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Originally published 2018
We are hugely excited to be collaborating with the Writers’ Centre Norwich throughout June; here’s their second post written for us under the theme of ‘literature’.
Here at Writers’ Centre Norwich HQ (Dragon Hall) we’ve selected some of our favourite books to feature the fine City of Literature, and the equally fine county of Norfolk as a location. With such literary greats as Julian of Norwich, Thomas Browne, W.G. Sebald, Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro all calling Norwich home at some point, who can resist feeling inspired?
Norwich isn’t just a great place for writing in – it’s perfect for writing about. With its web of cobbled lanes, more medieval churches than any other city in Northern Europe and proximity to a stunning coastline it’s proved an attractive setting for some very memorable books. Let us know your favourites or any we’ve missed out.
The Absolutist (2011), by John Boyne
‘I turned right, walking through a place that identified itself by the rather morbid name of Tombland, and in the direction of the great spire of Norwich Cathedral.’
John Boyne’s seventh novel, The Absolutist, sees twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler take a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters – and a deep secret – to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War.
John Boyne studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where he won the Curtis Brown Prize. In 2015, UEA awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Letters. He is a patron of WCN’s National Centre for Writing campaign.
The Rings of Saturn (1995), by W.G. Sebald
‘…it is said in a history of silk manufacture in England that a traveller approaching Norwich under the black sky of a winter night would be amazed by the glare over the city, caused by light coming from the windows of the workshops, still busy at this late hour.’
A haunting, memorable book that defies categorisation. Most simply it charts a walking tour of the Suffolk coast yet through historical and philosophical diversions it takes the reader on a far more profound inner journey. It received international critical acclaim and secured Sebald’s reputation as one of the greatest writers of our time.
W.G. Sebald moved to Norwich in 1970 when he became a lecturer at UEA, where he also completed his PhD. In 1987, he was appointed chair of European Literature at UEA and in 1989 was a founding director of the British Centre for Literary Translaton. Tragically, he died in a car crash near Norwich in December 2001.
Coot Club (1934), by Arthur Ransome
‘And so, rejoicing in their freedom, the outlaw and his friends sailed on their way, through a country as flat as Holland, past huge old windmills, their sails creaking round, pumping the water from the low-lying meadows on which the cows were grazing actually below the level of the river.’
Coot Club is the fifth book in Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ children’s series, published in 1934. The book sees Dick and Dorothea Callum visiting the Norfolk Broads during the Easter holidays, eager to learn to sail and thus impress the Swallows and Amazons when they return to the Lake District later that year.
Ransome visited the Norfolk Broads in the 1930s and used the area as inspiration for two of his children’s novels, Coot Club and The Big Six.
Never Let Me Go (2005), by Kazuo Ishiguro
‘Miss Emily had said Norfolk was England’s ‘lost corner’ because that was where all the lost property found in the country ended up.’
Never Let Me Go is a dystopian science fiction novel which marked a departure from Kazuo Ishiguro’s usual genre of writing. In it, he imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England and the ways in which they come to terms with their childhood many years later.
Like many of the authors on this list, Kazuo Ishiguro discovered Norwich through studying his Masters’ Degree in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2005 and was listed in the TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.
Inspector Jurnet series, by S.T. Haymon
‘I’m willing to admit that, after five years of it, Norfolk has grown on me. It’s on the same scale I am. No Niagaras, no hills higher than hills in decency ought to be. Moderation, in all things.’
S.T. Haymon’s Inspector Benjamin Jurnet series is set across various fictional locations in Norfolk, from the Cathedral of Angleby in Ritual Murder (1982) to Bullen Hall stately home in Stately Homicide (1984).
Sylvia Theresa Haymon was born in Norwich and whilst best known for the Inspector Jurnet series, also wrote non-fiction books for children and two memoirs on her childhood in East Anglia. Ritual Murder won the prestigious CWA Silver Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association. She’d no doubt be pleased to see that Norwich has continued its crime writing heritage with Noirwich Crime Writing Festival, taking place this year on 15-18 September.
Looking for more? Spot the familiar surroundings in these…
The Go-Between (1953), by L.P. Hartley
Restoration (1989), by Rose Tremain
Floodland (2001), by Marcus Sedgwick
Ruth Galloway series, by Elly Griffiths
The Accidental (2005), by Ali Smith
A Change of Climate (2010), by Hilary Mantel
This House is Haunted (2013), by John Boyne
Me Comes the Flood (2014), by Sarah Perry
The Honours (2015), by Tim Clare
The Living (2016), by Anjali Joseph
Images – top: Norwich Cathedral Close in blossom, middle: Tombland, bottom: walking in the Norfolk countryside