News and views
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.
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
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 email@example.com
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
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.
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.
Story and Sugar- A Guest Blog from Escalator Winner James Ferron Anderson
James Ferron Anderson won a place on our 2006-2007 Escalator Literature Scheme and a TLC Free Read in 2011. His novel, The River and the Sea, was published by Rethink Press last year, after winning the Rethink Press New Novel Award.
Of course: we live by story. I want bread… and there’s a story there of me having the desire for bread, having no bread, planning to get bread. Not the most complex story. It goes on. What kind of bread? Will the shop have bread? Will this story have a happy ending? Well, it’s got a few layers. I tell myself stories of my hopes, fears, loves, hatreds, miseries, pleasures, and then buy into them.
This is the platitude that we…I, rather… understand and misunderstand our worlds through story. That realization came early, and that to explore these stories and the motivation behind them would be to understand the world better, and Jesus knows I needed that, sharpish.
But there was another level to which it could be taken: stories constructed with no illusion that what was being made had reality, that nebulous thing. The intentionally-made story, about people who never existed, doing things I usually had no experience of in places I probably had never been. An amalgam of the experienced and the read about. And unlike the story of the bread, and the few thousand other stories I’d tell myself every day, these I might choose to exhibit.
One of the first short stories I sent off anywhere, The Bog Menagerie, won the Bryan McMahon Short Story Award in Listowel, County Kerry and 2000 euro. When the letter came I phoned up a friend and read it to him. Is this a hoax? Think about those words in the letter… really carefully… I’ll read it again… Is this a fraud of some kind? I was shaking. I was shaking because if it was real somebody else had valued my plaything, my toy, my tool for trying to figure out what the hell was going on around me.
I never knew affirmation mattered until I got it.
I had a novel underway. It had been underway for four or five years. A novel is a heavy-duty JCB-tooled project in the world of story-telling construction. I submitted it for an Escalator Award. I got it. I remember being asked by Leila Telford to write a few words about how it felt. I said the affirmation mattered, the money mattered, the mentor mattered, the class on 'Reading in Public' mattered, the sometime company of the other winners mattered, the kudos for applying to an agent mattered. What part of it didn’t matter?
Yet I didn’t need Escalator to keep me working with words, incidents, relationships, consequences: the making-up of stuff. I wrote because the act of writing, even when frustrating, was always better than not writing. But what this award did was a magnified version of the Listowel and other awards: it took me out of the back room and kept the idea of making connections with readers via the page and its contents foregrounded. Of course writers benefit from sugar lumps that in various ways keep the pony trotting. My Escalator Award was more than a sugar lump (or a loaf of bread) in keeping me on the road that linked my images to the minds of others and not galloping off across the bogs and mires of solipsism. We can only thrive, if that is the word, for so long on neglect. We can only thrive so long in isolation. When I did take a slump in motivation a couple of years later a TLC Free Read Award shoved me back up onto my particular road.
I went on to write The River and The Sea
. It won the Rethink Press New Novels Award, and was published in November 2012. It’s a wonderful book, and I’m very pleased. I’m currently working on the provisionally titled Terminal City
, a rather noir love story set in Vancouver in 1940 and 1959. It’s going slowly but it’s going. Long may the pony trot.
More About James'
I was born in Northern Ireland where I worked as a weaver, glassblower and soldier. I moved to Norwich, partly to study but mostly to get my children away from the violence that was Northern Ireland in those years. I began to write in different forms, including poetry, short stories, plays and, more recently, novels. One of my first short stories, The Bog Menagerie
, won the Bryan MacMahon Short Story Award and 2000 euro in my native Ireland. All The Whole Wide World
, another short story, was broadcast on Short Story Radio. The River and The Sea
won the Rethink Press New Novels Award in 2012, and was published soon after.
Visit James' website.
High Impact- A Literary Tour with a Difference
As a book nerd of the highest order I go to a lot of literary events. A lot of signings, talks, discussions, readings- as long as there’s books involved I’m there. However, sometimes there’s an event that looks so brilliant I know that I’m going to tell all of my friends to come. High Impact is one of those events.
High Impact takes place over six days, across six cities, and features six best-selling and prize winning authors. The writers all hail from neighbouring countries Belgium and the Netherlands, and include authors Chika Unigwe and Herman Koch.
I heard Chika read earlier this year at Worlds from her latest novel, Night Dancer. I have rarely enjoyed a reading so much, or felt a room fall into such a deep silence. Chika has the gift of writing brilliantly, and the much-sought after but only occasionally achieved, gift of speaking brilliantly too. Her reading conjured up Africa and created a character so vivid that if you closed your eyes you could imagine her standing in front of you. I cannot wait to hear from her again, and would highly recommend her novels.
Herman Koch’s The Dinner is one of my best books of the year. Described as a cross between The Slap (Christos Tsiolkas) and We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver), The Dinner is a wicked narrative of crises and parental collusion. Interestingly Herman Koch also works as a comedy actor- so his reading is sure to be brilliant.
High Impact will arrive at Norwich Arts Centre on the 18th January, and you can buy your ticket from them online.
The other visiting authors include Lieve Joris, Poet Laureate Ramsey Nasr, Peter Terrin, a psychological thriller writer, and Judith Vanistendael, a graphic novelist. See below for a little more information about these writers:
Lieve Joris: whose journalism & non-fiction books on Africa, China, the Middle East & Europe have earned her the reputation as the VS Naipaul or Ryszard Kapuscinski of the Low Countries. Author of the acclaimed The Rebel’s Hour (Atlantic, 2008):
‘Powerful and timely, intensely imagined.’ - Paul Theroux
Ramsey Nasr: the Dutch Poet Laureate & all-round Renaissance Man (actor, director, poet, journalist & librettist), famed for his beautiful prose, provocative politics & exciting public appearances. Heavenly Life was published by Banipal in 2010.
‘With this collection Anglophone readers are introduced to a poet of global scope.’ – Marilyn Hacker
Peter Terrin: this year’s winner of the prestigious AKO Literature Prize & author of the magnificent psychological thriller The Guard (Maclehose Press, 2012):
'A rich and gripping mix of all the ingredients that make for a truly haunting atmosphere.' - Writers' Hub
Judith Vanistendael: the Posy Simmonds of Belgium; the bold & brilliant graphic novelist of When David Lost His Voice (Self Made Hero, 2012):
‘Big, bleak, brilliant and stark.’ – The Economist
High Impact is sponsored by Flanders House and the Netherlands Embassy in London and curated by Rosie Goldsmith. To find out more about the tour visit the High Impact website.
Remember, Remember the Fifth of November...
...When Writers’ Centre Norwich celebrated Norwich becoming a UNESCO City of Literature.
Last Monday we at WCN travelled down to the House of Lords to attend the London launch of Norwich: UNESCO City of Literature. Kindly hosted by Baroness Hollis of Heigham, the event was a wonderful opportunity to introduce Norwich to newcomers, and reaffirm the joy of Norwich to those who were already familiar with our fine city.
The event took place in the Cholmondley Room in the House of Lords, which overlooked the river Thames. The stunning scenery provided a wonderful backdrop to the conversation, and the beautiful book art generously loaned by Alexander Korzer-Robinson
created a buzz of interest well-suited to the literary gathering. Surrounded by old friends and new, we at WCN discussed Norwich’s striking literary heritage, and revealed our plans for the future.
Baroness Hollis’ speech encompassed the history of the city, including the subversive nature of Norwich, and the writers who have upheld the unofficial city motto of “Do different”; including Julian of Norwich, Thomas Paine and Harriet Martineau. WCN CEO Chris Gribble focused on the future of the city, revealing the new projects which will launch Norwich nationally as a UNESCO City of Literature.
Norwich is a well kept secret. In spite of Norwich’s beauty, charm and intriguing history, the city often seems to be dismissed by those not in the know. The House of Lords event was an important step in acknowledging Norwich’s achievements, and the achievements of those who live, work and study in the city. Norwich is only the 6th city in the world to become a City of Literature, and the first in England, making the city part of an elite international network.
Norwich is a fine city; it is a city “of striking merit”, it is “delicately beautiful” and “exquisitely fashioned”. It is all of those things, and it is also a city of remarkable literary heritage: the UNESCO City of Literature status is a well-deserved acknowledgment of all of these qualities, and we’re overjoyed that this has been recognised on the international stage.
In December we’ll be celebrating all over again in Blackfriars Hall in the heart of Norwich (and just down the road from our offices).
We’d like to thank our partners for supporting Writers’ Centre Norwich on the UNESCO City of Literature bid; Arts Council England
, Norfolk County Council
, Norwich City Council
and the University of East Anglia
We’d also like to thank all of those who attended the event, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
We hope to hear from you in the future, so please do keep in touch
Find out more about Norwich UNESCO City of Literature.
Read an article from the EDP about what the UNESCO status means for Norwich.
Take a look at some of the photos from the UNESCO event.
Read our UNESCO City of Literature Bid:
Past Escalator Winner Hayley Webster Blogs About Finding Her Writing Style
Hayley Webster, Escalator winner in 2005, has kindly written us a blog about her writing experiences:
I remember how I felt when I found out I'd won an Escalator award. Jubilant, excited, and a bit scared. Maybe a bit smug too, although I wouldn't have admitted that. I had about ten pages of Jar Baby written and no plan of where it was going. I like to write without planning, to surprise myself, but being backed by a prize felt very serious. Which, it turned out, was a good thing.
I'd already been writing for a long time when I got the award. I had been a magazine journalist and completed my MA in Creative Writing at UEA the year before. The best thing about Escalator was the time it gave me to dedicate to writing nearly the whole book, and also the chance I had to meet some really inspiring and interesting other writers. It also gave me an extra boost to be 'taken seriously'. Filling in the grant forms was hellish – but being an Escalator winner meant we had help with that. Which, for me who can barely read a train timetable, was invaluable.
Having 6 months to do nothing but write was wonderful, challenging and, in the end a struggle for me – which was another benefit of Escalator – it helped me find the sort of writer I am, and helped me get into a rhythm that suited me.
I think, the best advice a published writer can give an unpublished one is that there are no exact rules or ways of getting published. You have to be honest with yourself about the sort of person and sort of writer you are. We met various agents and publishers through my MA and Escalator but I met my publisher, Robert Hastings of Dexter Haven, at a reading I was doing, unrelated to Escalator. We signed a three book deal. I am lucky to have found a publisher who champions and 'gets' the work. This is invaluable too.
You hear the advice 'write 1000 words a day, without fail, if you are serious about writing'. I've never done that. During Escalator I discovered I like to write nothing for two months. Then 10,000 words in three days. Then some serious editing. Then maybe nothing for four months. Then another 10,000 words. I'm happy with that. At least I will be when I've finished the next one...
Hayley Webster was born in 1977 and grew up in Burghclere, Hampshire and Thatcham, Berkshire. She is a graduate of the prestigious MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded a distinction. She was given an Escalator Award for Literature in 2005 and the writing of Jar Baby was backed by Arts Council East, who gave her a grant in 2006 to help in its completion. She has worked in women’s magazines, and now lives in Norfolk with her family. Jar Baby was released on the 25th October of this year.
Follow Hayley on Twitter.
Find out more about Escalator Literature Competition, currently open for entries. (Closing date 28th November)
Introducing the Readers Circle
Reading is just the start...
November is well and truly upon us. The clocks have unwound, fires been lit in hearths across the UK, and readers are crawling under duvets with a mug of hot chocolate. Winter is here...
Yet some readers across Norfolk are already living in a blaze of imagined sunshine. Sadly, we’re not taking them to Brazil for 6 months (that comes next year – generous benefactor permitting*) but we are inviting them to get involved in the selection of titles for our Summer Reads programme in 2013.
Summer Reads has always had two central aims: to showcase and promote some of the best writing from around the world, and to provide opportunities for readers to get together and share their love of reading in interesting and innovative ways.
This year, for the first time, we hit upon the idea of achieving each of these aims from the very beginning. Readers are assisting in the selection of the very books we will promote!
In September we convened our first Readers Circle. Comprising thirty keen readers (who participate both in person and virtually via the wonders of Facebook groups, emailed spreadsheets and occasional phone calls), 116 books on a long long long longlist, at least 3 copies of each title provided by generous publishers, and a wonderful Programme Assistant who has invented ingenious ways of keeping track of it all – thank you Lara! – the Reading Circle is proving a big hit.
Born as a direct result of meeting interesting and thoughtful readers in libraries throughout last summer, I have been blown away by the value of involving people in every step of the Summer Reads journey. By inviting people to participate from the outset, making involvement exciting and rewarding, and taking the time to talk and listen to everything these brilliant readers have to say, we’ve extended both the reach and effectiveness of the programme and had a lot of fun in doing so. I have a skip in my step each morning as I come to work knowing that there will be another review or two waiting to be read. We don’t make decisions based on any single review, or any single advocate, but collectively the reviews and their reviewers are helping us form a diverse, discordant and even, very occasionally, harmonised picture of the books that we want to promote next year.
At last count (about 3 seconds before typing this sentence) we had received more than 140 written reviews, with verbal feedback taking us well past the 180 mark. That original longlist has now been whittled down to a slightly more manageable 72 books longlist, and we’re hoping the next weeks will see it drop below 50. What’s more, we have one book, possibly two, – no hints, you’ll have to wait until the Spring – already almost selected, and another three or four emerging as front runners to join them
I’ve personally read about thirty of the titles and have a particularly busy next couple of months in the offing to get through the others. I can’t wait to see what each of these books has to offer, and, most of all, to hear what my fellow readers think of them. There is no greater pleasure than talking books with engaged, friendly, wonderful readers and I am hugely grateful for the enthusiasm and commitment they have shown. There have been surprises – we recently removed one title that had been a favourite of mine to make the final selection; I may have cried a little – and difficult decisions at every step. The selection is not going to get any easier, I fear.
Hey, it is a tough job, but someone has to do it!
And as a result, Summer Reads 2013 is set to be the most exciting it has ever been!
* Important note: this is not likely to happen. Sorry.
Add a Dash of Salt
The Man Booker is probably the most important award in the UK book industry calendar. Perhaps even the world. So when we at Writers’ Centre Norwich heard that The Lighthouse, written by Alison Moore and published locally by Salt, had been longlisted for the Man Booker we cheered. And when we heard it’d been shortlisted we proposed opening a bottle of champagne and toasting to their success. (Sadly, we don’t keep champagne on ice in the office, so instead celebrated with biscuits and fresh cup of tea.)
Hilary Mantel was announced as the winner, yet the effects of the Man Booker shortlist are longlasting, as demonstrated by book sales and prestige. The publicity afforded by the Man Booker is undeniably beneficial- Alison Moore has already been approached regarding a film adaptation. The Lighthouse is a stunning novel which explores relationships through an almost painfully close magnification of the protagonist’s life. Throughout the novel, scent plays a crucial part, triggering memories and driving the narrative forward. It is rare to read a debut novel so accomplished and pitch-perfect.
That being the case we’re delighted to announce that Alison will be visiting Norwich for a special event with Salt on the 23rd November.
Salt Publishing, supported and hosted by Writers’ Centre Norwich and others, will be presenting an evening of literary brilliance at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library. Authors Alison Moore, Derek Neale and Jonathan Taylor will be reading and discussing their work, while Directors Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery will be introducing.
Alison Moore is also an accomplished short-story writer, and has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, the Bristol Short Story Prize, and the Manchester Fiction Prize, to name a few. Derek Neale is an award-winning writer of short stories and scripts, and has just had his first novel, The Book of Guardians published by Salt. Jonathan Taylor is the author of Entertaining Strangers and the memoir Take Me Home and is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montford University. Together, these writers will read from their own work and discuss the craft of writing.
Based in Cromer, Salt has been publishing high-quality literature since 1999. With an impressive established range of poetry and literary fiction, Salt has always been at the forefront of independent publishing in the UK.
Don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate the best in literary (and local) independent publishing.
Complementary soft drinks will be provided and books will be sold after the event courtesy of Waterstones.
Tickets are £2 and available from Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library and Waterstones Castle Street.
Visit the event page.
Fantastic News for Programme Manager Anna Selby
Anna Selby, one of our Programme Managers, received some exciting news earlier this week....
She’s been shortlisted for the h.Club100, a campaign to discover the most innovative, interesting and influential people in the British creative industries, in the Publishing and Writing category.
If Anna is chosen as one of the h.Club100 she will be featured in Time Out London, as well as receiving praise, glory and accolades beyond belief. You can help make this happen by voting for Anna. (Simply scroll down, click vote and follow the very simple instructions)
But, if you’d like to get to know Anna better, here’s a bit more about her:
Anna joined us in August of this year, having previously worked for the Southbank Centre. While working for Southbank Anna organised the UK’s biggest poetry festival, Poetry Parnassus, which brought together poets from all of the competing Olympic nations. She also co-edited the accompanying festival anthology The World Record. Anna has also worked for The Reading Agency and is currently an associate artist of dance-film company State of Flux. Anna is a graduate of the esteemed UEA Creative Writing MA. In Spring 2013, Salt will publish her first pamphlet of poetry.
Anna clearly has the literary credentials to be included within the h.Club100 list, so please take a moment to vote for her.
You can follow Anna on Twitter @anna_selby