I don’t claim to be a native of Norfolk at all. We moved here for careers in teaching and a coastal lifestyle 11 years ago and it’s a good place to bring up children and live.
The roads are antiquated and that warmth you get from conversations in the north is conspicuous by its absence, but it’s home, more so to our two children than us and I can see its attractions as a place of literary pilgrimage for quite a few well known authors.
Let’s start with Charles Dickens – ok he lived in Kent, but he did live in Blundeston, Suffolk for a while and having read Claire Tomalin’s biography I marvelled at his walks into Norwich from there – a good 20 miles each way. He also set “David Copperfield” partly here and captures the accent and dialect of Great Yarmouth remarkably well, though I’ve yet to finish reading this voluminous novel.
More recently, Ian McEwan studied creative writing at the UEA and his work resonates as he was for a few years my favourite novelist. In fact, when we got married in 1999, the wedding cake depicted three books: Enduring Love, The Child in Time and Amsterdam.
All three are tragic yet they represented facets of our early relationship.
John Boyne, author of “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”, was another student at UEA and his holocaust novel was inspired by the fences he saw when looking from his windows in his accommodation in the Golden Triangle of Norwich.
Lastly, though I’ve not researched this properly, is Kazuo Ishiguro, also at the University of East Anglia, and his time here marked in at least one novel: “Never Let Me Go” with North Norfolk, the rich honeypot of east Anglia featuring prominently.
Norwich bills itself as a “fine city” and the UNESCO City of Literature and it is a fine place, not just in terms of climate, but also in its vibe. It does have an underbelly though with the highest percentage of homeless people of any town per head of population and Riverside Road is apparently edgy at weekends, but in visiting Norwich regularly most weeks, I’ve yet to see anything that alarms me, apart from the onerous car parking charges.
It’s why when I dream about moving up north to County Durham or Northumberland or the northern Pennines, I sometimes stop and think. Norwich is a great city to live near and have a web design company based here, and do I really want to sacrifice this weather, this coastline, the lack of casual conversation for hills and longer chats on daily walks with my border collie? The jury is out.