Norwich - City of Stories

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Inspirational spots to put pen to paper

31 May 2016

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We are hugely excited to be collaborating with the Writers’ Centre Norwich throughout June; they'll be crafting a selection of guest posts for us under this month's theme of 'Literature'!

Visitors to Norwich are often struck by the creativity of the city - from pop-up photography exhibitions in medieval churches to the independent shops of the Norwich Lanes or the market place with its huge choice of street food. Perhaps then it is no surprise that in 2012 Norwich became England’s first UNESCO City of Literature. A grand sounding title which basically means a lot of great writers have and continue to be inspired by the city!  

At Writers’ Centre Norwich we’ve handpicked some of our favourite writing spots to while away an afternoon…

Welcome to the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library, England’s most popular library - what further proof could you need of Norwich’s literary credentials. We are a city of readers! Plus Norwich was the first city outside of London to have a public library - but enough bragging – on with the literary tour. The Norfolk Heritage Centre on the third floor houses some of the earliest printed books in Europe. For the more contemporary minded you’ll be in good company, debut author Benjamin Johncock whose novel The Last Pilot has just made the Brave New Reads list, says he wrote much of the book in the library - gaining inspiration from the variety of people who use the building every day.

Franks bar in The Norwich Lanes 600x430

Frank's Bar is a firm local favourite, equally good for a Sunday hangover brunch as a late night post-pub rum or two. It has a nice relaxed vibe, handy for the writer in need of shelter plus there is a big stock of games and books for essential writer’s procrastination. It’s just down the road from the Book Hive - an excellent three-story independent book shop. It even has its own publishing imprint Propolis - dedicated to ‘idiosyncratic’ titles. And a little further down the road is the Oxfam second hand bookshop - staffed by enthusiastic readers with some of the most reliable recommendations in town.

Meander to Take 5 through the churchyard of St George-Tombland which itself provides a nice shady spot for writing, just opposite the crooked 16th century building housing Norfolk & Norwich Festival - an architectural wonder not to be missed. Take 5 is a café, pub and performance space and an essential hang-out for any budding writer. It’s home to Café Writers which meets on the second Monday of each month at 7.30pm with guest speakers and open mic slots. Entry £2.

Saint Julian's Church attracts hundreds of international tourists and pilgrims every year, for this site is home to the anchorage of 15th century writer Julian of Norwich, who with Revelations of Divine Love was the first woman to be published in the English language. Her chapel provides an extraordinary peaceful spot to reflect and write and we hear it was a favourite writing spot for Emma Healey when she was drafting international bestseller Elizabeth is Missing.

A little out of the city, along Earlham Rd, sits The Workshop. This intimate café/bar is a fiercely protected local secret – whoops! The tapas style food, often Middle-Eastern inspired, is great value plus they do unbelievably large pizzas and those nice little custardy Portuguese tarts. There’s a bookcase full of obscure books to provide inspiration, and if they don’t do the trick the unusual artwork certainly will - trust us.

Literary Norwich McEwan credit David Kirkham UEA

You are now well on your way to the mecca of Norwich creative writing – the University of East Anglia. This is where the first MA Creative Writing in England was introduced by Malcolm Bradbury in the 1970s. Its first graduate was Ian McEwan – not a bad start! It has since spurred the careers of Kazuo Ishiguro, Emma Healey, Naomi Alderman, Joe Dunthorne, Owen Sheers and many more. The lakeside is a nice spot to sit down with a notepad and watch out for the odd otter (and even we’re told by reliable students – terrapins). If they fail to inspire it’s a short walk to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, the Norman Foster designed art gallery which has a free permanent collection including Picassos, Francis Bacons, Henry Moores and Alberto Giacomettis.  

And here we end this literary tour; when ready hop on the number 25 or 26 bus back to the city centre. Or enrol on the Creative Writing MA and stay forever!

Whether you’re a local or visiting writer, tell us your favourite Norwich writing spots!


Compiled by Jo Thompson (UEA/WCN Internship programme) 

Images - top: The Book Hive; middle: The Bicycle Shop on St Benedicts Street; bottom: Ian McEwan, credit David Kirkham