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Killing the Poet Laureate: Jarred McGinnis enters the Story Machine

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 26 April 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(tags: NNF16)

UNESCO Creative Leaders: The Lynx in Thetford Forest

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 26 April 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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Fierce Light

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 07 April 2016

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


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.


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Spring Short Story Competitions 2016

Posted By: Anna Scrafield, 05 April 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Factory of Art; Bringing The Story Machine to Life

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 30 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come and be part of our grand experiment. 

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The Best of Brave New Reads

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 29 March 2016

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

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

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

Without further ado, they are:


A Light Song of Light
Kei Miller

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

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


All the Birds, Singing
Evie Wyld

Jake Whyte is running from something. But what?

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

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

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


Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Katherine Boo

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

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

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



Beside the Sea
Véronique Olmi

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

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



Down The Rabbit Hole
Juan Pablo Villalobos

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

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

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



Fallen Land
Patrick Flanery

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

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



Strange Weather in Tokyo

Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Allison Markin Powell)

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

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


The Beautiful Indifference
Sarah Hall

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Find out more about Brave New Reads.

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

Posted By: Anna Scrafield, 22 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday haiku
(for Tomoka Kai)

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

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International Women's Day 2016 - WCN Reading List

Posted By: Anna Scrafield, 08 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(left, Harriet Martineau)

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The Story Machine

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 02 March 2016



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading.


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

Illustrations by Adam Avery.

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The Dilemma of Choice: Deciding on the Final Brave New Reads Books

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 23 February 2016

Way back in September, with the 2015 Brave New Reads still fresh in our minds, we (that’s the WCN staff and the Readers’ Circle) began to read for the 2016 books. We started off with a list of over 120 books, including poetry, short stories, non-fiction, works in translation, and—of course—novels.

What came next involved a symphony of organisation – copies of the 120-odd books needed to be sent around East Anglia to Readers’ Circle members in Norfolk, Cambridge and Suffolk, spreadsheets were designed, and surveys were created. Then the Readers’ Circle, our hundred plus eager volunteer readers, began to read and review the books.


When we read to choose the Brave New Reads books, we look for originality, brilliance (of prose and plot), and excitement. We ask the Readers’ Circle to rate the books according to green, amber, red and to send us short reviews too. And then we create huge spreadsheets using the data, marking top choices and average ratings. (Find out more about the process in this blog on Cutting the Longlist or in Recommended by the Readers’ Circle.)

After five months of reading, we’d collected over one thousand reviews, and managed to cut down the very long list to a shortlist of just under forty books. We’d heard from readers in Ely, Swaffham, Cambridge, Huntingdon, and from many other towns and cities across East Anglia. And then it was time for us to meet and make a decision.

The Brave New Reads team travelled to Suffolk, enjoyed a phone conference with Cambridgeshire readers, and welcomed readers to WCN’s new home of Dragon Hall. Over all the conversations, we explored the titles which stood out for people and asked why they thought that this book should be recommended to the people of East Anglia. At the end of each meeting we asked for six top choices and two reserves. Unsurprisingly competition was extremely fierce, with much extended deliberation and cries of cruelty when a top six was insisted on.

The next day, armed with each county's Readers’ Circle final choices, some complicated statistics, a bundle of the 1000+ reviews, and two large bags of books, the BNR team travelled to meet the Steering Group (representatives of each library service). Our mission was to settle on a final six.
Over the next few hours the Steering Group and the BNR team discussed our short-shortlist, of about 20 books, looking at the reviews and the top choices for each county. We examined the statistics (the average rating for each title, the number of reviews, the number of top choices) and discussed the content, style, and themes of the book. We thought about whether the books were ‘brave’, startling and exciting; whether they would appeal to a wide range of readers; whether they tackled important topics. We talked about the things the Readers’ Circle had said about each book; and discussed the titles we’d read ourselves.

Finally, we were left with ten books, all of which we thought were equally brilliant, with different strengths and weaknesses. At which point we began to look at practical issues: the date of publication, the format availability of the titles, the gender and nationality of the writers, the spread of subject matter, the publisher, the setting of the book and more. We wanted the “package” of Brave New Reads to entice readers and library users, so we looked at jacket design too, wanting an aesthetically pleasing combination.


After another protracted discussion and further scrutinising of the Readers’ Circle opinions, we eventually decided on a final six. The result: six brilliant books, recommended by readers, which explore important contemporary issues and showcase fantastic writings.

And what are they? Well, you’ll find out in May....

Find out more about Brave New Reads.

Sign up to our e-news to be the first to hear about the May selection.

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Antibiotics from an Anthill

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 19 February 2016

This year, Writers' Centre Norwich launched an on-going experiment with the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) Trust to see what happens when scientists and creative writers attempt to communicate across the boundaries of their normal disciplines and languages. Rufus Lunn, a participant at the first Science & Poetry workshop on Friday 12 February, discusses his experiences below.

'How many ants are there in the world?'

I feel I should be up front with this: between skirmishes on summer afternoons and more than a few kettle genocides, me and ant-kind are not on diplomatic terms. Yet, one frigid Friday evening at Writers' Centre Norwich, Dragon Hall, I found myself faced with my old adversaries again. A mini-colony of Leafcutter Ants, brought from the Norwich Research Park, displaying their martial and foraging skill by slicing up leaves with practised ease. Raising their heads to check I was watching before they continued.

'Ants are ancient farmers.'

Dr Matt Hutchings, Dr Neil Holmes and their team at the Norwich Research Park are currently using these ants to help in the search for new antibiotics and, thanks to the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) initiative and the Writers' Centre Norwich met with local poets to explain their work. Over the course of an hour I learnt about how Leafcutter Ants are in a symbiotic relationship with a fungus, a type of Agaricaceae, which they 'feed' leaf matter and make their home from and which in turn feeds them. How the ants cut away diseased fungus, rubbed it on themselves and buried it away from the nest. How this acted as a sort of natural antibiotic, using chemicals in the soil. Dr Holmes told us the process of how his team collected this substance, tested the genomes for anything new, anything undiscovered which could help humankind.

And then, when he had finished, we wrote.

'Do they dream of Panama again?'

While new-found knowledge and coffee-laced air is always conducive to writing, what really made the difference was the workshop led by Esther Morgan. She guided our efforts in translating this research, along with the Leafcutter Ants before us, into poetry. Pooling our reactions, lines we had written in response, helped inform how we felt. We were joined by the scientists, who happily took the chance to meditate upon their work from a new angle. Emotions flowed quickly, raising and dismissing questions. Why isn't more research being done by medical companies? Are profit margins more important than lives? Why have we become so resistant to Antibiotics? Can we avoid it happening again?

Can I dislike anything that will likely save lives?

'Not all of you will be worthy.'

The evening was an undoubted success, with the scientists keen to tell us what they knew and the poets more than willing to listen. Everyone walked away with something they'd written, musing on the strange ants who could mean so much to us. Scientific research is a surprisingly solitary process, not being able to shout about your achievements without other people following your methods, constantly having to ask if what you're doing is worthwhile. Poetry treads similar ground, a generally insular process, so the chance to sit down and share with others was relished.

'The Colony a galaxy of autumnal decay.'

Paul Dirac famously once told a poet friend that “The aim of science is to make difficult things understandable in a simpler way; the aim of poetry is to state simple things in an incomprehensible way. The two are incompatible." These two subjects are so often thought to be at polar opposites, but this evening proved to me that it doesn't have to be so. The scientists showed us one small narrative, one story of which to write and we translated it, highlighted what was evocative within and drew it out in lines and stanzas. I, for example, like to use poetry to capture snapshots of beauty. There has always been plenty of that in the sciences and in understanding the secret ways the world works around us, even in a life as small as an ant. 

Next time I encounter one, I'll let it live and go on its way. After all, it might do the same for me one day...

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Postcard from Prague

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 18 February 2016

In January, Norfolk writer and novelist Sarah Perry travelled to Prague, City of Literature, to begin her writing residency. As the end of this exciting experience draws near, she reflects on her early expectations and the reality of what she has gained - has she achieved all that she'd wanted to?

I'm nearing the end of a stint in Prague as a UNESCO Writer-in-Residence, representing (as ever!) Norwich. Both Prague and Norwich are UNESCO Cities of Literature, a status conferred on 20 cities worldwide in recognition of their active and richly diverse literary scenes. From my bed I look into the windows of a baroque opera house that wears a golden crown; now and then swans fly upriver through the snow. I've been eating date syrup on pumpernickel bread.

Before I left, I promised myself, my husband and my cat that I’d use these two months wisely. I would (I said) return a better and a wiser woman, with a good grasp of conversational Czech and 20,000 words of a third novel.

Reader, you’ll not be surprised to hear I achieved little of this. But much of what I've gained I could not possibly have predicted, and I've learned a good many things I’d no idea I didn't know.

I had no idea, for instance, of the extraordinary complexity of Czech history – of how its borders have shifted and changed like a cloud-bank in a high wind. No sooner did I grasp something (it was lost to Germany in the Munich Treaty) I’d immediately be wrong-footed (they call it, here, the Munich Betrayal). If I researched an event I’d find I’d only gone two inches into a rabbit-hole several fathoms deep and with many blind corners. Ask me, and I’ll tell you what little I know about Forest Glass, about the Moldavite gemstones found in the river Vltava, about the student who burned himself alive, about Master Jan Huss and the devils on his paper hat.

I visited Terezin, a ghetto for Czech Jews and a stopping-place on the way to the death-camps – but learned that here, too, German-speaking Czechs were detained at the end of the war. I discovered that the past here is not long-buried: I stayed in a flat where my friend prepared breakfast in a 1983 Communist kitchen, which was one of precisely two styles available to the citizens. 

I've discovered what it is to live in a city that prizes its cultural heritage – even more, though I blush to say it, than Norwich. Take breakfast (a basket of bread, eggs with chives, pastries, hot chocolate and coffee) in one of the nearby cafes and you’ll be supplied, also, with a notepad and pencil. In my local café the walls are emblazoned with excerpts from Czech literature; it was here I met a retired Jewish scholar of linguistics and his Muslim friend, a professor of sociology in Arizona (the following day the professor emailed to let me know he’d bought my novel, and looked forward to my second). I've seen seven operas, most of them Czech: here, opera is taken seriously, but is not the preserve of the wealthy and is frequently attended by children in their party clothes.

My Czech constitutes a paltry handful of phrases, though by some fluke I pronounce them, I'm told, with so convincing a native accent I'm often met with streams of Slavic conversation I can never hope to understand. I have made friends with two Sarah's: an owl, and a musician. On the great Charles Bridge I've been warmly welcomed by a homeless man and his dog, Tiger: it was from them I learned how to say, “How are you?” I have discovered that jackdaws have eyes like blue shards of glass, and that if you keep your pockets supplied with biscuits they’ll come to know you by sight. 

I am the proud owner of a membership card to the Prague Municipal Library, where I sit always at desk 209, beneath a vaulted plaster ceiling from which plaster cherubs daily struggle to escape. I do not have 20,000 words of a new book; but the novel in my head now is not the one hazily forming there in the security queue at Stansted - because I am not, quite, that writer.

Sarah Perry was born in Essex. She gained a PhD in Creative Writing & the Gothic from Royal Holloway in 2012, having been supervised by Andrew Motion. A winner of the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize & a Royal Holloway doctoral studentship, she was Writer-in-Residence at Gladstone's Library, January 2013. She is currently the UNESCO City of Literature Writer-in-Residence in Prague.
She has written for a number of publications including the Guardian, the Independent, Slightly Foxed and the Spectator. Her work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and RTE 1.
Her debut novel After Me Comes the Flood won the East Anglian Book of the Year award 2014, and was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2014 and the Folio Prize 2015. Her second novel, The Essex Serpent, will be published in June 2016.

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(tags: UNESCO)

The Library: Developing the Readers of Tomorrow

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 17 February 2016

The sixth in our 'Love Your Library' blogs is by Alison Thorne, a Norfolk librarian, and shares all the brilliant things you could do in a library; from borrowing books to making new friends.

I love books. No really …I LOVE BOOKS! I listen to them in the car, I’m surrounded by them at work, I spend a huge proportion of my work time talking about and promoting them, and in my free time nothing makes me happier than reading more of them. It has been that way for as long as I remember and working in a library really is the dream job! I am passionate about libraries, library use and how libraries play a vital role in developing the readers of tomorrow.  

I’m a huge fan of crime fiction but I often get bored reading the same thing. The Brave New Reads promotion has got me reading different genres and one of the longlist for 2016 became one of my Top 10 reads of 2015. Thank you WCN! I’ve even become a poetry reader – although I confess to finding most poetry a struggle. I’m in three book clubs, love having recommendations from other people and finding new authors who then have a backlist of titles I can look forward to.  

So why should readers use libraries?

Places to explore
Libraries are a safe environment for you to explore whatever your reading tastes might be – and the perfect place to try new things. It’s free to use and to borrow books. By borrowing, you’re not committing as you do when you buy a book. Try a few chapters and if you’re not hooked, just return the book on your next visit. For as little as 60p you can request any title in library stock and have it delivered to your local library.  

Books, books and more books
Libraries have thousands of books on an amazing amount of subjects; from vegan cooking to setting up your own business! You can search for things online. Norfolk Libraries also have special collections of books which support your wellbeing (Books on Prescription/Dementia Collection/Macmillan Cancer Collection) and support job seeking (Jobseekers/Enterprise collections).

We are all busier than ever and all libraries have attractive displays that change regularly so that you can more easily find something to tempt you. Libraries have regular promotions throughout the year and these include Norfolk’s Great Big Read in the Spring, and Brave New Reads of course. In 2016 Norfolk will be adopting a Shakespeare theme, with a range of titles which echo Shakespearian themes. Many libraries run regular community reads encouraging readers to try the same title and then share their views with others.  

Book clubs
Perfect for readers in a rut! Where better to try new things than with a group of like-minded readers who want to try new things too. It doesn’t matter if you loved or hated the book, a book club is the perfect place to see something from another reader's point of view. Your local library may have a book group you could join, or if not, Norfolk Libraries can give you tips on setting up a book club of your own. Libraries also run shared reading sessions – opportunities to listen to prose or poetry being read aloud and then share your response to it. Dersingham Library had a shared reading session for Brave New Reads last year, and hearing the extracts definitely encouraged more people to then borrow the book.

Social media 
You can find Norfolk Libraries on Facebook and Twitter promoting new books, library events and all things bookish. I’m a huge fan of Pinterest (if you don’t know it it’s a place where you can PIN images onto virtual boards for future reference) and you can find Norfolk Libraries on Pinterest too.  Each month we create boards to promote new titles, and each book jacket image links directly to our library catalogue so that you can request that book. I keep a Pinterest board of ‘Books to read’ and browse it from time to time for a little inspiration.

Digital media
Did you know that you can download ebooks, eMagazines, and eAudio from Norfolk Libraries?

Library staff
We read lots of things, are very happy to make recommendations and really love it when you like something we recommend! You can also read and send in your reviews to our book blog.

Happy reading!


I have worked in Norfolk Libraries for 26 years and so much has changed during this time that I barely know where to start! When I first began at Lynn Library they were just in the process of introducing computers and doing away with the old system of cards in trays. The way people read and find information has changed so much and libraries have adapted well.  I now work in 3 libraries – Dersingham, Hunstanton and Lynn. We run computer courses, offer tablet help, promote e-books, run adult colouring classes and more, and keep everyone up to date with what we are doing on Facebook! I never knew libraries could be such exciting places to work. 


Across the country and the world, libraries are facing unprecedented threats. Lack of funding and cost-cutting means that in the last 12 months the UK has lost 49 libraries: almost one a week. In light of this, WCN is running a series of blogs under the title 'Love Your Library', a follow up to the #LibraryAdvent project. WCN has worked closely with library services on a number of projects, including Brave New Reads; an immersive reading programme which recommends brilliant books.

Read WCN Development Manager Conor McGeown's blog The Treasure of Libraries.

Read Assistant Manager of Haverhill Library, Kate Ashton's blog The Library as Lifeline.

Read eight year old Morgan's blog on why Libraries are Cool

Read The Last Pilot author Benjamin Johncock's blog on The Lighthouse of a Library.

Read Cambridgeshire Librarian Ruth Cowan's blog on The Tremendous Gift of Libraries.

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Re-imagine India: WCN staff and Norwich writers form cultural connections with Kolkata, India

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 16 February 2016

In January writers Patrick Barkham, Vesna Goldsworthy and Anjali Joseph were accompanied by WCN's Melanie Kidd, (Programme Coordinator) and Kate Griffin (Associate Programme Director) on a five day research and development trip to Kolkata, India. This marked the start of a partnership to form cultural connections between England’s first UNESCO City of Literature and East India’s educational and cultural centre.

Funded by Arts Council England and British Council the trip aimed to develop artistic links between the two countries, paving the way for a more substantial and sustainable project under ACE’s ‘Re-imagine India’ umbrella.

Melanie Kidd, Programme Coordinator at Writers’ Centre Norwich, shares her highlights from the trip below...

(l-r, Vesna Goldsworthy, Melanie Kidd, Patrick Barkham)

On Saturday the 9th January three writers, all with a strong connection to Norwich, along with myself and my colleague Kate, all met in Kolkata for a swift, exhilarating, petrol-fuelled, ride of India’s former capital. The colours of Kolkata are sweet and zingy, celebrating its vibrancy, and the rich, spicy smells of street food fight against the health-hazardous stench of exhaust fumes. Kolkata is busy. But it’s not chaotic. It’s very easy to inhale its rhythmic buzz and float down its smog-drenched streets.

Accompanying the writers nearly 5,000 miles on a smooth Air India flight, I spent much of my time simply wondering - why Kolkata? Once our extensive itinerary began, it soon became apparent why this Indian city was a one-stop-shop for literary inspiration and heritage! 

Barely shaking off the jet lag, Monday morning saw our coffee-fuelled writers thrown into an eight hour literary symposium on ‘de-professionalisation’ at Presidency University. During the symposium I was inspired by the engagement and response of the students, darting between their lectures and the symposium, leaping from their seats to add ideas and opinions to the debate.

Later in the trip, during our literary walking tour our tour guide, Ramanuj, introduced us to Henry Louis Vivian Derozio in South Park Cemetery (well, his grave at least). Derozio was an Anglo-Indian radical thinker that in 1826, at the under-ripe-age of 17, became an English Literature teacher at Presidency, introducing the concepts of free thinking and learning through debate. During the symposium one of the students offered the opinion that universities should continue ‘opening their doors’ to other ideas, disciplines, training and values. I couldn’t help but think that Derozio would be ‘whooping’ in his grave, chuffed to bits that his teachings live on in those energetic students, challenging the ways in which they learn.

As my interests lie heavily in social development and community projects, one of the most inspiring moments of the trip for me is when we went for lunch with Naveen Kishore, founder of Seagull Books. Seagull is a small publishing company with a large reputation. Alongside publishing, Seagull also deliver projects such as The Seagull School of Publishing,  a heavily subsidised professional course in editing and book design for young people; and PeaceWorks, using the arts to promote social change. Both of these projects are what I would call ‘investment’ projects; investing in the education, creativity and social development of young people and the community. What an inspiring publishing company, leaping down the path of social impact, investing in Kolkata’s cultural personality and future.

Towards the end of the trip, our literary tour guide, Ramanju, proudly said he believed that the people of Kolkata were less financially driven than in other parts of India, and more influenced by their passions. I had met several Bengalis on my trip that confirmed this, who had studied or trained to be scientists, mathematicians or accountants, but had dropped it all to follow a less financially driven career in culture and the arts. Something else that Ramanju had said got me thinking: ‘Everything in Kolkata can be fixed’. He was referring to the industrious nature of Kolkata, where everything that had been made by human hands could be fixed or changed by human hands. Nothing from the past goes to waste. Ramanju’s words meant something different for me, echoing a wider sense of cultural renovation. 

That last evening those words stuck in my mind, as we watched the Appejay Literary Festival’s ceremonious launch; a festival that revitalises spaces entrenched in Kolkata’s cultural heritage using new writing and ideas. Kolkata was by no means slow-paced. However, it had a strong sense of reflection and pride. It is city that is comfortable in its skin; proud of its past which shapes its present, and inspiringly excited about its future. 

Although our visit to Kolkata was brief, I took home the sense that culture is a ‘door way’; opening up a place for others to explore, unlocking a past, providing a path of opportunity and letting in other cultures and influences. The other thing I took home? A mountain of books from Seagull’s spider-web of a book shop! If you ever make it to Kolkata, take an extra suitcase for book shopping. It’s not called a literary city for nothing!

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A most crucial year: Ruth Dugdall talks about how Escalator helped her become a published author

Posted By: Stephanie McKenna, 15 February 2016

When ex-probation officer Ruth Dugdall applied for the Escalator writing competition in 2006, she saw it as her last-ditch attempt at pursuing crime writing as a career. Ten years later, she has published five successful novels and is living with her family in Luxembourg - 'the perfect home for a writer'.

Below, she explains how a year spent with Escalator made all the difference.

When I applied to Escalator in 2006 I had already experienced the recurring theme of any writer’s life: rejection. My second novel The Woman Before Me won the Debut Dagger in 2005, and despite my being signed on the spot by a literary agent, the subsequent submission met with the resounding slamming of doors. I was disheartened, and applied to the one year programme as a last-ditch attempt to make a serious stab at being a writer. 

Getting chosen was a wonderful boost. Not only was this a second re-enforcement of my writing, but during the Escalator scheme I would be mentored by the wonderful Michelle Spring, a seasoned crime novelist herself who was able to show me by example that writing takes persistence. The crucial difference between those who `make it` and those who fall by the wayside isn’t talent, but a certain doggedness that I saw in other writers who came to talk to us during the scheme. It was a year of learning, and of support. 

The ten of us chosen that year became familiar with each other’s personal journey into writing, and we also began rooting for each other in the quest for agents and publishing deals. This atmosphere, this shared purpose, was something I valued immensely and I still keep in regular contact with other Escalator alumni – not just from my year, but subsequent years too; there is  a shared kinship that I have not found on other mentoring programmes. 

The scheme is, in many ways tailor-made, as you apply for Arts Council Funding for the things that will most help you personally. For example, I went on a week-long Arvon course for crime writers (and bagged an agent as a result). I also had financial assistance with childcare, so I could put in the hours needed to work on my novel, and a dedicated number of hours with Michelle to critique and edit it.

Though Escalator does not make any promises of success, you will have exposure to and contact with agents (there is a showcase at the end of the year, and many industry professional are invited). What you can be sure of, though, is that at the end of the year you will have honed the tools you need to achieve publication, you will have gained a greater insight into the publishing industry, and you will have a network of support to draw on.

After I finished the Escalator scheme, it was to be another four years before The Woman Before Me was published in 2010.  Six years later, I have just published my fifth novel, and rights for my books have been sold around the world. I have a wonderful agent, and a new book is currently on submission. It has been a long, difficult, journey but Escalator was a crucial part of this, and I am very grateful indeed that it happened.

If you are about to apply, I wish you luck. You could be at the beginning of a very special twelve months!   

Ruth Dugdall was born in 1971. She holds a BA honours degree in English Literature (Warwick University) and an MA in Social Work (University of East Anglia). She qualified as a probation officer in 1996 and has worked in prison with offenders guilty of serious crimes, including stalking, rape and murder. This has informed her crime writing. Since she started writing, Ruth has won awards in several writing competitions, and has had short stories published in the Winchester Writers' Conference and the Eva Wiggins Award anthologies.

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