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Iceni Magazine | May 22, 2019

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5 Famous Writers With Norfolk Connections

5 Famous Writers With Norfolk Connections

Norfolk is a rural county with a storied history, one that includes some of the finest writers from past and present.

From the English language’s first female writer, to a children’s author adored by Norwich, here are five great scribes from Norfolk.

Anna Sewell: Showing That You Should Write From Observations

Born in one of Norfolk’s finest seaside resorts, Great Yarmouth, Anna Sewell has only one published book to her name but it’s one of the ten highest-selling children’s books of all time – Black Beauty.

Written to bring to light how poorly horses were treated, Black Beauty was an instant literary hit that helped to invent the pony book – stories for children that feature horses as a central part of the narrative. Sadly, Anna died just five months after her novel was released which meant she didn’t see the legislative changes to animal rights that it helped to inspire.

Anna was inspired to write Black Beauty after a childhood fall left her unable to walk long distances, causing her to become dependant on horses to get around. What can aspiring writers learn from this Norfolk literary great? To take inspiration from the things that affect you personally and turn your life into your art – “use some little seed of truth or observation.”

Bill Bryson: Teaching Writers To Step Outside Of Their Niche

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, has a flat in London, and today lives in leafy Hampshire – none of which have any connection to Norfolk. But where was Bill based when his most famous book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, was published?  Wramplingham, Norfolk.

Prior to writing A Short History…, Bryson was renowned for writing travel books – he’d written around half a dozen of this type. Venturing into a different niche brought the Norfolk-loving author international acclaim and success, putting Bill on the best-sellers list and secured him a number of awards. But what does this all mean to you and other writers? If you step outside of your literary comfort zone, you’ll find that your talents are much broader than you might think.

Enid Blyton: Creative Writers Can Learn A Lot From Teachers

Enid Blyton was not born in Norfolk. In fact, she didn’t even live in the East Anglian county. However, Enid’s writing has a posthumous connection to Norfolk, as you’ll see….

After graduating from Guildhall School of Music in 1915, Enid moved near Woodbridge in Suffolk. It was at the Woodbridge Congregational Church that she met Ida Hunt, a teacher from Ipswich High School. Ida encouraged Enid to train as a teacher and the connection she made with her young students helped her to develop a literary voice that children could relate to. The result was some of the most enduring characters in youth fiction – Noddy, Secret Seven, and Famous Five

2017 was 75th anniversary of the Famous Five. To mark the occasion Norwich folk created Five Go On An Adventure In Norwich, a guide to bringing Enid’s tales to life in Norfolk’s largest and most historic city.

Though Enid’s connection to Norfolk isn’t as strong as some authors, her gift to the county’s writers and beyond is rock solid – creative folk can learn a lot from teachers. If you’re a teacher with ambitions of writing fiction for children, your students can help you find your voice. You can also learn from websites geared towards authors (such as Jericho Writers), to help you with everything from how to write dialogue, to creating characters your audience can relate to.

Philip Pullman: Use Fantasy To Talk About Life’s Big Issues

There are few people from Norfolk as famous as Philip Pullman, so much so that in 2004 he was named one of the most influential people in British culture. He achieved this status because of the His Dark Materials materials trilogy, a set of books that have sold 15 million copies worldwide and which features numerous mentions of Norwich.

His Dark Materials is rich in imagination and it uses this to talk about some of life’s weightiest topics. The trilogy uses fantasy to touch on religion, good and evil, authority, and a slew of other issues. You can use it to inspire your own writing by employing fantasy as a literary device to cover the meaty subjects you wish to talk about and engage with genuine problems.

Julian of Norwich: Inspiring Female Writers For Centuries

If I ask you to reel off a list of inspirational female writers it may look a little like this:

  • K. Rowling
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Jane Austin
  • Emily Brontë
  • Maya Angelou
  • Agatha Christie

I’m sure you have your own authors you’d add to the six above but I’ll bet Julian of Norwich isn’t one of them. Who, you ask? I’ll reveal all.

Julian of Norwich (AKA Juliana, Mother Julian, and Dame Julian) is the first recorded female writer in the English language, composing Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love towards the end of the 14th century. As its title betrays, Sixteen Revelations… is about religious visions Julian received from. Over six hundred years after its release, the text is still regarded as a classic of Christian literature.

If there’s a lesson to be taken from Julian’s tale it’s that nothing should hold back your urge to write. Sixteen Revelations… was centuries before women were given anything approaching equal rights to men but Julian saw it as her purpose to commit her thoughts to paper.

There we have it, five writers with varying levels of connection to Norfolk. While some have stronger ties than others (they can’t all be Philip Pulman) each member of the quintet teaches you a valuable lesson about how to improve your own writing. So use their examples and become Norfolk’s next gift to the literary world. 

Recommended reading: Jurassic Park, Home Alone and The Matrix among the greatest movies of the 1990s


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