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)


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.’

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



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

Doris Lessing’s typewriter on display at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing

DL typewriter 005“I can’t be bothered to switch to a computer at my age, though I might get along with e-mail, which sounds appealing.” So said Doris Lessing during an interview with Jonah Raskin of The Progressive, before her 80th birthday.

Doris Lessing’s typewriter, an Adler from the 1990s, is now on display within our Archives Reading Room at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing. Visiting researchers, even those not remotely interested in literary archives, have been struck by its presence – as if Doris herself were peering over their shoulder.

If the machine is from the 1990s Lessing may have used it to write the two volumes of her autobiography: Under my Skin and Walking in the Shade.

There is a brief description but it is the machine’s appearance and its general condition that tell the real story. Unsurprisingly, given how prolific Lessing was as a writer and correspondent, the keys have the look of being absolutely hammered. There are smudges of ink obscuring some of the letters. The ‘door’ leading to the ribbon is missing. Here lies a typewriter that has been well and truly worked over.

Lessing had mastered the typewriter at home as a teenager while writing early fiction. She then went on to earn a living as a typist, both in Southern Rhodesia and in London. She typed virtually all personal correspondence and only handwrote in notebooks and diaries. Just as well – friends complained bitterly at what they termed ‘unreadable’, a scrawl she herself had difficulty deciphering. In her final interview, at the UEA’s literary festival in 2007, shortly after the announcement of her Nobel Prize for Literature, she described the experience of handwriting an early, unpublished novel as a key lesson – writing it long hand, at speed, and then unable to read it back.

Lessing’s official biographer – the historian, Patrick French – has privileged access to those handwritten pages and is taking up the challenge. His experience of reading 19th Century cross hatched letters may well come into its own.

The British Archive of Contemporary Writing holds collections of Doris Lessing’s personal archive including correspondence and other working papers. 30 boxes of material are open for consultation (the vast majority is typewritten!). A further 60 boxes remain embargoed during the writing of Lessing’s authorised biography.

World War I letters from ‘Sapper’

Letter, 'Sapper' (H.C. McNeile) to his agent, 1917.

Letter, ‘Sapper’ (H.C. McNeile) to his agent, 1917.

Archives across the UK and beyond have been examining their collections of records and personal accounts relating to the start of WWI just over 100 years ago.

Recently available in our archive is a collection of 93 letters from Sapper (H.C. McNeile, 1888-1937) to his literary agent, AP Watt. Sappers’ stories of the War were serialised in The Daily Mail, The Times and Strand Magazine and published as books by Hodder Williams (Hodder & Stoughton). His pen name was assigned by the owner of The Daily Mail, as serving officers were not allowed to publish under their own names.

The letters, from 1914-1918, form part of the UEA’s recent acquisition of a collection from the world’s oldest literary agency, AP Watt.

1st edition cover, published 1920.

1st edition cover, published 1920.

Sapper went on to write 10 ‘Bulldog Drummond’ novels but it is his earlier manuscript submissions of yarns, plays and sketches which are covered in these letters. All manuscripts were submitted to the Censor for approval but not all were passed, such as ‘The Man who ended the War’. McNeile writes of the vagaries of the Censor but that sometimes “the Censor is coming to his senses”.

McNeile writes in 1918 of the Censor’s refusal to consider publishing his book until he has the consent of Sapper’s Commanding Officer. The irony was that McNeile himself was the Commanding Officer (being the Lt. Col. in command of a battalion).

Of himself McNeile writes: “Regular officer of some seven years standing when the war broke out. Made a Captain in 1914. Have been thro[ugh] first and second battles of Ypres – been gassed at latter and awarded M.C. : Loos and the Somme. In all, two years in France.”

McNeile writes about play adaptations, his meetings with H.A. Saintsbury (actor and playwright) and Gerald Du Maurier (actor), and his wish to publish in The English Review – as he liked their politics. The letters originate from Folkestone; Aldershot; Farnborough; Woking; the 18th Middlesex Regiment, B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force); King Edward VII’s Hospital for Officers; and Forres, Morayshire. In between times McNeile is serving in France and commanding a battalion.

1st edition cover, 1917.

1st edition cover, 1917.

In his letter from hospital in October 1918 McNeile writes of fracturing his leg in France after falling into a shell hole “thro extreme fright!”

The AP Watt Archive forms part of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW)


Archive of children’s author Dick King-Smith (1922-2011)

Dick King-Smith is probably best known for The Sheep-Pig which was adapted as the film Babe. He wrote countless stories for children featuring a wide range of animal characters including Saddlebottom, Hodgeheg, and Magnus Powermouse. Together with his dog, Dodo, Dick presented an animal television feature on TV-AM’s programme Rub-a-Dub-Tub (1983).

Letter from Dick King-Smith to his agent. Quotes and image reproduced with permission of AP Watt at United Agents on behalf of Dick King-Smith.

Letter from Dick King-Smith to his agent. Quotes and image reproduced with permission of AP Watt at United Agents on behalf of Dick King-Smith.

A substantial series of letters reflecting an especially personal and warm relationship between author and literary agent is now available for consultation in the Archives. These papers form part of the archive of the world’s oldest literary agency, AP Watt.

The correspondence is chatty and sometimes amusing while at the same time full of important business detail. An in depth, behind-the-scenes view is provided on the working and private life of the author, and the dealings of agencies, publishers, illustrators, and film and television producers.

Pig photo (2)

© I. Gillies

The letters reveal how American publishers turned down Babe, thinking he had too strong an ego; how A Windy Knight had to be changed to Tumbleweed, as all children “vulgarly misconstrued the adjective”; and how the author finds himself solemnly recording: how many pounds of earth a mole can shift in an hour.

AP Watt Archive
British Archive for Contemporary Writing
Dick King-Smith

British Archive for Contemporary Writing – Launch

PrintThe University of East Anglia has launched the British Archive of Contemporary Writing. The initiative builds on the University’s international reputation for creative writing, the status of Norwich as a UNESCO City of Literature, and UEA’s strong links with writers of world renown through its international literary festivals and links with the British Centre for Literary Translation and the emerging National Centre for Writing which is based in Norwich.

DL ArchiveUEA intends to grow existing collections significantly, most notable of which is the extensive personal archive of the Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessing, and literary material from other prize winning authors such as Naomi Alderman, Tash Aw, Malcolm Bradbury, Amit Chaudhuri, J.D. Salinger, Roger Deakin, Lorna Sage, WG Sebald and the acclaimed playwright Snoo Wilson. The Archive includes more than three hundred interviews with prominent authors across twenty-three years’ of its literary festivals including: Margaret Atwood, Martin Amis, Anne Enright, John Fowles, William Golding, Seamus Heaney, Alan Hollinghurst, Kazuo Ishiguro, P.D. James, Ian McEwan, Toni Morrison, Iris Murdoch, Harold Pinter, Salman Rushdie, Ali Smith to name just a few. These recordings are available for consultation in our archives reading room. A selection can also be viewed on our Website

The BACW also provides an insight into the changing landscape of publishing throughout the twentieth century, through the papers of what was the oldest literary agency in the world, AP Watt, and the publisher Charles Pick including correspondence with Michael Holroyd, Nadine Gordimer, Anita Desai, Monica Dickens, Paul Gallico, Richard Gordon and Graham Greene. Nature writing is a key theme within the BACW which already includes the archive of Roger Deakin, pioneer of the wild swimming movement and author of the acclaimed and highly popular, Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey through Britain.

To further enhance the archive, UEA is also establishing a storehouse initiative, an opportunity for authors to loan manuscripts and related literary material at a much earlier stage in their careers. The aim is to raise author profiles, to build up a truly contemporary archive, and for the wider research community to gain access to materials that would not otherwise be available until much later in an author’s career.

The Storehouse will add value by organising and cataloguing the collections and making them more accessible even if authors need the flexibility to remove materials at a later stage. Several writers have already committed to depositing material under the model. Although the archive will look to build some of its collections from UEA’s own community of emerging writers it is also keen to attract material from other acclaimed authors produced in, or translated into, the English language. For further information about the archive visit

Archive of acclaimed ‘anarchic, subversive and humorous’ playwright, Snoo Wilson, gifted to the University of East Anglia

Snoo Wilson Potrait

Copyright of the Snoo Wilson estate

The playwright, Snoo Wilson, (an alumnus of UEA) died suddenly and unexpectedly on 3 July 2013. Exactly two years on, UEA is honoured to be the recipient of Snoo’s literary archive. In this moving tribute, his widow, journalist and academic Ann McFerran, writes of her feelings on placing Snoo’s working papers at UEA.

Two years ago my world turned upside down when Snoo Wilson, my husband of over 40 years, collapsed and died of a heart attack, while running to catch a train.

For many people Snoo and his work defied categorisation.  His Wikepedia entry claims that his plays “combined harsh social comment, while embracing a range of surrealistic, magical, philosophical and madly dark comic subjects.”    However exotic the descriptions of his work by critics and reviewers, audiences were challenged, surprised, enchanted and moved by his plays.

 To me and our three children, Jo, Patrick and David  the playwright Snoo Wilson was rather more: he was a beloved husband and a doting father.  Much has been written – or possibly not enough – about the devastating and debilitating impact of grief. For far too long in the months after his sudden death I found myself staring, almost catatonically, at the many manuscripts of his plays, novels, screenplays and librettos.  When would I ever open the file labelled ‘The Trip to Jerusalem,’ ‘Bees’ or ‘Revelations’?  

I am lucky and blessed with not only my children but some wonderful friends.   One such friend, Jenny Topper, who had produced many of Snoo’s plays at the Bush theatre, introduced me to a terrific literary agent, Micheline Steinberg.  Not only would she be delighted to take on Snoo’s literary estate, she said, but she suggested that Snoo’s papers and manuscripts  might be archived by the University of East Anglia (UEA), where Snoo had studied and staged his early plays .A few months later my hopes exceeded all my expectations when I went to visit UEA’s archive and saw for myself the diligence and care with which they were archiving the work of many notable writers.

Justine Mann, who will oversee Snoo’s work, showed me a letter from Doris Lessing to a wartime lover, and I decided that I would include at least some of the letters Snoo had written and received in those pre-email days, which he had actually filed quite neatly by the year, many of which were from me, accompanied by drawings from our then small children. 

I know Snoo would be thrilled and honoured that his work is to be archived by UEA. And for me and our children it will stand as an invaluable memorial of the man and writer we loved.

Ann McFerran

Snoo Wilson’s archive consists of scripts, notes, correspondence, screenplays and production notes and photographs. It will be catalogued in the coming months and made available to researchers and other visitors in late 2015/early 2016.