A new exhibition from the British Archive for Contemporary Writing provides a glimpse behind the scenes of UEA’s world renowned MA in Creative Writing (Prose Fiction). It shows first pages of works in progress and demonstrates the transformative effect of the creative writing workshop process, as fellow students challenge the writer’s choice in terms of language, characterisation and narrative tension. Here is a quick tour of the highlights to look out for:
The making of a debut novelist
Anne Enright (1962-) graduated from the MA in Creative Writing in 1987. She has since written eight novels, two collections of short stories and one work of non-fiction. In 2008 her novel, ‘The Gathering’, was awarded the Booker Prize. She has won numerous other awards and became the Irish laureate for fiction in 2015. Her UEA dissertation included three short stories and the first chapter of a novel – the first page of the novel is included in the exhibition. Enright has written about her experience on the MA and the decision to discard that early work.
‘I learned all the hard things at UEA – difficulty, incapacity, failure, humility, the importance of working more on the page than in your head…I didn’t realise, when that first book fell apart, that every book falls apart. That this is the gig. You sit there and watch your word-count drop, and you hold your nerve. I have survived this process now many times. But the first time was the worst, and I was lucky to be among friends.’
Tracy Chevalier (1962-) graduated from the MA in 1994. Her dissertation included the first chapter of her novel in progress ‘Body in Blue’, which went on to be published as her debut novel, ‘The Virgin Blue’. The first page is on display as part of the exhibition.
After graduating with a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio) Chevalier worked for several years as a reference book editor, while writing short stories in her spare time. In 1993 she quit to take up the MA in Creative Writing at UEA, afterwards juggling freelance editing with writing until eventually she was able to write full-time. She has since written 8 novels and edited 2 short story collections. Her second novel, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, sold 5 million copies worldwide and was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson. More about Tracy Chevalier.
Tash Aw (1971-) Aw’s first novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, was completed during his MA year (2003) at UEA and published in 2005. It won the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Novel (Asia Pacific Region). It went on to be shortlisted and longlisted for numerous other high profile awards. Aw has since written two highly acclaimed novels, the most recent, Five Star Billionaire, was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker prize.
In 2016, he wrote his first autobiographical work, The Face: Strangers On A Pier.
Typed manuscripts of Aw’s debut novel, with annotations from both author and editor, are held within the archive and extracts are included within the exhibition. More about Tash Aw.
Naomi Alderman (1974-) Alderman’s first novel, Disobedience, was written during her MA year at UEA. On display is an extract distributed to fellow students and tutors for comments during a workshop. The novelist, Tash Aw, was amongst the group and some of his comments are included. The novel won the Orange Award for New Writers and in 2007 Alderman was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, and one of Waterstones’ 25 Writers for the Future. She has published a further three critically acclaimed novels and short fiction and works as a journalist, broadcaster and games writer. The Archive holds the entire workshop manuscripts from Alderman’s MA year as well as other literary material and correspondence. More about Naomi Alderman.
The exhibition takes place within the University of East Anglia’s Library during Summer 2016. All are welcome. Enquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org