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East Anglian books celebrated at our awards

PUBLISHED: 11:13 21 October 2010 | UPDATED: 11:16 26 October 2010

An atmospheric, poignant and funny novel about bereavement was last night named East Anglian Book of the Year at the third annual EDP-Jarrold East Anglian Book Awards.

The Widow’s Tale by Mick Jackson, published by Faber and Faber, was chosen as the judges’ favourite from dozens of submissions to the awards, this year sponsored by Writers’ Centre Norwich and Community University Engagement East.

More than 100 people attended the ceremony at the Assembly House in Norwich, hosted by television presenter Carol Bundock with prizes presented by Louis de Bernieres, the Norfolk-based author of bestselling novels such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

The judges hailed The Widow’s Tale, set in an unidentified village on the north Norfolk coast, as “seriously good” literary fiction that would undoubtedly appeal to a wide readership.

Mr Jackson, who lives in Brighton and was unable to attend the ceremony owing to illness, said: “I’m absolutely delighted to hear that The Widow’s Tale has won at this year’s East Anglian Book Awards and I’m truly sorry that I can’t be with you.

“I rented a cottage in Stiffkey in the mid-1980s and have been coming back to the north Norfolk coast on a regular basis ever since. There’s a beautiful bleakness about that landscape and it seems particularly suited to this time of the year.

“I was staying in Blakeney three or four years ago when I had the idea for The Widow’s Tale.

“It seemed the perfect setting. By chance, locating the novel there allowed me to include half a dozen visits in that year’s expenses under ‘Research’.

“It is one of the few perks of being a self-employed writer.”

The Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist was one of seven category winners at last night’s awards, which celebrate the best books published within the past year, set in or written about Norfolk, Suffolk and Fenland.

Eastern Daily Press editor Peter Waters told the audience: “The EDP is celebrating its 140th anniversary through October. The East Anglian Book Awards are about good quality writing and that is the hallmark of our newspaper.

“We have always had wonderful, warm, evocative writers throughout our history – from Lilias Rider Haggard and Henry Williamson to Adrian Bell and Ted Ellis.” Mr de Bernieres, who lives near Diss, had the audience spellbound by reading a story in verse entitled ‘A Walberswick Goodnight Story’, a magical account of a mermaid-like creature coming ashore at the Suffolk coastal village.

The audience of authors, publishers and lovers of local literature also heard speeches from Chris Gribble, the chief executive of literary development agency Writers’ Centre Norwich, Caroline Jarrold, community affairs adviser at Jarrold’s, and Prof Keith Roberts, a UEA emeritus fellow who is the chairman of CUE East, which connects the University of East Anglia with arts events held in the region.

In hailing The Widow’s Tale as the East Anglian Book of the Year, the judges said: “The characterisation, the quality of the writing, the sense of place and the flashes of humour combine to make this a seriously good example of literary fiction that will appeal to a broad readership.

“Its heroine, a bereaved woman in her 60s, is the kind of character too often ignored by contemporary novelists.

“Add in the fact that its landscape and atmosphere is so distinctly East Anglian, and we have a novel worthy of being named the East Anglian Book of the Year.”

The winning books:

Fiction

The Widow’s Tale, by Mick Jackson (Faber and Faber) – a newly bereaved woman flees London for the north Norfolk coast – a place that means more to her than we initially realise. Judged by Keith Tutt, a Royal Literary Fund fellow at UEA: “The Widow’s Tale is a heartfelt, funny and poignant story about a woman’s journey through grief. It’s impressive and surprising in many unusual ways and manages to move the reader to tears and laughter.”

Poetry

Yes, by Caroline Gilfillan (Hawthorn Press) – the Fakenham-based poet’s collection that explores love and loss through a deep engagement with the natural world. Judged by Professor Jean Boase-Beier, head of the UEA’s school of literature and creative writing: “There is wonderful use of sound and imagery, near-perfect control of language. A poet who works hard, and makes the reader work hard. This poetry is so good.”

Art and Photography

Almanac, by Jeffery Camp (Royal Academy of Arts) – a celebration of the life and work of this 87-year-old Lowestoft born painter. Judged by Ian Collins, the EDP’s arts correspondent: “Growing up in and around Lowestoft before World War Two, artist Jeffery Camp has long been one of East Anglia’s most brilliant exports. Happily, Almanac, charting a lifetime spent observing people and places with lively commentary on hundreds of celebratory images, proves that he never really left. Our very own Marc Chagall is still putting us in the picture.”

Travel and Guidebooks

The Wherryman’s Way, by Steve Silk (Halsgrove) – an illustrated guide to Norfolk’s newest long-distance footpath. Judged by Nicholas Caistor, a radio and print journalist and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents: “The Wherryman’s Way is an outstanding guide. It combines a personal account with practical information. It brings together history and the present day, and perhaps most important of all, it adds people to the landscape it describes.”

History and Tradition

The Mediaeval Churches of the City of Norwich, by Nicholas Groves (Norwich HEART/East Publishing):Judged by Keith Skipper, the writer and broadcaster and authority on all things Norfolk: “A real treat of a book, beautifully produced and illustrated and written with obvious pride and joy. Vital history brought up to date – accessible scholarship and presentation skills make it a deserved winner.”

Biography and Memoir

The Newsagent’s Window, by John Osborne (Simon and Schuster) – a personal account of a year spent living life through the advertisements in Norwich’s newsagents’ windows. Judged by Ann Thwaite, the award-winning biographer of AA Milne and Emily Tennyson: “The Newsagent’s Window, dedicated to the newsagents of Norwich, is an unconventional category winner – a surprisingly engaging book that just fits into the category of memoir and biography. “This John Osborne is a real writer and his book is one that many readers will enjoy.”

Places and Nature

The Barley Bird: Notes on the Suffolk Nightingale, by Richard Mabey with images by Derrick Greaves (Full Circle Editions) – an exploration of the nightingale’s links with Suffolk history and culture Judged by Prof Keith Roberts, a plant cell biologist: “This is a short, evocative and poetic exploration of our complex historical relationship with this remarkable bird. A delightful and elegant book.”

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