Go to second-hand book shops and find obscure old poetry books and pamphlets. Read widely. Make notes about what you see, smell, taste, hear and feel each day. Be playful with words and sounds. Writing poetry is messy. Once you have a big body of mess, start cutting out abstract words or generalisations. Never throw away or delete your work. Just shift it into another file. Write the kind of poems you want to read. Don’t be knocked back by constructive criticism. Seek it out from writers you trust and admire. Have fun.'
Maria is an Assistant Professor, poet and freelance writer based near Cambridge and sometimes Milan. She completed my PhD in English and Creative Writing at The University of Aberystwyth in Wales where she lived for ten years. Now, she teaches writing with the University of Maryland, University College, Europe. Maria’s poetry collection ‘Psalmody’ won the Eyewear Melita Hume Prize 2015. Her pamphlet ‘Paga’ was a winner of the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet competition 2014. Website
'All the usual advice - write from your own experience, read as much as you can - is certainly, absolutely true. But every good writer needs something else too, and that’s sass. Be bold, assertive and cheeky, break the rules and don’t be afraid to fail. Every writer, guaranteed, has failed more times than he or she has succeeded, so don’t worry about it too much when it happens. If you go on to win this competition - congratulations! And if you don’t, try not to take it to heart - the most important thing is that you’re happy with what you’ve written. Good luck!'
Eurig Salisbury was Wales’s Children’s Poet Laureate for 2011-13 and a Hay Festival Fellow in 2012-13. He taught himself the art of cynghanedd when he was thirteen with the aid of Myrddin ap Dafydd’s book Clywed Cynghanedd. His first collection of poetry, Llyfr Glas Eurig (Eurig’s Blue Book), was published in 2008. He has won awards, including the Chair at the Urdd Eisteddfod and his poetry has been translated into Bengali, English, Malayalam and Italian. He is the Welsh-language editor of Poetry Wales where he curates regular selections of Welsh-language poetry in English translation. Twitter
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.
UNESCO Creative Leader Nicholl Hardwick reports on her experience so far
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.
Killing the Poet Laureate: Jarred McGinnis enters the Story Machine
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.
UNESCO Creative Leaders: The Lynx in Thetford Forest
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).
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. /
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
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.