Literature lovers should book some time in East Anglia

Festival goers at Dragon Hall during crime writing event Noirwich. Picture: Joanna Millington

Festival goers at Dragon Hall during crime writing event Noirwich. Picture: Joanna Millington - Credit: Archant

East Anglia is as attractive to readers as it is to writers, with a busy calendar of literary events, many drawing in big name authors and guest speakers. Here’s our pick of this year’s events.

Martin Newell and the Hosepipe Band

Martin Newell and the Hosepipe Band - Credit: Archant

The landscapes of East Anglia – meadows shrouded in morning mist and wild, empty beaches - are a writer’s dream. No wonder then the region has inspired some world-renowned literary works, such as W.G. Sebald’s reveries of a solitary walker on the Suffolk coast The Rings Of Saturn, wild-swimming classic Waterlog by Roger Deakin and LP Hartley’s tale of innocence lost The Go Between. However, the region is as attractive to readers as well as writers, with a busy calendar of literary events, many drawing in big name authors and guest speakers. Here is a round-up of this year’s events, ideal for day trips or longer literature-infused stays.

Essex Book Festival

March 1 to 31

Billy Bragg. Photo by Andy Whale

Billy Bragg. Photo by Andy Whale - Credit: Archant

Essex is far more than tacky clubs and tanning salons. March is the month for culture vultures to head to the county, with events for readers of all ages at the Essex Book Festival. The eclectic festival returns in its 19th year with a line-up that includes the Bard of Barking Billy Bragg, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French - the husband and wife behind the Nicci French crime novels - cricket commentating ‘dear old thing’ Henry Blofeld and novelist and playwright Michael Frayn. Many of the stand-out events place guests in wonderfully apt locations.

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Acclaimed biographer Jenny Uglow will be unpicking the life and works of ‘nonsense’ poet Edwards Lear at Layer Marney Towers, a Tudor palace full of design trickery and built to impress Henry VIII. Other unusual venues housing some of the 100 events across the month are a Napoleonic Martello Tower and a Secret Nuclear Bunker, which will host a debate on propaganda during times of war featuring The Times’ columnist David Aaronovitch and Jamie Bartlett, of the Daily Telegraph. Billy Bragg will be promoting his latest book Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World, at the festival’s launch event in Chelmsford.

Festival director Ros Green says: “I am really and truly thrilled with the range of writers and artists taking part in this year’s festival…it’s wonderful and rewarding to have such a vibrant and diverse range of writers and artists in the mix.”

For more information follow the festival on Twitter @EssexBookFest or join the mailing list here

Louis de Bernieres enjoys his garden.Pic Hines
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Louis de Bernieres enjoys his garden.Pic Hines EADT sat mag EA MAG 28 08 04 EADT 8 08 05 EADT 5 01 07

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Norwich has drawn in authors since the 13th Century. The first parliamentary debate publisher Luke Hansard and Black Beauty author Anna Sewell both made the city their home.

Then there’s the University of East Anglia, renowned for its prestigious creative writing department, established in 1970 by the author Malcolm Bradbury

Alumni of the course include Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan and Rose Tremain. No surprise then in 2012 Norwich became England’s first UNESCO City of Literature. If you are a literature lover thinking of a stay in the city, you may well want your break to coincide with these book-themed events and festivals taking place in the coming months.

City of Literature, Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Friday May 11 to Sunday May 27

The City of Literature Programme is presented by Writers’ Centre Norwich in partnership with Norfolk and Norwich Festival. This year it is bigger than ever with 25 events, including original live productions, talks from bestselling writers, and debate with some of the most inspirational thinkers of our time.

Among last year’s guests were Will Self, the novelist and star of Radio 4 series Will Self’s Great British Bus Journeys, and winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize, Max Porter. Tickets for this year’s event go on sale from 8 March here


July 9 to July 13

Billed as “a festival to inspire young minds with a love of books”, FLY is the University of East Anglia’s Festival of Literature for Young people.

It includes creative writing workshops, author events – former visitors have included Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winner Lisa Williamson and Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell - and a whole host of events in the city. Themed events promised for this year’s festival, designed for 11 to 18-year-olds, include a poetry day on Wednesday, July 11, and events around the theme the Power of the Story on Friday, July 13. Find out more here


September 13 to September 16

The Writers’ Centre Norwich describes this four-day event as “the UK’s boldest and bloodiest crime writing festival” and, if last year is to go by, it can command a killer line-up.

The 2017 Noirwich Crime Writing Festival featured headliners Val McDermid, Anthony Horowitz and Martina Cole and discussions ranged from how crime fiction intersects with world politics to international crime fiction writing, and the emerging North Sea Noir movement. Last year’s event – the biggest yet, taking place across Norwich Arts Centre, department store Jarrolds and the UEA as well as several fringe locations across the city - also included the festival’s first stand up gig, courtesy of Christopher Brookmyre and Mark Billingham, and a unique retrospective musical in the form of The Resurrection of Dora Suarez. Find out more here


Held in autumn and spring, the UEA literary festivals attract some of the biggest names in writing. The evening events are a great way to round off a day in Norwich or north Norfolk with a convivial atmosphere (there is free wine!) and a chance to put a question to garlanded writers and hear them read from their works.

Norwich resident and national treasure Stephen Fry kicked off this year’s programme on Valentine’s Day, and there are more big names coming up from March through to May, including Jon McGregor, US author Jesmyn Ward, who won last year’s National Book Award for Sing, Unburied, Sing, and Emma Healey, who completed her MA in creative writing at the university and has gone on to win the Costa First Novel Award for Elizabeth Is Missing, which has sold more than a million copies worldwide.

These events are very popular and the huge University of East Anglia, Lecture Theatre 1 often sells out. For a full list of author events at the festival and to buy tickets, which are £9 each for individual events, visit here

Festival of Suffolk Poetry Stowmarket

May 26

Poetry lovers should plan a day trip to the sweet market town of Stowmarket for this festival, organised by the Suffolk Poetry Society.

The event is in its fifth year and is held at the John Peel Centre For Creative Arts. Headlining the festival will be poet and author Blake Morrison, who had huge success with his memoir And When Did You Last See Your Father? which won the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography

Also appearing will be Suffolk-born poet Rebecca Watts, whose first published collection, The Met Office Advises Caution, was named as one of the Guardian’s Best Books of The Year in 2016 and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. As usual there will be plenty of poetry cafés dotted around the town to provide culinary delights during the afternoon and there will be plenty of workshops with writers sharing their skills. For more information, visit here

Felixstowe Book Festival

June 27 to July 2

The Edwardian seaside town of Felixstowe will cater for those that like to dip into books as much as those who like a dip in the North Sea this long weekend.

The festival, now in its sixth year, has become one of the highlights of the East Anglian arts calendar and this year promises the biggest event yet. The 60 scheduled events will run over a full week and a pop-up festival has been added, taking in unusual venues, including a story telling walk through woods, a toy maker story teller in a beach hut, and events in a shipping container and seaside gardens.

Guests will include best-selling novelists Amanda Craig, Salley Vicker and Louis De Bernieres, politician Sir Vince Cable, Archers actor Timothy Bentinck, and BBC Radio 4’s Dame Jenni Murray. There will be an evening of Brazilian music, and poet, musician, novelist and East Anglian treasure Martin Newell will be returning to what he has described as his “favourite festival” with his Hosepipe Band. There will be two screenings of major new documentary film Life On The Deben, and a full programme of events for children and teens. Tickets, which go on sale from May 8, can be purchased here or here


July 21 to July 29

The peaceful, picturesque market town of Holt bursts into life each July with a festival featuring musicians, actors, dancers and comedians as well as a host of unmissable writers.

Last year’s event included novelist and journalist Robert McCrum, performance poet Luke Wright, and presenter and author of the international bestseller Prisoners of Geography, Tim Marshall. You can sign up for a newsletter on the website to ensure you are among the first to know of the line-up for this year’s event, and the site also has information on accommodation options in the area while the festival is running,

KING’S LYNN Fiction Festival

March 16 to March 18

In March this west Norfolk town has much to offer lovers of the written word with a literature festival which has been running since 1984.

Writers taking part include Louis de Bernieres, Guardian Fiction prize winner Peter Benson, and literary analyst Richard Bigsby, who received praise for his biography of his friend and tutor, the iconic US playwright Arthur Miller.

Visitors can come to some or all the sessions.

Entry is £8.50 for each event, or £37.50 for an all-events weekend pass. There is even the opportunity to have lunch with the writers, organisers and other festival-goers on the Saturday and Sunday. If you are looking for somewhere to stay, the Stuart House Hotel, moments away from the Town Hall in the town’s medieval quarter, is offering a 15% discount during the run of the festival. For more details on festival events, visit here

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