Plotting the Perfect Crime: a crime writing exhibition from the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA

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This year’s crime writing exhibition, created to coincide with Noirwich, reveals the intricate planning behind some of our greatest contemporary crime novels, with material from Val McDermid, Stuart MacBride and Robert Edric, author of a crime trilogy set in Hull, this year’s City of Culture. Stuart MacBride predicts a nosebleed amongst fellow writers.

Here archivist, Justine Mann, introduces her personal highlights.

Stuart MacBride

MacBride’s notebooks and mindmaps are the earliest incarnation of his novels. He has created a literal map to visualise his fictional town of Old Castle, all the better to locate the murders and the distances between them. What begins as an impressive tool evolves into something the Ordnance Survey would be proud of and is published within a subsequent novel. Perhaps the most striking of elements within this display is a graph. At first glance it appears to be a chart of multiple, frantic, sound waves but on closer inspection it reveals the cadences of plot points marshalled to pinpoint accuracy in order to create the most devastating effect on the reader. He remarks casually, that ‘This has been known to give other writers nose bleeds’. This display also reveals his painstaking restructuring of the plot for In the Cold Dark Ground, scene by scene with scissors and sellotape.

Val McDermid

The author’s latest novel, Insidious Intent, ‘impeccably plotted and intensely gripping’ also began in notebook form. On display are original pages from a numbered outline charting key plot developments. ‘When I start a book, I have an idea of the story arc and I’ve spent most of my prep time thinking about the characters: how they’re going to conduct themselves, how they got to be the person they are today.’

The evidence here suggests that McDermid’s subconscious is working hard on plot design before she tackles the page. While crafting the language she refers to the outline notes to keep the structure on track. She recently revealed her daily routine to The Guardian:

‘Around the second cup of coffee, I take a look at what I last wrote, tweaking and revising, stripping the prose back till I’m more at ease with it. I spend the first month feeling my way into the book, getting a sense of its world and learning its nooks and crannies. Then it picks up pace and I can’t escape it.’

Robert Edric

How does a literary novelist take on the challenge of writing crime fiction? In 2002, the Booker longlisted author, Robert Edric, took a break from writing literary novels, to create a crime trilogy set in Hull, this year’s City of Culture. In The Times, Neel Mukherjee, applauded Cradle Song, Edric’s first, for: “its vertiginously devious plot twists, the maze of multiple-crossings (which) all close like a fist around the throat of the reader.”

“When I’m working on a literary novel,” Edric says, “it’s less important to me whether I write a, then d, g , x then e. The meaning of the book might be in the middle. The goal is not the end, but whether it fails or succeeds in your own mind. With a crime novel, you’re less organic. There has to be a logical process.’

A sense of place has always been important to Edric and in the opening chapter on display he uses Spurn Point, a bleak yet beautiful peninsular, 30 miles from Hull and ravaged on all sides by the North Sea, as the setting of a key meeting between ex copper, Sullivan, and private investigator, Rivers. The drafts reveal the key phrases and striking images that survive, almost in tact, from first draft through to final publication, as well as the tweaks and line edits that heighten characterisation and plot tension.

Previewed on Friday 15 September (UEA, TPSC Foyer) /

UEA Archives Foyer, UEA Library Floor 02, Tue 19 Sept – Fri 22 Dec (Free access)

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Exploring the Archives: a monthly update: June 2017

In June, Archives staff settled into the Silent Reading Room just along the corridor and we expect to be here for several weeks. Refurbishment work continues on Floor 02 and the builders have gone to great lengths in safeguarding our equipment and the collections, even installing temporary walls and doors.

Further details on the temporary closure of Archives.


BACW

  • UEA students have been consulting Tash Aw’s Archive and Doris Lessing’s correspondence.
  • 10 PhD students of creative writing, literature, history, languages and linguistics attended our joint British Archive for Contemporary Writing and East Anglian Film Archives workshop at the CHASE Encounters Conference  held at UEA on 29 and 30 June.The workshop highlighted the opportunities and challenges of using film and literary Archive material for research and teaching, as well as the day to day role of the Archivist and the future challenge for archives in managing born digital material.

    Students were provided with hands on access to copies of unique archive material to help simulate the process of independent archive research. This provoked some interesting discussion, particularly amongst creative writers who were prompted to consider their own archive material.

Kenney Papers (Suffragettes)
• We are preparing materials for an external exhibition to be held in 2018/19.
• The collection is being used by a writer as the basis for her work of fiction.

Pritchard Papers
One user is researching for a book on Lawn Road Flats and artists of the 1930s; another is writing a book on art, design and science.

Other enquiries related to the Pritchard family tree; and to Walter Gropius’ farewell dinner guest list from 1937.

Roger Deakin

ShepherdsHutSummer

The shepherd’s hut to which Deakin refers in The Garden. Copyright Estate of Roger Deakin

Users are reminded that the BBC recording of Cigarette on the Waveney is publicly available online (a tranquil documentary of Deakin’s trip down the River Waveney in a white canoe). For UEA members, his recordings of The House and The Garden are available on Box of Broadcasts.

UEA Collection
Malcolm Bradbury’s large magazine and newspaper archive has been accessed by a visiting academic in LDC (School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing).

Zuckerman Archive
The collection has been accessed for the correspondence of Lord Zuckerman, Lord Mountbatten and Margaret Thatcher; and for architectural drawings of German and Italian buildings held within WWII bombing reports.

Special Collections
RauschenbergA valuable addition to the collection has been a limited facsimile edition of Robert Rauschenberg‘s 34 illustrations after Dante’s Inferno. Produced by New York’s Museum of Modern Art and presented in a grey clothbound clamshell box, it includes the trade publication. Rauschenberg’s series of drawings from 1958–60 are each reproduced at actual size on individual sheets; a drawing for each Canto of Dante’s poem. A copy of the trade publication is on order for the Library’s open shelves.

There were 12 enquiries for Special Collections.

Exploring the Archives: a monthly update: May 2017

British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW)

  • Around 40 international agents (UEA ambassadors) visited the Archives in May to hear about some highlights including the Storehouse model, the Publishing module, the Unboxed project and the Literary Festival collection.
  • At UEA’s Learning and Teaching Day the BACW held a joint workshop with the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA) ‘Digital Heritage: Equipping Students for the cultural and creative industries’.
  • Richard Beard (writer) was interviewed by Jos Smith (Director of BACW) at UEA’s Enterprise Centre. This was part of an all-day seminar for MA Creative Writing students. Beard spoke of the writing and publishing process and the rationale for placing his papers on loan in the Archive. Richard Beard Archive.

Unboxed
Three new blog posts have been published by our LDC (Literature, Drama & Creative Writing) students:

Permission requests for forthcoming publications by users of the archives have related to the suffragettes (Kenney Papers) and to the history of climate change (G.S. Callendar Archive).

John Hill Archive
We’ve been looking at agricultural land in Haddiscoe, Norfolk and how it looked in 1961 when it used to operate as a pea vining station.

Pritchard Papers
Researchers have been interested in the journalist and architectural critic Philip Morton Shand (grandfather of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall); and the archaeologist Gordon Childe (former tenant of Lawn Road Flats).

Roger Deakin
Research has concentrated on Deakin’s income and letters of refusal from agents and publishers.

Zuckerman Archive

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Committee on Research & Development.

Researchers have been interested in:
• The use of dogs to detect metal explosives 1955-1970.
• The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and international scientific cooperation during the Cold War (SZ/IIASA).
• The Committee on the Management and Control of Research and Development. This is a valuable resource documenting the early articulation of Applied Science in the UK (SZ/MR).
• The Bombing Analysis Unit of the RAF (SZ/BAU).

 

Special Collections: 13 enquiries.

Temporary disruption to UEA Archives and Special Collections during summer 2017

There will be some temporary disruption to the UEA Archives and Special Collections service, including the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW), during summer 2017.

The UEA Library is undertaking a space project to create further student study spaces. The work requires Archives staff to relocate from their office on Floor 02. The adjacent Archive Reading Room will also be affected during this time.

To safeguard material:

There will be no access to archive collections between 16 June and 18 August.

There will be limited access to Special Collections items by prior arrangement.

Archive staff will be working during office hours and are able to answer queries regarding the collections.

Below are some frequently asked questions about the planned work.

If you have any concerns whatsoever, please let us know.

We regret any inconvenience caused.

Justine Mann, Archivist, British Archive for Contemporary Writing

Bridget Gillies, Archives Assistant, UEA Archives

e: archives@uea.ac.uk

t: (voicemail only available during this period) 01603 59 3483  / 01603 59 3419

FAQ

How will the work affect users of University of East Anglia Archives and Special Collections?

The Archive Reading Room will be inaccessible between 15 June and 18 August.

To safeguard collections, there will be no access to Archive material during this time.

If you have any concerns about the loss of access during this period, please contact Justine Mann justine.mann@uea.ac.uk.

Archives staff will relocate from their office to a nearby Silent Reading Room.

Our office hours will be as normal and we can answer archive queries during this time.

There will be limited and bookable access to Special Collections items (books/ pamphlets) within the nearby Silent Reading Room by prior arrangement with Archive staff who will supervise visits.

There will be one microfilm reader available within Silent Reading Room – Periodicals Rm 02.32  with a printing facility. This will be bookable by prior arrangement.

Unless advertised otherwise on our Website, access hours will be 09:30-12:30 and 13:30-16:30 as usual.

Please email archives@uea.ac.uk to make a request for Special Collections or for microfilm access and provide as much notice as possible.

If we have no existing bookings on a particular day, we will assist you whenever we can.

We apologise for the inconvenience caused during this period.

Our Website pages will contain up to date information on access:

For further information on the Library Space Project, click here.

 

 

You cannot fake a writer: Kazuo Ishiguro on his experience at UEA

Kazuo Ishiguro_UEA ImageLibrary

UEA: Archive Image

UEA literature student, Melina Spanoudi, revisits an archived interview with Kazuo Ishiguro as part of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing’s Unboxed project.

Kazuo Ishiguro applied to the University of East Anglia in 1979, following a long year of social work in London. The MA in Creative Writing began in autumn, leaving the entire summer free for him to panic. He did so briefly, before beginning to write seriously for the first time. Ten years later, he won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day.

Returning to UEA during the Literary Festival of 1999, in an interview with award winning academic, novelist and biographer, Christopher Bigsby, Ishiguro is asked whether writing can be taught. Put plainly, his answer is no. Ishiguro believes that a writer cannot be crafted: rather, they are sculpted, refined in their involvement with the creative process of writing within an academic environment. Through sharing first drafts, exposing themselves and others to criticism, embarrassment and acclaim, the writer is given the opportunity to realize where they must stand when choosing to write.

However, the initial choice to write remains a personal matter. Any creation which is forced to extend itself beyond the boundaries of personal innovation is of no genuine value; you cannot fake a writer more than you can fake a text.

Ishiguro remarks: ‘You can certainly produce someone who can write more competently. But I would be rather more sceptical about the possibility of their producing anything of artistic worth.’

The process between writing and identifying as a writer is unique to each individual; However, what happens when you embark on a degree which expects you to be a writer before you have begun to write?

With little writing experience, sporadically noting descriptive fragments mirroring the semi-autobiographical style of Kerouac, Ishiguro’s journey to becoming a writer invites us to question whether he adopted the identity of ‘writer’ during the course of his degree in Creative Writing. Ishiguro explains that he discovered the space he required to explore his individual style of writing at the UEA. The learning atmosphere fostered through the flexible teaching methods adopted by his tutors, Malcom Bradbury and Angela Carter, enabled him to create, unaided and uninterrupted.

He describes his year at the UEA to Bigsby: ‘That was when I really started to write. So it was very fundamental. Before I went to East Anglia I had written very little indeed, certainly nothing I would count today as proper writing.’

Ishiguro dates the beginning of his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, in 1979/80, during the year he was studying at the UEA. He notes that most of his time studying Creative Writing was spent writing that novel. Although his first book resembled a form of a semi-autobiographical work, his later novels are informed by the awareness of his ability to create outside the context of his own life.

He explains: ‘Somewhere along the way I discovered that I could write better, more effectively, if I changed the setting and put the whole thing at a greater distance.’

Somewhere along the way, perhaps at UEA, Ishiguro became one of the greatest writers of our time. His journey at the university reminds students of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing that we are not taught how to become writers, but of the ways which enable us to discover our most humane and distinctive narrative voices.

Quotations reproduced with the kind permission of the author. All rights reserved.

To view the Literary Festival interview in full in our Archive Reading Room, contact the British Archive for Contemporary Writing archives@uea.ac.uk

To find out more about our 300+ collection of Literary Festival recordings, visit http://www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest

 

Lessing’s writing pushed boundaries and she lived life to the same beat

Doris Lessing Portrait (1950s)

Doris Lessing Portrait (1950s): Copyright CAMERA PRESS

An Unboxed blog, from Martha Griffiths, first year student of American and English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

Amongst the 110 love letters held in the Whitehorn collection at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing from Doris Lessing to her wartime lover, perhaps one gives us a greater insight into her young life, and the society she grew up in. It was written to John R. M. Whitehorn, an RAF serviceman and intimate confidante and is dated sometime around January 1945.

This letter  perfectly captures Lessing’s determination to make her own choices and express herself and her emotions towards others. It describes her relationship with both her husband and the other men that she met, mostly through Communist Party meetings. Not only is she writing to a long-term lover about her husband, but she also describes the “platonic amour” she has met recently. To many, this flirtation may come as a surprise or appear scandalous but, as she would come to say in later interviews, it was just something one did in those times.

She even joined the Communist Party out of boredom, a feeling shared by many of the RAF soldiers she met there. There is genuine affection in the note towards Whitehorn, but Lessing makes it clear that it would be an unfortunate man who attempted to interfere with her choices.

This was a woman to be reckoned with; she was totally self-aware and comfortably content to make her own choices. Lessing’s works are known for pushing boundaries and she lived her life to the same beat, whilst aware of her husband’s discomfort with her social life she was not willing to give in to the pull of domesticity.

The Doris Lessing Archive, held within UEA’s British Archive for Contemporary Writing, is an invaluable source with letters from one of the most influential female authors of the twentieth century. Her eloquence and her passion cannot mask what a formidable opponent she was if ever obstructed

Sebald Visit from Heinz-Berggruen-Gymnasium, Berlin

A guest blog from the students of Heinz-Berggruen-Gymnasium in Berlin, Charlottenburg who visited the WG Sebald Audiovisual collection at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing last Summer (just days after the Brexit referendum).

Thank you UEA!

This summer we are leaving school. This means also looking back on eight years at Heinz-Berggruen-Gymnasium in Berlin, Charlottenburg.

One unforgettable memory is our trip to England last June (2016).

During that school trip we also went to UEA because we wanted to find out more about W.G. Sebald, a well known German author who had lived in England most of his time and had taught at UEA.

Our visit to UEA was and still is an unforgettable experience.

Undoubtedly, for people who are interested in literature visiting the University of East Anglia in Norwich is  a great opportunity to gain knowledge in a very comfortable and personal way.

We were especially lucky as Professor Jon Cook offered to speak to us about Sebald.

When Professor Cook read from Sebald’s books and added stories from his personal encounters and his cooperation with Sebald we could all feel the power of this exceptional author.

That way we not only gained insight into Sebald’s work but also got to know what he must have been like in private life.

We were all particularly moved when Professor Jon Cook pointed out how devastated he was on the news of Sebald’s death and how UEA had lost a creative spirit.

WG Sebald visitors 040716We also went to the archive where we were introduced to visual and audio material, which added greatly to our impressions of Sebald’s work and life in Norwich.

On top of that Professor Cook’s explanations regarding the Brexit referendum impressed us deeply and they are as fresh today, March 29, 2017, as they were last summer.

In the end we left Norwich deeply impressed and enriched because we had spent a morning sensing the invigorating power of creativity and reason.

We would therefore like to thank Professor Cook and his staff, who introduced us to the audio and visual material, once again for making this possible.

Thank you!

Students from Heinz-Berggruen-Gymnasium, Berlin.

Terry Pratchett on Magic and Realism

Terry PratchettbAn Unboxed Blog from Electra Nanou

There was once a tape, a single, innocuous video tape, living in the UEA Archives’ snug depths. The name, Terry Pratchett, sometimes caught a knowing eye, but one or two were not enough. If only it could see the light of day, other admirers might come its way. Squinting, stuttering, it finally emerged to puff out its chest and squeak:

Arthur Miller Centre International Literary Festival (UEA) interview with Terry Pratchett, 22 November 2000

To describe this interview between Professor Christopher Bigsby and Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld novels, as amusing would be an understatement. Having passed away two years ago, almost to the day, every reminder of this man’s sheer character is precious. Contained within the video recording is more than a discussion on Pratchett’s life and literary accomplishments or his favourite Discworld characters or even the difference between children’s fiction and fantasy.

‘Children’s books for the respect; fantasy books for the money.’

It is one more testament to his wit and flair, as well as a tutorial on how to politely dominate an interview. And how to introduce potentially controversial topics with a smile. Perhaps, sheer naughtiness factored into certain small omissions in the transcript, available in Writers in Conversation: Volume 5 by Christopher Bigsby.

Even the first Discworld novel was created on a rebellious whim. He felt that ‘a kind of antidote’ was warranted to the Tolkienesque fantasy prevalent of the time. Little did he know how much it was needed. The crowd that attended the Terry Pratchett Memorial in April 2016, made up of children and adults alike, was proof of how important a fresh and humorous look can be to something as simple as a literary genre.

‘Discworld is a way of looking at a story.’

Each of his books, from the children’s book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents to the Discworld novel The Truth, have something to say. In his own unique way, he touched on issues like morality, equality and feminism, his philosophical undercurrents drawing the attention of philosophy professors James M. Held and James South. They produced a book titled Philosophy and Terry Pratchett, a collection of essays including ‘Plato, the Witch, and the Cave: Granny Weatherwax and the Moral Problem of Paternalism’ and ‘The Importance of Being in the Right Trouser Leg of Time’ (The Guardian). When asked about the Thief of Time, the 24th Discworld novel, Pratchett said:

‘It is… about how people perceive time, how people perceive humanity. What is it that actually makes us human.’

If there is any lesson to be learned from Terry Pratchett, it is to not be afraid to be bold and different. Labels are trivial in a world that craves imagination, an escape from reality.

‘Magic realism … is fantasy with a collar and tie on.’

With 53 books to his name not including his numerous collaborations, he was, and still is, someone writers of any genre can look up to. He lived, learnt and struggled, while writing from his heart with minimal aspirations to fame and fortune. And yet they found him.

 

Sources

Recording: Arthur Miller Centre International Literary Festival (UEA) interview with Terry Pratchett, 22 November 2000. The University of East Anglia Literary Festival Archive www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest – visit the Archive to view the recording in full.

Transcript: Bigsby, Christopher. ‘In Conversation with Terry Pratchett’. Writers in Conversation: Volume 5. Unthank books, 2013. Print.

Flood, Alison. ‘Terry Pratchett’. The Guardian. 28 Nov. 2014. Web. Oct. 2016

 

Tessa Hadley on uncovering memory: do we really know our past?

tessa_hadley-copyright-mark-vessey-2015An Unboxed blog from Freya Turner, student blogger from the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing (University of East Anglia).

‘Let me take you back just a few years. It’s 2013, and the UEA Literary Festival is hosting authors such as Rose Tremain, Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan. Among them is the perhaps lesser-known Tessa Hadley (pictured right), making her first appearance at the festival. What immediately becomes apparent to the audience is her generosity and patience to treat them to a reading of one of her short stories, ‘An Abduction’, in its entirety. For those who aren’t familiar with the Literary Festival’s format, it very rarely happens that an author will read the entirety of one of their texts. For Hadley to somewhat rebel against this format only makes her appearance at the festival stand out more. Hadley has written several novels and short stories, which focus predominantly on family relationships and women. ‘The Abduction’ is no exception to this.

The story concerns a fifteen year-old girl living in Surrey in the nineteen-sixties, and it negotiates and complicates the relationships between childhood and adulthood, and trauma, time and memory. The story involves Oxford University students, women’s bodies, British suburbia, drugs and the titular abduction.

When asked about the violent domesticity of the story, and how the term domesticity is often applied to women writers, Hadley confirms that there is indeed a gender divide in the process of writing domesticity. She goes even further and argues that a novel about family somehow becomes ‘domestic’ when a woman writes it, whereas when this is written about by a man this is never the case. She is a writer who shows great maturity in her understanding of how she and other women writers are perceived in writing about the family; a writer who is concerned about the writing community as well as her own work. Hadley coherently articulates why she so often writes about the family. She believes that the novel and the family are more or less the same thing; they both concern people within small spaces who haven’t necessarily chosen to be together, and it is this very notion that allows people to grow into themselves.

When Hadley discusses memory within her story, it is almost as if something in her lights up. She points out that there is a reductive model of memory in literature, where people can access the past because it supposedly remains within their minds. In a lot of novels, she argues, characters fix something unwanted from their past that is making their present unbearable. When this process is complete, the present is fine again. Hadley doesn’t believe in this model, instead believing that processing and narrating the past is a lot more complicated. We are not reliable in terms of remembering the past, but, as she emphasises, this is interesting because this both frees us and troubles us. It becomes apparent that Hadley really understands the delicacy and dysfunctional traits of humans, and looks to celebrate it. When I watch the interview it seems like this is less a sense of personal preference for her, and more a feeling of responsibility. Another impressive thing about Hadley is that she is not afraid to put our perceptions of ourselves in different directions.

Hadley rather modestly goes on to say that the silences in her work prevent her writing from spoiling or diluting her narrative. She argues that silence is powerful. For Hadley, great writing is associated with subtlety and what is not said. What becomes apparent is that Hadley not only shows a sense of delicacy within her characters, but also in her writing style, and this is a skill that very few writers truly achieve.

At the end of the interview, Hadley tells us that ‘An Abduction’ is a story about momentarily stopping the process of growing up. It is about how, in trying to teach ourselves a lesson in life, and holding on to this lesson, we actually hinder the growth that is necessary to become an adult. It is this final remark that encapsulates just how confidently and eloquently Hadley confronts the various ways in which we naturally tend to think about and lead our lives. Her writing explores what it is like to think in the modern age, especially concerning the modern understandings of memory. She is therefore a writer for our time, and of time itself, and a writer with such a talented awareness must not go unnoticed.

The video recording of Tessa Hadley’s interview can be viewed at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA, along with interviews with many other famous authors.’   http://www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest

Chance Meetings: Roald Dahl, Monica Dickens and Charles Pick

patricia_neal_und_roald_dahl

Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal photographed by Carl Van Vechten (1954) – Library of Congress Collection (public domain)

An UNBOXED blog from Andrew Kenrick

“The stories of how authors meet their publishers or publishers meet their authors are legendary and many are coincidental.”

— Charles Pick, unpublished memoirs 

It is April, 1960. Roald Dahl has just published his second collection of stories, Kiss Kiss, to some acclaim in the United States but is having difficulty making a success of it in the UK. Determined to find a publisher in Britain, he returns from America with his young family on board the SS Queen Mary. Through some incredible coincidence, on this same voyage is the publisher Charles Pick, who is glued to a copy of Kiss Kiss.

While this anecdote appears in Roald Dahl’s biography, Storyteller (1), the incredible full story is related only in Pick’s unpublished memoirs (2).

Early in the voyage, Pick learned that Roald Dahl was on board and, having enjoyed his book, was determined to speak to him, but he could never find him at dinner. Eventually he marched down to Dahl’s cabin, successfully evading the snooty purser, where he was greeted by a scene of utter chaos. The crossing was rough and Dahl’s whole family had been beset by seasickness, his two children and their nursemaid vomiting profusely as the door was opened. Clothes and luggage were strewn everywhere, as his American wife, the actress Patricia Neal, turned over the cabin searching for a lost diamond. Amidst it all, stood the striking figure of Roald Dahl himself, telling her to stop, as he “never did like it.” The diamond was, then, worth £2000.

Later, when the seas – and the family’s stomachs – had calmed, Pick took them to dinner, making Dahl an offer to publish Kiss Kiss. Unsure what to do, for he knew he had other offers waiting for him on arrival, Dahl sent a telegram to his agent, asking for advice. Pick thought no more of it until after they had docked in Southampton. There, as Pick left the customs shed, Dahl came running after him waving a piece of paper and shouting “It’s all yours! It’s all yours!” The paper was a reply from his agent, telling him to accept Charles Pick’s offer before he changed his mind. This was to be the making of Roald Dahl’s literary career in the UK.

Charles Pick (1917-2000) was one of the giants of the British publishing world in the 20th century, a distinguished literary agent and publisher who worked for Victor Gollancz and Michael Joseph ending up as chair of the Heinemann Group until his retirement in 1985. Over the course of his career he championed, nurtured and corresponded with some of the literary greats, including JD Salinger, Wilbur Smith, Graham Greene, Catherine Cookson, JB Priestley and many more.

Roald Dahl was far from the only author whom Charles Pick met by chance. Another was Monica Dickens, great-granddaughter of Charles, who would go on to become “one of the best-selling authors of her generation” (3) as well as a close personal friend of Pick’s. Pick first met Dickens in 1937 at a charity dinner organised by a friend’s mother, where he found himself spellbound by her stories of life working “below stairs” as a cook. Later, he learned who she was and told her, “if she could write a book as well as she could tell a story, she could write a bestseller”. She was signed up immediately, and six weeks later had written her first novel, One Pair of Hands, which, as Pick had predicted, became her first bestseller.

These stories, along with many others, can be read in Pick’s unpublished memoirs, which, alongside diaries, letters, obituaries, cuttings and tapes, form the Charles Pick Archive. The Charles Pick Archive shines a light on the business of some of the most important British publishers of the 20th century, and can be accessed at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA.

Andrew is a former editor turned writer, who is studying for an MA in Creative Non-fiction at UEA. He writes about food, travel and ancient history, sometimes all at once. 

1 Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl (United States: Simon & Schuster, 2011), p356-377

2 Charles Pick (1990), Memoirs. Unpublished manuscript.

3 Charles Pick, “Obituary: Monica Dickens,” The Independent (Independent), December 31, 1992, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-monica-dickens-1566170.html.