As UEA continues to celebrate 50 years of its acclaimed Creative Writing programme, five of the six writers involved in the ambitious Future and Form project joined Henry Sutton (Director of Creative Writing at UEA) and Tim Wright, executive producer, to discuss creativity, process, and results amidst the pandemic. With the Future and Form project not intending to be displayed until the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May, this discussion offered a sneak preview into the content available and the thoughts of the artists themselves.
Described by Sutton as a “groundbreaking project”, Future and Form aims to explore new ways of literary writing and storytelling, adapted for wide audiences. First to speak was Ayòbámi Adébáyò, a graduate of the Creative Writing MA, about her project ‘Provenance’, a story that transcends location and history, moving from Benin to Nigeria to Norwich over the span of 120 years. Adébáyò discussed her desire to restore the “brutal history” that resides in historical objects through storytelling, reclaiming them from their colonialist and sanitised depictions in museums.
Mona Arshi, an alumna of the Poetry MA, has worked on a series of poems that focus on the “beautiful yet fragile” landscape of Cley, North Norfolk, one of the oldest nature reserves in the country. Pushing ethical parameters and philosophies, Arshi’s poems combine spoken-word recordings with the sounds of the nature reserve, recorded by a sound engineer. A snippet offered the sounds of gently running water and rustling grasses as Arshi recited one of her poems with gentile gravitas.
Next, Imogen Hermes Gowar, who studied Archeology, Anthropology, and Art History at UEA before going on to complete an MA in Prose Fiction, discussed her project in partnership with Norwich Castle and Museum. With a particular interest in osteoarchaeology (the study of bones), Hermes Gowar has set to work on an interactive walk through Norwich that examines the potential life and relationships of one Lady Eleanor Talbot, whose remains were found and are linked to a rich history.
Mitch Johnson, a writer of children’s books, worked closely with Norfolk schoolchildren to create his project for Future and Form. ‘The Living Book’ is a result of asking young students to look ahead 50 years into the future and imagine what might await them; ruin or regeneration. By using Virtual Reality technology, Johnson offers an interactive, expansive landscape directly carved from the musings of a future generation who will have to deal with the effects of climate change themselves.
James McDermott’s play, ‘Senseless’, perhaps hits the closest to home. It follows a couple that are falling in love amidst a digital pandemic, caused by a virus that leads to emotional shutdown if anyone catches it. McDermott explained how he wanted to explore the concept of being present and distant; whether that’s in a theatre or over social media and dating apps, this play will combine both in-person and digital set pieces and actors, allowing the viewer to confront their own relationship with connection and presence.
Tim Wright looks toward the future as he discusses the process leading up to Future and Form. The aim of the project is to imagine what a writer’s life is going to look like, and how their work will persevere 5, 10, 50 years into the future. There is no denying the impact technology has had on the way we produce and consume media, and all the writers at the event agreed that, in these strange times, there is an increased care and clarity for audience interaction. Creative freedom has changed shape with the opportunities offered – Future and Form has allowed these writers to expand their boundaries, no longer limited to just the page, and this emphasis on the digital will prevail as a project as ambitious as it is successful.