The struggles of becoming a writer can often be a strenuous process. There is the toil, rejection and constant battle to overcome self-doubt, not to mention the continual uncertainty of what’s to come. However, there is also a great sense of reward when one comes through the other end with the feeling of having uncovered a new aspect of the world through the shared power of the written word.
It thus seems important that we recognise the significant achievements which come with the creative development of the text. With such an artistic stronghold in Norwich, what with the highly celebrated MA in Creative Writing at our very own UEA, the city’s honoured title as UNESCO City of Literature and a pool of artistic talent in the imaginative recesses of NUA, it seems appropriate that the city should hold an annual celebration of the many literary voices centred in and around East Anglia.
Last Thursday evening, writers from across Norfolk and further afield gathered for what Chris Gribble (CEO of Writer’s Centre Norwich) describes as “a celebration of the people involved in the business of literature, in the region of East Anglia”. The event takes place annually, having been founded seven years ago by Trevor Heaton, Features Editor at the Eastern Daily Press.
It was after observing that a form of literary award had existed in the Lake District for several years that Heaton felt compelled to action. “Because we have so many significant writers that are based here or writing about here, and many great local publishers as well, we should create something which champions that”, Heaton said. “So these books are really all about East Anglia in some way, probably more so than the requirement for the authors being based here”.
The award itself consists of six categories, to which writers’ works are submitted, these including Children’s Books, General Non-Fiction, History and Tradition, Biography and Memoir, Poetry, and of course, Fiction. Within each category a specialist judge whittles down the various entries to a shortlist of three, from which a winner is selected and then announced on the evening of the Awards Ceremony.
From this, an overall winner of the East Anglian Book Award is selected based on content and relevance. Caroline Jarrold, one of the judges of the overall prize says, “choosing book of the year is difficult due to the diversity of categories. For the books to really shine, there has to be some sense of them having been inspired by being written here.”
The winner of the overall prize, Sarah Perry, epitomised just that, with her debut title After Me Comes The Flood. Despite being based within a fictionalised place, those who read her book immediately felt a sense of the mysterious Norfolk landscape as they stepped their way through each page.
“The book haunted me, and the Norfolk landscape haunted me. I couldn’t escape the pull of the Norfolk coast. It’s so haunting, so mysterious, and so eerie”, Sarah Perry said. “There’s something about it that gets under your skin”.
This feeling was most definitely shared amongst finalists. Patrick Barkham, winner of the General Non-Fiction category with his book Badgerlands, explains “There’s a wonderful welsh word called ‘hiraeth’. There’s no direct English translation, but it means the place of belonging for a person, where they have a real spiritual connection, and you get a kind of sickness if you’re away from this place. And for me that place is Norfolk, that East Anglian landscape”.
In all, the event proved a marvellous display of the literary heritage of East Anglia, and just why this place remains a central pull for artists over the country.