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)

Snoo Wilson Scriptwriting Prize

snoo-wilson-prize-poster-2Updated 2 December 2016: winner of the 2016-17 Prize was Sophy Plumb for ‘Fish Bowl’.


On Thursday 1 December 2016, the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing will award the Inaugural Snoo Wilson Prize for Scriptwriting.

There will be performed readings from the shortlist (student names featured in the poster – right).

Date, time, venue:
1 December, The Garage in Norwich – 7-9pm
How to find The Garage:
Light refreshments will be provided

More about the prize and about Snoo Wilson

snoo-wilson-portrait-by-josephine-wilsonThe late Snoo Wilson read American Studies at UEA and was taught by the author and literary critic, Malcolm Bradbury. He graduated in 1969 and began his writing career in the same year. He was one of a handful of playwrights who reinvented British theatre in the 1970’s and 80’s. More About Snoo Wilson.

The Snoo Wilson Archive was gifted to the British Archive for Contemporary Writing in 2015 and the Faculty of Humanities kindly funded the prize which acknowledges Snoo’s legacy. The award of £500 will be given to the student who has written the strongest dissertation submission.

Drama students will perform readings of extracts from each of the shortlisted UG and PG dissertation scripts before the winner is announced.

Also in attendance will be members of Snoo Wilson’s family and friends, judges: Steve Waters, Adam Taylor (The Garage in Norwich) and Tony Frost and an invited audience of students/ and families of the shortlisted entrants.

Professor of Playwriting, Timberlake Wertenbaker, is unfortunately unable to attend but her  colleague, Steve Waters, will read her tribute to the award and the shortlisted students.



Making Bond – exhibits from the Charlie Higson Archive


Until November 24 2016, an exhibition from the Charlie Higson Archive, ‘Making Bond’ is available in the foyer of the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Library.

Below the curator, Matt Woodcock, a Senior Lecturer at UEA, introduces the material. The archive exhibition was the basis of his interview with Charlie Higson at UEA on 16 September which can be viewed from the link below.



Matt Woodcock: Higson on Bond

‘How do you go about making a James Bond novel, and re-imagine Ian Fleming’s, at times controversial hero for a young adult audience? The materials in the Charlie Higson Archive offer a valuable insight into this process.

This exhibit presents different stages of the making of Higson’s Young Bond series, starting with the background research undertaken in order to place the hero into historical and geographically accurate contexts. We then see various stages of authorial revisions from the 2005 Young Bond book SilverFin, and look behind the scenes of Higson’s characters and narrative voice taking shape. The Higson archive also contains a record of editorial and reader feedback on the series. We can see here what the author’s editors made of early drafts, and how a selection of young readers responded to SilverFin once published.

The easels accompanying the display case show details from proofs of the 2008 SilverFin graphic novel, illustrated by Kev Walker. Here we see Bond’s first appearance in the novel, and the first time he sports the number 007.’

Dr Matthew Woodcock
School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing
University of East Anglia
E: T: 01603 59 3483phe

Gently Does It. Revealing the Alan Hunter Archive

The Archive of Alan Hunter (1922-2005) was generously gifted to UEA by his daughter Helen in 2015. Hunter was the author of a series of crime novels featuring Inspector George Gently.

004Written between 1955-1999, Hunter completed 46 novels across 45 years with punning titles like Gently Does It, Gently by the Shore, Gently Down the Stream, Gently Continental, Gently with the Ladies and so on. The popular BBC One television series George Gently and later Inspector George Gently were loosely based on Hunter’s novels.

Typically each archive collection arrives with its own set of interesting nuances, challenges and surprises and Hunter’s archive was no exception. A vast array of dusty folders and boxes arrived in need of attention and a thorough sort. There was also a heavy wooden chest.

AH Gently Down the StreamHunter’s writing process was methodical, his hand-writing meticulous and his scripts well organised in labelled boxes. While he is most well-known for his Inspector George Gently novels, Hunter was also a keen writer of poetry and drama. In 1945 at the age of 23 he published a poetry collection The Norwich Poems. His archive contains these and many unpublished poems, dramas, screenplays and short stories.

The oldest item amongst his papers is a short story The Crime Without a Clue. This eight page manuscript was completed at precisely 11.40 pm on 31 October 1935. Hunter would have been 13 years old when he created the characters of Detective Grant and his assistant who must solve the baffling circumstances surrounding the death of Sir Harry Fenton, killed by his own pistol fired from the sideboard, by apparently no one.

AH.11.11.1 (002)In a preface written by Hunter in 1963 he explains his earlier attempt in 1953 to publish some short stories. They were not sold and in disgust he turned to writing his first crime novel Gently Does It. On returning from a holiday in Wales and after ascending the Wyddfa (Snowdon), he found that his manuscript of Gently Does It had also been rejected by a number of publishers. One blunt rejection referred to Gently’s personality not coming across, and that just to give him the trade mark of eating peppermint creams was not nearly enough. He resolved to write for his own pleasure and From the Summit was written, in a degree of elation. Meanwhile his crime novel Gently Does It reached Cassell where it found acceptance. Thus began the Inspector George Gently series of novels in 1955.

Writing in a caravanette, Hunter favoured jumpers and tweed jackets and smoked a pipe; he bore a close resemblance to Inspector George Gently himself. Included in his archive are a couple of rejected Gently manuscripts: Millionaires are Murder (1957) and Nothing Holy (1969); and the expected plethora of unidentified manuscripts and fragments of writing.

Despite Hunter’s good organisation there are the inevitable areas where things appear less clear. Creative writing implies a process of branching out, of going back and forth, of re-visiting, and re-developing ideas. This doesn’t lend itself to precise order nor would we want to impose such an artificial structure. Instead, the Archive’s guide to the papers makes users aware of possible connections within the collection by a number of cross-references. We have assigned numbers to all items, making it so much easier to keep track of and identify the many manuscripts and pieces of paper.

The sorting of the papers was tricky as same characters and lines often popped up in different titles therefore making it difficult to say with certainty which script belonged to which work. For instance, Lachlan Stogumber appears in the unpublished manuscript of Nothing Holy (1969) and a couple of years later in the published work of Gently at a Gallop (1971). The line ‘There’s many an airman just finishing his time’ crops up in two unpublished novels: Just Finishing His Time (1956) and Strange Testament (1957). Some rejected novels resurfaced, sometimes more than 10 years later, with a different title and significant changes: in 1961 Hunter went back to his 1953 unpublished novel From the Summit and borrowed from it for Gently to the Summit.

Ideas sketched in notebooks and early stories were taken up years later. Thus there is not always a clear correlation between the drafts and final publications. There is evidence of him re-submitting his writing to publishers many years after the original submission; or re-working something like La Paloma, which began as a story but which was then re-written as a play.

Detective skills are indeed needed to make the links and match up the various drafts. There are plenty of connections still to be made and the expectation is that keen future users of the collection will discover for themselves the evolution of Hunter’s writing.

The notebooks are gems, filled with musings, sketches, character descriptions and detailed plots were Hunter makes his suppositions.

A poisonous prescription issued by a pharmacy, apparently in error; but the victim is the suspected mistress of the chemist’s husband. [1]

Wymondham should have a tale to tell … perhaps the death of the elderly lady who kept the ‘Busy Fingers’ establishment. [1]

He writes of his struggles in coming up with a setting.

A setting out of East Anglia I said. But East Anglia keeps haunting me. Yet I have used so much of it, feel I have spent it out. I need an outside setting. Scotland is probably my best bet. [2]

From Diss to Dunwich, Bury St Edmunds to the Broads, Gently found himself in locations across East Anglia and sometimes in London, Scotland and even Wiltshire. This is in contrast to the televised series which places Gently in Northumberland and Durham.

There are days when Hunter has no inspiration at all.

But now my mind is empty of ideas or rather will have no truck with them. Show it an idea and it plainly refuses. It won’t grasp an idea, vivify it, set it in motion, begin to enrich it, with scenes, drama. [3]

And then there are days when, in his seventies, his hand aches and pen after pen fails to alleviate the frustration.

As he is writing Bomber’s Moon in 1994 he wonders if he wants to devise another book.

I am at the age when Simenon threw in the towel and retired into autobiography. But I don’t feel that old yet. Or even old. Just grown up, experienced. [4]

Hunter completed his 46th and last Gently novel at the age of 77.


1 Notebook entry, 24/10/94 (AH/14/23).
2 Notebook entry, 30/10/87 (AH/1/36/1).
3 Notebook entry, 31/1/80 (AH/1/27/1).
4 Notebook entry, 16/5/94 (AH/14/21).


Ticketholders for Charlie Higson and Ian Rankin at Noirwich: The Crime Writing Festival enjoy a preview of an exhibition on the Alan Hunter Archive (16 September, UEA).

The exhibition then moves to UEA Library from 20 September 2016.

Accessing the archive

Enquiries on this collection may be directed to
Further details and a listing of the description is available from the Alan Hunter Archive



Snoo was a natural iconoclast – be inspired by this archive to write joyous, freewheeling, audacious, iconoclastic plays


Snoo Wilson’s Archive launch took place at UEA on 21 April 2016 with speeches from the playwright Steve Waters, the playwright and director, Dusty Hughes, and the theatre producer, Jenny Topper.

Performances from the archive were given by actors: Alastair Bourne, Sam King, Gabby Onyett and Emily Wyley.

Excerpts from a speech given by the theatre producer, Jenny Topper, on the launch of the Snoo Wilson Archive at UEA are included below.

“During the latter part of Snoo’s life he faced rejection or perhaps I should say indifference more than most – quite wrongly – so I thought then and I continue to think now. For he was not only a wonderful man but also a unique writer who, as Simon (Callow), a most stalwart supporter of Snoo’s writing, would have said, were he here, wrote plays dominated by big and generous ideas, plays that often had a sprawling canvas but were full of humour, full of a genuine spirit of enquiry & usually had an erudite pioneer drawn from all over the world, from all over history at their centre. Simon directed three of Snoo’s plays – two of them – MORE LIGHT & DARWIN’S FLOOD in my top three Snoo Wilson plays – and I know that he relished the sheer inventiveness, the wit, the audacity and the collison of ideas within each of the plays as much as he did working with Snoo, who as a man was as big and generous in spirit as were his plays.

For myself, putting on my own hat and thinking about both Snoo the man and Snoo the playwright, I think that yes, this is all true but that actually quite often, such was his energy as a writer, that ideas actually rampaged through his plays, often taking no hostages but always with such a joyful sense of the infinite possibilities of theatre that the reader, the director, the audience could only be seduced into entering into & marvelling at the worlds he created. Or to put it another way: most of us have one drawer of a filing cabinet in which we store our knowledge of the world, Snoo had not just a whole filing cabinet but  an office full of serried ranks of filing cabinets, all of them jam packed with what he knew of religion, of history, of myth, of poetry, even of unadulterated gossip. And from these drawers tumbled big thinkers, mythic figures, characters from other world – some to be venerated, many of them – for Snoo was a natural iconoclast – to be brought to their knees by a well aimed verbal swish to the back of the knees but all of them united by Snoo’s freewheeling thinking & glorious use of the English language.

One final observation I want to leave with you: however hectic, however glorious his imagination, however big a picture he wished to paint, he was always respectful of the needs & the demands of those who translated his words from page to stage. I am sorry that none of you here will ever hear his chortle as he sat watching & so appreciating actors bring his plays to life for the chortle was generated both by his relish for the frankly naughty but also his relish at the skills and the commitment of his comrades in arms.  I began by talking about his generous ideas & let me end by celebrating Snoo the man who was as big & generous as his ideas. I hope there are those amongst you who will be inspired by his Archive coming home to UEA to write joyous, freewheeling, audacious, iconoclastic plays; & I also hope that you will be inspired to produce his plays in years to come.”

Readings: Plays: A Girl Mad as Pigs (1967), Pignight (1971), Blowjob (1971), Darwin’s Flood (1994), Revelations (unfinished play). Newspaper cutting/ correspondence: Eastern News on UEA’s revue ‘A Girl Mad as Pigs’ (1967); Christopher Davis, Simon Callow and Sir Trevor Nunn.

About Snoo Wilson – Snoo graduated from UEA in 1969 and began writing in the same year. He was one of a handful of playwrights who reinvented British theatre in the 1970s and 80s. Together with Howard Brenton, David Hare and Tony Bicât, he founded Portable Theatre Company. Following his sudden death in 2013, the many obituaries confirmed that, at their exuberant, inventive and utterly original best, Snoo’s plays deserve their place in the country’s history of post-war playwriting.

Wilson’s career spanned more than 40 years. Landmark works include: Pignight, The Pleasure Principle, The Glad Hand (Royal Court), The Soul of a White Ant, Vampire, The Number of the Beast, More Light, Darwin’s Flood (Bush Theatre), The Beast (RSC), Orpheus in the Underworld (ENO), Bedbug, a musical (with Gary Kemp & Guy Pratt) based on Mayakovsky’s 1929 satire (NT Connections 1995, 2016), and Reclining Nude with Black Stockings (Arcola Theatre).

About the Archive The Snoo Wilson collection forms part of The British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA.

As well as extensive notebooks, diaries, manuscripts and working papers, it includes correspondence from, amongst many others, Peggy Ramsey, Sir Peter Hall, Max Stafford-Clark, Richard Eyre, Terry Hands, Sir Trevor Nunn, Howard Brenton, Simon Callow, Simon Stokes, Dusty Hughes, Jenny Topper and Carmen Callil. There are short stories, novel manuscripts and the unperformed and unpublished play, Revelations, ironically about an obituarist, which Wilson was working on before his sudden and untimely death in 2013. The material will play a crucial role in developing critical understanding of his life and work and represents a resource of major international significance. There are fascinating research possibilities for both writers and theatre historians documenting the last forty years of British theatre practice. UEA is honoured to be the custodian of this fascinating archive.

To arrange a visit, please email the Archives team Bridget Gillies/ Justine Mann or call 01603 59 3483

To read the full press release:

See also: The Stage and  The Observer

When Doris Lessing met HM The Queen

DL with drinkToday we received two new letters written by Doris Lessing to an old wartime lover and friend, John Whitehorn. The two corresponded in the 1940s when Lessing was still in Southern Rhodesia and writing her first novel. Those fascinating letters – which number over one hundred – are already held at the University of East Anglia

The two new additions date from 2000 and were discovered by John Whitehorn’s stepson, Francis FitzGibbon, who came across them in some old files. The letters are written when Lessing was awarded the Companion of Honour. She accepted this award, having declined an OBE on numerous occasions, saying to the media at the time that she liked the title because “You’re not called anything – and it’s not demanding. I like that.” She describes her visit to Buckingham Palace, including her interaction with the Queen and a lady in waiting, with characteristic wit and is unable to take the accompanying pomp and circumstance seriously. The letters will be added to our substantial collection of Lessing’s private correspondence, gifted to the University in 2008. A larger collection, received as a bequest in 2013, is embargoed during the writing of Lessing’s official biography.


What is a literary archive, anyway?

Goats' hair 009

What is a literary archive?

Students of this year’s MA in Creative Writing (Prose Fiction) attended a session in the British Archive for Contemporary Writing to look through some of our literary collections. MA Creative Writing dissertations were deposited at the University of East Anglia as part of Malcolm Bradbury’s archive and include the authors John Boyne, Tracey Chevalier, Anne Enright and Andrew Cowan. There are also files charting the history of the emergence of UEA’s MA.

Naomi Alderman’s archive includes the annotated workshop scripts from her entire MA year and shows the transformation of her first novel, Disobedience, under the influence of students and tutors.

We also exhibited diaries and writers notebooks from Amit Chaudhuri, Roger Deakin and Snoo Wilson showing how ideas evolve in the earliest stages.

Correspondence between authors and their agents, publishers and other writers was also on display including:

  • Graham Greene’s 1962 letter to Charles Pick, announcing his intention to leave Heinemann after many years
  • Letters from JD Salinger to an old school friend in which he raises the prospect of a new publication but makes clear his dislike of publishers
  • Kurt Vonnegut’s thank you to Doris Lessing for the review of a re-released novel
  • Doris Lessing’s correspondence with her long time editor and friend, Tom Maschler
  • Salman Rushdie’s correspondence with Doris Lessing in April 1989 during the fatwa

We discussed the nature of the literary archive in the digital age and the challenges of curating a creative process when it exists in purely digital form. A number of the students still write in longhand while others work exclusively on the screen. UEA, along with other literary archives, are grappling with how to capture and present access. This was an opportunity to instil useful working practices and to raise awareness of the importance of retaining certain papers and correspondence.


Science Fiction and Beyond

‘What catapulted you into space?’ Asks Professor Christopher Bigsby when interviewing Doris Lessing for the last time at UEA’s Literary Festival in November 2007. He was referring to Lessing’s move from realism into ‘space fiction’ which he identified as beginning with Shikasta. Actually, it began sooner, she says, with Memoirs of a Survivor.

SF ModuleUndergraduate students of the University of East Anglia’s literature module New World: Science Fiction and Beyond have been reading Memoirs of a Survivor, first published in 1974, along with other writers as they investigate different modes of science fiction and their definitions.

They visited the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at the University of East Anglia for part of their seminar on Doris Lessing where they were introduced to archive material including audio and video interviews and private papers deposited by Lessing at UEA in 2008. Amongst the collection is correspondence with fellow writers Kurt Vonnegut and Brian Aldiss. The response of the mainstream literary establishment towards science fiction is a regular subject.

Lessing attended the World Science Fiction Convention in 1987 as Guest of Honour and wrote to the Independent newspaper wondering why such rich discussion did not see any coverage. Amongst the file is her conference badge, a fictional piece on a nudist camp for the programme – welcomed by the publications committee, her speech notes and a long list of writers who influenced the author’s ‘space fiction’.

In a file of correspondence from Octagon Press there is a letter from Sweden where the Swedish translation of Memoirs of a Survivor was influencing social policy in dealing with deprived children.

There are also letters from academics and friends discussing their response to the novel.

The students had identified various political, spiritual and feminist themes in Lessing’s work. In these unique primary sources, they found echoes of the various debates they have been grappling with, together with new insights – such as her use of myth and the influence of Sufism. They enjoyed hearing Lessing’s take on what was happening in publishing and literature.

As one remarked, ‘Lessing clearly had no problem with being identified as a science fiction writer but she did object to the way it was perceived by the establishment.’

The only complaint from students was not having long enough to look at the material.

‘I could loose a few weeks in here…’ one wrote. ‘It’s amazing and a privilege.’

It’s also on their doorstep – so hopefully they’ll be back soon.

What was lost? Why writers should value their working drafts

Writers must become savvier at archiving their legacy of working papers

The recent discovery of new TS Eliot poems demonstrates yet again that the world is hungry for glimpses into the archives of pre-eminent writers. The University of East Anglia, with permission from the Doris Lessing Estate, recently released previously unseen 1940s letters from the author. They attracted attention worldwide. A literary agent’s caution to the young Doris: ‘don’t be a prima donna till you are one,’ still reverberates on Twitter.

The fever around ‘Go Set a Watchman’, the manuscript Harper Lee wrote, prior to what became ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, began with the discovery of the surviving early work in a vault. Its publication provoked controversy and divided opinion. It has, however, been widely celebrated for its insight into Lee’s creative process. She assumed the manuscript had been discarded. For literary archivists it is a salutary reminder that what survives and what is lost is too often left to chance.

Authors sometimes wilfully destroy and of course reserve that right. Larkin’s diaries were famously put through the office shredder. A lengthy embargo might have served his purpose. The passage of time can diminish fallout quicker than we think.

Some writers may see a failed poem or short story as a private act and regard what went into the creation of a published work as inferior and best left hidden. But for a literature scholar the opposite is true. While the published work becomes publicly available, material that went into its creation, showing the doubts and the false starts, is available only to a privileged few and potentially revelatory.

How does an author in 2015 compare? Are we gaining, or losing in the era of ‘born digital’ manuscripts?

Eliza Robertson, author of the acclaimed short story collection, Wallflowers

Eliza Robertson, author of the acclaimed short story collection, Wallflowers, and winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, often writes directly onto screen but also writes longhand.

‘I do keep a notebook, and will jot ideas for a story/book before and during the writing process… important or eye-catching details, and from here start to grow the story. Sometimes, if I am writing a difficult scene (perhaps one I have “built up” in my mind, and am thus concerned about “getting right”), I will draft in my notebook before transcribing onto my computer. Indeed, I have done this for entire short stories. But generally speaking, I write on the laptop.’

Her short stories are edited on screen. She keeps email correspondence with her editor and agent and makes notes of conversations by phone. Draft novels are printed at certain stages but she does not retain the annotated prints. She travels often and wants to avoid being weighed down with paper.

The novelist, Henry Sutton, also convenor of the MA in Crime Writing at UEA and co-convenor of the MA in Prose Fiction, has produced nine novels and is working on a tenth. After many months of thinking around an idea, he begins with a pair of A5 black moleskin notebooks. Once he begins a draft, the novel evolves exclusively online. There are two files, one a storyline and character file, the other a draft of the novel.

‘I print out once I’m happy – probably draft 3. These then pile up in my study, and are eventually dumped in the recycling bin once the book is published.’

Henry Sutton Portrait

In each case there is a patchwork of material across different devices: both analogue and digital. Each writer retains in print only what serves an immediate purpose. The handwritten annotations have been subsumed into the next draft. Editorial comments from Sutton’s publisher are often sent as ‘track changes’ and ‘comments’ to be accepted, rejected, rewritten.

As we can note from past examples, writers’ papers are part of our literary heritage and may hold scholarly value. Occasionally they provide income for the author. If a pre-eminent writer leaves her archive to a UK institution, they can participate in the UK Cultural Gifts Scheme. US institutions and a few national archives sometimes pay considerable sums. So forging a few good habits early on seems wise.

What can archives do to help?

UEA recently established the British Archive for Contemporary Writing, an attempt to stem the tide of contemporary writing archives disappearing overseas; an audacious move given we do not have the acquisitions budgets of North American institutions who have built enviable collections of British contemporary writing. There is a determination to capture what might be lost through a lack of understanding.

Lorna Sage and Angela CarterArchives of emerging writers will come to us on loan, leaving the author free to remove the material for sale at a later date. Loans are a risky business for a literary archive. Investing time, money and resource in a collection, only to see it removed and sold overseas, or worse broken up and scattered, is unthinkable. So why is UEA ‘doing different’? For more than forty years, UEA has helped many writers on their journey to critical acclaim and commercial success, so why not also encourage the safeguarding of their legacy. We have also learnt from losses closer to home. There are regular requests for the letters Angela Carter wrote to Lorna Sage both of whom worked at the University. As far as we know, they haven’t survived.

The erasure of a similarly significant aspect of British cultural memory, potentially wiped with the stroke of a computer key, is something we care deeply about.

Is the capture of rough workings out and drafts really that important?

Naomi AldermanWe recently acquired on loan the archive of prize winning author, Naomi Alderman. These papers include the entire collection of manuscripts from her time on the MA in Creative Writing in 2002-03. They are annotated by her tutors: Patricia Duncker, Paul Magrs, Richard Holmes and Michelle Roberts. Eleven fellow writers in Alderman’s workshop group provide comments chapter by chapter. Amongst them are Tash Aw, Diana Evans, Sam Byers and Afric Campbell – all of whom went on to win or be shortlisted for major literary prizes.

As Alderman’s MA year progresses she tests out characterisation and makes choices over narrative voice and point of view. The novel evolves before our eyes and we read with the privilege of knowing what comes next in terms of literary success. The inclusion of an abandoned first novel, written in her undergraduate days at Oxford, only increases our insight.

The digital stuff is easy, right? Just back up, stick it in the Cloud. Boom – all taken care of.

Actually, no. Capturing and curating the evolution of a literary manuscript, has never been more challenging. There are significant legal and technological obstacles to overcome before we even get to persuading an author of what might be of value.

When it comes to digital, Robertson admits:
‘It’s a mess. I have a swamp of different versions, often differentiated with numbers or “EXPERIMENT” if I am trying a structure or POV change… but they’re all on my computer somewhere. There is a point where I have too many words to scroll down, where I shift to Scrivener, a helpful organization app. I save different versions… 5-7 times per manuscript? I do not date them, but I am sure the computer does. I back up with a hard drive (not as often as I should), and through iCloud. And emailing to myself. Again, I don’t think I am quite as careful or meticulous as I should be…’

Robertson won’t be alone in this. The UK Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts (GLAM) formed in 2005 has issued important guidance for authors on what to keep in the hybrid print/digital era. The latest draft is out for consultation: Authors and their papers: a guidance sheet for authors and writers

For an archive, digital preservation involves ensuring that email and documents, regardless of platform and software, can be preserved and future proofed even if the technology that was used to create them becomes obsolete.

Theoretically, a writer’s output on the Web and on social media can also be gathered using Web crawler technology.

Preservation is one thing, creating access is quite another

Once preserved, providing a researcher with access to this patchwork of output, particularly to email correspondence and social media interaction, involves data protection and third party copyright issues. The British Library is currently tackling these challenges, as it works to provide access to Wendy Cope’s email. The University of Manchester has proven it’s feasible to ingest the email of Carcanet Press into its institutional repository. UEA is about to embark on its own project to ingest the email archives (some languishing on Amstrad discs) of the poet George Szirtes. Archivists are collaborating on best practice in terms of cataloguing ‘born digital’ literary archives and we look forward to those vital discussions.

Alderman’s working papers were sitting in a box. Szirtes’ Amstrad discs were languishing in a loft and Robertson and Sutton were discarding printed drafts. Without our interference, they may or may not have made it to an archive in the end. Whatever the ultimate destination of this material, we have safeguarded it for now and are creating access for researchers and for students of creative writing.

If you are interested in finding out more about the British Archive for Contemporary Writing  please contact the Project Archivist, Justine Mann

‘An After Thought’

This is the title of a one-act play by J.M. Barrie (1860-1937), an epilogue to the stage play Peter Pan.

img478This fascinating script is contained in the archive of the world’s oldest literary agency AP Watt, which is held at UEA. The typescript is produced by ‘Mrs Olive Blows, Typewriting Agency’. It’s not clear whether Barrie approached her himself with his manuscript or whether the agency took the manuscript to her in order to produce a more professional looking document. How faithful and accurate was Mrs Blows’ typing? There are two page 15s, so not too accurate then. It would be interesting to compare it with the handwritten script but alas this is all we have

img476The typescript is dated March 1908 yet the epilogue is said to have been performed on the closing night of the play’s performance, 22 Feb 1908. It was written by Barrie to explain what became of Peter and Wendy. The scene shows a youthful Peter dropping in to see Wendy (who is now grown up with a daughter, Jane). While Wendy and Nana (the dog) have aged, Peter is unchanged. He has a sort of amnesia, forgetting he killed Captain Hook and thinking he saw Wendy only the day before. He describes his exact feelings for her as “those of a devoted son”.

img477As only the ‘young and innocent’ can fly, Peter recruits Jane and asks her to be his mother. She agrees despite having only a child’s conception of motherhood. Together they fly off to do their ‘Spring cleaning’ in Never Never Land. Wendy’s lasting wish is that her daughter will one day have a daughter who may also be visited by Peter, and fly away with him in turn – “and in this way may I go on for ever and ever dear Nana, so long as children are young and innocent”.

img475The dedication is to Hilda Trevelyan (1877-1959), the actress who created the role of Wendy in Peter Pan.

The script may be examined in the Archives.