Norfolk author knows his place

A novelist from Norfolk who has his eye-trained on the weird and wonderful behaviour of its residents will be presenting a discussion of 'Place' in fiction at the Burnham Market Book Festival this weekend.

A novelist from Norfolk who has his eye-trained on the weird and wonderful behaviour of its residents will be presenting a discussion of 'Place' in fiction at the Burnham Market Book Festival this weekend. Ben Woods tracked him down to get his take on the influence of 'Place' and Norfolk on his own work.

If the crime fiction of Ian Rankin could not exist without Edinburgh, and if Colin Dexter's Morse would be lost without Oxford, then the same could be said about Norfolk and the novels of Henry Sutton.

Since publishing his first book in 1995, the writer has had a love-affair with the county that has seen him use Gorleston, Burnham Overy Staithe, and Norwich as backdrops for his literary tales of elderly romance, haunted pasts, and estranged families.


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However, speaking ahead of his appearance at the Burnham Market Book Festival, the author revealed that despite setting three of his novels in the region he does not consider himself a Norfolk writer.

'Because I grew up and lived in the county for such a large part of my life I feel I have the capacity to write about here,' says Mr Sutton, easing himself into a chair in front of his bookcase that covers the entire back wall of his study.

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'But I wouldn't say that I am a Norfolk writer. It's the relationships between people and the fine details that interest me first, not the place itself.'

'Of course there are times when the meaning of a novel is intrinsically linked to the place it is set.'

'The characters I was writing about in my first novel, Gorleston, could not exist without the claustrophobic, retirement, suburbia of the seaside town, in the same way my second novel, Bank Holiday Monday, needed the North Norfolk coast to tell the story of trendy weekenders from London troubled by their memories of the region.'

'But there were also times when I needed to escape familiar environments like the North Norfolk and London in my writing.'

'For my fourth novel, Flying, I wanted to write a story that was not heavily influence by place at all, so I set the narrative on a transatlantic flight from London Heathrow, to JFK New York.'

Henry Sutton spent his childhood growing up in Gorleston, before leaving Norfolk at 18 to seek a career in journalism in London.

There, he went on to become a regularly contributor to the Independent on Sunday and Books Editor for the Daily Mirror.

Since then the author has flitted backwards and forwards between the capital and his East Anglian roots. He moved back to Norwich two years ago to take a post as a Creative Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia.

'Norwich is a great place to live and I have no regrets about leaving London' he continues.

'Although that is not to say it could not be a lot better. We have some of the finest architecture in the UK in the form of the Sainsbury's Centre and the Cathedral yet councillors are letting the place become over run by the retail industry.'

'The city has the potential to become a capital of culture and that is where the money should be spent rather than funding shops that can be found anywhere else in the country.'

The way Mr Sutton bristles at consumerism in Norwich echoes his cynical, yet highly comical, take on capitalism in his new novel.

Get Me Out of Here plots the tale of Matt Freeman whose life is taking a turn for the worst in the hustle and bustle of London's business district.

Everything from his Prada jacket to the corporation he works for appear shoddy and meaningless, and with his dreams lost, he looks for a way to escape the capital before his life folds in on itself.

The novel, set for publication by Harvill Secker January 2010, is likely to be the first piece of fiction to deal with credit crunch since the economic downturn began in autumn 2008.

'The challenge was writing an entertaining comic novel about time that was not entertaining for anyone,' Mr Sutton continued.

'I wanted to epitomise society's problem with greed and the need to have everything. Freeman is made to feel inadequate about consumerism and his identity.'

'Everyone is on a spiral of failure,' he says with a wry smile. 'Has anyone learnt from the economic disaster over the past year? I am not sure.'

Henry Sutton will be discussing 'Place' in fiction: the far and near with authors Jeremy Page, James Buchan, and Katie Hickman at the Burnham Market Book Festival tomorrow from 3pm.

Over the course the weekend there will also be the chance to hear Chris Mullin MP, Richard Mabey, Jenny Agutter, and BBC foreign correspondent, Kate Adie, in conversation about their latest works.

All bookings must be made by post or in person at The Whitehouse Bookshop, Burnham Market. A season ticket for the festival, beginning tomorrow, costs �80 for 12 events, or �10 for each event. Contact Catherine Bennett on 01328 730270 or email whitehousebooks@yahoo.com. A full programme of events is available online at www.whitehousebooks.co.uk

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