Norwich, Literature and Creative Writing

I have just completed a one year full time MA in Creative Writing (via Distance Learning) with Teesside University. As mentioned in my last post, I decided to embrace the digital nomad lifestyle and moved to Norwich for half the year. So why Norwich?

Norwich’s Northern Lights installation. Listed as one of the top ten Christmas light installations in the UK in 2016, by the Guardian.

Well I’m not really the city type, but Norwich has always felt special and I wondered what it would be like living there. I knew that the Tyndall Centre was based at the University of East Anglia (my background is in climate change, and the Tyndall Centre is a world renowned climate change research facility), and I was also aware of the City’s strong literary background. This is exemplified by the city’s award as the first UNESCO City of Literature in England, and the longest running MA in Creative Writing in the UK, which was set up at the University of East Anglia (UEA) by Malcolm Bradbury in 1970.

In the city’s bid document to become a UNESCO City of Literature, the authors stated: “Norwich has been a literary city for 900 years: a place of ideas where the power of words has changed lives, promulgated parliamentary democracy, fomented revolution, fought for the abolition of slavery and transformed the literary arts. Today, it remains the English destination for poets, novelists, biographers, playwrights, translators, literary critics, historians, environmentalists and philosophers: a place for writers as agents of change.”

That resonated powerfully with me, because that’s exactly what I hope to become. I studied climate change for my undergrad and have worked in the energy efficiency and offshore wind sectors. I’m striving to bring about the urgent action we need to avoid runaway climate change. I realised that climate change communication has been a major stumbling block in this fight, and that writing novels with climate change themes can be an effective way of getting the message across to the public. Novels engage people on an emotional level, as readers can relate to the characters. In comparison, when the public are presented with scientific information (in a non-fiction format), it engages the analytical side of the brain, which doesn’t necessarily result in behavioural change. I’ll explore this idea more in a future post.

Earlham Park in Norwich. Where two trees collide.

As Norwich is home to a growing climate change community and a prolific writing community, it seemed like the perfect melting pot to throw myself into. This idea was backed up by Norwich’s UNESCO bid, which notes that, “Norwich is a world centre for environmental sciences and art, where nature writers and artist poets famously inhabit both domains.”

I planned to base myself close to UEA, in order to use their library through the SCONUL scheme, which gives students access to university libraries across the UK.

UEA has produced some incredible authors, including Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro, the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. I can’t say this wasn’t a factor in helping to decide where I should spend my time. I made some good friends there, and was able to join societies at UEA as an ‘Associate Member’, as well as the gym. During my brief visit, Ian Rankin was a visiting professor at UEA and kindly signed copies of his new book Rather be the Devil, for me. I also walked past him in the Student Union. You’re literally surrounded by world class authors and talent in Norwich.

UEA campus from the lake.

Norwich is also a great place to base yourself because there are literary events throughout the year. Both UEA and Writers’ Centre Norwich host literary festivals and a range of talks, which have been attended by prominent authors such as Margaret Atwood, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, JM Coetzee, William Golding, Seamus Heaney, Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter, Michael Ondaatje, Gore Vidal and Toni Morrison (to name just a small few).

Norwich would come close to being a perfect city, if it wasn’t for one major issue. The level of air pollution (from nitrogen dioxide) in certain parts of the city, are higher than London. On my first day in Norwich, I could literally taste the pollution. According to a 2014 report by Public Health England, more than 1 out of every 20 deaths (5.5%) of people aged over 25 in Norwich, can be attributed to air pollution. For a city with such green credentials (Norwich is the only city located within a National Park), this is simply unacceptable and needs to be urgently addressed.

The Guardian has a great article on Norwich’s literary background, which is available here. To learn more about UEA’s prestigious creative writing alumni, and the courses available, visit their website here. A list of events being run by Writers’ Centre Norwich, can be found here.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of my time in Norwich and Norfolk. One of the great things about choosing a distance learning course, is that you get to structure your workload around other stuff. So earlier this year, when I saw snow was forecast for Friday, I made sure I’d done the week’s work before then, so that I could go into the city centre and take pictures. Cities (especially old cities) look great when it snows!

Norwich in the Snow

One of the best things that happened during my time in Norwich — EnjoyNorwich shared my pictures on social media.

Out and about in Norwich

UEA

From top left: creative writing supplement in the campus newspaper, when spotlights become foglights at UEA Sportspark, my signed novel by Ian Rankin.
From bottom left: The Blossoms at the LCR, The Wailers (from Bob Marley and the Wailers) at the LCR, UEA Campus at Christmas time.

Cromer, North Norfolk

Norfolk Broads