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Norwich has been a literary city for 900 years: a place where every hidden garden, cathedral spire and crooked beam has a story behind it. Home to the oldest football chant in history, the first BAME English circus proprietor (inspiration for The Beatles’ song ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!’), and the first woman to publish a book in the English language anywhere in the world, England’s first UNESCO City of Literature is the picture-perfect destination to explore the power and pleasure of words.
Every month, the National Centre for Writing, based in Dragon Hall – one of Norwich’s 12 iconic buildings – celebrates the individuals that were born or found their voice in Norwich, that continue to weave their stories and words through the fabric of the city today. This month wander through the secret backstreets of North City and lose yourself in the antiques shops and scenic, riverfront pubs with local independent bookseller, Joe Hedinger as your guide.
Joe Hedinger is a bookseller, creative consultant and co-founder of the not-for-profit literature magazine, Dog-Ear. He was nominated for Individual Bookseller of the Year at the British Book Awards 2019 for his work at The Book Hive. The unique, indie bookshop is a cultural hot spot for Norwich readers and thinkers of all ages and has been nominated for Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards 2020. Joe has also worked creatively with the National Centre for Writing on the development of the Desmond Elliott Award for debut authors – the flagship in a series of awards aimed at supporting early career writers.
Were you born or drawn here? Drawn, from London – and for many reasons. I met my (now) wife, Lucy, while working in the Big Smoke, and we used to visit her family here on weekends. It didn’t take long for the Fine City to work its charms – who wouldn’t fall for a walkable city full of writers and artists, independent bookshops, pubs, record shops and cafes, with nature on its doorstep and the sea about 40 minutes away? I used to dream about being on a Greater Anglia Train (not a phrase you often hear!) or driving down the A11, under the bat bridges (look it up), on my way to Norwich… Norfolk came to represent escape, freedom, relaxation, creativity… On one of these weekend trips (probably the first, knowing what a bookworm I am) I popped into the Book Hive – and I think that sealed my fate. I fell in love with the quirky building, the eccentric and eclectic stock, the slightly anarchic ethos… And how this, in its own bookish way, reflects all the very best things about Norwich as a whole. I struck up a friendship with Henry, the owner, and… fast forward a few months… Lucy and I were here – both exploring new avenues in our careers, and (amazingly!) in a house of our own (a mortgage in London being well out of reach…)
Favourite thing to do in the city? It’s hard to pin it down to one thing; there’s so many brilliant things to do. Some highlights include: browsing the curiosity shops down Magdalen Street; having cocktails at Franks and Hawthorn; walking around the (numerous!) green spaces (like Waterloo Park); chatting to my local greengrocer, Rob, in Anglia Square; going to gigs at the LCR or the Waterfront; enjoying a giant brunch at The Street Cafe or Olives; poking around the regular creative makers markets… I could go on (and also cheat and mention easily-accessible activities outside of the city, like a walk through the saltmarsh along the Norfolk Coastal path…)
Favourite place for a coffee/beverage/food? I live in North City, an area which has its share of Norwich’s very best pubs (the Plasterers, the Stanley, the Marlborough, the Rosebery, the Whalebone, the Duke of Wellington…to name but a few). It’s tough to pick just one, but for the benefit of this interview I’ll say… The Fat Cat Brewery Tap on the corner of Sprowston / Lawson Road. It’s unbeatable on so many fronts! If you are after a delicious, unusual beer there really is no better place in the city – nay, the country. The selection is immense, the staff are always beaming, their knowledge of beer knows no bounds and the space itself is so warm and welcoming – plus, they have regular live music and serve Mother Chip – quite frankly dangerously delicious loaded chips…
Favourite spot to read or write? At The Book Hive, during our Page Against The Machine reading hour, every Wednesday night! But I also enjoy getting my nose into a book at one of Norwich’s indie coffee shops – or while sunning myself on The Ribs of Beef ’s riverside terrace when the summer evenings are long…
My Norwich: This city means possibility. It’s welcomed me and my passions with open arms – it’s allowed me to realise a dream of becoming a bookseller. With affordable places to live, food, drink and so many cultural activities, it’s an amazing place to be if you are creatively inclined. The free bookmark-magazine that I edit, Dog-Ear, has thrived here – and my own writing (poetry) has improved with the support of the community. With nature everywhere, it’s also helped me to be more active, and more ecological – if you want to reduce your reliance on plastic, Norwich has so many options, including fresh veg from markets, Ethical Ernies, Rainbow and Re-Source. It’s no surprise to me that this part of the world produces so many talented writers and artists of all kinds – it’s vibrantly independent, it’s steeped in history, it’s full of curiosity. It’s hard to put into words, but I feel that Norwich simply knows itself in a way that other places don’t. There’s an energy here that will nourish you, if you let it.
Listen to Joe speak about life as an independent bookseller for the National Writing Centre Podcast, which can be found here.