On my long way to Norwich from Bulgaria, I lost at least half my English words. I was tired and nervous; for the first time in a long time I traveled alone; I’d never been in England before but above all this was my first writer’s residency. So, when I arrived I found myself almost totally speechless – a catastrophic state for a writer.
My host Kate Griffin, Associate Programme Director at the National Writers’ Centre in Norwich, gave me a first tour round the city centre. Of course, the tour included a few marvelous independent bookstores. I looked at the books and I thought, “So many books, and I’m afraid to leaf through them as I’m not sure I’ll be able to understand them.” But then at the Book Hive shop I saw the short story collection The Sadness of Beautiful Things by Simon Van Booy. The title tempted me so much that I briefly forgot my fears and bought it.
That book, and Kate and her family’s hospitality, and Sarah Bower (prize-winning novelist and short story writer, who also works for the National Writers’ Centre) were my first steps back to recovering my lost English words, indeed my first steps in the English world.
The next day, while walking along its lanes, I realized that I was taking a shine to Norwich, the cosiest and happiest city I’d visited in a long time. I wanted to learn more about its history, about its present. I overcame my fears and shyness once again and began to talk with people. I entered the small galleries, shops for postcards, bakeries, cafes (each one with its own atmosphere, its own face). I also visited the market where I found the chattiest ladies in Norwich – on the stand with Chilean food. I learned a lot about the history of Norwich Cathedral from the taxi driver who drove me to the University of East Anglia (UEA).
I applied for this residency because I wanted to work on my ideas for short stories. But every day in Norwich I collected more and more new stories. Everything and everyone talked to me. And what’s most important is that I understood it all: the language of flint and stones of the old buildings; the fountain’s murmur in the Plantation Garden; the rumble of the wind on Cromer’s coast; the accidentally over-heard conversations on the street, on the train and in the cafes.
It was a great pleasure to listen to how young poets and writers read their works at the UEA Live literature event at Dragon Hall; to attend a debut authors’ evening at Waterstones bookshop with Sharlene Teo, Mitch Johnson, Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott and Paula Cocozza and to watch how Professor Andrew Cowan moderated the conversation. I really liked his questions. Audiences always want to learn more about what inspires the author to start to write a particular story, how he or she combines writing with their other everyday tasks, what do they do when they hit a block. It was a relief for me to reassure myself that writers everywhere face one and the same problems when they confront the white sheet. With that knowledge I now hope I won’t feel so lonely next time when I fight my own demons and writer’s problems.
The meeting with the author Megan Bradbury was very important for me. This was my second “take a shine” moment in Norwich. I read her book Everyone is Watching in one breath.
On my long journey back to Sofia, I traveled with joy in the heart, my head overwhelmed with new stories and new words. My bag was also overwhelmed – with all the new English books I’m eager to read: the happiest state for a writer to be in.
By Ivanka Mogilska
Ivanka Mogilska is a Bulgarian author with five published books: a short story collection, two novels, and two poetry collections. She loves to invent and tell stories, to travel and to do what she likes. Some of her poems and short stories are available in translation into English, French, and Hungarian. Her latest novel, Sudden Streets (Janet 45, 2013), was published into Hungarian under the title Váratlan utcák, translated by Peter Krasztev (European Prose Series, L’Harmattan, 2017). In 2015, Mogilska was a fellow of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation’s Sozopol Fiction Seminars in the eighth edition of the program with faculty Claire Messud (US), Elizabeth Kostova (US), Georgi Gospodinov (BG) and Hristo Karastoyanov (BG).
The creative residency for a Bulgarian writer in Norwich is a project of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. It takes place with the support of the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in London and the State Institute for Culture at the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The project is implemented in cooperation with the National Centre for Writing, the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, and the British Centre for Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia.