The Blagger's Guide To: Literature in East Anglia

It's flat and watery, ... unlike the books that it inspires

Saturday 23 March 2013 21:00

The shortlist for the £2,500 New Angle Prize – for a work of literary merit set in, or inspired by, East Anglia – was announced last week on Radio Suffolk. This year's judges are three natives of the area: the actress-turned-novelist Esther Freud (divides her time between London and Suffolk); the crime writer Jim Kelly (a Royal Literary Fellow at Essex University and a previous New Angle prize winner); and Dr Jo Catling, a Senior Lecturer in Literature at University of East Anglia (UEA) and former colleague of W G Sebald.

According to Jim Kelly, the unique "edginess" of East Anglian fiction stems from the fact that the region is dominated by a long coastline. This provides "an edginess where human vulnerabilities can be explored against a backdrop of wide open landscapes and on the margins between land and sea".

The shortlisted books are: Dog Days by Elspeth Barker (Black Dog): an anthology of reviews and essays that the judges call "a welcome antidote to more romantic views of life in East Anglia"; At the Yeoman's House by Ronald Blythe (Enitharmon): the story of Bottengoms Farm, which came into the author's possession more than 30 years ago after the death of the artist John Nash; James Dodds, Tide Lines by Ian Collins (Jardine Press): about the life and work of the artist; 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson (Penguin): "the story of a Polish family, torn apart by the Second World War, reunited in 1946 in Ipswich"; This Luminous Coast by Jules Pretty (Full Circle Editions): based on a 400-mile walk from the Dartford Bridge to Hunstanton; The Last Hunters: The Crab Fishermen of Cromer by Candy Whittome and David Morris (Full Circle Editions).

The 2011 shortlist included Maggi Hambling's The Scallop – her account of the creation and controversial siting of her famous memorial to Benjamin Britten. Some havoc was caused at the showcase event when Hambling, right, insisted on bringing her two dogs. At the awards dinner, she made great play of the fact that the winning reader, randomly selected to present a separate "Readers Choice" award, run by the local paper, turned out to be her builder.

Of course, East Anglia is to novelists what Newcastle was to coals: churning them out at an alarming rate thanks to the UEA Creative Writing department. Alumni include Naomi Alderman, Helon Habila, Tracy Chevalier, Booker Prize-shortlisted authors Tash Aw, Adam Foulds, Rose Tremain, Mick Jackson, Trezza Azzopardi, Andrew Miller, and Booker winners Ian McEwan, Anne Enright and Kazuo Ishiguro.

W G Sebald lived in Germany, Switzerland and Manchester before finally settling in Norfolk and teaching at UEA. His Rings of Saturn is the most frequently referenced "most influential East Anglian book" among writers attending the New Angle Prize's "shortlist showcase" events.

Charles Dickens's David Copperfield was born in Bundeston, near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. The Plough pub in the town honours Barkis, the carrier, in a panel over the door.

All the authors shortlisted will attend an evening of readings and conversation on 26 June in the Ipswich Institute's Reading Room, in Tavern Street, Ipswich. The winners will be announced on 4 September. See for more information.

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