Picturing the end of an era for market

EMMA OUTTEN This year marks the end of an era for Norwich Market, so what better time to celebrate it? Author of Voices & Visions Joyce Dunbar regards the forthcoming celebration in words and pictures at the Forum as a wake.


When Joyce Dunbar was appointed writer in residence on Norwich Market as part of the Millennium Year of the Artist, she could not have foretold that five years later would herald the end of an era for the covered market.

The internationally acclaimed children's author (she has written over 60 books for children) had set up a stall on the market, between Leatherman and Malcolm's Media Mine between October and December 2000. People were invited to drop in for a chat and it was decked out as if a home from home.

Lincolnshire-born Joyce, whose books have been translated into many languages, had wanted to connect with the community. She has lived in Norwich since 1989 but, as she pointed out, being read in Japanese didn't necessarily connect her with the city where she lived.

The market was an ideal place to start. She added: “I do think the market is the heart and soul of Norwich. It's no less enduring than the cathedral.”

For almost 1000 years the market has been the hub of Norwich.

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The residency had not immediately led to a book, which Joyce had naturally hoped. As she said: “I don't see the point of a 'residency' without a book.”

But when plans to redevelop the historic market were proposed last year, Joyce just knew that a book somehow had to be published.

With work due to commence on the market's redevelopment shortly, it really is the end of an era. Joyce has been “enchanted” by the market as it still stands now, describing it affectionately as a “shanty town” in the heart of the city.

Although she doesn't question why it has to change, she said: “I think Norwich will feel a sense of loss.”

Joyce remains “impartial” about the redevelopment. “I do have my own view, of course, but really the book is not about my view, it's about everybody else's.”

She spent three months writing the book, Voices & Visions, at the beginning of last year. But she added: “Once you get hooked it's a never- ending story. I finished it in March but I was still adding things the week before it went to press.”

She would be the first to agree that the market is one of the city's most precious public possessions, and in the book Joyce and an assorted company of shoppers, traders and citizens of Norwich celebrate that vivacity.

From scores of conversations and overheard snippets, interwoven into her own narrative, she has tapped into the voice of the people of the city.

So the publication of Voices & Visions is now a timely celebration, marking the end of an era for what has long been one of the city's most famous landmarks.

It hasn't been easy getting to this stage, however. Joyce has spent another three months “running around trying to raise interest, and money”.

As Joyce sees her book as a “sketchbook in words”, containing illustrations by Norwich-based Lys Flowerday, it seemed only fitting that the launch of the book should be accompanied by an exhibition of paintings, drawings and photographs inspired by Norwich Market.

Thankfully, Norwich-based Mousehold Press had come to her rescue as her publisher, and John Allen (of John Allen Fine Arts), with the help of artist Michael Checketts, has been instrumental in organising the exhibition.

Joyce said: “The right illustrator came along, the right publisher came along, the right art expert came along. I've had all the right people come along and help at the right time.”

Organising the exhibition at the Forum, which starts this Saturday, January 22, has been fun, “if a bit hair-raising”. It will feature a range of works from many prominent local artists – too many to list here in fact – but suffice to say they include Colin Self, John Kiki, Brüer Tidman and, of course, the book's illustrator, Lys Flowerday.

Photographer Sue Mullard, for example, was happy to turn her focus from Venice to Norwich Market.

She has since become committed to revealing the beauty in the everyday and the ordinary, an area of interest that lends itself well to Norwich Market.

Even the humble tomato and a simple box of egg boxes can be beautiful in their own right.

Joyce thought the Forum would be the perfect “forum” for both the launch of the book (published with the support of Norwich City Council) and the exhibition, but she and the other organisers have had to raise the money between them.

It was only last month the Forum was secured as a venue, and yet a number of the artists still managed to come up with work in that limited period of time. Joyce said: “I couldn't ask them to get their skates on until we knew it would happen.”

She said of the resulting exhibition: “What it shows is that the market is a great source of inspiration. You couldn't go and paint Tesco over and over again! But we do paint the market over and over again.”

As one period of the market's history draws to a close, Joyce describes the book launch and exhibition as a “wake” or a “swan song”.

With work about to commence on the redevelopment, her message to the people of Norwich was: “In the book and the pictures they have a memento of what it was like.”

t Voices & Visions by Joyce Dunbar is published on Saturday, £12.95 (ISBN 1-874739-35-8)

t The Voices & Visions exhibition takes place in the atrium of the Forum from Saturday January 22 to Wednesday February 2.

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