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Hollie McNish, Performance Poet 

Hollie has written her diaries in poems since she was seven, a little obsessively. Now a full time poet, she has received huge acclaim with Benjamin Zephaniah saying ‘I can’t take my ears off her’. She is the first poet to have performed and recorded an album at London’s Abbey Road Studios.  

'WCN put on cracking events'

I’ve worked with WCN through gigging a number of times, they put on cracking events which are always exciting to be part of. Most recently a sell-out show at Norwich Arts Centre as part of the City of Literature programme for Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

The response to my poetry still seems a little surreal, like it’s someone else’s job and as soon as I get home it’s back to the school run and parks and washing up! It’s a bloody privilege though - I really love the job and hope it lasts for a while longer! 

A close friend of mine described my poems as being like Ronseal quick dry and wood stain (does exactly what it says on the tin. Another said they were ‘short and easy to understand’. I think they’ve both got a point. I don’t think I think differently to lots and lots of people so anything personal to me is very likely I feel to be felt by others too. And the fact that I don’t think in very rich metaphors or complicated similes and wordplay possibly also helps my poetry have a wider appeal! 

Luke Wright, Poet, Theatre Maker and Broadcaster 

Luke Wright is a performance poet whose live shows are enjoyed by thousands every year. He founded the poetry collective Aisle 16 whilst at the University of East Anglia. He’s a Radio 4 regular and won a prestigious Fringe First Award at The Edinburgh Fringe 2015.

'One of the funniest and more brilliant poets of his generation' – Jonathan Hari, The Independent. 

'WCN is a force for good in the world of literature and for Norwich as a whole'

I worked for WCN for a couple of years as the Live Literature Co-ordinator but my heart lay in producing work rather than programming and facilitating it. Since leaving the organisation in 2009 I’ve continued to work with WCN on various education projects. They supported me to create my show ‘What I learned from Johnny Bevan’ which won a Fringe First Award.

WCN is a force for good in the world of literature and for Norwich as a whole. I learned a lot about the literature industry from Chris Gribble, who leads WCN, and they have continued to support me in my career. 

The story behind ‘What I learned from Johnny Bevan’ didn’t come from a single flash of inspiration.  I was rereading Brideshead Revisited (as I do most years when the ditches are “creamy with meadowsweet!”), when it struck me that Sebastian’s plight is indeed tragic, but is perhaps eased by his trust fund. Most of us have somebody from our youth who life has left behind; few of us are the youngest sons of earls.

Around the same time, I read George Walden’s excellent book on dandyism and Beau Brummell, Who’s a Dandy? Walden asserts that although dandyism for Brummell meant opulence – he had four tailors work on each of his gloves and washed his boots in champagne – the modern dandy is more likely to achieve his style by clever, often ironic approbation of the mass produced. Indeed, I grew up in the 1990s, when Jarvis was king and working-class iconography sold records.

This middle-class obsession with the authenticity of the working classes was something I experienced during my adolescence in leafy north Essex. As I made friends with people from different backgrounds, I was keenly aware of my relatively privileged upbringing. At university, like my protagonist, Nick, I was bewitched by a clever and more worldly-wise ranting poet from London’s East End.

Deborah Smith, Translator and Publisher 

Deborah’s translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang, The Vegetarian (winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize) and Human Acts, and two by Bae Suah, A Greater Music and Recitation. In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at SOAS on contemporary Korean literature and founded Tilted Axis Press. In 2016 she won the Arts Foundation Award for Literary Translation. She tweets as @londonkoreanist. 

In 2012, two years after I'd started learning Korean with the dream of becoming a literary translator, I was asked to do a sample translation of Han Kang's novel The Vegetarian, by a publisher who'd received it from her agent Barbara Zitwer. At the time, I was too mortified to explain that, though I'd optimistically put 'Literary Translator from Korean' as my bio, I hadn't yet attempted to even read an entire book, much less translate one. A year later, though, my skills had improved sufficiently for me to make the most of Korea's being chosen as the market focus country for the London Book Fair, where I first met Max Porter, Kang's wonderful editor at Portobello Books.  

I met representatives from WCN at the London Book Fair and attended the Worlds Festival  in Norwich in 2015. It always has a brilliant diverse line-up. Writers from all over the world, plenty of women, plenty of poets, debut authors put alongside Nobel winners. And everyone always finds it refreshing to spend time on intelligent, in-depth discussion of their craft, as opposed to being expected to flog their books.

'I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support I’ve received from WCN. No other literary organisation has the same global reach, especially across Asia or is as generous in sharing its connections'

I feel as though I'm always working with WCN, happily! The two main authors I translate have both been WCN Writers in Residence and we're working on arranging something similar for the Korean authors I'm scheduled to publish. I spoke about being a radical publisher at WCN’s Translation in the Margins symposium and I teach at the BCLT translation summer school, another WCN initiative.  

I wouldn't be where I am today without the support I've received from WCN. No other literary organisation has the same global reach, especially across Asia, or is as generous in sharing its connections. Several of the books / authors / translators I work with I discovered through WCN, the writer's residencies were invaluable opportunities for me to spend time in the company of 'my' authors, and their willingness to collaborate was crucial in being able to secure the Arts Council funding to get Tilted Axis off the ground.

Tilted Axis last year, is a not-for-profit company focusing on contemporary fiction from Asian languages - so far we have Bengali, Korean, Indonesian, Thai, Uzbek and Japanese. Redressing representational biases is both important to us in itself and a brilliant way of sourcing the kind of innovative work that excites us, so we've committed to at least a 50:50 gender split, and are looking forward to taking part in 2018's Year of Publishing Woman, responding to a provocation made by Kamila Shamsie at one of WCN's National Conversation events. We're also proud to operate without unpaid interns, another blight on the industry. 

Hannah Walker, Poet and Producer 

Hannah is a poet from Cambridge and Essex. She has toured intensively both nationally and internationally doing shows, readings and running workshops. She is passionate about engaging people with poetry and using poetry to have conversations.

'I feel supported as a writer in Norwich in a way that feels extraordinary. It truly deserves the UNESCO City of Literature status'

Poetry is for everyone, or at least it has the potential to be, and though it is a controversial opinion I reckon if the general masses don't get or like poetry, then it is our responsibility as poets to make work that does, or tries to. My view of this certainly shapes the shows that I make, which are often interactive, and use poetry as a form of speaking.

I first encountered WCN when they were called The New Writing Partnership and I volunteered to help run their Worlds Symposium. I ran the podcaster and was really nervous that I would mess it up. I really wanted to be a writer but was too scared to tell anyone, so I surrounded myself with as many writers as possible instead.

Then I applied to the Escalator Live Literature programme run by Laura Stimson and Luke Wright, thinking I didn't have a chance in hell, but was thrilled and amazed to be accepted. Francesca Beard was my mentor and with the support of this programme, and assistance in obtaining my first Grants for the Arts Funding (GfTA), I left my full time job at Norfolk & Norwich Festival and made my first poetry show, a show about apology called 'This is just to say' which I toured around the country and beyond. When I was on this programme, I did not really believe in my abilities and sort of self -sabotaged by leaving things to the last minute and not turning up to things, and Chris Gribble, CEO at WCN sent me a wonderful email saying something along the lines of, 'don't self sabotage, you can write, so do that instead'. So I did, and all credit to him.

Then I made two more shows, with a theatre maker called Chris Thorpe, 'The Oh Fuck Moment' and 'I wish I was lonely'. The first won a Fringe First, and the second was a commission from Writers’ Centre Norwich. Both toured nationally to critical acclaim. Writers Centre Norwich allowed us to use the meeting space at their offices to try out the first ever performance of 'The Oh Fuck Moment', as the show takes place in an office.  

I went to Australia, Melbourne Writers Festival with Laura Stimson, Luke Wright and Tim Clare in the autumn of 2011, as the result of Chris Gribble developing a relationship with the festival. The three of us toured and performed our shows.

Then I worked with the poet Martin Figura on the poetry in schools programme designed by Sam Ruddock, Programme Manager at WCN. A programme which looked at how poetry is taught.

Then I got a job working for the writing development organisation Apples and Snakes as the East region coordinator and worked in partnership with Writers’ Centre Norwich to develop a programme of work to develop, engage and support East based live literature artists. We ran a residency, a symposium and commissioned work.

Then I ran some workshops as part of Writers Centre Norwich's programme, such as a writing on trains workshop. And I facilitated a symposium for the national live literature sector as part of Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2014.

WCN supported various applications that I have submitted to things such as GfTA, most recently supporting my application for development as a live literature producer. During this development period I produced Francesca Beard's show 'A Lie', which Writers Centre Norwich premiered May 16 as part of Norfolk 16.

I went to University at UEA, and stayed for 3 years after, leaving to do a poetry MA at Newcastle University. As soon as the MA was over, I came straight back as I missed Norwich so much, and I got the job at NNF.  Norwich is in my opinion, the MOST creative city. I think if you walk through Norwich on an average night you might think, not much creativity here. But if you ask around, and learn the city even a little, you suddenly find people doing extraordinarily creative things in every corner, and I mean, everywhere.

It is a hive of talent. It is commonly said, Norwich is where ambition goes to die. That could not be further from the truth! I think because it is so far away from everywhere, it has an island mentality of sorts, and as such makes more things happen, in a more hub shire like way. I love it and crave to come back as soon as possible. I feel supported as an artist there in a way that feels extraordinary. It truly deserves the UNESCO City of Literature status. 

I am in the process right this minute of dreaming up a shiny new show. It will be a solo show and I am absolutely terrified about it. It is called 'The Knot' and is about anxiety. I’m also writing and developing my first poetry collection with help from two mentors,  it is called 'You interrupt my brain sweetheart'. We’re further working on  Francesca Beard's new show, leading to a national tour which I will produce AND I am writing a kids book about children whose brains work differently.