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Book review: This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You
WCN programme manager Sam Ruddock reviews Jon McGregor's book: This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.
This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You could be the title of any of Jon McGregor's four published books. He's a writer interested in moments that change lives and the legacy of these upon his characters. His debut, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, took this concept literally, fusing narratives charting the effects of a single incident and using them to create tension as another narrative built to that crescendo moment. Even the Dogs - his Dublin IMPAC Prize winning novel about a group of drug addicts watching the final journey of one of their own - is all about the after-effects of these single moments. McGregor is a master of writing voice, particularly those of the dispossessed. He captures the humanity, the universal, without romanticising. His characters narrate with the hesitant, repetitive, circuitry, unfinished speech we all use. And his prose is vibrant, playful, energetic, and alive.
The thirty stories collected in This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You
have been written over the last decade: its a summary of his career to date as he grows from a talented wordsmith and storyteller to one of our foremost writers (and, in his own words, 'Britain's second best short story writer' - a reference to 'If It Keeps On Raining' and 'Wires' finishing as runner up in the BBC National Short Story Competition for 2010 and 2011 respectively), challenging conventions and forms of storytelling, pushing boundaries all the time with how words on a page can be used to communicate something. McGregor has written of his appreciation of David Foster Wallace and you can feel his influence here. This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You
is funny, challenging, scary, affirming, and much more besides. It is very good indeed.
The things you don't see happening to someone like you begin with an older couple, arguing gently over the washing up. They aren't all dramatic. A man builds a tree house by the river, in preparation for a coming flood. A sugar beet crashes through the windscreen of a young woman. Fighter jets fly overhead as a war looms. Crime, political tensions, environmental Armageddon, accidents, stagnation in life.
They are all set in the vast flat landscapes of the Fen's, where sky and horizons blend and long flat roads stretch into the distance. Its farming landscape, traditionally mined in literature for themes of memory and forgetting. These are stories that explore the psychology of life in a flat reclaimed landscape, stolen from the sea, and where one of the things we don't see coming may just be its return to the sea. All the while, these places - Upwell, Irby in the Marsh, Messingham, Lincoln etc - feel as if they are being inscribed into stone against the forgetting of the future.
View This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You - Jon McGregor in a larger map
These landscapes are perhaps best explored in 'In Winter the Sky' where a woman's poems about the colour and atmosphere of the sky are set alongside a story about burying the past in the soil, only for floodwaters to bring it back to the surface years later.
'People are not drawn here by the romantic sound of the place.
People don't much come here at all, and so the landscape
remains empty and
retains its beauty and
the beauty of this place is not in the names but the shapes
the flatness / hugeness / completeness of the landscape.
Only what is beneath the surface of the earth is hidden
(and sometimes not even that)
and everything else is made visible beneath the sky.'
One has a strange experience reading many of the stories here. McGregor experiments with different narrative styles - poetry alongside prose, stories told through a surveillance report or a redacted security document - and one goes into these with a slight sense of trepidation. Yet it is these stories that are some of the most rewarding. For they challenge ones sense of a story, of what a story is about, of why a story is told.
If there is a criticism, it is that there are perhaps a few too many stories here. The three experiments with form, the five or six most engaging stories - 'Wires' and 'If It Keeps On Raining', 'Which Reminded Her Later', 'We Wave and Call' - and a few of the shorter entries would have been more than enough. Between six and ten fewer stories would have made it one of the finest collections I have encountered.
Jon McGregor is my favourite contemporary British writer. It was delightful, therefore, to see this collection selected from a longlist of 116 books, to feature in the Summer Reads programme I run. Six great books selected by readers for readers. Books that inspire adventures and expand horizons. If you're looking for tried and tested books, these six come with a readers stamp of approval and a personal recommendation: we fell in love with these books and thought you might too.
For an extract from ‘Wires’ click here
For audio visual content of Jon McGregor reading and discussing his work, click here
And to see a fantastic event with Jon McGregor and Sarah Hall in Norwich in July, click here
This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You was first published by Bloomsbury in 2012. The paperback edition, published in 2013 (ISBN: 9781408830383, 262pp) is available now.
Will Self: the performer
According to Will Self, if you shake a tree in Cromer, a Self, his namesake, will fall out.
If you were lucky enough to be seated at our sold-out NNF13 event, then you’ll have enjoyed an evening packed with scrumptious wordplay and literary insight; but it was the playful nature, the devilish twinkle in his eye that kept our Playhouse audience engrossed from start to finish.
“May all of your gussets turn to glass paper” – a retort directed at our first questioner. Yet the questions kept on coming, and would have continued for hours on end, given the chance.
And the odd swear – don’t forget those...
But for me, Friday night was all about the reading. It managed to make me feel like an eight-year-old again – by that I mean back in primary school, sat cross-legged, willing the teacher to keep on giving life to the words he or she read.
Self projects his words; he acts them out, deftly miming choice words with his free hand. The characters were given playful tones and accents - all combining to leave the audience member fully immersed in Self’s world.
Throughout the evening we were treated to two readings, one from the Booker shortlisted Umbrella, and a hilarious short story from Liver. Between those readings, Self had a fascinating discussion with WCN chief exec, Chris Gribble and answered some very good questions from the audience.
If you missed out, listen to the podcast below. And don't forget, we're topping off our NNF13 Words & Ideas events with Electronic Voice Phenomena
- hopefully see you there.
Mutant Bears, Weekday Dads, and Bawdy Boozers.
A night of live literature with Nathan Penlington and Luke Wright.
There is nothing better on a damp and dreary Wednesday night than getting to see two fantastic shows for the price of one! Last night we were treated to an evening of storytelling, adventure, and poetry as part of the Norwich and Norfolk Festival 2013 Words and Ideas events, programmed by WCN.
Nathan Penlington – ‘Choose Your Own Documentary.’
As we walked into the dimly lit performance space in the Norwich Arts Centre for Nathan Penlington’s show ‘Choose Your Own Documentary,’ we were handed an interactive voting pad, which created a hum of curiosity throughout the audience. Nathan’s show takes the audience back in time to the 1980s and 1990s when the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books were inviting young readers to choose their own destiny, a style of writing never before explored. Nathan led us on a fascinating journey through the history of the books and explained the impact they had on him as a child and on countless other young readers.
The audience were itching to use their voting pads and after the nostalgic introduction we were finally allowed to start choosing our own adventure - our own destiny - for the next hour. I can’t possibly reveal any of the choices we made as an audience because I don’t want to ruin this fantastic show for anyone who is lucky enough to see it. What I can reveal is that there are a phenomenal 1566 versions of this documentary, making it the one show you can never see twice. The unique mix of storytelling and multimedia, featuring projections, short film clips and music, and even ‘smell-o-vision’ (yes, really) kept me engaged and entertained from start to finish. Just as it is tempting to go back in the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books and change your destiny, just to see what would happen – I wish I could go back to Wednesday night and change my answers to discover all 1566 versions of this fantastic show.
Luke Wright – 'Your New Favourite Poet.'
After a jovial interval spent discussing ‘Choose Your Own Documentary’ and excitedly anticipating Luke Wright’s show we were ushered back to our seats. There were no voting pads this time and Luke made it clear that he was going to decide where the show went. The show was left in his expert hands of course, and Luke took us on a different but equally wonderful journey. There were a lot of laughs and some more serious moments, including a powerful poem about the gunman Raoul Moat. Luke kept us on our emotional toes throughout the show and even treated us to his new song ‘Houses That Used to Be Boozers’ which featured the beautiful vocals of Laura Stimson (a Programme Manager here at WCN) with Luke’s lyrics punctuating the music perfectly. Luke told us that by the end of the show he would be our new favourite poet (or at least second to Philip Larkin) and judging by the rapturous applause at the end it seemed pretty clear that he had succeeded.
Another exciting Norfolk and Norwich Festival event coming up is Electric Voice Phenomena
at 8pm on Saturday 25th May at the Norwich Arts Centre. The ‘part séance, part avant-garde cabaret’ show promises ‘distorted poetry,’ ‘wickedly funny spoken word,’ and ‘psychedelic’ music. This is an event not to be missed! Watch the trailer for a little taster of what the evening will hold:
EVP on tour now! from Mercy on Vimeo.
It’s all about the money
Sympathy, belief and politics: An account of Ali Smith’s incredible Harriet Martineau lecture
As Writers’ Centre Norwich’s CEO Chris Gribble explained in his introduction, the idea for a Harriet Martineau lecture came when we were investigating Norwich’s literary luminaries as research towards Norwich’s UNESCO bid. Chris was subject to enthusiastic advocacy about the little known Harriet Martineau from local expert, Stuart Hobday.
So it was quite an occasion, as Stuart sat in the audience watching his dream for a celebration of Martineau’s life and work being realised and the crowd clapped expectantly as Ali Smith took to the stage.
“I talk very quickly,” said Ali. “Please don’t mind. Don’t worry, let it flow right over you.”
And we did. But we did worry a little - everybody sat forward in their seats as Smith’s flow began; not wanting to miss a reference, not wanting to lose one pithy line.
Smith firstly named her piece ‘The Hour and the Woman’. Then -
“Everything sooner or later transforms into story,” said Ali Smith. And so her story began.
It started with a description of two tiny babies, born twenty years apart in the same room in Gurney Court, Norwich. One of the women is well known to us; she graces our five pound notes; Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer. The other is much less well known in the UK at least; Harriet Martineau (b.1802).
One might want to say her name over and over, so that it absorbs into the walls, into the fabric of the buildings and into the streets of Norwich.
Harriet Martineau. Harriet Martineau.
Smith teased us with the prospect of reciting this name for the full hour of the lecture; then relented although “if I did it, Norwich could take it,” she said.
Then Smith’s “Norwich kind of tune” began, describing “a city with its own sharp taste.” She wove stories from Norwich’s past both historical and mythic, creating a wave of smiles in the audience as she drew our attention to the flute made from the bones of a swan displayed in Norwich Castle Museum. She related a story where a musician described the music that she would play on this swan’s bones – which would go ‘and all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’
She unearthed the hundred or so Roman bodies of white people buried under Anglia TV, lying together with one black woman; who was she? “There’s a story there,” said Smith.
She talked of a city of “unabashed progressors” and the hard-working city of tradespeople and manufacturers described by Daniel Defoe.
All in all, it was a beautiful song.
Then Ali Smith started talking about money.
How Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale are the only women to have graced our notes, and how soon Elizabeth Fry is to be replaced by Winston Churchill – soon we will have no women on our bank notes at all.
“Tonight,” she said, “it’s all about what's on the money.”
Ali Smith paused for a beat and then began talking about Harriet Martineau, her incredible life and legacy.
Martineau’s influence on Virginia Woolf was notable; in a lecture Woolf had named Harriet amongst many other still famous female predecessors who had smoothed the way for Woolf, who had made her writing possible. Why has Harriet’s name not flourished in the same way as the others’ have?, asked Smith.
This is a woman who designed and built her own house in the Lake District, then ran a farm – and this was the least of her many achievements.
This is a rejecter of religious tenants who faced hostility from her own friends and family due to her then incredibly challenging ideas.
This was a sickly woman who defied doctors, a woman who went deaf whilst a pre-teen and who listened to her own nuanced world through a hearing trumpet.
It all started when Martineau, in an attempt to mobilise and educate against inequality, began writing economic pamphlets in a way that nobody had previously attempted. They proved incredibly popular and were read by everybody. She became so well-known that she was even banned from visiting Russia by the Tsar.
She travelled America, wrote about the slave trade, agitating for abolition and change.
She rejected creationism, and impressed Darwin and his brother Erasmus with her radical ideas, which were so incendiary that they were never published. That given -
‘I was astonished to find how little ugly she was,’ said Darwin.
‘One ought not to think of her as a woman,’ said Erasmus.
And we all smiled again.
Sympathy, belief and politics are all connected in Martineau’s work, said Smith, and it is the way that Martineau approaches everything with such sympathy that is fundamental about her.
Smith also noted Martineau’s “sharp muster-kick of spirit,” her indomitable need for utterance so strong that when Martineau was diagnosed with a serious illness she wrote her autobiography (nearly 1000 pages of it) very quickly in order to get her own story down before she died. She also wrote her own obituary.
The same obituary that was published when she died 20 years later.
Martineau never followed the expected course, and betrayed the doctors who diagnosed her swift end from an ovarian tumour by going to see a mesmerist and then recovering a mere two months later.
Instead of wasting away, she rode a camel across the Middle East, noting her boredom when visiting a harem, as there was simply nothing to do. Noticing a sad looking young girl in there, she resolved to make her laugh, passing around her ear trumpet, amusing them all so that they did not want to let her leave.
Because she was irrepressible. She was sympathetic, she was inspirational.
Martineau gave advice about writing: ‘know what you want to say and then say it,’ – and Ali Smith noted that this professed lack of self-editing is perhaps why some of Martineau’s “fountainous” writings are not better known.
However Martineau’s novel The Hour and the Man is a “witty and meaty read” about art connecting threads, art aware of its own potential to create change.
This is why we should be remembering Martineau on our £5 notes.
As it’s all about the money.
Maria Miller recently noted culture’s value as a commodity. A couple of weeks ago, a newspaper article considered that on current projections, inequality will be at Victorian standards in twenty years time.
Imagine Martineau’s eye on today’s issues, what would she say, do? What does it really mean to work in the arts today?
Here Smith traced an etymological trail from ‘to tell a yarn’ – guts – entrails – storytellers - to tell – count – account.
It’s all about the money.
Because “we tell and retell for the art of survival, to know what we’re worth.”
So the ‘Woman and the Hour’ ended, to delighted smiles as we all finally breathed out and sat back in our seats.
Through the Q&A we mused on the effect of Norwich on Martineau’s work; Smith saying that being an outsider was crucial for Martineau as it meant she could understand the differences between people, and was at home both in and out of the hub of things.
Similarly, when considering the impact of Martineau’s deafness on her life and work, the otherness created by this disability was also deemed formative – the hearing trumpet a powerful symbol, allowing Martineau to hear and see differently; to listen to her own silent, questioning voice.
Then came the end of the evening and the applause and this is what the applause said:
Ali Smith’s Harriet Martineau was irrepressible, sympathetic and inspirational.
Exactly like this lecture and this lecturer.
Ali Smith noted the following references in her research for this event, with thanks:
Please note this is by no means an exact transcription of the evening, and all errors are the blogger's own! For the real deal please listen to the event podcast:
A Modern Poet- from Twitter to Television.
Organised in collaboration with The Rialto, our first Norfolk & Norwich Festival event brought Sophie Hannah, Hannah Lowe, and Don Paterson to the Norwich Playhouse for an evening of poetry.
The clichéd image of a poet is often of an ethereal being who plucks rhymes from the air, and cultivates an unworldly muse, writing art for arts sake. This event proved that, if anything, inspiration tended towards the mundane; from writing about a dead dog, to writing a letter to an ex-boyfriend explaining how much better you are now.
Sophie Hannah began by confessing her addiction to Twitter (you can follow her @sophiehannahcb1) and reading a poem on the Dalai Lama not following her back on Twitter; showing that a poem really can be formed out of anything. Throughout her reading Sophie was accompanied by knowing giggles and smirks, as her poems recalled familiar feelings within the audience.
Listen to Sophie read:
Hannah Lowe was next on stage and started by reading 'Fist', which she described as a bleak poem. She explained that she writes a lot about her hometown of Ilford, and her father, for whom her first collection of poetry, Chick, is named. Hannah’s reading was a bitter-tender experience. (You can get a taster of Hannah’s poetry, and watch her read at the Norwich Showcase on Youtube.)
Don Paterson began by announcing:
He followed this statement by recounting a recent occasion when he went to see a famous (and un-named poet) at a reading, and ended up wishing the poems would end so he could hear the introductions to the poems, because the writer was far better at introducing his work then reading it.
And, actually, a lot of the joy at a poetry reading, or any literary reading, is the writer’s introduction to the piece they will be reading. It is the introduction which gives the audience an insight into the process of writing, and a clue about where the magic bean of inspiration originated. It is the introduction, and the Q&A’s at the literary event which reveal the writer.
Don’s introductions supported this, reading a poem based on the television series, House, and explaining that he believes soaps have taken the place of religion. He followed this with a found poem created via a google search- it was composed of insults, with each line beginning ‘What Paterson fails to realise...’
It was this self-awareness which seemed to become the theme of the evening- Sophie, Hannah and Don unpicked their motivations and explained their writing to us.
Michael Mackmin, the editor of The Rialto
opened the Q&A by describing Hannah’s poetry as a way of recovering memories. WCN Programme Director Jonathan Morley followed this by suggesting that Sophie’s writing was public poetry, and Don’s was poetry as philosophy (Don guffawed slightly at this...). Michael then asked, ‘Does poetry come out of form, or form out of poetry?’
This question inspired a discussion about what writing meant to the poets, and why they found themselves writing:
Hannah said that there was so much secrecy around her father that she began recreating him through her poetry- reforming his existence into a narrative which she could control and understand.
The Q&A finished with a question about the role of the internet in the modern writers life:
Sophie countered this with:
If this has inspired you to join Twitter, you can follow us @WritersCentre
, Sophie Hannah @SophiehannahCB1
and Hannah Lowe @Hannahlowepoet
The real joy of literary events, as I hope I’ve shown in this blog, is discovering the stories and the people behind the writing. Events with writers bring a new dimension to the stories that you love, as well as giving you an intriguing glimpse into the authors’ lives.
We hope to see you at one of our events soon- coming up for the Words & Ideas strand of the Festival is the Inaugural Harriet Martineau Lecture with Ali Smith
, a Live Literature double bill
with Luke Wright and Nathan Penlington, the debut performance of I Wish I Was Lonely
from Hannah Walker and Chris Thorpe and the Electronic Voice Phenomena
You can take a look at the other events coming up on our What’s On Page
FLY: Festival of Literature for Young people
At WCN we are very excited about FLY, an upcoming literary festival aimed at making literature more accessible for young people. Find out more below:
A star-packed line up, including Benjamin Zephaniah and Charlie Higson, has been announced for the first ever Festival of Literature for Young people (FLY)
Teachers and school librarians will also be given the opportunity to benefit from the unique event with one day dedicated to exploring teaching methods and how to engage more children in literature.
For more information and booking details, visit the FLY webpage.
A Special Evening of Poetry for an Extra Special Price
On the 13th May, Writers’ Centre Norwich will be host to a trio of poets at Norwich Playhouse. Organised in collaboration with The Rialto Magazine, poets Don Paterson, Sophie Hannah and Hannah Lowe will be opening Words & Ideas at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. And, even if we do say so ourselves, this is one event you won’t want to miss. Especially as you can buy tickets half price.
The evening promises to be a delightful exploration of contemporary poetry- I can’t wait to hear all of the poets, but I am particularly looking forward to hearing Sophie Hannah read again.
I was lucky enough to hear her read at the EDP Book Awards last year, and felt connected with the text in a way which I hadn’t experienced when reading her poetry at home. (It also persuaded me to dig out her collection of Selected Poems when I got home, and to re-imagine the slants and emphasis of the writing.)
Sophie Hannah’s poetry is clever, witty, and undeniably wicked. Her writing has a vicious, razor sharp edge. Sophie takes everyday incidents, and spins them into bittersweet poems, writing with grace and intelligence. It’s little wonder that she has been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize, while her bestselling psychological thrillers continue to receive critical acclaim.
For a taster of Sophie’s poetry, you can watch her read If People Disapprove on YouTube.
While Sophie Hannah is sure to make you laugh, Don Paterson
will make you shift forward in your seat, alert and straight-backed.
Paterson has won most of the poetry prizes around; from the Forward Prize to the TS Eliot Prize (twice). His accolades speak for themselves, but don’t capture the scope and quality of his work. Don Paterson writes lyrically on fable and charm, creating an intimate exploration of the moments that unite us all.
Don Paterson’s reading is sure to be both thought provoking and moving, and a perfect foil for Sophie Hannah and Hannah Lowe’s readings.
Don Paterson reads Rain:
Last, but certainly not least, Hannah Lowe
will also be reading at the event. Hannah published her first full-length collection, Chick
, earlier this year. Described as an “extraordinary debut”, the publication heralds a fresh and outstanding voice into the world of contemporary poetry.
Hannah joined us last year to read at The Norwich Showcase
and you can watch her reading on YouTube:
Lowe’s sensory poetry is deeply personal. Chick
is named after her father, and it tells the story of his extraordinary character, a Chinese-black Jamaican migrant who gambled professionally. Hannah’s poems capture an emotional truth, but always resist sentimentality with peculiar beauty.
This Rialto event promises to introduce you to a world of brilliant poetry, bringing established and emerging poets together for an evening of immersive entertainment. And, I for one, can’t wait.
Get your tickets now.
Looking for a great book? Your Summer Reads 2013
Summer Reads is your guide to some of the most exhilarating writing and storytelling from around the world.
These books were selected by readers for readers. We spent five months whittling a longlist of 116 titles down to the final six. Each of them comes with a seal of approval that says a reader like you read it, fell in love with it, and thinks you will love it too.
Reading the books is where the adventure begins. Throughout the summer you can then meet the authors and other readers at events, book quizzes, book clubs, reader workshops, and much more. We’re even teaming up with the fine folks at Turn the Page Artists Book Fair
for a special Summer Reads Book Art competition.
Whatever your usual fare, try something new this year with Summer Reads. We look forward to talking books with you soon.
Want to find out more?
The Readers' Circle Decides
WCN Programme Assistant Lara Narkiewicz blogs about the Readers’ Circle, a unique programme which encourages readers to get involved with each stage of our Summer Reads book selection process.
Last summer WCN Programme Manager Sam Ruddock, poet and Summer Reads friend Julia Webb and myself visited a number of libraries across Norfolk. We were there to promote Summer Reads and to meet keen readers. These events were a real success and we got to know a lot of enthusiastic readers along the way.
This made us wonder why we hadn’t involved readers earlier on in the programme. So, for 2013 we formed the Readers’ Circle and invited some of the brilliant readers we’d already met to join us in choosing the books that would make up Summer Reads 2013.
The Readers’ Circle was made up keen readers, librarians, booksellers and several WCN staff. Our readers all had different jobs and backgrounds- some were employed full-time, others were retired, some were writers and poets and others had careers in the literary sector. Each of them brought a unique and valuable viewpoint about the process and the books. We started meeting in September 2012 with a longlist of 116 prospective titles and a need to whittle them down to 6. We really had a task on our hands!
For the next four months, the dedicated members of the Circle popped in to the office to pick up books, and sent us reviews of the books they had read- 20 or so each and every week! To follow up on this and to reduce the longlist to a shortlist, we had a meeting every month where readers debated long and hard about each contender.
When we started, we asked everyone to commit to reading at least 6 books. Everyone did this, and many read and reviewed between twenty and thirty titles; an extraordinary effort.
By January, we had worked our way down to just 20 titles, and came together for an epic meeting to cut the list down to the final six. It was at that meeting where the effort, the opinions about the books, and the enjoyment that the Readers’ Circle had had from the experience became really clear.
When we reached the final six, there was a real feeling of satisfaction, teamwork and excitement about Summer Reads (accompanied by celebratory cake and bubbly)!
The Readers’ Circle was a unique and fantastic experience for me, and one which I have thoroughly enjoyed. It was great to be part of a group that was truly passionate about choosing books that would encourage others to go outside their literary comfort zone and try something new. With a mix of poetry, non-fiction, short stories, fiction and books in translation, we have a first-class selection of titles that Sam and I are delighted to be promoting across Norfolk on behalf of WCN. And for that we have the Readers’ Circle to thank.
If you would like to take part in the Readers’ Circle in 2014, Writers’ Centre Norwich will have more information available at our “Get Involved!” events in 8 libraries across Norfolk in May and August.
Details of dates and times will be available on our website soon. Alternatively, contact Writers’ Centre Norwich at firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to meeting you!
This years’ Summer Reads will be launched on the 1st of May.
To keep up to date, follow @WCNBookClub
Or ‘Like’ WCN Book Club
Find out more about last year’s Summer Reads campaign at www.summerreads.org.uk
Guest Blog Post: The Inner Melody of Julian of Norwich's Writing
In advance of Julian Week (6th-10th May), Louise Øhrstrøm, co-ordinator of Julian Week, blogs about the upcoming event with Mikael R Andreasen and Edwin Kelly.
Two international guests will be visiting Norwich for the upcoming Julian Week (6th-10th of May). Danish Mikael R Andreasen will be playing songs he has composed on Julian's lyrics. Irish Edwin Kelly will be reading from his experimental translation of Julian's writings. Louise Øhrstrøm has asked the two artists what they find fascinating about Julian of Norwich as a writer.
In 2010 Mikael R Andreasen's Danish band Kloster released their critical acclaimed fourth album, The Winds and Waves Still Know His Voice, which holds songs based on Julian of Norwich’s Middle English lyrics. Kloster was booked for Roskilde Festival (the biggest music festival in Northern Europe) in 2011 because of that album and has played at a number of venues in Europe.
Mikael R Andreasen heard about Julian from a friend and soon learned that Julian's words somehow seemed really easy to put into melody:
“It was as if the passages contained some sort of inner melody themselves. Later, when I started reading Julian's complete work in English, I noticed, that also just by reading, the text seemed very rhythmic and had an almost melodic ease or flow to it”, Mikael explains.
Edwin Kelly became interested in Julian when he did an MA in Poetry at University of East Anglia. He currently works on an experimental translation of her texts, inspired by an ancient tradition of editing manuscripts:
“I work with Julian's texts in a way I feel it has been worked with throughout the last 600 years or so - simply as an engaged reader who wants to know more. In medieval times this engagement may have been mainly looking for devotional and spiritual guidance. In an academic context, this engagement may look at the production of the text itself. Personally, I'm most interested in the emotional power of the text and how this has been maintained through the centuries. I work with the text as a document of the experience and as a physical object”, Edwin says.
Both artists find that there is something about Julian's voice that makes her writings relevant even for a modern reader.
Edwin explains: “The texts themselves are consistently surprising. Just when I feel I have categorised them, something in their style will lead me to question my assumptions. I think Julian's texts are, to some extent, taken a little for granted. Often, interest is in relation who she is rather than what she wrote. I think people will be pleasantly surprised if they take the time to read and respond to what she wrote. It will deepen their appreciation of a fascinating and surprising figure”.
Mikael R Andreasen particularly likes the way in which Julian talks about suffering and love:
“Today it seems like whenever love hurts a tiny bit, people tend to throw it away in search for any kind of new 'suffer-absent-love.' It is as if we have created a culture where we are trying to avoid suffering at all cost. In such a culture, I find it both interesting and provoking to read how Julian almost asked for an experience of suffering in order to understand what love is all about.”
Meet Mikael R Andreasen and Edwin Kelly at Julian Week at the Comforting Words event.
For more info, please visit the Julian Week website.
Other Julian Week events include:
Julian of Norwich: Poetry Writing and Critical Reading Workshop by poet Edwin Kelly and PhD student Louise Øhrstrøm
Julian of Norwich as a Poet: Language and the Search for Meaning in A Showing of Love
Slam in a Box - Young Poets Take Charge. A blog by Programme Assistant Lara Narkiewicz
WCN's Programme Assistant Lara Narkiewicz blogs about the fantastic project Slam in a Box, which shows young poets in schools how to set up their own 'slams'.
When asking what Slam in a Box is, the first question may well be; what is a slam?
To set the scene, a slam is a competition where poets or spoken word artists perform their own original work, which is then scored on overall quality. The slam scene is vibrant and ever-expanding in the UK, and provides a creative and exciting platform for self-expression and confidence building.
Slam in a Box was created because of Shake the Dust, a national slam poetry competition for young people coordinated by Apples and Snakes, and managed and hosted in the East by Writers’ Centre Norwich and the cultural and creative arts youth venue, The Garage.
The competition was a real success and following its culmination, the young people involved wanted to know where to go next to continue with their slam poetry. However, there was a lack of opportunities for youth poetry events in the region. As a result, Apples and Snakes and Writers’ Centre Norwich came together and Slam in a Box was created.
The project aimed to teach young people how to run and manage their own events, build on their writing and performing talents, and allow them to take ownership of their own after-school poetry events.
Slam in a Box is exactly what the name suggests. Several of the poets who were involved in Shake the Dust devised the tools and guides that made up the box’s contents. The box was specially created to help the pupils create their own slams. The poets - two teams comprising of Mark Grist, Russell J Turner, Molly Naylor and Andy Bennett - then returned to three of the ex-Shake the Dust schools with these boxes. They spent two days with a group of students at each school - some of whom had taken part in Shake the Dust, some of whom were new to slam poetry - using the box to teach them how to run their own slams. The box was left at the school following the two days, for their future use.
The results of these workshops at one of the schools, Caister High School near Great Yarmouth, can be seen in this brilliant video (produced by Brief Media
Having spent two days with Molly Naylor and Andy Bennett creating new material, learning new skills to run a slam and working together in a team, the second day culminated in assemblies in front of other students, where the young people performed their work. The nerves and tension beforehand were palpable, yet the quality of the work that the young people produced and the creativity and confidence they showed was fantastic- and their enthusiasm certainly rubbed off on the audience!
Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust- A New Collaborative Project
“Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust” is the title of a major new research project led by Professor Jean Boase-Beier at the University of East Anglia, working in partnership with Writers’ Centre Norwich, and including a number of public events.
Historical documents and eye-witness accounts have given us the facts about the mass-murder, degradation and annihilation of whole communities in Europe between the early 1930s and 1945.
“Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust” aims to explore the legacy of poetry created during the Holocaust, as poetry does more than document facts; it invites the reader to engage. Poetry can have a profound emotional effect on its reader, and it is through this emotional connection that we can keep events such as the Holocaust alive in peoples’ memories.
The difficulty in translating this poetry is ensuring that the translation is still interesting and meaningful for readers so far removed in time and place, whilst preserving the original message and meaning of the text. Professor Jean Boase-Beier will be translating the poetry with others, and hopes to further share the work with anyone who has an interest in the Holocaust, or in translated poetry.
Much of the Holocaust poetry we are familiar with is in English translation, written by members of the Jewish communities who were interred in camps, or detained in ghettos, and managed to flee abroad. Boase-Beier is keen to find examples of Holocaust poetry in other languages such as Italian, French or Hungarian, and intends to include poetry written by victims and survivors who were not Jewish.
This project will result in an academic book, and an anthology of the poetry translated by Jean Boase-Beier and other writers. There will also be a series of public events, and an exhibition. Professor Boase-Beier hopes that anyone who is interested in the Holocaust, poetry, translation, or the movement between culture and languages will attend the events.
The first public event in Norwich will be a Café Conversation held by Jean Boase-Beier, in the UEA Café Conversation series run by BJ Epstein. This takes place on 26th April at 2 pm in the White Lion Café, and is entitled “What’s the Point of Holocaust Poetry?". Please come along if you are interested- there’s no need for you to have been to any of the other Café Conversations. (Find out more about Café Conversations)
Later on in the year there will be an event in a local Norwich bookshop, and on 4th and 5th November there will be a free exhibition on Holocaust poetry and its translation at the Forum. There will also be two workshops, one on each day, and a poetry reading in the Library Training Room on 5th November.
On December 4th there will be a Translation Workshop on Holocaust poetry from 5-7 pm at UEA. This is part of the series of Workshops for the MA students, and, like all Translation Workshops in the series, it is open to members of the public and is a unique opportunity to see what MA students are learning about translation, and to join in. For further details on the workshops contact Dr Cecilia Rossi on email@example.com.
For further details on "Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust", contact Prof Jean Boase-Beier on firstname.lastname@example.org
Writing Talk- A Guest Blog Post from Alex Hamilton
Writer and Journalist Alex Hamilton blogs about his new book, Writing Talk, a collection of interviews and anecdotes with some of the most distinguished writers of our time. Author interviews include discussions with Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Angela Carter. Here's what Alex had to say:
Writing Talk is made up of 85 of my hundreds of conversations with top writers of the last fifty years, some for The Times, most for the Guardian. They are all authors of fiction or poetry, plus half a dozen cartoonists. Whenever possible I saw them in their own homes, where they’d be at ease, without distractions. Sometimes, when my newspaper could afford it, I’d meet in another country, such as Graham Greene in Antibes, Muriel Spark in Rome, Hergé in Brussels, Erskine Caldwell in Monaco, George Mackay Brown in Stromness, Régine Deforges and Romain Gary in Paris…
But USA and India were too costly, so I’d catch such Americans as Vonnegut, Jacqueline Susann, Updike, Spillane and Stephen King en passant. A hotel, a restaurant, anything but their publishing house. The Singhalese Tambimuttu chose a bench in a park. R. K. Narayan from India struggled up 74 stairs to my flat — it was fascinating to find them all so different from each other.
There are many light occasions in the business of interviewing authors. Such as with publisher and writer D. J. Enright, who thanked me for my piece but added that his mother hadn't known about the opium I'd revealed, which he'd enjoyed with academic colleagues in the Far East ("The exam papers tended to be marked rather high, but at least they were consistently high.")
Another unexpected cheer came to me from Muriel Spark, in whose company I'd spent two days in Rome, full of questions, who wrote to me back in London saying great, but that she hadn't realised our meeting was an interview.
Again, it was good luck for me when I bumped into Graham Greene in Antibes the evening before we were due to meet and he suggested a drink, but not where I'd been — he had a feud there, he said, but we'd go round the corner to where the HQ of the Mafia drank. This relaxed us both, and the next day he talked freely all day long. Julian Symons years later told me that he classed Greene at the head of the second division, but I thought he was up there in the first.
While my novels and collections of stories lasted a reasonable time, newspaper features in those days were soon past and forgotten, so I hope reviving these interviews will entertain and inform my contemporaries and stimulate and intrigue newer generations of writers and readers.
Find out more about Writing Talk.
Read a Guardian article on Writing Talk.
More about Alex
Alex Hamilton grew up in Brazil and Argentina, but came to Britain at sixteen to attend Clifton College. After graduating from The Queen’s College, Oxford, he cruised through a great miscellany of around fifty jobs, from building a gas station to selling offal in Smithfield, while also writing fiction; this led first to a Saturday column in The Times
, then, for twenty-five years, writing on the arts for the Guardian
He not only reviewed literally thousands of works of fiction and non-fiction but interviewed the professionals involved in every aspect of the book trade. Alex has in the past published three novels and four collections of short stories — three of them in his particular genre of quiet, subtle horror — plus a volume of his Collected Stories, The Attic Express
. He has also edited six anthologies of horror stories and appeared in many others.
In 1965 he married Stephanie Nettell, another literary journalist, and they have two sons and two grandchildren. After twenty-eight years in a flat near London’s Oxford Street, in 1997 they changed gear to live in an old farmhouse in West Norfolk.
Live Literature Symposium: Do We Need To Talk About This? An Intern’s Perspective.
WCN's new marketing intern, Caterina, blogs about her second day at WCN and her experience of an afternoon at the Live Literature Symposium. Caterina is a final year English Literature student at the University of East Anglia. Here's what she had to say:
It was my second day on the job as a marketing intern at Writers’ Centre Norwich and I was thrown in at the literary deep end as I spent the afternoon at The Live Literature Symposium, run by Writers’ Centre Norwich and Apples & Snakes. The free event was aimed at live literature artists, promoters and programmers, and encouraged discussion about live literature and its development.
The decor of Keir Hardie Hall transported us back into the 1970s (are there any working men’s clubs that have been refurbished since the ‘70s?) while the discussion projected us forward in time and allowed a few glimpses into the future of live literature. One retro wall-papered wall was covered in pieces of paper with insightful questions on them written by participants at the event.
‘How do I get my voice heard?’
‘How do you publicise yourself?’
‘What can’t a writer do?’
The creative crowd was then divided into groups to tackle these various questions and others throughout the day.
Self promotion was a hot topic amongst the groups, with artists discussing how best to approach it, which avenues were worth exploring, and what is and isn’t appropriate. There was a general consensus among one group that it can be beneficial to promote yourself at live literature events, as the audience are likely to be interested in spoken word.
Not surprisingly online promotion and branding through social media was an important issue. The conflict between social media for personal and professional use was discussed, with the general consensus being that private and public should be kept separate. However, some writers felt it was important to have a mix of fun or silly tweets as well as promotional tweets in order to not seem ‘all work and no play,’ and risk losing twitter followers.
The day ended with an informal group feedback session discussing what everyone had taken away from the day. There was a general agreement that the day had not just been about shining a light on the problems in the live literature scene today but also about finding solutions.
People were tweeting throughout the day. Here are some of the lovely things they said:
Many of the artists expressed their pleasure at being connected to such a large group of artists and professionals within the field, and the sense of community this provided. From the perspective of a marketing intern, I found the focus on branding and promoting particularly interesting and I can’t wait to see what projects or collaborations come out of the event, as I am sure there will be many.
Laughing in the Dark: a Snapshot from the Lahore Literary Festival
The British Council recently enabled me to travel to Pakistan to visit the first Lahore Literary Festival. The festival itself and the opportunity to glimpse Pakistan from behind the news headlines provided an enlightening, refreshing experience, and one that will remain with me for a long time. The following is a set of reflections on what I saw and the thoughts it inspired in me. For an excellent insight into the social impact of the festival, I recommend an article from the Indian Express entitled ‘Literature and Longing in Lahore’.
I discovered literature through attending festivals.
Although much of my childhood was spent with my head in a book and as I grew up it was in relation to characters in books that I increasingly understood my own identity and ambitions, it was only with attending literary festivals in my early-twenties that I encountered literature as a social, communal experience and started to engage with the world of literature beyond that contained within a book. Being read to, meeting authors, the buzz of an excited audience discussing big ideas, feeling involved in something bigger than one person sitting in a chair with a book: it was all this I fell in love with and that transformed me from a compulsive reader into someone who wanted to make a career in literature. Nothing can replace the private experience of reading a book, but for provocation and immersing yourself in literature and the world, there is nowhere like a festival.
That I’m talking so idealistically about festivals is due in no small part to my experience in Lahore. I had not realised how inadvertently blasé I had become about festivals – there’s one almost every week in the UK and authors are reeling under the expectation to promote a book at every conceivable opportunity – until surrounded with the energy of a new festival in a city recently starved of cultural opportunity.
Imagine living in a society where cinemas have closed down having been targeted by terrorists, sports teams no longer visit, and even the fabled kite flying Basant that heralds the coming of spring and covers the city in a brightly coloured blanket each February has been cancelled. And now imagine that into this desert comes a literary festival, complete with authors from around the world, high profile Pakistani writers, discussions on themes such as ‘Literature and Resistance’ and ‘The Globalisation of Pakistan’s Literature’, and the chance to discuss political troubles in a secular public space.
In such circumstances, the raucous, almost bawdy yet respectful atmosphere that was like nothing I’ve ever experienced at a festival started to make sense. The very existence of the festival was an act of social defiance that said things like this can happen safely in modern Pakistan. That it passed off so positively may mark a watershed for the city.
Had I not been with the British Council, I never would have thought to visit Pakistan. In fact, I’d have been terrified to. Yet three days there showed me how narrow such a viewpoint would have been. The Lahore I encountered was populated with friendly, warm, engaged, intelligent, liberal people. We were safe walking the streets both around the festival and the old city centre, were welcomed as tourists into Mosques, and saw nearly nobody wearing the burqa. It was a city I felt comfortable in.
‘I feel like our generation has been deprived of so much this city has to offer’, wrote @azafark on Twitter as the early spring sunshine appeared in the sky above Lahore for the second day of the festival. Crowds bulged. If the auditoriums of the Alhamra Art Centre were two-thirds full at 9am on the first day, they were bursting at the seams and spilling into the aisles by the second. The festival concluded with a conversation between William Dalrymple and Ahmed Rashid on ‘Cultures in Conflict’. Outside the queue of those who couldn’t get in snaked around the paths of the centre. I quickly abandoned any hope of attending and settled into people watching as the crowds enthusiastically discussed what they had seen and heard during the day.
In total, more than 15,000 people came through the festival over the two days. The audiences were made up of an even split between men and women, and ranged in age from teenagers through to those in their late eighties. If a theme emerged from the festival it was the state of Pakistan: its difficulties, challenges, and international standing. There was no shying away from recent troubles, but a pragmatic approach to the future abounded. ‘Yes we have challenges. But that is not who we are,’ said Nadeem Aslam, whose recently published fourth novel, The Blind Man’s Garden is both a metaphor for, and exploration of, life in Pakistan over the past decade. Reading from the book he treated the audience to the first chapter, where the main character, Rohan, recalls a conversation he had when his son was a child. On finding Jeo distressed by a story, ‘Rohan had given a small laugh to comfort him and asked,
‘But have you ever heard a story in which the evil person triumphs at the end?’
The boy thought for a while before replying.
‘No,’ he said, ‘but before they lose, they harm the good people. That is what I am afraid of.’
It was a passage that resonated with me and, I suspect, the entire audience. At other points in the weekend, a range of other writers responded to the challenges of the day. Lahore born prominent left-wing academic Tariq Ali echoed the sentiments of Rudyard Kipling a century earlier in calling for the teaching of history through stories and narratives so as to keep it alive and prevent aberrations such as the Taliban occurring. Discussing satire, Mohammed Hanif and Moni Mohsin argued that in difficult times ‘you have to laugh in the dark,’ especially when ‘the darkness keeps getting darker…and the lightness more hysterical.’
Elsewhere passionate debates about national identities and self determination brought anger towards the behaviour of both Pakistan and India in Kashmir, and dismay at the utter breakdown in political relations between the two. And yet conversation returned time and again to the question of whether literature can actually change anything. There’s a dichotomy in literature between the quiet, private artform we all fall in love with, and how that then impacts on the world itself. No author involved was able or willing to categorically suggest that either writing or festivals alone can change the world. Yet there was a sense that, in ‘building self resistance’ (Selma Dabbagh) and ‘letting you live’ (Basharat Peer) they can change people. And how else is the world changed?
‘Now that it's over,’ writes Komail Aijazuddin in the Indian Express
, ‘the energy and intensity conjured over the last few days have nowhere to go. I am anxious, but for once it is because of something we've gained, not lost.’ I had expected my experiences in Pakistan to be somewhat different to the Pakistan of the news. But what I encountered was as far from that which we see as it is possible to get. The country has its significant problems to overcome. They were openly discussed and will take time and concerted effort to resolve. Yet the people I met convinced me that better times lie ahead for the people of Lahore. They certainly deserve it. And in the meantime, they now have a literary festival that can only go from strength to strength.