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East Anglia tends not to make a song and dance about things - we leave that to all the empty vessels - but it means the region doesn't always receive the recognition it deserves.

Steven Russell

East Anglia tends not to make a song and dance about things - we leave that to all the empty vessels - but it means the region doesn't always receive the recognition it deserves. However, a new literary prize promises to redress the balance, as Steven Russell reports

BEHIND its small frontage some big ideas are hatched . . . One of the Ipswich Institute's brainwaves looks like succeeding spectacularly this year - making one writer �2,000 richer and raising the profile of East Anglia as a literary setting. Well, we say East Anglia but, with due apologies to Cambridgeshire, we're really talking about Suffolk, north Essex and Norfolk here. Still, the boundaries of this region have always been vague, so such a definition shouldn't prove too controversial. This particular idea arose a few years ago, when trustees of the Ipswich Institute - which offers educational facilities and a 9,000-book lending library - met to draw up plans for the future. They wanted to publicise the independent charity and connect with the area a bit more, while remaining true to charitable objectives such as encouraging learning and promoting literature and science.

Anne Dunford, then chairman of trustees, raised the notion of a literary prize, similar to one run by The Portico, an independent library and gallery in Manchester.


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And so it's come to pass. Forty-two books were entered for the inaugural New Angle Prize for Literature when the closing date passed this spring - thrillers, biographies, histories and more - although organiser Hugh Pierce admits wryly that one was disqualified “on the grounds it had no literary merit whatsoever, and very tenuous connections with the area . . .”

All being well, the Institute hopes to offer the New Angle Prize biennially - each award cycle being open to books written in a two-year period leading up to the closing date.

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The only criterion for entries is that they be “recently-published books of literary merit, associated with or influenced by East Anglia”.

The winner will receive �2,000 and any runner-up (and there will probably be one) will go home with �500.

So it's really about saying “There are some great books that feature East Anglia in some shape or form; have a read”, then?

“Yes. I think most people are aware that East Anglia does have some good literature associated with it - going back to Dickens, really,” says Hugh. He would have counted? “Definitely! It's about promoting literature within the area, and promoting the area outside the region, through the writing. And, of course, promoting what we do as the Institute.”

The judges are Ronald Blythe, Anne Parry and DJ Taylor.

Writer and editor Ronald Blythe is best known for Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, which depicted a century of change in a rural, fictional, Suffolk village. He has also been a Booker Prize judge.

Anne Parry spent her working life as a publishing editor and was chairman of the Suffolk Book League. She researched and wrote the “Literary Suffolk” booklet for the League's 25th anniversary.

DJ Taylor is a Norwich-based writer and critic who has written six novels and two biographies: “Thackeray” and “Orwell: The Life”, which won the 2003 Whitbread Biography Prize.

Hugh, also general manager of the Ipswich Institute, says the judges were very pleased with the quality of entries. There is “a terrific variety of styles and genres”.

The hopefuls face an anxious summer, as the winner will be announced at a dinner on September 22 at The West Wing, Ickworth House, near Bury St Edmunds.

The event will be hosted by Suffolk broadcaster Paul Heiney. (Group or individual tickets will be available from the beginning of July. Phone 01473 253992, see www.ipswichinstitute.org.uk or email library@ipswichinstitute.org.uk for details.)

Read all about it: the shortlisted books

Story of the Southwold-Walberswick Ferry by Dani Church with Ann Gander; Holm Oak publishing

Dani Church took over the Southwold-Walberswick ferry service from her father David in 2001, becoming the fifth-generation family member to take passengers across the River Blyth. Her book charts the often-troubled story of the ferry, from the first recorded licence in the 13th Century, through its mechanised heyday to the present rowing-boat service much loved by tourists and locals.

Constable in Love by Martin Gayford; Fig Tree

When John Constable fell in love with Maria Bicknell, granddaughter of a Suffolk country neighbour, he little knew how long it would take to make her his wife. The impediment to their marriage was simple: “that necessary article cash”. It would be seven long, difficult years before they could marry, but in that time he would become one of the greatest painters of the 19th Century.

Scapegallows by Carol Birch; Virago Press

New South Wales, 1817: Margaret Catchpole finds herself facing death - as she has several times before. She looks back over her life: the complex partnership with Will Laud, a “hell-born-babe”, that led her into the world of smuggling. After Will is forced to flee the country, Margaret is taken on as a nursemaid by the Cobbold family in Ipswich, but a crime against them means she is sentenced to hang. She avoids death but, when an elaborate gaol escape fails, is captured and sentenced once more to hang.

Suffolk Boy by Alasdair Eoin Aston; Orphean Press

Became a prize-winning poet after Pembroke College, Cambridge. Has won the Seatonian Prize - awarded by the University of Cambridge for the best English poem on a sacred subject - eight times. Suffolk Boy reflects his childhood in the naturalist's paradise of north Suffolk.

What I Was by Meg Rosoff; Penguin Books

A 100-year-old man called H sails the eastern coast of England with his godson. H remembers when he was 16, his godson's age, and had a life-altering friendship with a boy named Finn. Finn lived alone on an isolated slip of land and followed no rules. H, on the other hand, was an upper-class boarding school boy stifled by monotony. They strike up an unlikely friendship, but before long the idyll is shattered by scandal.

Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin; Penguin Books

For the last six years of his life, Roger Deakin kept notebooks in which he wrote his daily thoughts and observations. They reveal the way he saw the world, whether it be observing the teeming ecosystem that was Walnut Tree Farm, walking in his fields, or on Mellis Common.

Crow Country by Mark Cocker; Jonathan Cape

A prose poem in the long tradition of English pastoral writing. One night Mark Cocker followed the roiling, deafening flock of rooks and jackdaws which regularly passed over his Norfolk home on their way to the Yare valley. Cocker went in search of them, journeying to the hills of Dumfriesshire. Step by step he uncovers the complexities of the birds' inner lives.

Coke of Norfolk (1754-1842) by Susanna Wade Martins; Boydell & Brewer

Thomas William Coke is best known as one of the main promoters of the improved farming of the Agricultural Revolution. He owned Holkham Hall and moved in the highest Whig social circles. Coke was also an outspoken critic of Britain's war against the Americans in their fight for independence.

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