News and views
Escalator Alchemy- A Guest Blog from Escalatee Jon Curran
Escalatee Jon Curran writes about the transformative power of the Escalator Writing Competition
Most stories are about transformation – ugly duckling into swan, frog into prince, kilt-wearing Scotsman into wild-haired, woad-faced Mel Gibson. And like all the best stories, the Escalator scheme has been, for me, a story about transformation.
This time last year, I had a few thousand words written down and some ideas that excited me about where the story might go from there. I’d get up each morning before the sun had risen and the rest of the family was awake and write a few more pages, moving the story forward piece by piece. I didn’t think of myself as any kind of writer though, just someone who wrote in the spare corners of the day that no-one else wanted.
Over the last year, through the Escalator programme, that scant start has turned into something that’s starting to look like a real novel. More than that though, I’ve started to become someone who thinks of himself as a writer, albeit one still in the early stages of the journey. Being an Escalatee puts you in the company of nine fantastic and hugely-talented writers as companions in the journey, and that’s been a wonderful experience. The journey isn’t always smooth. After the elation of winning a place on the scheme comes the part when you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder to yourself how you’re actually going to manage to pull this off. Me? Write a novel? Are you kidding?
That’s where David Rain – Escalator mentor
extraordinaire – proved himself as adept an alchemist as any in medieval Baghdad, where my novel is set. I would troop down to London with characters, plots, themes all jumbled around in my head– and David would somehow help me to make sense of them all. We’d wash it all around over coffee and there! A glimmer amongst the base metals, and lead would turn into gold. It seemed effortless, but I’m sure it wasn’t, so I’m eternally grateful to David for helping to get the thing off the ground.
The Escalator scheme has been about pushing myself, trying things I’ve never tried before, and growing as a result. Reading from our work at a special showcase
for friends and family here in Norwich made for a great evening, and a fitting end to our Escalator year, but of course the real work – the actual writing – goes on.
I still get up early in the morning as it’s my best time to write, but I now think of writing as the thing “I do”, and other things rotate around that.
Over the summer, my six year old daughter made a sign to put on the door saying “Quiet Please – Writer at Work”.
That is quite a transformation for one year.
About Jon Curran
Originally from Rochdale, Jon Curran spent his formative years in West Africa, the Middle East and Suffolk. After leaving university, Jon worked in the magazine industry before following the dotcom boom into IT. He now lives in Norwich with his wife and two lovely daughters. Jon’s fiction has appeared in Inferno
magazine, and he was one of the co-founders of the community blog “This Low-Carbon Life”, writing on environmental and community themes. He is working on his first novel, The House of Wisdom
, set in 13th Century Baghdad.
Visit Jon’s website
Follow Jon on Twitter @jaysaulc
Read an extract from The House of Wisdom
Gods, Monsters and Weird Creative Processes - A Guest Blog from Molly Naylor
Former Escalator winner and Norwich-based writer Molly Naylor reports on the creative process, being around the busy WCN office, and learning to write anywhere.
I have been in residence at WCN for the past few weeks, partly because they are lending some support to the development of my new live show but mainly because I begged them to let me come and write here. I am temporarily living in Beccles, and so the necessity to have somewhere to write is also mingled with the desire to not lose my connection to The Fine City and its many cosmopolitan benefits (you know, like things being open; and there being more than one pub. No offence to Gary's Discounts and the rest of the Waveney Valley region).
I thought I'd be using the meeting room, a large and private space. I imagined pacing around in there with a coffee, reading things aloud, blue-tacking my extensive notes to the walls. Perhaps the staff would pause from their work to wonder about The Writer downstairs, discussing in hushed, probably super-impressed tones what they imagined I was up to.
The problem with this notion (aside the narcissistic delusions) was that the meeting room is actually in use quite a lot. For, well, meetings. Meetings about actual, proper things. So instead I was offered a desk. In a room. With... other people.
Right, I thought. HOLD UP. I don't know if you've ever met me, but there's a reason why I don't have a 'proper job'. I can't do other people! And more than that, surely these other people can't do me. I will interrupt the flow of this lovely, calm, functioning office with my Weird Creative Processes™.
If you're a writer, you'll probably have your own needs in terms of the ideal environment in which to write. When I did the scriptwriting MA at UEA, the brilliant course tutor Val Taylor asked us to write down our 'gods' and our 'monsters' - things that help us write, and things that hinder our process. My gods list was far longer than my monsters, but there was a sense that I was going through the motions. Making it up a bit, or at least exaggerating. I went to town with an imaginary rider, probably feeling a bit like whoever that band was who wouldn't have blue M & Ms in their dressing room. Van Halen was it? Or Scouting For Girls? One of the two. I put down that I ABOSULTELY COULD NOT AND WOULD NOT WRITE without things like: a massive wooden desk, natural light, a fountain pen, a dog at my feet, absolute silence, real coffee... you can imagine the sorts of things. You probably have your own list. Maybe you can only write in complete isolation, or while wearing a suit and cravat, or when sat on a bean bag, or when Shania Twain is playing the banjo in your airing cupboard, or when you are aware that there is a snake, in a bag, in Dorset... we all have our gods and monsters. Or at least, I thought I did.
I sat down on my first day feeling pretty self-conscious about what the other people in the office would think of my Weird Creative Processes™. I had a cup of tea and I opened my laptop and in lieu of any other option, I started to write. Which, considering that this is literally my only job, was probably a good idea. And as I wrote, and drank, and deleted, and sighed, and edited, and yawned along with everyone else, I realised that actually the only thing I had to be self-concious about was my seeming lack of WCPs.
I think so many of those specified conditions have been, for me, an exercise in procrastination. And let's face it, I do not need more ways in which to procrastinate. I already have social media, an attention span that's been vastly impeded by the aforementioned and pretty much every film that's ever been made available at my fingertips. In these times of crazy busy noise, I've started to realise that instead of trying to switch everything off I might just have to start finding my quiet somewhere and someway else. Perhaps through the comfort of basic human interaction and community. Through structure and routine (you know, like a normal person). Through not thinking or suggesting that what I – or writers in general - do has any particular mysticism. Through acknowledging every day that writing is a craft and a skill just like any other job. If you want it to continue being your job and also have a shot at being content, it has to be functional. I mean, if you are accidentally a bit Bukowski-eccentric, then that's not for me to judge. In fact I'll inevitably fancy you a bit. But it's perhaps not something we should be aiming for or hiding behind.
I hope they let me stay a bit longer, anyway. I think it's helping the show hugely, by making me realise what could be a writer's greatest skill - to be able to write anywhere. Under any conditions. To be portable, and flexible, and unimpeded by gods, monsters, or Shania Twain's banjo-playing.
Molly Naylor is a Norwich-based writer and performer. She makes live shows and writes scripts for radio, theatre and television. Her first poetry collection is published by The Book Hive and she has recently been commissioned to write a sitcom for Sky, with fellow Norwich writer & broadcaster John Osborne. Her new live show will debut at the Norfolk and Norwich festival in 2014 – working title If Destroyed Still True.
For more info visit www.mollynaylor.com
University Writers Service Offers UEA Students Digital Copy Writing Experience – a Guest Blog from Emily Buchanan
Emily Buchanan, project coordinator of the University of East Anglia’s University Writers Service (UWS), blogs about the origins, aims and potential of the Service.
With people reading blog posts more than they read traditional media, online content marketing has become a highly valuable industry that’s worth in excess of £4bn in the UK alone. This means that writers, particularly those capable of spinning gold out of a sales pitch, are finding an abundance of work online.
Naturally, this has created significant opportunities in the graduate employment market for those with digital skills. And yet, a recent report from Facebook exposed a digital skills gap amongst UK graduates; with many not possessing the necessary experience or training required for a career online. "It's really not easy,” said Simon Milner, Head of Policy at Facebook, “We don't tend to find a lot of British young people who are ready to come and work." It’s a convoluted dilemma. The jobs exist and the graduates are certainly willing and capable, it’s just a case of experience.
When Fountain Partnership, a local internet marketing company, recognised this dilemma, they alerted the University of East Anglia to a commercial opportunity. The company needed to outsource some copywriting and felt compelled to offer the work to students – they just didn’t have the means to do so.
Fountain’s initial interest represented a wider employability opportunity. If UEA could create a pool of talented student writers and offer their skills to online businesses, they could plug the digital skills gap by giving students professional references, portfolio material and hands-on paid commercial experience.
Based on this understanding, a pilot scheme was quickly created. The University Writers Service, as it became known, was designed to hire 7 students as copywriters for Fountain, who would train and mentor them in the ways of the web. If this was successful, there existed the potential for expansion in the New Year.
In the first week of the new semester, UEA held an introductory workshop to gauge student interest. It was a sell-out, with over 160 students signing up. The initial talk was led by Fountain’s co-founder, Marcus Hemsley, and explored the basics of search engine optimisation (SEO) - teaching students how to optimise their online presence and how to develop their writing and research skills for the web.
After the event, students could apply to become writers for the service by submitting a short article on a chosen subject. Almost 50 students applied for the job and seven were chosen to take part in the pilot. Since then, it’s been a huge success, with one student writer saying, “I already feel like I've learnt a great deal. Writing concisely and to a specified brief -and especially writing for the web- is completely different to anything I've studied within my degree. It's really nice to see potential uses for my interest in writing in the future.”
Looking to the future, the University Writers Service has two long term goals: to provide applied digital skills training to a large number of students and to create a national client portfolio of agencies, publishers and businesses that want copywriting services from an employability scheme. The service hopes to double its database of writers by the New Year and to offer its services to a host of new clients. Should this be successful, it will become the country’s first self-sufficient, university-based writers’ service that not only produces great content for the web, but significantly improves graduate job applications.
For the latest updates, follow the University Writers Service at @uni_freelance
About Emily Buchanan
Emily Buchanan is a writer, a UEA English Literature alumni and the project coordinator of the University Writers Service. She’s also a digital editor for Further, a multi-award winning marketing agency based in Norwich and on occasion, she’ll speak at employability events and seminars - offering guidance to undergraduates interested in writing for the web. Although fiction writing is her ultimate goal, Emily is an example of the employment power of the internet – without which she wouldn’t be where she is today.
Check out Emily's blog.
Follow Emily on Twitter @MileyChanbuna
Permission to Write - A Guest Blog from Escalatee Kyra Karmiloff
Kyra Karmiloff, 2012 Escalator Winner, blogs about writing nerves, her experience of Escalator and how the programme helped her to improve as a writer.
It was about this time last year that my lovely friend, the talented novelist and past Escalatee, Susan Sellers
, started breathing down my neck to enter this year’s Escalator Literature Writing competition
. I was feeling very despondent about my writing – ready to give up on it all after 10 long years of heartache and two novels withering away in the lightless files of my laptop. Reluctantly, I agreed to give it a bash and set out revisiting old pieces, tossing one after another into the bottomless bin on my screen.
A pointless endeavor, I told myself, as I picked the chosen one and started dusting it down. Two weeks and eight-hundred edits later, I had my five thousand words ready. Or so I thought. With just days to go before the closing date, I printed out my competition piece, read it aloud for the nth time, made a few last changes and printed it again. Sixteen prints and two ink cartridges later, I put the blasted thing in an A4 envelope, addressed it, stamped it and put it in my bag. I dressed to go to the post office, took one final look at the words still humming on-screen, made a very final change, opened up the envelope, threw its contents away, printed out a fresh copy containing the much-improved first line, and sealed up the envelope again. I got in my car, started the engine, turned it off, went inside and repeated the whole process again, all for one word which was never going to make the difference between success and failure, but the opening sentence really was better in its original form.
It was a blessed relief to finally push the heavily-sellotaped envelope into the post box. It was out of my hands now. “All done,” I told Susan. Then silence. For weeks. Then an email, one morning before Christmas, telling me that I had made the shortlist and would hear in the New Year if I was one of the ten winners. Weeks of worry followed. A flicker of hope had been reignited: perhaps I would become a real writer after all. No no, said my brain. My bank balance agreed. Yes, yes, said my long-suffering friends and family.
And so it was that I became one of the 10 Chosen Ones
. For this year at least.
What ensued was the most amazing, nurturing and spirit-lifting experience I have had as a writer. Writers’ Centre Norwich provided us not only with wonderful support and guidance, it gave us a stamp of approval, a permission to write. We received help applying for funding from the Arts Council
, allowing us to cut down on work in order to focus on our projects, and were given months of invaluable mentoring. I was lucky enough to have been chosen by the amazing Tobias Hill, who not only helped me turn a scruffy idea into a fully-fledged story, but gave me back my confidence as a writer. Most of all, what the scheme provided us with was a license to be who we are – writers – and do what we love doing best: writing. No longer solitary scribblers, tossing hour after hour at a pursuit that felt like little more than pure indulgence, we were now recognized talent, bona fide novelists. It was like receiving Dumbo’s feather and jumping off a cliff, knowing we would fly.
I took my little competition piece, looked it in the face and decided that it deserved some limbs, a beating heart, a personality or two, and a name. What started as a few paragraphs bullied onto a page by a well-meaning friend now became the beginning of a novel, my third and hopefully the lucky one. The one that will make it onto the shelves of Waterstones, where there is space: I’ve checked. In fact, last time I went to peruse the rows of K’s, a thoughtful shop assistant had cleared a great big gap precisely in the spot where The Witchfinder’s Lover
will, with any luck, sit one day. Yes, yes, said my brain!
Find out more about Escalator Literature Writing Competition.
View all the 2012 Escalator Winners.
About Kyra Karmiloff
Half-English, half-Russian, I did most of my growing up in London. After completing my degrees at UCL, I set up as a freelance writer and researcher, mainly in the field of Language and Child Development, while continuing to dedicate as much time as possible to my fiction. I am the author of three non-fiction books and have had many articles published in magazines and online. During tough times I have also been a DJ, a dog-groomer, a stable-girl and cleaner – anything to stay self-employed and keep writing. I live in Fen Ditton with my boys and my partner, Rocky, a film director with whom I collaborate. I now make a living writing film treatments and researching new material, while continuing to pursue my novelist ambitions.
The Witchfinder’s Lover
is a coming-of-age story of two siblings growing up in Cambridge during the turbulent years of the Civil War, whose lives are transformed by the arrival of Matthew Hopkins, the man responsible for mounting the deadliest witch-hunt in British history.
Visit Kyra's blog.
Follow Kyra on Twitter @KKarmiloff
The Opportunity of SPACE- A Guest Blog from Jen Morgan
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: email@example.com
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).
Welcome to the Fine City of Norwich.
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
Keep Calm and Carry On- A Guest Blog from Lynsey White
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
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.
A Poet Must Seduce the Air- Live Literature with Jean 'Binta' Breeze
Programme Manager Laura Stimson blogs about our free Performance Poetry Masterclass with Jean 'Binta' Breeze. Jean will also be performing with John Agard tomorrow evening at Cafe Bar Marzano, for which you can buy tickets online.
What a treat to host Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze for her first official visit to Norwich.
Jean’s workshop focussed on music; how musical elements live within poems. She started off with physical and vocal warm ups; using vocal chorus exercises to get the group thinking about how consonants and vowels affect your body. The group were tasked with creating vocal tongue-twisters using guttural vowels and consonants, using sound rather than word or meaning. With this, she explored the musicality of poetry; how rhyme, repetition, repeat can be woven into both your written work and live performance.
There was a lot of sharing; first poem, worst poem, poem generation and process, audience anecdotes, swearing, dialect. Jean talked about the importance of mic technique, of endings, of ‘breaking the silence’. The audience hush before a poet speaks is beautiful and the poet must ‘seduce the air’, Jean says; how the silence is broken is very important. She talked about selecting your set and ‘being kind’ to your poems; poetry is a conversation with your audience and your audience must be considered. She talked about the beauty of simplicity, about performer etiquette, about how poetry’s first love is music.
This was a special, intimate afternoon, in which the participants had a chance to really get to know Jean. A wonderful session with one of the world’s warmest. Don’t miss your chance to see her and John Agard
at a special Black History Month event this Friday.
A Lovely Bunch- Celebrating the 2012 Escalatees at the Showcase
Escalator Literature offers ten winning writers a year of professional development, including one-to-one mentorship with a professional writer, a series of workshops designed to help the writers improve all aspects of their craft, support on applying for an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts award and the ever essential peer support.
Laura Stimson, Programme Manager at WCN, writes on our Escalator Literature Showcase, an evening event where our ten Escalatees read short extracts from their work to an audience of friends, family and literary agents.
On Friday we celebrated the end of the Escalator Literature programme with a showcase event in London. This sounds rather final but in fact, it felt like the beginning of things, with the ten Escalator winners spending the evening talking to agents and each other about what comes next. I came into the Escalator programme half way through, having been on maternity leave, but feel I’ve gotten to know the ten writers quickly. They feel like a group, each of them integral to the dynamic, each of them glad to be part of a cohort. They’re a lovely bunch.
Chair of Mentors Michelle Spring kicked off the readings by introducing her mentees. First, Mary Nathan, whose novel Michelle described as having a vivid sense of time and place. Mary read from a scene of her intricately visualized book that was rather aptly set just the other side of Charing Cross Road, where the showcase took place. ‘I smile widely enough so that it will reach my eyes,’ she read, as her protagonist battles inner torment in Georgian England. Next up, Bridport short story prize winner Lynsey White, whom Michelle described as having moved ‘confidently into the role of novelist’. Lynsey’s almost Dickensian story, gleaming with curses and extraordinary characters, nods towards gothic fantasy. The chapter she read from, entitled ‘Glass Worm’, contains the unique description of glass harpsichord, its melody ‘thin as a needle’.
Mentor Cathi Unsworth introduced her mentees with trademark wit, vigour and lyrical dexterity. Cathi mentored talented namesakes Megan and Meghan. UEA graduate Megan Bradbury
’s book is a fact/fiction mash-up; perhaps too casual a term for her agile, sophisticated prose. Amongst other things, it is a sparkling psychogeography of New York city; weaving the reader through this ‘gap toothed’ city. ‘How long will it sit like this, straddling the seasons,’ one line asks. Cathi describes Meghan Purvis
’ prose as ‘muscular’, a perfect expression for her book, a vampire novel which ‘swaggers the badlands’ between gothic contemporary noir. Meghan read from a scene which snagged us all; visceral, vibrant, menacing; a real cliff-hanger.
Like many of her Escalator contemporaries, L.E. Yates
’ book re-tells history. Her novel From the Mountains Descended Night
is framed by one of the greatest literary scandals of the eighteenth century, a story which her mentor David Rain described as ‘highly original, grippingly readable.’ Her scene describes an interaction between James McPherson and Samuel Johnson, in which Johnson first accuses McPherson of having created fiction. Jonathan Curran
’s book is another fiction underpinned by real events; the fall of Baghdad in the 13th Century. Told through the eyes of a boy, it describes what was once a city bright with science, philosophy, and learning, destroyed by cataclysmic political events. As his protagonist daydreams the horrors to come, he imagines fires burning ‘high and bright inside his eyelids’.
Tobias Hill’s first mentee, Kyra Karmiloff
also uses real world scandal to frame her novel. Set in the days of the Witchfinder, her book unpicks the delicate and destructive relationship between siblings. Kyra read from a scene describing ‘barber surgeons’, the game the siblings play, which involves lathering their bodies with lye suds and ‘shaving’ their bodies, removing the soap. Sue Healy
, Tobias’ second mentee, read a hilarious, beautifully constructed scene from her book, The Hole in the Moon
. It’s a vivacious, funny, often sad story of dwarfism, brotherhood, pornography, love and destruction. ‘Abroad shouldn’t be rainy,’ protagonist Dan P contemplates, on arriving into Hungary, ‘abroad should be roasting.’
Mentor Natasha Cooper worked with two historical novelists. Ian Madden
’s story is a fictional look at the real life relationship between artist JMW Turner and ‘the woman who was not his wife’, whom he lived with. The scene he read from, a wonderful illustration of the passion and eccentricity of an artist, did something rather clever; it allowed the listener to omit the male voice and transport firmly into the mind of the female protagonist. We finished the night’s readings with Linda Spurr
, whose story set in ancient Arabia, tells of woman’s struggle for autonomy. Using scent as its driving force, which she writes about with great agility and beauty, hers is a love story to frankincense and one woman’s ambition to capture it.
It was a special evening. Special because it marked the culmination of the programme. Special because it allowed the authors to meet and talk with agents. Special because they genuinely enjoy each others' company and have formed a true cohort. Special because listening to ten authors read may, on paper, sound excessive but was in reality a delight. One which was over all too soon.
Find out more about each of our Escalator winners, and read extracts of their work
Read Sue Healy’s blog on the Escalator experience
Find out more about Escalator Literature
What a Difference a Year Makes- Celebrating the 2012 Escalatees
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.
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
completed a Creative Writing MA at UEA, and has stories published in a range of anthologies from Parenthesis
. 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
Writing Friends are Important: Susan Sellers on How the Escalator Competition Continues to Provide Support
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
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
Writing and Redemption: Sue Healy on Escalator Writing Competition
Sue Healy was chosen as one of our ten Escalator Winners in 2012. Through Escalator Sue has received a year of professional development, including one-to-one mentorship with writer Tobias Hill, a series of workshops designed to help her writing career, peer support, and advice and support on applying for an Arts Council Grant.
This time last year I was looking at ten-or-so pages of notes for a story idea I had about a guilt-ridden, embittered dwarf and a cult in Hungary. I was fretting about how I could whip these scraps of writing into some sort of shape as a proposal for the Writers’ Centre 2013 Escalator Award for a genre novel. It was pretty raw material, but somehow, I did. I was selected and twelve months on, that angry dwarf has found redemption via the completed manuscript of my debut novel The Hole in the Moon
. Moreover, I have the draft of a screenplay of the same story which has been selected for write2screen
’s Script HotHouse, also supported by the Writers’ Centre. This progress is entirely down to the support and professional development I’ve received over the past year.
I’d had success as a creative writer before embarking on the Escalator Scheme. By that time, I had already won a number of national awards for my short stories, which have all been published in various anthologies, and I’d had my first radio play broadcast, and a play staged. However, my end goal had always been to write a novel but since graduating from my 2009 MA in Creative Writing from UEA, mustering the focus, determination and dedication to do so whilst working full-time, was proving difficult. Then along came the Escalator.
The first gift the Escalator provided was affirmation. If my project was good enough to be selected, then this tale of an angry challenged man and his (comic) journey towards self-acceptance, deserved my time and respect.
As part of the scheme, you are provided with a number of one-on-one mentoring sessions with an established writer. This writer selects the project with which they wish to work and mine was chosen by novelist Tobias Hill. Tobias was a perfect mentor, providing me with just the right balance of challenge and encouragement – and he ‘got’ my humour. Moreover, the deadlines we set of 10,000 words per month were achievable but enough of a stretch to help me keep on pace. I had the story down by the early summer and the present draft by autumn.
The financial support provided by a Grants for the Arts bursary was heaven-sent. The Escalator Award does not provide the funds, rather you are coached through the Grants for the Arts application – a Herculean task. However, rather like childbirth, the laborious application process dims in the bright light of reward. In my case, the grant meant I could cut down on the day job, book time at a writers retreat and travel to Hungary to research.
Throughout all this time, my Escalator peers and I kept in contact via email and occasional informal Norwich based meet-ups when we advised, cajoled and bolstered each other through the challenges the year provided and cheered for each other as the rewards began to notch up (successful grant applications, finished novels, agent interest etc…). We were also more formally assembled for the series of helpful professional development workshops that took place over the year. And we’re not done yet. I’m looking forward to a showcase presentation of our work at Foyle’s Bookshop in London, which will see us winding up the year in style.
Looking back over my journey from last September to today, I have a sense that I have made five years’ worth of progression as a writer. Perhaps my embittered dwarf is not the only one who’s found redemption via the Escalator Scheme.
About Sue Healy
From Ireland via Hungary but currently living in the U.K., I find both my homeland and Hungary mesmerising theatres, forming the backdrop of my novel, The Hole in the Moon
I graduated from UEA’s MA in Creative Writing. My short stories and drama have won the Molly Keane Memorial Award, the HISSAC Prize, the Sussex Playwrights’ Prize, the Meridian Prize, the Waterford-Annaghmakerrig Award and the Ted O’Regan Arts Award. I have also been short-listed for the Fish Short Story Competition, and the BBC International Playwriting Award, amongst fourteen other prizes and my prose has been published in seven literary publications. My BAI funded radio drama ‘Cow’ was broadcast earlier this year and my radio drama series ‘The Daffodil’ will be broadcast in 2014. My screenplay adaptation of ‘The Hole in the Moon’ has been selected for Write2Screen’s Scripit HotHouse. I currently teach creative writing at a Norfolk prison.
Read a sample from The Hole in the Moon online
Follow Sue on Twitter @SueHealy
Visit Sue's website
Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust - The Project So Far
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 J.Boasefirstname.lastname@example.org if you want to come.
Find out more about the project
How to Approach an Agent- A Guest Blog from Charlie Brotherstone of A.M. Heath
Charlie Brotherstone, agent at A.M. Heath, gives you advice on how to approach an agent and what to avoid with your submission. He is always on the lookout for exciting new voices.
I have had a wonderful five years working at A.M. Heath, where we are hugely passionate about the writers we represent. One of the aspects of the job I’ve most enjoyed is working with debut writers. It’s a long journey from that first submission to publication, and nothing beats calling someone up to tell them they’re going to be a published author. The replies range from shocked silence to unbridled, expletive-ridden joy!
So much toil and emotional investment goes into producing a complete manuscript and I sympathise with authors when they are at the point of submitting to an agent. After all the hard work there’s yet another large hurdle.
Luckily, the world of agenting has become less opaque in recent years. Type in #askagent on twitter and you will find agents answering questions about any aspect of the book business. I think it’s important to give writers as much of an idea as possible about what an agent is looking for and I often speak at writers’ conferences or creative writing schools, or blog about what I’m looking for. I even used the hashtag #agentwishlist a fortnight ago to give a sense of the types of books I would love to find. They aren’t meant to be prescriptive, but should give an indication of my tastes.
Addressing your cover letter to a specific agent and personalising your approach does help to make it stand out (it’s not just vanity on the part of that agent, honest). Displaying knowledge of the market is also impressive. It shows that you are serious about writing as a career and have clear ambitions.
The best cover letters are short and to the point. Some things to avoid are hyperbolic claims like ‘This is the best book you will ever read’ or ‘I am the next J.K. Rowling’. Add some aggression into that mix and you’ve discovered the formula for immediate rejection: ‘This is the best book you will ever read and if you don’t think so; you’re a fool’.
Agents are not devoid of a sense of humour but it is difficult to be funny in a cover letter. Out of context one-liners don’t tend to work and quirky details about the author’s life or their pets’ sex lives (yes, this happened) tend to come across as plain weird.
An original, intriguing title and concept will grab an agent’s attention. Commercial though it sounds we are all in the business of selling: authors to agents; agents to editors; editors to publishing sales teams; sales teams to booksellers; booksellers to readers: a catchy title and pitch are invaluable, especially for debut authors entering a difficult market. It is not an easy skill and it’s worth looking at jacket blurbs on similar books to get a sense of how publishers try to attract readers.
A short synopsis which cuts to the core of the book can also help make your submission stand out from the rest. Do not be afraid of giving away the ending; it’s certainly useful for us to know if there’s a killer twist!
The number of submissions we receive means that unfortunately we look for reasons to reject manuscripts. Try to resist the temptation to send your work the moment you have typed the last word; some objective distance will help you decide whether it is ready. It is frustrating when a manuscript arrives and the author has made a list of potential problems with the plot or central characters.
Simple grammar or spelling mistakes in a submission letter get magnified when you are being judged on your ability to write. Double and triple-check and make sure you follow the submissions guidelines for the agency to whom you’re submitting. (View A.M Heath's submission guidelines
It’s a daunting process but avoiding the major pitfalls outlined above and making the approach as professional as possible will increase your chances of getting noticed. Agents are always on the lookout for new voices, and the fewer barriers between me and your work the better. I am very keen to find new talent and a focused approach will help lead me to it. The tingly feeling when you know you’re onto something exciting is what makes every agent tick…
I have been at A.M. Heath
since 2008 and am always on the lookout for exciting new voices. Working with debut writers and launching their careers has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. I love writers whose powerful prose, brilliant storytelling, or unique vision can totally immerse the reader. I would particularly love to receive commercial and literary fiction, reading group fiction, upmarket crime and psychological thrillers. On the non-fiction side my main interests are in politics, history, music and sport.
Follow Charlie on Twitter @CharlieBroAgent
Follow A.M. Heath on Twitter @AMHeathLtd
Escalatee Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown on Artistic Collaboration
Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown was one of the Escalator Literature Novel Writing Competition winners in 2011. She's written us a blog on her experience of working in collaboration with artist Richard Penn.
I've just returned from a three week residency at Nirox Arts Foundation, Johannesburg, where I worked with South African artist, Richard Penn, on the production of an artist book, stonewater, which takes as its starting point a shared interest in 'origins'. The project was funded by a grant from the Artists' International Development Fund, with the support of Arts Council England, the British Council, and Nirox Arts Foundation. Here I'll explain what the project sought to achieve and what it meant to my practice as a writer:
I wanted to work with Richard as soon as I saw his work. It seemed to overlap with themes that I was thinking about in my novel, about interconnectedness. Richard's work explores the very big and the very small. He zooms in closer and closer until the image resembles something much larger, and instead of looking at something very small, what you see reminds you instead of the very large, of the universe.
I've collaborated with artists before, and written around images as well. If I decide to respond to a painting, my writing, that response, is completely separate to the artist's intent. With stonewater
, Richard and I worked intensively over a period of twenty-four days and brought the process of writing and drawing closer together. We started with two blank books – Richard began one with a drawing, and I began the other with a piece of writing. We then swapped the books daily, each producing a new work in response to the piece from the day before, so that a kind of conversation developed between drawing and text. Although we worked around the theme of origins, the work was a continual surprise and challenge.
Nirox is in Cradle of Humankind
, and the landscape is an ancient one. Finding limestone on the veld around Nirox, together with a number of sinkholes and caves, was completely unexpected. Limestone – the way it weathers and erodes creates such distinctive patterns and forms. I'd gone halfway round the world only to be taken back to a landscape that reminded me of my childhood. It was quite startling.
moves between memories of a childhood in North Yorkshire and the present day setting of the veld in the Cradle of Humankind. The writing explores two landscapes – a remembered one: the North Yorkshire moors and its limestone caves and pavements, and a newly experienced one: the ancient dolomitic limestone strata and caves, visible on the South African veld and at Plovers' Lake, at Nirox Arts Foundation. Richard's drawings explore his interest in questions that arise from depicting the very large and very small and combine near and far, the autobiographical and the imagined. The work opens up into a reflection on the impact of the loss of a father as a child and explores the ways in which memory is evoked through setting.
Writers and artists normally work alone. Although the collaboration was very demanding, it was tremendously rewarding too. In a little over three weeks, we had created a joint work we were very happy with. It worked because we insisted on a single rule – that each of us must produce a piece work each day in response to the day before. We kept the rest as loose as possible.
will be produced as a limited edition artist book in South Africa in 2014. Guinevere is currently looking for a publisher to produce a UK edition.
has won recognition for his work throughout South Africa and has exhibited widely. He is in receipt of an Ampersand Fellowship to New York.
Follow him on Twitter @richard_penn
is working on her first novel, XYZ
, which tells the story of Descartes' hidden relationship with Helena Jans van der Strom, a maid in seventeenth century Holland. She was mentored by Writers' Centre Norwich Escalator Programme 2011-2012
, and is in receipt of Grant for the Arts
funding from Arts Council England to support writing her first novel.
Follow her on Twitter @guingb