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A SPACE to Call Your Own- A Guest Blog by Kieran McCallum

Posted By: Sarah Boughen, 14 March 2014

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.

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Announcing the 2014 Norfolk and Norwich Festival City of Literature Events

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 05 March 2014

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:

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Rich Pickings- A Guest Blog from Bianca Jane Winter

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 04 February 2014

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

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Artistic Rivalry and Literary Friendships - A Guest Blog from Emma Claire Sweeney

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 14 January 2014

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, Mslexia, 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, Mslexia, 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.

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52,190 Words of 'Light Relief' - A Guest Blog from Escalatee Robert Mason

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 19 December 2013

Robert Mason, an Escalator graduate blogs on exploring new disciplines, the Escalator experience, and publishing Other People's Dogs.

Escalator Literature 2009/10 was crucial for me – it made me decide that this writing malarkey was serious. After thirty years as an illustrator that was a massive realisation and surprise, and, having painted pictures since I was an embryo, I felt some guilt about my new direction. This lasted for about a week; the concomitant poverty has been more tenacious.

Escalator was enjoyable and nerve wracking: I had no prior experience of presenting or formally discussing my writing, though friends from the UEA Creative Writing courses had been incredibly generous and helpful, informally. So, to receive feedback, in a public place, from my mentor Courttia Newland, and to have to read to literary agents, in a public place, was demanding. To do those things without weeping was a triumph.

Perhaps most valuably Escalator opened my eyes to tangible practicalities of literary life: how to write synopses, how to use social media (still not 100% there), how agents operate and – most interestingly – how practising authors actually work. My appreciation of the latter went from indiscriminate absorption of all information imparted to a far more selective mode, as I realised that all writers differ and that it was OK to put together my own working routines. Some pointers, such as write original material at one time of day, and edit at another, were invaluable: thanks to Alex Preston for that. I manage to adhere to it some of the time.  

Other People’s Dogs
is not my Escalator book: The Rec – now re-titled Retribution – is still ongoing and I think it’s going well. OPD began life a year or so earlier, as (50,000 words of) light relief between two longer manuscripts. Its genesis was, definitely, as ‘dog book’, rather than ‘memoir’: I dislike that m-word. But my dog book differs from most in that, while the majority are concerned with a one-to-one relationship between dog and owner, OPD is written by someone who adores dogs but has never owned one. So a degree of autobiography was inevitable, in describing serial, irresponsible relationships with any number of canines, over many years. And, for me, that aspect of the book has been the most interesting, as it threw up dilemmas revolving around memory, wish fulfilment, truth, fiction, etc. All of which sounds too serious: OPD is predominantly humorous – and that’s an h-word I dislike. Oh God, I’ve written a humorous memoir. Shoot me now.

I’ve been very lucky in getting Ian Pollock, an old RCA friend, to illustrate the book, and I’m hugely grateful to Barrie Tullett at Caseroom Press for sticking with me while I dithered and edited – two activities that can seem fiendishly similar. My sincere thanks to them, and to  Courttia Newland and WCN for the Escalator experience.

So, if you want to read a dog book written by someone who has never owned a dog, or a memoir written by someone who can’t remember what he had for breakfast, look no further.

You can purchase a copy of Other People's Dogs online, or from The Book Hive.

Read a review of Other People's Dogs.

Robert Mason

Robert Mason graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1976. He embarked on a thirty-year career as an illustrator, working for many major publishers and producing artwork for books by Rose Tremain, Robertson Davies, Robert Musil, Angela Carter, Alan Moore and many others. In 2006 he virtually stopped drawing and began to write, and in 2009 applied successfully for a place on WCN's Escalator Literature programme. Robert ran the Illustration course at the (then) Norwich School of Art from 1990 to 2006, and eventually retired from the (now) Norwich University of the Arts in 2013. He has written two short books about Illustration; Other People's Dogs is his first non-Illustration title. He lives in Norwich with his wife, the totally brilliant jeweller Elaine Cox.

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The Opportunity of SPACE- A Guest Blog from Jen Morgan

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 14 November 2013

Jen Morgan, Specialist Creative Reading Mentor for the SPACE project, blogs about her experience of SPACE.

Although it is the beginning of the second phase of SPACE it is the start of my involvement with the project. I have taught creative writing to adults for a number of years which I have loved and continue to love, but my background is in teaching young adults and that was what made me so excited about SPACE – the opportunity to explore creative writing/creative reading with 12-18 year olds. I am particularly pleased to have been given the role of specialist mentor as it means that I will have the opportunity to visit each of the project venues and meet lots of the young people involved.  

My main role is to work with the young people and suggest books that they might like, based on their interests and reading preferences. I have already visited the project based in Thetford and think I have some challenging times ahead with coaxing some of the young people into giving things a try! But that is what this project is all about for me – opening young eyes up to new experiences. 

My other role is to work with the other mentors in terms of helping to create a positive reading space in the venue but I’m also on hand if they want any help with devising the creative writing sessions. I got to meet all of the other mentors at the training sessions run by Roxanne Matthews. Many of the mentors are undergraduates from UEA, still young people themselves, who are all passionate about literature and about the SPACE project. I certainly wasn’t that passionate about anything when I was an undergraduate and their dedication to the project, many of whom have been involved for a year already, has really impressed me. Getting to work with all the mentors has been an unexpected highlight for me.  As an adult education tutor I have always worked on my own in terms of planning and delivering my sessions. When I attend training events run by the County Council I am always the lone creative writing teacher among the groups of fitness instructors, literacy tutors and so on. Now I am suddenly part of a team of hard-working and talented people who share my enthusiasm for literature. I am very much looking forward to the coming months to see how my role develops based on the needs of the young people and the other mentors. Watch this space!

Find out more about SPACE.

About Jen Morgan

Jen Morgan is the Specialist Creative Reading Mentor for the SPACE project. Her early career was in secondary education teaching Philosophy and Ethics, having studied Theology at Cambridge. She has always loved reading children’s stories and whilst teaching, she realised that what she really wanted to do was write them as well. She took the opportunity to pursue this whilst on maternity leave and completed an MA in Writing for Children at Winchester University, for which she achieved Distinction. Since then she has taught many creative writing courses to adults and has recently completed the YA novel she began during her MA. She also works in the children’s department at Heffers Bookshop and is Assistant Editor for the academic e-journal Write4Children. She is based in Cambridge with her two young children and loves dressing-up. Especially pirates and Tudor costumes.

Visit Jen's blog.

You can follow Jen on Twitter @JenDrakeMorgan

We are currently looking for enthusiastic volunteers to get involved in the SPACE project. Are you interested in developing your skills and experience working with young people? Do you have a love for creative writing and reading that you want to share? Please send an email with your CV and a covering letter to Melanie Kidd, Project Coordinator:

Deadline for applications is Monday 25th November. Please note interviews are likely to take place on Monday 2nd December. For more information about the volunteer role and the SPACE project, call Melanie on 01603 877177 for an informal chat (Monday-Wednesday).

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Welcome to the Fine City of Norwich.

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 14 November 2013

In 2012 Norwich became England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, and the sixth in the world. This elite international network now includes six other cities around the world; Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin, Reykjavik and recently Kraków.

Today, Norwich’s new city signs have been unveiled, proudly declaring to all visitors (and, of course residents) that this fine city is a UNESCO City of Literature.

The UNESCO City of Literature award is much more than a recognition of Norwich’s literary heritage and contemporary strengths – it is a promise of what will come.

In the year since Norwich became a City of Literature Writers’ Centre Norwich has already established many projects, events and even a publication, which celebrates and builds upon our literary strengths.

26 for Norwich celebrated Norwich’s literary heritage, present strengths, and future potential by pairing professional writers from writers’ group 26 with students from the UEA Creative Writing courses. The pairs were then asked to produce a piece of work in response to a historic Norwich writing. You can explore the work of Norwich’s historical writers and the pieces produced by our contemporary writers on the 26 for Norwich website.

Into the Light: The Medieval Hebrew Poetry of Meir of Norwich is a collection of poems written by Meir ben Elijah, England’s only medieval Hebrew poet, and our first UNESCO City of Literature publication. Find out more about Meir ben Elijah and purchase a copy of the collection.

UEA UNESCO City of Literature Visiting Professorships was established in early 2012, and brings leading writers to teach at the University of East Anglia. The inaugural professors in 2013-13 were playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker and novelist Ali Smith.

Ali Smith gave the inaugural Harriet Martineau Lecture
at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2013. The lecture celebrated Harriet Martineau, an unjustly oft-forgot Norwich writer. Read a report on the event and listen to a recording

Our plans for the future are even more exciting. Future plans are designed to make literature accessible for residents of the city and county, as well as to visitors to the region.

The National Centre for Writing (NCW) will be a unique building based in the heart of Norwich. Never before seen in England, NCW will be regional beacon and a national draw for the city, offering a home for those passionate about the power of words, whether they be readers, writers or translators. Writers’ Centre Norwich is leading the bid to develop the National Centre for Writing, which will open in 2016. View plans on architect Ash Sakula’s website.

A £360K partnership bid to Heritage Lottery Fund has been developed, with the proposed funding being used to explore, celebrate and open up Norwich and Norfolk’s literary history for everyone who lives in and visits Norwich. (More news soon)

A £300k Cultural Tourism bid led by the New Anglian Local Enterprise Partnership is underway, which is designed to attract more visitors and tourists to Norwich.

A series of workshops for young people and schools is being planned to bring creative reading and writing in to the heart of their lives, and broaden the opportunities available to them.

Margaret Atwood will be the third UEA UNESCO City of Literature Visiting Professor. We’re delighted to welcome Margaret to Norwich for two months in 2014.

SPACE, a volunteer-led reading and writing programme, is running in libraries and venues across Norfolk. A collaborative project with Norfolk Library Service and University of East Anglia. SPACE works with young people and communities to remove barriers to creative writing and reading.

New work will be commissioned which will celebrate our sister UNESCO Cities of Literature, and includes a commission to make a film of one of the stories from Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce.

If you’d like to know more about Norwich UNESCO City of Literature, you can read our successful bid online or visit our webpage devoted to the subject.

To keep up to date with all Writers’ Centre Norwich’s news sign up to our enews.

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Keep Calm and Carry On- A Guest Blog from Lynsey White

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 29 October 2013

Escalator Literature Writing Competition
winner Lynsey White blogs about her experience of the programme and the importance of keeping on going.

In the immortal words of Ronan Keating, ‘Life is a rollercoaster. Just gotta ride it.’

There have been times, during this Escalator year, when I’ve joked that the scheme should be renamed Rollercoaster to better reflect the ups and downs of the process. From our inaugural meeting at Writers’ Centre Norwich, back in January, to the recent ‘Showcase’ reading at Foyles bookshop, the year began and ended with stimulating and inspiring company (and some of the best nibbles I’ve ever tasted).

To have nine such talented writers for bedfellows was an honour in itself. But as January turned to February an ice wind nipped at the heels of my Escalator win: ‘You’ve told these nice people you’re writing a book. You know what? Now you’ll actually have to write it.’

And not only write it, but share it. My lovely – and undeniably canny – mentor, Michelle Spring, was poised by her email inbox (or so I fantasised), waiting for the satisfying plop of my first delivery. Waiting to see right through me. ‘This woman thinks she can write? Oh boy.’

Like a scene in a Hollywood movie, an ominous ticking began.

So I sat myself down at the empty white screen and the nagging black cursor was flashing in time with that ticking, and maybe the ticking was actually somebody’s fingernails drumming… and slowly that somebody took on a face, and that face was Michelle’s as she fired off a gently encouraging email: ‘You mentioned you might have some work for me, Lynsey…?’ And words would burst onto the screen in a frenzy of typing – and frenziedly vanish again in a fit of despair. I would hold up my plot for inspection and peer through the strange lacy holes in the framework. Oh god. I can’t do this. A short story, fine, but a novel? A novel’s so long…

But gradually, painfully, brewing my fiftieth tea of the day, I put fingers to keyboard one morning and started to write. The mere fact of a reader as witty and wise as Michelle being willing to read my poor efforts was more of a spur than I’d known it would be. The best book, we all know, is a book that’s not written yet. Something still wrapped in the cosy cocoon of your head. As that book takes its first clumsy steps on the page it’s invariably awful. It wobbles and stumbles and bashes its feet on the furniture. Hence, my first drafts had been jealously guarded till now. ‘No one’s died of embarrassment yet,’ I reminded myself as I mailed my first pages and met with Michelle, a week later, for tea in a quaint Cambridge pub.

There were things that she liked. There were things that she didn’t. Keep going, she said. So I did. When the feedback was more bad than good I would sit on the train home from Cambridge, my wreck of a book in my lap, and I’d ruminate on the pros and cons of giving the whole thing up and retraining in something more sensible – crocodile wrestling; clown school – instead. I was right. I can’t do this. I suck.

But the weeks and months passed, and in time – as I wrote and rewrote the damn book, and regrouped with my nine fellow writers for moral support – something started to happen. All right, so I’d written a terrible sentence, a scene that was dead on the page. I had too many characters. Far too much wallpaper. Barely the hint of a story… So what? These were challenges, gauntlets thrown down as we thrashed out the wheat from the chaff of my novel. I stopped being precious about it, and grew a new layer of skin. Michelle fizzed with ideas, and instead of resisting her input (it’s my book, get off!) I would hear the soft click of a brilliant idea as it fell into place, and rush back to the screen – mostly black now, not white – as that brilliant idea stitched a hole in the plot or suggested a subtext or sped up a scene.

Writing novels is hard. We Escalatees have been gifted with our first sniff of real professionalism this year and – for this Escalatee at least – that’s meant glimpsing the troubles as well as the joys. In these turbulent times for the publishing industry, a writer must sail in the cutthroat seas of the Amazon one-star review. Mere talent won’t keep you afloat. What you need is resilience. I’ve so many reasons this year to be grateful to WCN and my mentor, Michelle, but it’s this, above all, that I’m thanking them for: the simple, but vital, ability – in the face of the utmost despair and self-doubt – to keep calm, and keep going.

And so, as we come to the end of our Escalator year, I’m making another bid for a name-change – but this time to ‘Carousel’, in the vain hope that WCN will let me go round for another year.

Find out more about Escalator.

See the 2012-2013 Escalator Winners.

If you think you'd benefit from a professional critique, then take a look at our TLC Free Reads competition, which is open for entries now.

About Lynsey White

Lynsey was six when she first fell in love with writing, eleven when she wrote her first novel (which, sadly, remains unpublished) and seventeen when she made it into print with a poem in The Rialto. In 2002 she won the Bridport Prize for short stories and a Canongate Prize for New Writing. Her work has been taught on a creative writing syllabus at Birkbeck College and translated into Braille by the RNIB (alongside stories by the rather better-known Robert Harris and Agatha Christie). After a spell presenting arts shows on local radio she moved into Adult Education, where she currently teaches short story writing. She’s also a travelling piano teacher, a nonfiction copywriter and, occasionally, an editor. Most recently she was shortlisted for the 2011 Fish Short Story Prize. Her novel-in-progress is Madder Hall: a playful take on the haunted house genre, set in the 1970s.

Visit Lynsey's website.

Follow Lynsey on Twitter @LynseyAnneWhite

Read an extract from Lynsey's novel
, Madder Hall.

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What a Difference a Year Makes- Celebrating the 2012 Escalatees

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 04 October 2013

After a year of professional development our ten winning genre fiction writers have almost reached the end of the Escalator Literature programme. They’ve spent a year writing furiously, assisted by a programme which included one-to-one mentorship with a professional writer, a series of professional development workshops, support on applying for an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts award and the ever essential peer support. Tonight they’ll be celebrating all of their achievements at the Escalator Showcase at Foyles, along with an audience of friends, family and literary agents.

Our ten talented writers were winners of our genre focussed Escalator competition – let me introduce you:

Megan Bradbury
is a graduate of the UEA Creative Writing MA, and won the Charles Pick Fellowship in 2012. She has been working on her first novel, Glass Satellites which documents a history of New York through the figures of writer Edmund White, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, urban planner Robert Moses and poet Walt Whitman.
Read an extract from Glass Satellites.

Jonathan Curran
has had short stories published in Inferno magazine and in Let the Galaxy Burn. In August of this year he was long-listed in the Words with Jam First Page Competition. Over the year of Escalator he has worked on his first novel, House of Wisdom which is set in 13th Century Baghdad.
Read an extract from The House of Wisdom.

Sue Healy
’s short stories and drama have won the Molly Keane Memorial Award, the HISSAC Prize, the Meridian Prize, the Waterford-Annaghmakerrig Award and the Ted O’Regan Arts Award, amongst others. She has been working on her novel The Hole in the Moon which is a humorous Magic Realist tale which weaves redemption plot and love story.  
Read an extract from The Hole in the Moon.

Kyra Karmiloff
is the author of three non-fiction books and currently makes a living writing film treatments whilst pursuing her novelist ambitions. Her novel The Witchfinder’s Lover is a coming-of-age story of two siblings, whose lives are transformed by the arrival of witch hunter Matthew Hopkins.
Read an extract from The Witchfinder’s Lover.

Ian Madden
’s short fiction has appeared in the Edinburgh Review, Wasafiri and the Bridport Prize anthology. He is currently working on a historical novel called The Second Mr Booth, which tells the tale of Sophia Booth who lived with celebrated artist JMW Turner.
Read an extract from The Second Mr Booth.

Mary Nathan
works in educational publishing as a freelance editor and writer, and has written more than 20 books for pupils and teachers. Her novel, 23 Maudlyn Street, is a gothic tale which explores the mysteries within a doctor’s house.
Read an extract from 23 Maudlyn Street.

Meghan Purvis
has completed a Ph.D in Creative Critical Writing at UEA. Amongst others, her poetry has appeared in Rialto, Magma and The Frogmore Papers. She has been working on a historical supernatural thriller, The Wages of Dying.
Read an extract from The Wages of Dying.

Linda Spurr
teaches creative writing in the Rickmansworth area and is a former sports journalist. Over the year she has been working on her novel Frankincense. Frankincense tells the story of Nashwa, who resists marriage and fights the customs of her culture.
Read an extract from Frankincense

Lynsey White
is an award-winning short story writer, with honours including the Bridport Prize and a Canongate Prize for new writing. She has been working on a novel set in the 1980s called Madder Hall, which plays with the trope of the haunted house.
Read an extract from Madder Hall.

Lucy Yates
completed a Creative Writing MA at UEA, and has stories published in a range of anthologies from Parenthesis to Tesselate. She has just finished her novel, From the Mountains Descended Night, which explores one of the biggest literary scandals of the 18th century – that of The Poems of Ossian and the forger James Macpherson.
Read an extract from From the Mountains Descended Night.

Please do take the time to read these impressive pieces of writing, and join us in offering our heartiest congratulations to our accomplished Escalatees!

Read Sue Healy’s blog on the Escalator experience.

Read Susan Sellers’ blog on the long lasting effects of Escalator.

Take a look at the full biographies of our Escalatees.

Find out more about Escalator.

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As Autumn Begins Summer Reads Ends

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 02 October 2013

Summer Reads Programme Coordinator Sam Ruddock sums up a summer of brilliant books, literary events and eager reading.

Well, that was epic.

After four months, 34 events (that’s two per week!), a book art competition, and more than 4000 library loans and book sales, Summer Reads 2013 has been bigger than ever. And at the heart of it all, we’ve been talking about six great books that readers have been discovering, exploring, and falling in love with. (Or not. Some readers hated the books, or were entirely unmoved by them – I met one book club that used the phrase ‘we couldn’t understand the point of any of the words on any of the pages’ – and that’s fine too!)

We’ve travelled across Norfolk talking to readers about the books, and about reading and libraries too. In Gorleston we talked with a retired social worker about cared for children, Beside the Sea, and the ways in which reading can be an act of amazing empathy. Dersingham readers put up with an impromptu quiz about the books and surprised themselves with how much they remembered. A reader from Loddon described A Light Song of Light as ‘like music new to the ear’. We listened to Serbian gypsy music more times than I can count and ended up with a box packed full of pennies representing all the people who came to all the events we ran.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure. We’d like thank everyone who was involved in any way. Whether you came to an event or curled up at home reading one of the books, whether you read all of them or just the one. From the readers who started helping us select the books an entire year ago, to those we met in Wroxham in the last week of August and who were only just starting their Summer (Autumn!) Reads journey. It is an honour to have you involved in Summer Reads and we thank you dearly.

Summer Reads is all about our readers. We’ve already gathered forty generous people together to read (some of) the 167 books on our longlist and help select the titles for our 2014 programme. Collectively, we’ve already written more than 170 reviews about these books and at this rate, by the time we come to select the final 6 books, we’re likely to have over 750 individual reviews. It really is a humbling experience to see just how a programme can take flight as soon as you hand over control to those it is for – and in a world where literature always has to be competitive and top-down, it’s great to be involved in a democratic selection process that chooses a range of books, rather than just one.

And on that note, with Summer Reads now over, we wanted to share with you some of the other great books that we almost selected for Summer Reads, some of the books that narrowly missed out but that we loved and sometimes wished we’d picked too. If you’re looking for great books to read this autumn, give these a go – they are tried and tested by readers, and come with our (nearly) highest recommendation.

by Patrick Flanery

A brilliant debut novel. This is the story of Clare and Sam and their experience of living in South Africa during and after apartheid. It manages to be a real page-turning literary thriller and a deep and resonant reflection on truth and guilt. Clare is a celebrated writer, and Sam an academic who has returned to South Africa to write Clare’s biography. From the start there is an atmosphere of violence and fear. This is a book about secrets and characters haunted by the past. An unsettling and tantalizing read.

We will be reading and discussing Absolution at the next WCN Book Club meeting on 15th October.

The China Factory by Mary Costello
A collection of short stories which was almost chosen over Sarah Hall’s The Beautiful Indifference. Described by readers as ‘profound stories about sadness, regret, remorse, and love,’ each story is complete but leaves room for the reader to ask themselves big questions: what next? What came before? And how did it get to be like this? Mary Costello writes beautifully - with compassion and insight and this debut collection is well worth reading.

Electric Shadow by Heidi Williamson
Heidi Williamson is a poet based in Wymondham. Her debut collection grew from a residency at the Science Museum and demonstrates admirable ability to combine science with human experience and by doing so give weight and understanding to each. Each poem is a self-contained work of art and there is a lightness and optimism in Williamson's writing even when her subject matter is sometimes dark.

We will be reading and discussing Electric Shadow at the WCN Book Club meeting in November.

Londoners by Craig Taylor
Londoners has the subtitle ‘The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It’ and that’s exactly what it is. A series of short vignettes about life in London.

‘My experience of reading Londoners was similar to my experience of living in London, and since Craig Taylor is trying to create a book that feels like living in London, this is a sign of great success. I picked it up and was immediately overwhelmed: by the volume of people, by the passions and inspirations, by a sense of excitement and a rush of possibilities and voices and stories and perspectives. There is life in this book, in all its shades.’

We hope you enjoy reading these books as much as we did. If you would like to talk to us about them, come to the WCN Book Club or talk to us on Facebook or Twitter.

Happy reading!

Find out more about Summer Reads.

Listen to a recording
from our Summer Reads event with Sarah Hall and Jon McGregor.

Listen to a recording of our Summer Reads event with poet Kei Miller.

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Writing Friends are Important: Susan Sellers on How the Escalator Competition Continues to Provide Support

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 01 October 2013

Susan Sellers was an Escalator winner in 2007-2008 where she completed her first novel, Vanessa and Virginia. She began her second novel, Given the Choice, with her Escalator mentor Sally Cline and the support of an Arts Council Grant for the Arts. It is published this month by Cillian Press. Here Susan blogs on the challenge of writing the second novel, and the importance of having writing support:

I vividly recall when I launched Vanessa and Virginia during my Escalator year in 2008, a friend saying to me 'of course, what's really difficult is writing a second novel.' At the time I laughed and thought 'how can anything be more difficult than the first?' But he was right.

I had been researching the close, sometimes turbulent relationship between Virginia Woolf and her painter sister Vanessa Bell for the best part of ten years, and with Vanessa and Virginia I simply plunged in, without thinking too closely about the process.

Given the Choice was different. The pitfalls seemed to announce themselves in flashing neon even before I stumbled into them. There was also - if this is possible - an acceleration in every kind of displacement activity. It remains a mystery to me why all those otherwise tedious tasks - organizing email, dusting, even on one memorable occasion hemming my sitting-room curtains - can suddenly seem so utterly compelling when writing is at stake.

I can honestly say that without the ongoing support I have received from WCN, my Escalator mentors
and the other writers who were with me on the scheme, I might never have finished Given the Choice, let alone bring it to the point where it could be published.

I owe part of the inspiration to Sally Cline, who, in an early mentoring session after I had finished Vanessa and Virginia, challenged me to write something contemporary in order to break away from Bloomsbury. One of many surprises about Given the Choice is that the character who quickly emerged was a sassy businesswoman, working in the glamorous and controversial art and music worlds.
I also remember a day when, flushed with the excitement of completing a full draft, Sal wondered whether my ending was the right one. I thought about Charles Dickens and how, when he first finished Great Expectations, he congratulated himself on breaking with convention only to be told by Bulwer-Lytton that his ending was too sad and he should pen a new one. I liked my ending but Sal encouraged me to play around with it. What happened next proved crucial not only in determining the outcome for my characters, but in shaping the book Given the Choice has become.

Find out more about Given the Choice.

Find out more about Escalator Literature Writing Competition.

About Susan Sellers:

After a nomadic childhood, Susan Sellers ran away to Paris. Renting a chambre de bonne, she worked as a barmaid, tour-guide and nanny, bluffed her way as a software translator and co-wrote a film script with a Hollywood screenwriter. She became closely involved with leading French feminist writers and translated Hélène Cixous. From Paris she travelled to Swaziland, teaching English to tribal grandmothers, and to Peru, where she worked for a women’s aid agency.
Susan is a Professor of English and Related Literature at the University of St Andrews. In 2002 she won the Canongate Prize for new writing and, following a year with Escalator, published her first novel Vanessa and Virginia in 2008. Her second novel, Given the Choice, which she began with Escalator, is published this month by Cillian Press.
Susan is hard at work on a third novel, and meets regularly with her Escalator peer group to keep her writing on track and herself sane.

Visit Susan's website.

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Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust - The Project So Far

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 25 September 2013

Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust is a new research project led by Professor Jean Boase-Beier of the University of East Anglia. Supported by Writers' Centre Norwich, Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust includes a public exhibition, workshops and a book display at The Forum on Monday the 4th and Tuesday the 5th of November. Read this blog by Research Assistant, Marian De Vooght, to find out more about the project:

Poetry about the horrors and traumas of the Holocaust is perhaps an unlikely topic for an ‘event’. The question about what it means to translate such poetry—from numerous languages into English—is probably even less expected as the starting point for a exhibition. If you are curious and would like to know more about what will be happening in the Forum, please read further for our plans for the event.

Visitors to the exhibition will get an idea about the scope of the languages used by victims, survivors and others for writing their poems. From the 1930s to 1945 the Nazi regime persecuted people from all over Europe and deported them to concentration camps. Women, children, men of many different backgrounds and cultures.  We’ll draw attention to as many different groups as possible, show places they came from, display examples of the poetry that represents them, and show how it can be translated into English.

A book display organised by the Millennium Library will support the exhibition. You will have a chance to leaf through memoirs, poetry, fiction and information books, all relating to the Holocaust.
We would like to give people an idea about why Holocaust poems have been written. Who are the poets, where did they come from and what was their fate? We want to raise awareness that Holocaust poems continue to be written. How are poets of today still reacting to the Holocaust? Why, indeed, couldn’t any of us respond to the past in a poem? Thinking about this may help you relate to the problems translators face when dealing with Holocaust poetry. What motivates translators and how do they create new versions of these poems that do justice to the original? We want to get across why it is important to keep reading, writing and translating Holocaust poems.

What happens to readers when they read a Holocaust poem depends to a large extent on their knowledge of the original language and/or on the way the poem has been translated.  By reading different translations of the same poem, you can get an idea of what are the most important words or key images and emotions in the original. The two workshops organised during the exhibition days will further explore what is happening during translation—but more on this will follow in October.

Besides the workshops, there will be poetry reading in the library. In January 2014, more of these readings will take place in The Bookhive in Norwich, as well as in The European Bookshop in London. This Autumn, Professor Boase-Beier will also give talks about her research on translating the poetry of the Holocaust at the universities of Edinburgh (15 November) and Newcastle (28 November).

Jean Boase-Beier is also teaching two free workshops on Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust

On the 4th of December, 5pm, Jean will give a workshop at the University of East Anglia. Contact if you want to come.

Find out more about the project.

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Summer Reads: Six Second Reviews

Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 13 August 2013

Emma Healey, local writer and soon-to-be debut novelist, has created a series of six second films on Vine inspired by Summer Reads. Click on the image to watch the video.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers follows the daily lives of slum-residents Abdul, Manju, Sunil, One Leg and Asha who live next to a toxic pond facing Mumbai Airport and its luxury hotels.

Find out more about Behind the Beautiful Forevers and author Katherine Boo.

The Polish Boxer
by Eduardo Halfon

(translated by Ollie Brock, Thomas Bunstead, Lisa Dillman, Daniel Hahn & Anne McLean)

The Polish Boxer is a mysterious novel with an engaging cast of characters, including a disappearing pianist and a woman who draws graphs of her orgasms.

Find out more about The Polish Boxer and author Eduardo Halfon

The Beautiful Indifference
by Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall’s stories are a portal into the fascinating inner lives of women who are often hiding or recovering from something untold.

Find out more about The Beautiful Indifference and Sarah Hall

This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You by Jon McGregor

This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You is a quietly menacing collection of short stories set in the fen lowlands.

A Light Song of Light
by Kei Miller

A beautiful collection of poetry which tackles the truth of life with lyricism and rhythm.

Find out more about A Light Song of Light and poet Kei Miller.

Beside the Sea
by Véronique Olmi

(translated by Adriana Hunter)

A bleak yet riveting novella about a mother’s difficult relationship with her children.

Find out more about Beside the Sea and Véronique Olmi.

Want to know more about Emma? Follow her on Twitter @ECHealey.

Find out more about Summer Reads.

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If we stop reading novels then what might we lose? Han Han and the One

Posted By: Katy Carr, 07 August 2013

At the ninth annual Worlds Literature Festival Salon event, the international writers present were tasked with examining Ways of Writing: Ways of Reading, particularly focusing on how literature and story-telling have been affected by economic and digital changes.

Thursday brought a joint provocation from Peng Lun and Eric Abrahamsen which focussed on the best-selling Chinese writer Han Han. Peng Lun is a Chinese editor who publishes world renowned writers and edits Granta China whilst Eric Abrahamsen is a Chinese-English literary translator and publishing consultant who lives in Beijing. The following is a report of Peng and Eric’s provocation and of the discussion that followed.

Peng and Eric explained that Han Han changed a generation’s consciousness with his novel writing, but has now abandoned the long-form and is publishing one short idea a day on the internet. What does this say about the way things are going? Does this reflect a wider trend in moving from long form to short form, and is it symptomatic of attention spans in the modern age? Should we be worried?

Peng began by placing Han Han as typical of his generation in China; the first generation to come of age with the internet and to have grown up under the one child policy.

Han Han didn’t do well under China’s school system, but he was good at writing and so he focused on that. At 17 Han Han wrote a novel which became an instant best-seller. He was offered a place at Fudan University but declined, opting instead to become a racing car driver (with a brief foray into singing) and in so doing became an idol for millions of young people in China.

Han Han started a blog where he criticised the government on many issues in a sharp and satirical way. He gained the attention of the authorities, and some of his blogs were deleted by the internet companies due to pressure from the government. In 2010 he published a new magazine called the Party. The magazine was published in 2011 and sold over 1 million copies before being banned.

However, Han Han’s latest project is very different. ‘The One’ is a website that Han Han and his team has set up with a dotcom giant. It features one image, one question and one report each day, and each day’s content is different to the next, seemingly totally eclectic. As each daily update on ‘The One’ is disconnected from the one before there is little opportunity to respond to the ideas presented, no long-term build up, no chance for ideas to gather momentum.

‘The One’ is designed for China’s ‘e-babies’ (Han Han’s terminology), in order to give them content in a way that captures their attention and that is easily digestible. Is this a cause for concern? Could Han Han’s shift in form be representative of the way things are going? As a cultural icon his thoughts and ideas have real impact; he has taught the youth, who are extremely porous and prone to influence, how to rebel. Han Han has changed Chinese society.

Han Han’s key achievement was bringing irony into public discourse, in one of the least ironic places in the world. He did this through his novel. This is important as it gives people a way of staying under the radar and still being able to criticise. He gave the Chinese public, particularly the young people, options and a vocabulary that previously they did not have.

So, given his influence and power, what should we make of Han Han’s move from the traditional long-form novel to the online short-form?

Peng and Eric concluded by saying that they think this move away from the long-form into easily digestible online bites of ideas is concerning, for some artistic ideas can only be had over the course of a very long period of time – six months to ten years. These are ideas that percolate in the mind, grow and cannot be expressed in the short-form. The long-form is the only way to expand a sustained idea; and so Peng and Eric asked us to consider what we may be losing by this leap into the daily and the easily digestible.

Readers need to spend time digesting – the novel has a slow rhythm which might only be perceived if you don’t think about much else when you read it. Many social ideas will only take root, or mature if people have a forum in which they spend time. As discussed in Ruth Ozeki’s provocation, technology has reduced the time and space in which we have to express our ideas. Technology has increased the pace of things, so that readers don’t have time to consider things at great length.

Yet we humans are organic and have inate biological rhythms. There are certain things that we can’t speed up, certain ideas that can’t adapt to pacier form. So if we don’t fight for the time and space to express these sustained ideas then there are works of art and concepts that we simply won’t have.

The provocation reminded one writer of Chomsky’s idea that liberalism can’t be articulated in a sound-bite on TV, but that right-wing politics can be. The advent of TV had a direct impact on the policies that influence the public.

As regards to form, it was pointed out that online gaming is a type of long-form, a closed world where people can get lost. Whilst an aphorism or poem is a short-form that not only slows you down but forces you to concentrate. So it’s not all about length of form, but the quality and composition of that form too.

The session closed with the writers considering the provocateurs’ idea that the traditional long-form novel was the one which was most subversive in Han Han’s work – it really changed the culture and allowed his ideas to travel and disperse under the radar. Han Han had the greatest impact on his culture when he was working at his slowest. People need to internalise ideas and thought and that takes time- social change won’t come in a tweet.

The novel is meditative and immersive, it pulls us into a hypnotic state, giving us a chance to absorb ideas and art. It gives us the chance to feel something different, to feel changed. The novel creates a space where something happens both for readers and writers, and if we stop reading them, we will lose that space forever.  

Listen to Peng Lun and Eric Abrahmasen's provocation:

A Worlds 13 Round Up:

Watch the highlights on YouTube
Listen to the discussion on SoundCloud
See the images on Flickr

Read the blogs

From the events:

A Writers Dilemma: Tove Jansson, More than the Moomins

Best of British and Novelists’ Fears

Meir Ben Elijah: Out of the dark and Into the Light

From the salons:

Sjón’s Stories Inhabit the Worlds Literature Festival Salon

What is the Internet Doing To Writers? Ruth Ozeki and the Trials of Switching Off

Rachel Lichtenstein's Diamond Street App: Is This The Way Stories Are Going?

Find out more about Worlds Literature Festival.

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Is the Literary Novel Doomed? Finding our own Modernism with Marcel Möring

Posted By: Katy Carr, 11 July 2013

For the third Worlds Literature Festival Salon, Marcel Möring gave a provoking introduction, rousing writers in defence of the literary novel.

His terms were clear. The novel is under attack. This form which is the story of how it all began is us and we are it. Novelists listen to the heartbeat of time, and so their work is urgent. Novelists need to give people not what they want, but instead what they might least expect. They need to make art.

Möring states that the novel has come to a standstill and that novelists just seem to have accepted this.

He finished by rousing the assembled writers. Let us be bold and daring. Let’s risk it all and get back to the point whereby we ourselves are shocked by literature. Let’s mess with time and place and the idea of the text. Let’s be free and experimental. Let’s make art.

Novelists are the mothers and fathers of narrative invention. They have an obligation and must try to go where no man and no woman has gone before.

There was general agreement from the writers gathered that there is indeed a crisis in the novel form. The market has become constricted and now publishers are not taking a chance on experimental forms of novels, writers are being herded towards the familiar.

Has the European novel sold its soul and become a commercial tool of bog standard story telling? It might have. Yet is this just an Anglo-American disease? The novel in English may be doomed, but this doesn't necessarily hold for all novels.

Those writing in other forms noted Marcel’s insistence on the novel being the ultimate literary form. Maybe the most interesting literature is happening outside of the novel now. Would that be such a  bad thing? 

A poet noted that of course it’s worthwhile to look for something new in the novel; poets are constantly searching for the new. If novelists become really experimental and break down all of the boundaries in the novel, maybe they’ll end up writing poetry!

Then the writers talked about how great literature needn’t be experimental. Some of the best modern literature comes from reportage, which is not known for experimentalism. Also, many people do not want the experimental in their novels. They just want the writing to be high quality, the construction excellent, such as in the work of Annie Proulx and Johnathan Franzen. 

There is more than one way of being brave. You can break boundaries in other, non-experimental ways – by being emotionally honest, by opening up the raw. Why this insistence on a new form? Making a novel experimental can also be a way of being inauthentic – you can hide behind form.

The idea of Modernism was explored. Isn’t the classic Modernist form outdated? Don’t we need to find our own way of writing for this time we’re living in, rather than harking back to the experimentalists of the early 20th Century? People discussed Will Self’s Umbrella, the room divided about how relevant the novel’s Modernist style is now, whether or not it’s pastiche.

The writers considered whether today we have to find our own Modernism; a style more relevant to the time we’re living in. And noted that writers shouldn’t just break up form for the sake of it;  the experimental works best when it comes out of necessity.

As a riposte, Möring listed all of the interesting ways of writing that novelists could  be employing, that are being underutilised. Diary style, in the style of the Talmud, interviews... Modernism aside, we are not being inventive enough, surely.

There was general agreement that novelists are indeed under great constraints commercially – they are certainly being herded towards the safe and this is indeed having an effect on form.

Yet there was also frequent mention of the wealth of individual presses and brave editors who are doing great work and publishing more interesting fiction.  Good books continue to travel in the most surprising ways. There is also a gratifying resurgence in revivalism; Richard Yates, Paula Fox, John Williams were all cited as examples of great writers who have been re-earthed recently with the writers concluding that it is at least reassuring to note that if your challenging, brave book doesn’t make it the first time round, there’s always a chance that it will be brought back to life later on. 

Listen to a podcast of Marcel's provocation below:

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