Acclaimed author Ian McEwan returns to the city for the Worlds writers symposium with new book Nutshell

Ian McEwan at St Andrew's Hall for the close of the World's Symposium hosted by the Writer's Centre

Ian McEwan at St Andrew's Hall for the close of the World's Symposium hosted by the Writer's Centre Norwich - Credit: Archant

Closing the World's Literary Symposium in Norwich - acclaimed author Ian McEwan returned to the city where he honed his craft to launch his latest work - Nutshell.

Ian McEwan with UEA Professor Jon Cook at St Andrew's Hall for the close of the World's Symposium ho

Ian McEwan with UEA Professor Jon Cook at St Andrew's Hall for the close of the World's Symposium hosted by the Writer's Centre Norwich - Credit: Archant

In 1970 Mr McEwan carved out a path in creative writing at the University of East Anglia which later grew into the world-leading MA course as it is today. And this evening he came to St Andrew's Hall as a guest speaker for the Writer's Centre Norwich.

'There was romance about coming to a city that was on the way to nowhere,' he said of his arrival at the UEA.

'To discover this incredibly beautiful, rather peaceful city in 1970 - the 1960s was just reaching it. It had quite a counter culture as well as its powerful sense of the church. I got from Norwich a really peculiar sense of freedom. It was as if I was in a foreign country.

'I knew no-one and that is just what I wanted. I cut myself off from my networks and it was almost like a kind of isolated state.


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'My experience of creative writing here wasn't quite the product of a course but an amazing opportunity to have two novelists reading my work.'

With the growth of creative writing since his departure from Norwich, Mr McEwan returns most years to speak to the current graduate students.

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'If 20 people come on the course you are not going to get 20 novelists or people living by their writing 10 years later,' he said.

'On the other hand embarking on the adventure and ordeal of writing a long piece of fiction is an education in itself. You get to know something about yourself - about your limits, your endurance, your stamina and your imagination and where that can take you. I think that is a goal in itself.

'I am always saying to writers at the beginning of their careers; just concentrate on a short story for a while. Purge yourself of any salacious imitations of other writers, get them off your chest and try out different clothes and different ways of telling the story. Find time to fail. You can be liberal with your failure and do it several times. It is a liberty and in the end one story may grab you and turn into something longer.'

Coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, Mr McEwan brought his own unique take on Hamlet in his new book Nutshell - entirely narrated be a foetus with a penchant for wine for overhears a murder plot from the womb.

'That is very restricting but the mind of a foetus is a blank sheet,' he said. 'A foetus is a kind of existential hero, having no past and no name. There are all kinds of opportunities.'

Exploration of youth is a thread that runs throughout much of Mr McEwan's work, including A Child in Time, Atonement, and The Children Act - often with brilliant but tragic characters.

'I was very inward as a child, and extremely shy,' he said. 'The very last bit of my childhood was a shock in that at the age of 11 I was sent off to boarding school and my parents were 2,000 miles away in north Africa. 'I wasn't even homesick - I was in a state of shock that took some years to wear off. It is childhood as a Garden of Eden from which I was expelled. I had to grow up rather quickly to survive it - I think too soon. The thread might be innocence and its loss, or comfort and security and its loss.'

Despite the macabre plot in Nutshell, Mr McEwan said it was a ' silly' book, which also had an optimism.

'From many perspectives the world has never been in better shape in terms of literacy, which would be tragic if we lose it.'

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