News and views
Starting a National Conversation
What’s happening to writing, reading, publishing and bookselling in the modern world? Will the rise of online giants result in the end of publishing as we know it, or are we witnessing the rise of more and better books for all? Why do our bankers get paid a fortune when most authors struggle to make a living? Can independent bookshops lead the way as community hubs supporting new writers and readers alike? Do men recommend women writers to other readers and vice versa? Can we still find working class narratives in the middle class world of literary publishing? What will happen to our libraries and will they still stock books in twenty years time?
The ‘National Conversation’, is a major new programme from Writers’ Centre Norwich that both marks and helps us make our journey towards becoming the National Centre for Writing. Working with some of the most exciting, thoughtful and eminent writers and thinkers in the UK and further afield, the National Conversation is an attempt to engage readers, writers and everyone with a love for and interest in literature in the big questions which we’re facing.
Working across at least ten festivals and event programmes in London and across the UK, (including the Southbank Centre, Hay Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival and Cheltenham Festival) the National Conversation will explore hard-hitting questions about the ways in which we produce, engage with and fund our national art form. Based on an initial commissioned provocation by an outstanding writer or thinker, each event is a curated conversation about the issues facing every part of the reading, writing, publishing and bookselling ecology.
With provocative think pieces by writers including Michael Rosen, Will Self, Ali Smith and Kamila Shamsie, the National Conversation will be a cross-media project; the debate will begin at live events around the country (we really do want to be national) and will be carried on on-line via Twitter, Facebook and our own website as well as on the websites of media partners. Finally, we hope the conversations will have an afterlife by informing innovative projects we commission with partners in the coming years.
Launching at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in summer 2014 and following the festival season through to the late autumn the following year, the National Conversation aims to be an evolving conversation between readers, writers, publishers, booksellers, literary agents, libraries and, in fact, anyone who cares about reading and writing and the power of stories.
All of the commissioned pieces, event audio and video, dialogues and conversations will be published as a resource on the National Centre for Writing website, so if you can’t join us at one of the events, you can join in the conversation online and tell us what you think the real issues are.
Join us at the first event at Edinburgh International Book Festival:
What is the Point in Books: a National Conversation Event with Michael Rosen
Mon 25th August, 8:30pm, £10/£8 conc, Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Don’t miss poet and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen as he gives a provocation on why books are intrinsic to our survival as human beings. Joined by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Denise Mina and Jamie Jauncey, they will explore the vital questions surrounding our national artform.
Book your ticket | More information
House of a Thousand Doors
William Galinsky, the Artistic Director of Norfolk and Norwich Festival
emailed one day and said ‘take a look at Walk With Me
it’s a piece from a guy called Rob Van Riskwick who I met recently. It’s wonderful. It’s an app that responds to location, light, other people and a lot more besides. The potential for story-telling is really exciting. I’m not sure how well I’m explaining this. Let’s talk.’
William has lots of ideas. It’s his job. They sometimes scare me, his ideas. Mostly they intrigue me, as this one did. I took a look. I saw what he meant: stories that respond to individual ‘participants/readers’ depending on where they are physically, socially, climatically and more - a real life adventure driven and supported by locative technologies and powered by great writing…
I’d recently introduced William to a friend of mine, the writer Naomi Alderman
. She’s that rare sort of writer who can produce critically acclaimed novels (Disobedience, The Liars’ Gospel
) and short stories at the same time as being an innovator in the world of gaming (Zombies Run! Perplex City
) and being a naturally collaborative and inquisitive early adopter of technologies of all sorts.
‘Do you think Naomi would be interested?’ said William.
‘Let’s find out,’ I said.
‘Good idea,’ he said.
Introductions were made. An application to the Without Walls
R&D fund was made. A positive
decision was received – hip hip!
So what are we doing? Well, we’re bringing together composer-technologists Strijbos and Vanrijswijk
to explore how the iPhone app technology they continue to develop can be used as the basis for an outdoor gaming experience that maps a fully responsive, interactive virtual environment onto a range of real-life cities.
The finished app will be available to download in participating cities (Norwich will be one – we can’t reveal the others yet…) and could run simultaneously at multiple festivals. The story will develop based on choices made by the festival audience member in real physical space. For example, users are given a choice to turn left or right or pass through one door or another in a real environment and depending on that choice, the virtual story moves in a different direction.
The game will build on Naomi Alderman’s passion for gaming and story-telling and Strijbos and Vanrijswijk’s digital composition work using an app which manipulates sound in response to location, crowd/place density and other factors on smart-phone devices.
As an audience member/player, you’ll become immersed in a real-time story with music, digital content and social interaction in a live environment. Will the people around you be actors? Some of them might be. Will you know how the story ends? No. It’s partly down to you. Will you experience a place, its buildings, its people and its history in a new way? Oh yes. Yes indeed…
About Naomi Alderman
Naomi Alderman grew up in London and attended Oxford University and UEA. In 2006 she won the Orange Award for New Writers. In 2007, she was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, and one of Waterstones' 25 Writers for the Future. Her first novel, Disobedience
, was published in ten languages; like her second novel, The Lessons
, it was read on BBC radio's Book at Bedtime
. Penguin published her third novel, The Liars' Gospel
, in August 2012. Her prize-winning short fiction has appeared in Prospect,
on BBC Radio 4 and in a number of anthologies. In 2009 she was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award. From 2004 to 2007 Naomi was lead writer on the BAFTA-shortlisted alternate reality game Perplex City
. She's written online games for Penguin, the BBC, and other clients. In 2011 she wrote the Doctor Who
tie-in novel Borrowed Time
. In 2012, she co-created the top-selling fitness game and audio adventure Zombies, Run! Naomi broadcasts regularly, has guest-presented Front Row
on BBC Radio 4 and writes regularly for Prospect
and the Guardian
. In 2012 and 2013, Naomi has been mentored by Margaret Atwood as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, and in April 2013 she was named one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists in their once-a-decade list.
About Rob van Rijswijk and Jeroen Strijbos
Dutch composers Rob van Rijswijk (1971) and Jeroen Strijbos (1970) both graduated with honors from the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands, specializing in Electronic & Computer Composition. The hallmark of Strijbos and Van Rijswijk's collective body of work is a combination of electro-acoustic composition and spatial elements, design and innovative music technology. The composers seek out zones where different disciplines meet and intersect.
Their work has been awarded an honorary mention for the PRIX Ton Bruynèl 2010 and First Music prize by The Prins Bernhard Cultural Foundation Netherlands 2012, and is performed and exhibited in among others Amsterdam, London, Glasgow, Berlin, Zürich, Istanbul, Shanghai, Paris, New York, San Francisco and Montreal.
Concerts & installations:
• FuChair 2014 - installation with ensemble of 5 Swiss made rockin' chairs
• 360° | Seascapes 2013 - installation / expanded sound cinema
• SoundSpots GraphicScore 2013 - architectural graphic score of SoundSpots
• Cells 2012 - concert for cello & e-cello, electric guitar & live electronics
• Cross Avenue 2012 - concert for NY string-quartet Ethel & live electronics
• Walk With Me 2011 - composer app for iphone, tool to write topographical compositions
• Vox 2010 - concert with live electronics, 2 sopranos & architectural acoustics
• Dadoc 2010 - an interactive sound installation and design object
• Whispers 2009 - ceramic sound sculpture
• Air Sensible 2008 - concert for duo-accordion and live electronics
• Muss Mann Erleben 2007 - constallation for one SoundSpot
• SoundSpots 2007 - a directional multi-speaker sound installation
• "Composition, Time & Space", oeuvre publication (2013)
• "Whispers", graphic score booklet with historical background (2010)
• "Air Sensible", graphic score booklet with historical background (2008)
• "SoundSpots", graphic score booklet with historical background (2007)
The Writing Process Blog Tour - Claire Hynes
The Writing Process Blog Tour involves writers from around the world taking up the challenge to answer four questions about writing. This week the tour has reached WCN friend, Claire Hynes, who in the past has collaborated with WCN to organise literary events for Norfolk Black History Month.
I’m thrilled to have been passed the challenge by the talented and energetic fiction writer Irenosen Okojie
. Irenosen’s first novel Butterfly Fish
will be published next year.
What am I working on?
My first novel, which reworks Virginia Woolf’s famous essay about women and writing, A Room of One’s Own. I’m pretty obsessed by the essay, which I explored as part of my PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia. I’m also finishing a freelance feature article for Mslexia, the women’s writing magazine, to be published in September.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I don’t believe it’s a great challenge producing work which is different. So many fresh voices, experiences and perspectives have yet to be heard. For instance, Virginia Woolf is often written about in ways which I don’t always relate to. The approach I’m taking with my novel is unconventional, but I’d rather not give too much away.
Why do I write what I do?
I’m particularly interested in exploring themes of morality and ethics, as with my short story In Her Hair, which has been selected for publication by the Bath Short Story Prize 2014. I love the freedom of writing whatever I want to write. Creating a fictional world is a magical process, and the writing process - when it goes well - can feel exhilarating. But I enjoy the speed and power of journalism. I wrote a piece for The Guardian earlier this year about my decision to boycott particular clothing companies. It was a satisfying feeling when, following the article’s publication, one of the brands I identified included a non-white woman in their brochure for the first time.
How does my writing process work?
I’d like to say that I rise every morning at 7 am, lock myself in my study for five hours, take an afternoon stroll to mull over ideas and rely on an adoring partner to provide editing suggestions and bring refreshments. The reality is I don’t have much of a routine at all. I balance creative writing projects with paid writing projects and parenting. Some days I don’t get to write more than one sentence. On occasions, I write until the early hours of the morning and suffer the consequences the following day. Last weekend I went to a friend’s party and sneaked upstairs, slightly light-headed on mojitos, to write in my notepad for an hour. It was a real treat.
I will be passing on the challenge to my good friend, Devika Ponambalam
, who I met on the the UEA Creative Writing MA course. Devika has written and directed several short films. She trained in Fiction Directing at the National Film and Television School, UK and has directed films for mainstream UK television. At University of East Anglia, she began work on a novel Gaugin’s Lover
, which is now a feature script in development. Last year she wrote and directed a 20 minute film Broken Eternity
, funded by Film4 and the British Film Insitute.
Claire has collaborated with Writers’ Centre Norwich organising literary events for Norfolk Black History Month. Her short story In Her Hair
has been selected to appear in the Bath Short Story Prize 2014 anthology and she is working on her first novel. Claire has a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of East Anglia, and as a freelance writer, she contributes to national publications including The Guardian
and New Statesman
. She has won a George Viner Memorial Award for journalism and she is a director and editor at Gatehouse Press.
A Criminal Celebration: Announcing Noirwich Crime Writing Festival
The two men are skulking in the shadows of the cloisters. They talk in muffled voices.
“Have you heard the news?”
The short man adjusts his trench coat and pulls out a slip of paper. The paper is embossed with a black scrawl, the sleek lettering marred by a blotch of heavy red.
“You mean this?”
The tall man spits onto the floor. “This city ain’t in need of any more criminals.”
“I say we watch and wait. You got the low-down?”
“A five day criminal celebration, that’s what it is. They think they’re being so clever, doing it right under our noses. We know this ain’t no literary festival.”
They walk away from the Cathedral, the spire a dark dagger in the sky.
Noirwich Crime Writing Festival
Taking place from the 10th-14th September, Noirwich Crime Writing Festival brings the best criminal masterminds to Norwich City of Literature
for readings, events, masterclasses and more. Organised by The Crime Writers' Association
, University of East Anglia
, Writers' Centre Norwich and Waterstones
wich promises a series of brutally brilliant events for you to enjoy.
Read on for details of all the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival events:
Wednesday 10th SeptemberA Forgotten Mystery: The Life and Works of S.T. Haymon with Dr. John Curran6pm, Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, Free
The opening Noirwich event celebrates the life of S.T. Haymon; an unjustly forgotten crime writer. S.T. Haymon lived in Norwich for most of her life and wrote childrens’ fiction before turning her hand to murder. Dr John Curran, who describes Haymon as one of his favourite writers, will lead this event exploring her life and work. Book your free ticket | More information
New Voices, Old Places with Tom Benn, Eva Dolan and Oliver Harris7.30pm, Waterstones Castle Street, £6 / £4 conc with £3 redeemable against the price of a book at the event and a free glass of wine.
Meet Tom Benn, Eva Dolan and Oliver Harris; the next generation of crime novelists, and get a guided tour around the mean streets of crime writing. These up and coming writers will discuss how setting has influenced their writing, and their burgeoning careers. The conversation will be expertly guided by Waterstones Manager Ben Richardson. Book your ticket
| More information
Thursday 11th SeptemberThe New Hercule Poirot Mystery with Sophie Hannah and Dr. John Curran8pm, Norwich Playhouse, £12/£10 conc
Join us for the launch of the first Agatha Christie novel in almost forty years. Sophie Hannah, who is best known for her twisted psychological thrillers, will discuss the challenges and delights of resuscitating the cultural institution of Poirot and give a short reading from The Monogram Murders
. She’ll be joined on stage by Christie expert John Curran, and together they’ll discuss the life, legacy and writing of Christie, Queen of Crime.Book your ticket
| More information
Friday 12th SeptemberThe Skeleton Road: An Evening with Val McDermid 8pm, Norwich Playhouse, £12/£10 conc
Val McDermid, an icon in the contemporary crime world, joins us to launch her latest book The Skeleton Road
. McDermid, an award-winning novelist known for her chilling psychological thrillers and cutting edge procedurals, will discuss the challenges and delights of writing murderous mysteries with Henry Sutton. Book your ticket
| More information
Saturday 13th September
The Golden Age of Nordic NoirA Crime Thriller Masterclass with Henry Sutton10am-1pm, Writers’ Centre Norwich, £40 or £60 with Simon Brett Masterclass.
10.30am-4.30pm, Cinema City Education Space, £40/£30 conc
Enjoy a day dedicated to the art of Nordic Noir. Trish Sheil, film academic, and Barry Forshaw, a leading expert on crime fiction and film, will help you to explore the all-pervading influence of the Scandinavian wave. Using short clips, iconic moments in film history and their personal knowledge, the tutors will guide you through the history of Noir, focussing on the Nordic classics and then exploring French crime film and television, and the blossoming of UK crime drama.
Book your ticket | More information
Hoping to turn your hand to murder? Get to grips with your crime novel under the expert tutelage of Henry Sutton, co-director of UEA’s Creative Masters and accomplished author. You’ll work on enhancing characterisation and cementing motivations, making sure your characters are believable and well-rounded. Henry will also advise you on writing innovatively within the crime thriller genre.Book your ticket
| More information
A Detective Fiction Masterclass with Simon Brett2-5pm, Writers’ Centre Norwich, £40 or £60 with Henry Sutton Masterclass
Get your detective novel up to scratch with expert crime writer Simon Brett, author of over 90 books. Simon will guide you through the traditions of the detective novel, using classic examples to illuminate your successes and failures, and helping you to strengthen and polish your novel.
Sponsored by CWA Diamond DaggerBook your ticket
| More informationCelebrating the CWA Diamond Dagger with Simon Brett and John Harvey7.30pm, Waterstones, Norwich, £6/£4 concessions with £3 redeemable from Simon’s latest book at the event and a free glass of wine
Simon Brett and John Harvey, CWA Diamond Dagger winners, will reveal the secrets to a long and successful crime writing career, offering you an intriguing glimpse into the mind of an experienced novelist. Book your ticket | More information
Sunday 14th SeptemberNoirwich Crime Writing Festival Presents Megan Abbott2.30pm, Norwich Cathedral Hostry, £6/£4 concessions with £3 redeemable off the price of the book at the event
Megan Abbott is known for pushing the crime genre into new and compelling places, and is already being compared to Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame. In this rare UK appearance Magena will be joined by Henry Sutton for a discussion around the art of crime fiction, including suspense, secrets and desire. Book your ticket
| More information
The Killer Inside Me: A Noirwich Frank’s Bar Film ScreeningSunday 14th September 2014, 5pm, Free
Top off the week with a Bloody Mary and a screening of The Killer Inside Me at Frank’s Bar in Norwich. Based on Jim Thompson’s bestselling novel, The Killer Inside Me tells the tale of meek and mild-mannered deputy sheriff Lou Ford. Lou’s got problems- with women, with his job, with the corpses which just keep piling up. And then there’s his own unsavoury habits; from sadistic sex to sociopathic rages. This 2010 adaptation stars Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, and has garnered critical acclaim and controversial commentary - there’s no need to book, just turn up!More informationAs part of Noirwich Crime Writing Festival you can buy a reduced price Festival group ticket – more details below:
If you’re attending all five of our paid-for author events, you can get a 15% discount
on the total cost. Simply add the below five events to your online shopping basket. Once all five have been selected, add the code Noirwich5
in the ‘promotion code’ box and click ‘proceed’. Your discount will then be applied.
New Voices, Old Places with Tom Benn, Eva Dolan and Oliver Harris
The New Hercule Poirot Mystery with Sophie Hannah and Dr. John Curran
The Skeleton Road: An Evening with Val McDermid
Celebrating the CWA Diamond Dagger with Simon Brett and John Harvey
Noirwich Crime Writing Festival Presents Megan Abbott
is brought to you by The Crime Writers' Association, University of East Anglia, Waterstones and Writers' Centre Norwich.
Writers' Centre Norwich Announces ACE NPO Award
Writers’ Centre Norwich is delighted to be awarded National Portfolio Organisation funding to the amount of £466,405 today as part of the Arts Council England National Portfolio settlement.
The decision to award WCN these funds is justification of the exciting plans that WCN has developed to become a National Centre for Writing from April 2015.
The total award also marks an exciting collaboration between WCN and the British Centre for Literary Translation (with the support of University of East Anglia) whereby the previously ACE funded public programmes of BCLT will be transferred to the National Centre for Writing from April 2015.
This collaboration responds to both the ever closer working relationships between the two organisations, and the need to deliver outstanding work in the most efficient way possible.
As such, today’s funding award is not an increase in funding for WCN in real terms. Instead, the settlement offers great value for money as the combination between BCLT’s public programme of work and WCN’s programme offers a small reduction in overall costs, achieved through cost savings in office administration and other efficiencies.
As well as a chance to work more efficiently, it was a shared belief in the centrality of literary translation, creative writing and reading, and the desire to put those beliefs at the heart of our culture that prompted the partners at WCN, BCLT and UEA to explore new ways of developing and delivering programmes focusing on talent development, engagement, innovation, access for young people and international exchange.
Whilst the public programme of BCLT’s work is taken on by the National Centre for Writing, the non-public programmes will remain at BCLT’s vibrant academic hub at UEA. The close working relationship that this will foster between UEA, BCLT academic and the National Centre for Writing will be reflected in ambitious new programmes and activities nationally and internationally.
Chris Gribble, CEO of Writers’ Centre Norwich says:
“We are absolutely delighted that Arts Council England has recognised our expertise, track record and capacity in these areas. WCN and our key partners are developing a new organisation as well as a new physical space for the National Centre for Writing in the heart of Norwich, England’s UNESCO World City of Literature. This award is a great endorsement of that aim.”
Dr Duncan Large, Academic Director of BCLT says:
“The BCLT welcomes this wonderful news. It crowns our many successful collaborations with the Writers' Centre Norwich, and marks a new era in our partnership. We are immensely excited at the prospect of helping to shape the new National Centre for Writing as a centre of excellence in literary translation.”
Prof Peter Womack, Head of the School of Literature Drama and Creative Writing (UEA) says:
“We welcome this decision very warmly, not only because of the joint initiatives the funding will make possible, but also because it marks and recognises a new kind of creative co-operation between the university and the public realm.”
‘The Unexpected Professor’. John Carey in Conversation with D.J.Taylor.
‘Reading makes you see that the ordinary is never ordinary’.
As part of the 2014 Worlds Literature Festival, literary critic and Professor of literature John Carey was joined in conversation by local writer D.J. Taylor at Norwich Playhouse. Full of tales of grammar school, Oxford colleges and a historic London, the evening was very fitting to the festival’s theme of nostalgia; a very English nostalgia.
The evening began with both John Carey and D.J. Taylor reminiscing about their respective days as an Oxford student. Taylor recalled his fellow students’ impersonations of their excited literature professor as he spoke of the work of Charles Dickens- that lecturer was John Carey.
The theme of nostalgia continued as Carey spoke of his
childhood in 1930s London and how his reading in this time developed his feelings towards literature. Carey stated that his childhood was especially middle class using the example of his regular browsing of huge bound copies of turn of the century Figaro Illustre in his father’s drawing room. It was noted, however, that middle class childhood generally receives less exposure in art and literature than that of the working classes. Perhaps then, this type of nostalgia may be seen as relatively scarce and slightly unusual.
Carey explained how his childhood shaped him through his upbringing, education and reading. He attended a London grammar school where a teacher recommended Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter. This book in which humans were only the hunters and the enemies, opened his mind to a new way of feeling and thinking, specifically towards literature. Carey claims that he is who he is today because of his grammar school education, that without it he would not have been able to achieve what he has. Carey was quite defensive of the grammar school system, but sees its disadvantages. He believes that he would not have been able to thrive at other schools and that even today he can see many middle class children feel they must hide their backgrounds from their peers, a view which members of the evening’s audience certainly agreed with.
After receiving a scholarship for Oxford University and later a Congratulatory First in his degree, Carey began to teach at Christ Church College, Oxford where his class consciousness developed. Describing this period as ‘Brideshead Revisited in the 1950s’ and ‘incredibly aristocratic,’ Carey spoke about being referred to as a ‘no-one’ and the attitude of entitlement which many of the students there held. An unusual environment for a former grammar school boy.
As a lecturer at Oxford, Carey campaigned for a change in the Literature syllabus, a move away from the previous reforms of J.R.R Tolkein and C.S. Lewis. Until Carey’s intervention (alongside others) little literature produced after 1832 was taught at Oxford. Carey called for a need to keep up with current literature and it was through this that his interest in Victorian literature continued to grow.
D.J. Taylor used this moment to describe Carey as ‘an anti-academic academic,’ a label which Carey approved of. Perhaps this term appears so apt due to Carey’s views on the opinion of art. According to Carey, when it comes to art, whether that be an extravagant painting or a short story, there is not an absolute judgement. He asks how one person’s opinion can be more valuable, or even more correct than another’s and suggests that if he is unable to persuade a person to his own opinion of a piece of art, ‘they are not inferior, they are just different’. Indeed, all art is subjective. If something is classed as great art it is not, as Carey proposes, ‘written in the sky’.
Interestingly, Carey described how we, as a people, have always strived to place value on art. He first gave the example of theological art; it is God who chooses what is good and bad art. He also spoke of neuro-aestheticians who research the reactions of the brain when viewing art during a scan. Ultimately, positive reactions to art in these scans would determine what can be classed as ‘good’.
To conclude the evening’s conversation, Carey expressed his views on reading and the benefits and advantages it undoubtedly brings. He stated that by reading, one is inviting self-doubt and showing willingness to challenge one’s own perceptions. ‘Book burners,’ stated Carey ‘try to destroy ideas different from their own, readers do the opposite’.
By the end of the evening, audience members were full of feelings of self-belief and felt that their opinion mattered equally as much as the next person’s. The conversation between John Carey and D.J. Taylor proved to be insightful and inspiring, leaving the audience with a long reading list, many of which are Carey’s own titles.
Find out more about the 2014 Worlds Literature Festival.
Find out more about John Carey.
Tarka the Otter- Henry Williamson
Lord of the Flies- William Golding
The Hanging- George Orwell
What Good are the Arts?- John Carey
The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life- John Carey
Thackeray: Prodigal Genius- John Carey
Denise Riley opens the Worlds Literature Festival Salon
What I want back is what I was
Before the bed, before the knife,
Before the brooch-pin and the salve
Fixed me in this parenthesis;
Horses fluent in the wind,
A place, a time gone out of mind.
From ‘The Eye-Mote’ by Sylvia Plath
In this, the tenth year of Worlds, forty writers gathered from across the globe to sit around a table in the beautiful Cathedral Hostry and introduce themselves to each other before settling in for four days of discussion, provocations and thought around the theme of nostalgia.
Is nostalgia a bromide? asks Denise Riley in the first of our Worlds Literature Festival 14 Salon provocations. Denise’s approach is indeed provoking. Introducing the theme a couple of hours earlier, Jon Cook talked of Odysseus and his epic quest, and the classic painful pull of home. Many of the writers around the room said that they often feel the siren call of nostalgia threading throughout their work. Their initial response to the term was mainly positive.
Yet Riley has no soft feelings for nostalgia. She says that the current usage of the term represents ‘a virus of weakening which is spreading all over our culture like an oily paste.’
Bromide is a popular 19th Century sedative which induces a state of detached sleepiness. Riley suggests that our current use of the term nostalgia as representing an idealised version of the past, is a kind of verbal bromide.
As nostalgia is not the same as reminiscence. It sanitises as it is expressed. It places the past at some safe distance, allowing us to believe that the past is over, that it is more sealed off than it actually is. It smoothes over like a tranquiliser, like a bromide, what ought to be raw and jagged.
Why is this weakened form of nostalgia so rampant? Watered down versions of the overused term abound. What are the sources of this cloudy vagueness? asks Denise.
Nostalgia is not the same as the search for the past or some lost good. There’s something a lot riskier going on than that; the underbelly of sanitised nostalgia is dark. Nostalgia doesn’t repeat or duplicate memory. It may even distort or evade the real work of memory.
Could nostalgia be a form of self deception, a social disease? Part of a profoundly conservative narrative indicating a lack of authenticity which is hostile to lived history?
Denise moves on from these questions to point out that you can in fact be nostalgic for a place you’ve never inhabited. And yes, nostalgia is a useful consolation which offers not only escapism, but also solace and self understanding for those who have been displaced. Indeed, you can feel nostalgia not only for the past, but for the future.
Could it be that nostalgia is a search for wholeness? A wanting to become that which you have always felt that you should be. Riley reads the final stanza from Plath’s 'The Eye Mote', and the memorable lines: ‘What I want back is what I was.../A Place, a time gone out of mind’. These lines evoke a wish for a past that may never have existed in the first place. The desire for an impossible wholeness.
More worryingly, the grand identifications of our social structures and religions may well rest on the same shaky foundations of the consolations of nostalgia. Reams of people pushing aside lived experience in search of an idea of what we must once have had in the past. But probably never did. Premature attachments to invented identifications.
Riley ends by positing that it is dangerous to pack so much into the hazy land of nostalgia. It holds too much. Instead we need to unpack the term, and look details of the past in the eye; using various forms of critique rather than the simple dark pull of nostalgia.
The discussion following the official provocation, starts with a defence of the term. Perhaps in the West nostalgia is somewhat embarrassing, but in other countries that are still searching for an identity, they need to look to their past in order to form their nationhood. When there is no collective meaning of the word home, then nostalgia can be useful. There are so many narratives that have not been written or told yet, so in many countries nostalgia is not narcissistic or conservative, but instead urgent and critical.
Yes, there are endless examples of how nostalgia is and has been put to political use for nefarious means. The nostalgic constructed version of the past always serves a present purpose in these cases. People are invited to feel sentimental about the past due to a realpolitik.
So is nostalgia intrinsically conservative? And therefore, for artists, to be avoided?
There is however, a difference between historical nostalgia and reflective nostalgia; the latter can be more personal and idiosyncratic, it can work as an individual approach to the past and an antidote to the official versions of things. As nostalgia doesn't have to have an object. Could that objectless personal desire perhaps not be a pure thing; a limitless urge for an integrity that has been lost?
Un-syrupy nostalgia can often be a call to action. Good writers can use that. In order to revive the term, the knowingness of nostalgia has to be deployed now, rather than dismissed. We have to sharpen up and remain authentic, without giving in to sentiment.
The writers end by agreeing that we need to separate out the various types of nostalgia in order to redeem the category. Maybe there’s a better word or words for the many different forms of nostalgia that we’re discussing, as the word nostalgia is too compromised, soft-focused for the complicated forms of personal experience it seeks to describe. The word nostalgia in its current incarnation obfuscates more than it clarifies.
Listen to Denise Riley's provocation in full here:
Stop, Collaborate and Listen: Live Literature Symposium 2014
Writers' Centre Norwich's Marketing Intern Sarah, reflects on her experience at the Live Literature Symposium 2014.
I think I’ll start with a confession. I’m not a writer. I’m certainly not a poet or a Live Literature performer. I am, however, a reader and a lover of performance. Live Literature though? Spoken Word artists? In all honesty, when I was invited to attend the Live Literature Symposium: Stop, Collaborate and Listen, I wasn’t entirely sure if I had ever seen anything which may class itself as such. Nevertheless, my curiosity took hold and I made my way to Norwich Arts Centre to gain an insight into the world of Live Literature and the wonders it has to offer. What wonders they were.
Throughout the day, Hannah Walker
did a wonderful job of leading the debate and discussion. The day began with a provocation from poet, Fergus Evans
who discussed the idea of art forms working together, a theme which would come to underly the entire day. Fergus described what Live Literature artists are doing as not being new; “there have been storytellers and poets as long as there has been people,” but “what we do as artists in important and meaningful and can be life changing.”
Discussion opened up to the well-versed attendees very quickly leading to a conversation about the labelling of art. It seems that within the Live Literature world (and perhaps that of all writers) it can so easily be deemed as a betrayal if a writer chooses to step outside of their chosen art form and use different aspects in their creation. It appears that it is all too easy for audiences, critics or even other artists to snatch away performers’ titles claiming ‘you’re not a real poet’ simply because the story being told called for something more.
It emerged that categorising is a necessary part of human nature, for we have a need to define something in order to fully understand it. For example, audiences leave a performance stating that it was an evening of comedy and create expectations for future audiences, despite the performance perhaps being more than this. It is understandable why marketing and programming teams feel they must label performances because they aim to attract an audience. Audiences require a definition in order to prove that they will enjoy the show, that it isn’t a risk to part with their money. Yet, it should be the responsibility of marketing to approach the artist and discover how they wish their work to be labelled. Without communication, categorising causes harmful boundaries for Live Literature. Many artists at the symposium agreed that these boundaries must be broken in order for the art form to expand and grow.
The next part of the day was a discussion between Live Literature performer Ross Sutherland
and his producer Tom Searle. The conversation of categorisation continued as Ross spoke about how pigeonholing can cause an artist to remain inside their familiar sphere. It is exciting to step outside of your own genre as an artist, to break the boundaries and to challenge the labels; it is what stops your work from being mechanical.
Discussion swiftly turned to the collaboration between Ross, a performer, and Tom, a producer. It was hinted that collaboration may be seen as a battle, limited to only heated conversations than any full blown fights. Ross explained that bureaucracy is a necessity in performance and Tom helped to take care of the ‘donkey work’ so that Ross could concentrate on the creativity. A producer’s role is more than simply writing press releases, they offer critique. Through dialogue with attendees it was agreed that collaboration was often better when the producer had some creative experience for they were more able to offer advice when it is going wrong and reassurance when it is going right.
Over lunch we were treated to a preview of Byron Vincent
’s show ‘Talk About Something You Like’
and I must admit, it was this performance which made me come to the realisation that Live Literature is for me and I think it is for everyone. Byron’s show explored the issues of mental health through dark humour and was met with a rapturous applause. It was funny yet poignant and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
After lunch, Francesca Beard
offered her provocation entitled ‘Are You Tough Enough on Your Work?’ Bravely, Francesca began by stating that she wanted to make the audience angry and then proceeded to say that it was the accessibility of Live Literature which makes it so great, but it also this which can make it so terrible and often mediocre. This mediocrity stems only from artists deciding that what they are doing is ‘good enough’. If artists care about their art, it needs to be more that just entertainment, it needs to be better than ‘good enough’. Most of all, artists need to be honest with themselves and honest with each other.
Next, poet Luke Wright
gave his provocation ‘Survival of the Fittest’
arguing that artists should be rooting for each other and that there should be more faith in the area of Spoken Word. It is important for artists to invest in producers and promoters and in their own brands for it is this which will get audiences. If the area is to grow, then investment of all kind is necessary.
The symposium ended with an array of views from attendees, many whose opinions had changed from when they first arrived that morning, including myself. With little knowledge of Live Literature, I had not quite known what to expect, but to be able to step into the world of writers and performers, if only for a day, proved to be a real treat and very beneficial. My eyes were opened to the issues which artists face daily, from categorisation to financial matters. Live Literature is entertaining and moving, exciting and innovative and deserves a great deal of attention. Mostly, the symposium resulted in an understanding of different art forms and how collaboration, sharing support and sharing knowledge can be beneficial for all.
See what others had to say on Twitter #livelitsymp
Stop, Collaborate and Listen: Live Literature Symposium 2014 was organised in collaboration with Apples and Snakes.
Choose the Heroines You Need: Reporting from the Literary Festival in the Day
Our festival in a day took place on a idyllic summer’s afternoon at Norwich Cathedral, the spire in perfect relief against a wide blue sky, the pair of peregrine falcons taking turns around the turret.
We were lucky to have writer and tutor Rachel Hore presiding over events, a thoughtful interlocutor who fully engaged with all of the writers and the texts, drawing out the stories with aplomb.
The Lives of Great Women Writers started at pace as Hermione Lee gave a fascinating talk on Penelope Fitzgerald. Best known for The Blue Flower, Fitzgerald’s story is an encouraging one for any writer who may feel like it’s too late– she started publishing at 60, and got through 12 books by 80.
Her life story is also inspiring as a feat of endurance; after a promising start Fitzgerald went on to find hard times, starting with the scattering of her life with the coming of the war. Her beloved husband Desmond came home from war changed and struggled to ever get back on his feet. Penelope and her three children struggled financially, facing destitution when Desmond had to leave his job, and desperation when the houseboat that they were living on sank.
When her husband died, Fitzgerald finally took to writing and the experiences she’d stored up over the years formed the subjects of her first novels. But interestingly, it was when she turned away from these personal experiences that, according to Lee, Fitzgerald created her greatest work.
What was special about Fitzgerald as a writer? The clash between reason and emotion is foremost; her writing has violent troubling stuff in it (a theme throughout the day). As with the other writers present this day, Fitzgerald believed that it is the unexplored that can destroy. The dark power of the buried is what she fought with.
As such Fitzgerald was drawn to obsessives and compulsives. Her world was full of ‘exterminators’ and ‘exterminatees’ and she felt herself to be one of the latter. The world was not necessarily a kind place for Fitzgerald and this is conveyed in her work, however she valued kindness, truthfulness and fortitude. She was interested in hope.
Lee talks of the incredible condescension Fitzgerald faced in the literary world, her slightly bumbling older lady persona a foil that it was up to those around her to work out. Similarly, in her work Fitzgerald never gave everything away, she held back, leaving a great deal of mystery in there. She researched heavily but conveyed this research lightly in her perfectly formed worlds; ‘storing up knowledge and leaving it to ripen’. She said she was interested in writing fragments; a dream like series of events that shouldn’t have to cohere.
The talk flew by, Hermione Lee’s luminous phrasing leaving me inspired and wanting more, just as Fitzgerald did. Her biography is surely a work of art in itself, and highly recommended.
Unfortunately there isn’t time or space to give each event its due, so leaping through, here are some of the highlights:
Samantha Ellis talked warmly and engagingly about the genesis of her book How To Be A Heroine
; a re-evaluation of the heroines she adopted as a child.
Her story is one of self discovery through the characters she identified with when growing up, characters who offered different ways of being; alternatives to the projected life her Iraqi-Jewish family expected for her.
Reading here was fundamental, life-changing, and the audience was fully engaged when talking of their own relationships with Anne of Avonlea (interesting reading of Anne on Jezebel here
), Posy from Ballet Shoes
, Katy Carr from What Katy Did
(close to my own heart!) and of course Catherine Earnshaw v Jane Eyre.
Growing up Ellis identified with Catherine. Why? Because at the time she needed Catherine’s intensity, her selfish passion.
Interesting idea – that we choose the heroines we need at the time. There aren’t enough spinster heroines, and too often fictional girls as they grow up become boring, pale, according to Ellis. Think of Anne of Green Gables, the demise of the sisters from Little Women as soon as they settle down. And what of today’s heroines?
The choral accompaniment of evensong faded as Brian and Mary Talbot took to the stage to talk about their collaborative graphic novel, Sally Heathcote: Suffragette
The novel came out of Mary’s desire to learn about the Suffragettes more fully; and this is a theme – writers following their instinct for a story, knowing that it’ll deliver if they follow their nose.
In this case the story unearthed a rather unflattering side to the famous Mrs Pankhurst as well as many divisions in the movement. It also high-lights the very real suffering the suffragettes underwent through hunger strike and force-feeding.
Mary, who also wrote the prize-winning Dotter of her Father’s Eyes
, (next on my reading list) is working on another feminist icon for her next book; one to look forward to.
We enjoyed the tolling of the bells as the peregrines called and Diane Setterfield took to the stage.
Author of the famous The Thirteenth Tale, her new novel Bellman & Black is ghostly in a subtle way. Focussing on the power of the past, and of the dark stories we hide from, (the theme of the day), this gripping story also gives corvids a voice (Norfolk is the best county for crows, says Setterfield).
A crow is not just a harbinger of death, but also a ghostly presence that really looks us humans in the eye, and what do they make of us? Their wing breaks up the light, reflecting colour back at us from out of the dark, much as Setterfield reflects light out of the dark story that William won’t tell himself.
Finally, Raffaella Barker gave the first ever reading of her new novel, From A Distance, which is set around Norfolk and Cornwall. (Raffaella’s account of growing up in Norfolk was in the Guardian recently and makes for a fascinating read). The prime mover in the novel is Luisa, an Italian mother, who is watching her children grow up and move away. It was satisfying to hear from a fictional mother, as Ellis had earlier remarked how mothers often get a rough deal in fiction and that there isn’t enough work from their point of view. Barker also talked of how important humour is in a story, how writers should be able to make their readers laugh and cry, as well as how important place is in a novel, both fictional and geographical.
In all it was an inspiring afternoon of readings and conversation in a beautiful setting, a thoroughly enjoyable set of events. Many thanks to all of the writers involved, and to Rachel Hore for guiding us through the day with such skill.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the works and the writers involved, do see the links below:Visit Hermione Lee's website
or read a review of Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.
Visit Samantha Ellis' website
or read a review of How to be a Heroine.Visit Mary and Bryan Talbot's website
or read a review of Sally Heathcote: Suffragette
Visit Diane Setterfield's website
.Visit Raffaella Barker's website
or read a review of From a Distance.Visit Rachel Hore's website
A SPACE to Call Your Own- A Guest Blog by Kieren McCallum
SPACE volunteer, Kieren McCallum, describes how SPACE has encouraged him to try new things and overcome old obstacles:
The final frontier…
These are the voyages of–
OK that may not have worked as an opening gambit. Cheesy? Yup. Obvious? Check. Likely to pass some people by? Sure. Still, the first thing I learned from SPACE is that you have to dive in headfirst. Your ideas might not work out, but don’t play it safe: go for gold. I realised this a few seconds after standing in front of my first class. The group consisted of thirty disinterested young people who hadn’t expected to be there at all (their teacher had seized the opportunity to take a period off).
I came into SPACE expecting to regularly be terrified, and in that respect I was disappointed: I skipped past terror straight to fatalism.
My opening of ‘hi everyone, today we’re going to write poetry’ was not hugely successful. Following that up with a willingness to make a fool of myself was, however, much more effective.
In retrospect I recognise that feeling of ‘sod it, there’s only my self-respect at stake’ from some of my own teachers. Since my first day with SPACE I haven’t been particularly scared of anything. Except for clowns and the future and all that.
What does volunteering with SPACE involve? Step one is to identify what you can contribute.
I’m a writer, like many SPACE volunteers, and I write flash fiction. Flash fiction refers to very short stories, often under a hundred words. Part of my ‘pitch’ at my interview was that writing flash fiction would help young people overcome the difficulties I faced when trying to write at their age. These difficulties were overwriting and not finishing my stories. I found overwriting discouraging because I would write page after page without getting anywhere. With so much effort required to achieve so little, I would always give up before the end.
The flash fiction workshops we’ve run have aimed to get the young people thinking about what is essential to a story and what is superfluous. Hopefully they avoid overwriting and the pace of their story is enough to see them through to the end.
Step two works quite differently: now you know the young people you’re working with. You need to tailor the sessions to fit their needs. It’s no longer about delivering what you’re good at: it’s about finding something new outside your comfort zone that will help them best.
Next week we’re running a workshop on poetry. I never write poems and the list of poems I enjoy is quite short.
Regardless, I’m excited about this session. We’re stealing an exercise one of my friends used in their workshop. My friend got the group to cut up a ‘boring’ poem (‘The Whitsun Weddings’ by Philip Larkin) and, with copious application of Pritt Stick, rearrange it into something new. The combination of scissors (note to self: definitely safety scissors), glue and literary vandalism was a big success.
Building up a regular group at our weekly session at Gorleston library has taken a bit of work, but it has paid off with a group of really enthusiastic, talented and friendly young people. It is encouraging to see that they all have the same problems I had, so I can help them out no problem, right?
Well, it isn’t quite as easy as that. Problems I currently face when trying to write include:
Lack of confidence.
Feeling I’m not getting anywhere.
Struggling to finish stories.
Eh. All familiar obstacles, but ones I’m getting better at overcoming. Running these sessions benefits me as much as I hope it benefits our group of young people. It’s easy to be inspired to write after an afternoon with such talented young people.
Find out more about SPACE and hear from other volunteers.
About Kieren McCallum
Kieren McCallum is a writer and UEA graduate. He has been volunteering with SPACE since October 2013. His interests include pestering Writers’ Centre Norwich to let him do as many interesting things as possible and writing flash fiction. One day he will be famous. That day is not today.
Follow Kieren on Twitter @KierenMcCallum and read his writing online.
Announcing the 2014 Norfolk and Norwich Festival City of Literature Events
The Norfolk and Norwich Festival is back, and this year it’s bigger and better than ever. We’ve programmed a series of extra special events, including an evening with *Ray Davies of The Kinks,our second Harriet Martineau Lecture, given by celebrated novelist Kate Mosse, and a day long literary festival celebrating great women writers. For the first time, our events have been inspired and dedicated to Norwich, City of Literature, bringing the best local and international writers to our fine city.
With 14 events in the City of Literature line up, I barely know where to begin – but I’ll start with Literary Death Match, the first event of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival to take place in the stunning Spiegeltent. AL Kennedy has already been confirmed as one of our judges, and the night promises raucous wordplay and spirited merriment.
If you like your literary events lively, our Live Literature events at Norwich Arts Centre are sure to be up your street. Ross Sutherland will be previewing his new show Stand By For Tape Back-Up
and Molly Naylor will be exploring the teenage experience with her show If Destroyed Still True
, with a musical accompaniment from Iain Ross- tickets for both of these shows can be bought for £14 through our joint ticket offer
. Our third event, The Shroud
, is a two man miniature epic, and is part of the [LIVE] Art Club.
After the success of our inaugural Harriet Martineau Lecture
, we’ve invited Kate Mosse (author of Labyrinth
and The Taxidermist’s Daughter
) to give the second lecture celebrating the life and legacy of radical thinker Harriet Martineau
. We’d also like to welcome you to our Norwich City of Literature Salon
, where you can get involved in your City of Literature.
I’ve been humming hits from The Kinks back catalogue as I’ve been typing, thanks to our event with lead singer Ray Davies
. Davies will talk about his new biography, Americana
, giving you an intimate glimpse into what music and fame really meant to him.
Like your writing bloodthirsty? Masters of horror, Darren Shan and Alexander Gordon Smith will be discussing writing and reading in an edge of your seat event
, which is destined to be a hit with the younger readers.
Our final Playhouse event is with Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard
, whose series of My Struggle novels was a controversial bestseller in his home country and is causing a buzz over here too. Having just read this Guardian article
, I’m already looking forward to this event (with a dollop of healthy trepidation)!
Last, but certainly not least, is our day long literary festival The Lives of Great Women Writers
. For only £20 you can buy a ticket for the full day of events, or get an individual ticket for £6. We’ll be kicking off with an event celebrating the life of Penelope Fitzgerald
, with biographer Hermione Lee, which is sure to shed a new light on the life of this intriguing novelist. Next, we’ll be joined by Samantha Ellis
who will discuss her memoir How to Be a Heroine
, and how her literary heroines (from Cathy Earnshaw to the Little Mermaid) shaped her life and writing.
Writing team Mary and Bryan Talbot created the first graphic novel to win the Costa Biography Award (Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes
). With their second graphic novel they’ve turned their focus to women’s emancipation in Sally Heathcote: Suffragette
and they’ll be discussing the challenges and delights of tackling such a tough topic in the third of our festival events
I’m eagerly awaiting our event with Diane Setterfield, having adored her novel The Thirteenth Tale (which was recently adapted for BBC). You’ll hear all about her new novel Bellman & Black, its writing process, and how her reading affects her writing. Rounding off the day will be local writer Raffaella Barker, whose latest novel From a Distance captures the secret and flaws which shape family life across generations. I’m hoping to discover how Norfolk and her writing family have influenced Raffaella’s own craft.
As I’ve been writing, tickets are already flying off the (imaginary) shelves, so I would urge you to book quickly! You can view the whole City of Literature Festival Programme here
, and individual tickets are available for all our of events.
In the meantime, I’m off to have a proper hunt through the entire Norfolk & Norwich festival line-up
– I’d hate to miss anything!
*Suggested musical accompaniment for this blog:
Rich Pickings- A Guest Blog from Bianca Jane Winter
Bianca Jane Winter, Readers' Circle member, blogs about choosing the 2014 Summer Reads and reader expectations.
Participants in Writers' Centre Norwich's Readers' Circle
have one thing in common: we love reading. But perhaps that's as much as can be said about our similarities. So how can a diverse group agree on a selection of a handful of books?
What has surprised me about the Readers' Circle is that readers have taken on a commitment to discovering the clutch of books for Summer Reads
2014 with utter seriousness. That's not to say it hasn't been a process full of fun and enjoyment, but it has been evident in all my encounters with members of the Readers' Circle that serving the ultimate purpose – of bringing together a collection of books that will delight and inspire a wide readership – takes precedence over personal preferences.
I'd say the rule of thumb for the Readers' Circle ought to be expect the unexpected: so many reader reviews begin 'I didn't expect to like this...' or 'I had high hopes, but...' - and it's no exaggeration to say that most of us formed some notion about what we were about to read before we did so (elaborate tactics of selection to avoid this are a whole other story)! Selecting a book inherently involves a judgement – but we could perhaps argue that the best books are those that challenge our judgement; that surprise us, that move us in ways we couldn't possibly anticipate.
Revealing, too, is the way that our understanding of ourselves as readers has shifted as a result of this process – many people are open to new genres, new authors and new imprints. But it's not just an increase in appetite for different sorts of books that I've noticed – it's what we learn when we're forced to articulate our opinions. Discussing books, contrary to my assumption that it would reveal 'camps' of people with similar tastes, only served to highlight how diverse a group of readers had come together. I'm now celebrating the fact that, as readers, we are completely unique, and our passions simply can't be predicted.
Such a diverse group of readers makes it impossible, of course, to reach a consensus about the greatness of each of the books that make the final selection. But what can be guaranteed is that each book has earned its place by eliciting passions and gaining advocates that can champion even the book’s flaws. For no book is perfect, and all that can be promised for Summer Reads 2014 is a collection of books that are varied in tone, subject matter and form, but that all possess qualities that readers have fought for and proclaimed. We each, no doubt, have our own list of books to recommend, but by harnessing the collective in order to reach the final selection, we ensure that Summer Reads represent a breadth of opinion, and is the richer for that.
Underpinning Summer Reads is a belief in the transformative power of reading, a belief borne out by the process of selection and shared by every member of the Readers' Circle. It results in a collection of books that have been interrogated, argued for, loved and sometimes loathed – a collection of such richness and varied appeal that it simply couldn't be selected by a single person. So, I urge every keen reader to pick up some Summer Reads and expect nothing except a powerful experience.
Find out more about the Readers' Circle
Find out more about Summer Reads.
Read Julia Webb's blog on choosing the Summer Reads.
About Bianca Jane Winter
Bianca's love affair with books started when she was 2 by copying words from the Encyclopedia Britannica, includes much illicit 'reading in the dark' as a child, and has recently encompassed a love-hate relationship with the Man Booker prize. Participating in the Readers' Circle, with such a dedicated and erudite bunch of readers, has been a real privilege.
Professionally, Bianca is a Digital Producer working with two companies, Hoipolloi and METIS, based in the East. She's worked to develop new work and support artists and writers over the last six years, and before that, she graduated from a degree in Fine Art.
Visit Bianca's Blog
Follow Bianca on Twitter @DiscoverBrevity
Artistic Rivalry and Literary Friendships - A Guest Blog from Emma Claire Sweeney
Emma Claire Sweeney, Escalator Winner, writes on literary friendships and her new project Something Rhymed.
By the time I won an Escalator Award back in 2005, I was already firm friends with Emily Midorikawa – the fellow writer with whom I've launched Something Rhymed, a website about famous literary friendships.
I met Emily during a time when we were both living in rural Japan – working as English teachers by day, and scribbling stories in secret by night.
We both have fond memories of the moment we first dared to admit our literary ambitions: we were in a garlic-themed restaurant at the time, chatting over bowls of noodles.
I clearly remember talking with Emily that night about the way novels give us the illusion that we can mind read. Over a decade later, I keep circling back to this notion. But I only recently realised that my preoccupation with this likely stems from my yearning to be a more eloquent interpreter of my autistic sister – something I've blogged about here.
The Waifs and Strays of Sea View Lodge
– the novel I'm completing for my agent, Veronique Baxter at David Higham – is inspired by my relationship with my sister, and its main theme goes back to my first literary conversation with Emily: the impossibility of truly knowing even those closest to us but the restorative powers of our attempts to do so.
From our discussion back in that garlic-themed restaurant to the final redrafting of this novel, Emily has joined me on each of my deviations, uphill struggles, and delightful discoveries. And she has given me the great privilege of sharing her intellectual, creative, and emotional journey too.
Until this point, our writing careers have grown roughly in tandem, but now, both nearing the end of novel drafts, we fear that the coming year could put new pressures on our relationship. Wary of the dangers of artistic rivalry, we are keen to glean tips from our literary heroines on how to sustain an invaluable friendship through potentially trickier times.
Throughout 2014, our new website, Something Rhymed
, will be profiling a different pair of female writer pals each month, and we’ll be challenging ourselves (and our blog followers) to complete an activity based on a prominent feature of that particular friendship.
We’ll be posting regular updates on our progress, and would love for you to get involved by letting us know of any literary pals we could profile.
Or you might like to make it your New Year’s resolution to complete the activities alongside us. You can find out about the first challenge here
About Emma Claire Sweeney
Emma Claire Sweeney won an Escalator Award back in 2005, after graduating with distinction from UEA’s Creative Writing MA. Her fiction has also been granted Arts Council and Royal Literary Fund Awards, and has been shortlisted for several others, including the Asham, Wasafiri and Fish. Most recently, she has been published in The Times
, and The Independent on Sunday
. She is represented by Veronique Baxter at David Higham and is currently completing The Waifs and Strays of Sea View Lodge
– a novel inspired by her autistic sister.
Last year, Emma Claire published The Memoir Garden
– an Arts Council sponsored collection of poems comprising the words and experiences of adults with learning disabilities.
Having co-written literary features, this year Emma Claire and her long-standing writer friend, Emily Midorikawa, launched Something Rhymed
Visit Emma Claire's website
Follow Emma Claire on Twitter @emmacsweeney
About Emily Midorikawa
Emily Midorikawa grew up in Yorkshire. She is a half-English, half-Japanese writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia and her work has been published in, amongst others, Aesthetica
, the Telegraph
, The Times
and the UEA anthology Otherwheres
Her as-yet-unpublished first novel A Tiny Speck of Black and then Nothing
came joint-third in the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2012, third in the Yeovil Literary Prize 2013, and was long-listed for the Mslexia Novel Competition 2013.
Emily is one of the writers involved with Tangled Roots
, a literary project that celebrates the stories of mixed-race families from Yorkshire. With her writer friend Emma Claire Sweeney, she runs the website Something Rhymed
, which profiles the literary friendships of famous authors.