A literary feast at this year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Writers' Centre Norwich chief executive Chris Gribble. Photo: Bill Smith.

Writers' Centre Norwich chief executive Chris Gribble. Photo: Bill Smith. - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

Writers and thinkers galore are heading to the city to entertain and inspire debate at this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Arts correspondent EMMA KNIGHTS finds out more from Writers' Centre Norwich chief executive Chris Gribble.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas. - Credit: Vincent LUCAS /le facteur d'imag

Every year the Norfolk and Norwich Festival has a packed programme celebrating the spoken and written word and our fine city's status as a UNESCO City of Literature.

This year is no exception, with everyone from Trainspotting novelist Irvine Welsh to historian Alison Weir to poet Simon Armitage featured in the line-up, and the topics they are collectively covering are vast.

'The programme as a whole - it's larger, it's bigger - we are doing more commissions and presenting different sorts of work,' said Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers' Centre Norwich which oversees the festival's City of Literature programme.

One of the key events this year is Fierce Light, a poignant project reflecting on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Norfolk and Norwich Festival exhibition Fierce Light at NUA's East Gallery. Caroline Fisher from NUA

Norfolk and Norwich Festival exhibition Fierce Light at NUA's East Gallery. Caroline Fisher from NUA and Sam Ruddock from Writers' Centre Norwich.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant


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Six contemporary poets - Simon Armitage, Daljit Nagra, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Bill Manhire, Paul Muldoon and Jackie Kay - have created new work about the First World War battle in northern France, and the result is a thought-provoking exhibition running throughout the festival at Norwich University of the Arts' East Gallery and an accompanying night of performance at Norwich Playhouse this Friday. It is a partnership between the festival, Writers' Centre Norwich and 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions.

'Fierce Light is really fascinating,' said Mr Gribble.

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'Simon Armitage has created poetry inspired by aerial photography of the Battle of the Somme, and five other poets have also been commissioned to write their responses to the war. We have got lovely, moving new commissions, each one accompanied by a film. It is a real audio-visual treat and really moving.'

Meanwhile Dragon Hall, the home of Writers' Centre Norwich, is to be transformed into The Story Machine this Sunday.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas. - Credit: Vincent LUCAS /le facteur d'imag

The medieval merchant's hall on King Street will be packed with stories and installations for people to discover as they explore the historic building.

There will be live literature from Jon McGregor, Kevin Barry, Sarah Hall and Anna Metcalfe alongside work from writers including Claudia Rankine, Etgar Keret, Katherine Mansfield and Mikhail Zoschenko,

'The audience gets to choose their own path through the stories,' said Mr Gribble.

'There will be stories in the hallways, gardens and cellars. It is a really lovely project to celebrate the different parts of Dragon Hall. It's something we have never done before and we are very excited about it.'

NNF16. Kate Summerscale. Photo: Eamonn McCabe.

NNF16. Kate Summerscale. Photo: Eamonn McCabe. - Credit: Eamonn McCabe

A popular festival tradition is the City of Literature Weekend - two days dedicated to gaining an insight into some of the most original thinkers and writers. This year it will take place at Dragon Hall on May 21 and 22,

'The first day is 'the world as it is and as it has been' and the second day is 'the world as we might make it.' It's understanding on one side and how you can change things on the other side,' Mr Gribble said.

'There's some quite deep topics but at the same time authors that make it understandable and gripping.'

Talks on day one include Life in the World's Largest Refugee Camp with Ben Rawlence, Julian of Norwich and the Voices in Our Heads with writer and psychologist Charles Fernyhough, and Murder, Morality and the Penny Dreadful with author Kate Summerscale. The following day's talks include Don't Let My Past Be Your Future with Second World War Veteran Harry Leslie Smith, The End of Alchemy with the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, and Neurotribes: Thinking Smarter About Difference with investigative reporter Steve Silberman.

NNF16. Harry Leslie Smith. Photo: submitted.

NNF16. Harry Leslie Smith. Photo: submitted. - Credit: submitted

The annual Harriet Martineau Lecture will once again honour the legacy of the Norwich-born 19th century radical thinker, campaigner and writer who was thought to be the world's first female journalist.

This year Linton Kwesi Johnson, described as the world's number one dub poet, is taking to the lecture podium at Norwich Arts Centre on Thursday, May 26, following in the footsteps of previous speakers including Kate Mosse, Ali Smith and Masha Gessen.

The international reggae artist will reflect on Ms Martineau's campaigning on behalf of black emancipation, including looking at her works Society in America and The Hour and The Man.

'It is the first time we have asked a man to do the lecture,' said Mr Gribble.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas. - Credit: Vincent LUCAS /le facteur d'imag

'Linton is such an amazing figure and we thought he would bring a really interesting perspective on Harriet Martineau's legacy.'

Added to all this are a whole array of other literature events - from Trainspotting novelist Irvine Welsh heading to the Adnams Spiegeltent to poets Martin Figura and Luke Wright both bringing their new performance works to Norwich Arts Centre to UEA chancellor and novelist Rose Tremain discussing her latest book at Writers' Centre Norwich.

When asked to sum up the entire breadth of this year's literature programme, Mr Gribble said: 'I think at the heart of this year's programme [is how] we use literature to try and understand the world. We wanted to create a programme that combined use of text to understand the world and also how we might influence the future in a more positive way, how we can try to change the world for the better. We have some historical stuff and some scientific and economic stuff, and we also look at how to change, whether it's how we might write differently or how we might react differently. It touches the programme at different points but we think that it brings it altogether.'

He added: 'We want to let the writers' curiosities about the world go loose and for them to take the audience with them. Most of the time we don't have time to be as curious as writers.'

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas. - Credit: Vincent LUCAS /le facteur d'imag

Norfolk and Norwich Festival runs from May 13 to 29. Visit www.nnfestival.org.uk

Do you have a Norwich arts story? Email emma.knights@archant.co.uk

City of Literature programme at a glance:

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas. - Credit: Vincent LUCAS /le facteur d'imag

? FIERCE LIGHT. Tuesday, May 10 to Saturday, June 4. Tuesday to Sunday. 12pm-7pm. East Gallery at NUA. Free.

Simon Armitage and a selection of other poets reflect on the complexity and terror of the First World War in an exhibition of poetry, photography and film.

? FIERCE LIGHT. Friday, May 13, 7.30pm. Norwich Playhouse. Tickets £18.

A performance complementing the Fierce Light exhibition, including poets Simon Armitage, Daljit Nagra and Jo Shapcott reading excerpts of their poems.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas.

NNF16. Flat. Photo: Vincent Lucas. - Credit: Vincent LUCAS /le facteur d'imag

? THE STORY MACHINE. Sunday, May 15. 12.30pm and 7.30pm. Writers' Centre Norwich, Dragon Hall. Tickets £15.

An immersive literary event powered by literature and oiled by theatre.

? FRANCESCA BEARD: A Lie. Monday, May 16. 6.30pm. Norwich Arts Centre. Tickets £10.

A performance questioning whether lying is our most impressive art and possibly our most human need.

? HOLLIE MCNISH: Nobody Told Me. Monday, May 16. 8.45pm. Norwich Arts Centre. Tickets £10.

An honest and humourous reflection on the poet's journey before, during and after pregnancy.

? CITY OF LITERATURE WEEKEND. Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22. From 11am. Writers' Centre Norwich. Individual events £8, day ticket £40, weekend ticket £70.

A weekend of writers and speakers looking at the world as it is and has been and the world as we might make it.

? LUKE WRIGHT: What I Learned From Johnny Bevan. Tuesday, May 24, 8pm. Norwich Arts Centre. Tickets £12.

A politically-charged one-man show encompassing shattered friendships, class and social ceilings.

? IRVINE WELSH: The Blade Artist. Tuesday, May 24. 7.30pm. Adnams Spiegeltent. Tickets £14.

Trainspotting novelist Irvine Welsh on the return one of modern fiction's most infamous characters, the incendiary

Francis Begbie, in new novel The Blade Artist.

? ALISON WEIR: Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen. Wednesday, May 25. 6.30pm. Writers' Centre Norwich. Tickets £8.

The bestselling historian talks about the first book in her six-novel series about Henry VIII's queens.

? ROSE TREMAIN: The Gustav Sonata. Wednesday, May 25. 8pm. Writers' Centre Norwich. Tickets £8.

The author and UEA Chancellor discusses her new book about the struggle for love and the healing power of lasting friendship.

? LINTON KWESI JOHNSON: The Harriet Martineau Lecture. Thursday, May 26. 6.30pm. Norwich Arts Centre. Tickets £12.

The dub poet explores Martineau's campaigning on behalf of black emancipation.

? MARTIN FIGURA: Doctor Zeeman's Catastrophe Machine. Thursday, May 26. 8.45pm. Norwich Arts Centre. Tickets £10.

A multi-media performance about love, loss and when to let go.

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