The Talbot Trail of Sudbury

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The literary links of our East Anglian towns have long interested me and I have written about the 101 Dalmatian topped bollards commemorating the Sudbury stopover made by the dogs in Dodie Smiths famous book here. I already knew that this handsome bronze could be found by the railings of St Peters church and that the town has staged festivals celebrating the book but what I didn’t know was that it is part of the Talbot Trail, a series of bronze sculptures that depict the towns history which are mounted on red painted bollards at significant locations around the town.

Just before midnight they came to the market town of Sudbury.Pongo paused as they crossed the bridge over the River Stour. ‘Here we enter Suffolk,’ he said, triumphantly. They ran on through the quiet streets of old houses and into the market square.They had hoped they’d meet some dogs and hear if any news of the puppies had come at the Twilight Barking, but not as much as a cat was stirring. While they were drinking at the fountain, church clocks began to strike midnight..” (From 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith)

Named after the Talbot, a breed of hunting dog that features on the town coat of arms, or to be more specific, the dog owned by the notorious Simon of Sudbury, the head of the Talbot appears sometimes in red, sometimes in black. This early breed of hunting dog is thought to have been brought to England with William the Conqueror and to have links with what we now know as the modern beagle and bloodhound.

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Borough status was granted to Sudbury in 1558, rewarding its loyalty to Mary the First against the claims of Lady Jane Grey and the design originated from the coat of arms of the Theobald family who Simon was a scion of (although the arms origin is disputed by some who claim it originated from the Sudberry family). Simon of Sudbury went on to become Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury before being killed by rebels in the Peasants Revolt 1381. His legacy to the town was in the form of a college for priests which was located on what is now the site of the old Walnuttree Hospital which itself went on to become the location of the local workhouse. And his head, but more on that later.

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Sudburys Tourist Information can be found inside its library on Market Hill and the Heritage Museum at the side of the town hall, prominently placed on Market Hill and built by Thomas Ginn between 1826/27 in the Greek classical style, also supplies Talbot Trail guides. The idea is to obtain a booklet from the tourist offices and then mark off the bronzes as you proceed around the town, returning to get your stamp of completion when you have seen them all. The town hall houses a general display and information about the towns past and the town gaol provides inspiration for the first bronze marker. Sadly a few of the bronzes have been stolen (presumably by scrap metal thieves) and it is to be hoped that they will be replaced by resin replicas if not another bronze.

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The Town Hall and museum itself has an interesting history in their original role as gateway to the Sudbury Courtroom of Assizes and the good sized Victorian doorway that forms the entrance was once its gateway, located on the appropriately named Gaol Lane. Placed in the basement, the gaol was used to hold prisoners on their way to and from the court although the diminution of arrests for debt resulted in its decline and less cases to provide an amusing morning or afternoons entertainment for the landed gentry of the region. The site of the original gaol, before the Town Hall was built, was at 25 Friars St and was called a ‘miserable little prison’ by James Niell writing in the Gentlemans Magazine- a blue plaque marks its site.

Going on from Pongo’s bronze head which is number two, we move onto an historical icon rather less benign; Boudicca or Bodicea, The Queen of the Iceni who history indicates is likely to have gained the support of the Trinovante at Sudbury in AD 44 on her way to attack and overthrow the Roman garrison at Colchester and burn the entire town to the ground. Sudbury is thought to have been a Trinovante stronghold in those days and the Trinovante tribes supported the Iceni, ‘next door’ so to speak. However controversy again rears its head with some locals claiming that Boudicca never actually made it as far as Sudbury and decided instead to stop on the other side of the river Stour and go on to Colchester. It is believed that she reached the tiny village of Newton, site of a well dating back to Roman times which belongs to one of the households there and is known as ‘Boudiccas well.’

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When Boudicca and her warriors were on their way to attack Colchester, a local legend says that this was a resting place for them, hence its name. Roman writers also record an unpleasant episode involving Boudicca and her Iceni tribe which saw her whipped and her two daughters raped in an attempt to subdue her opposition to them. Boudiccas revenge was bloody and dramatic- her tribe united with the Trinovantes, attacking and almost driving the Romans from the whole country. One of the battles is believed to have been near Haverhill, some fifteen miles from Sudbury.

Charles Dickens’ famous association with Suffolk, inspiring so much of his work, includes Sudbury and is represented by bronze No 4 which depicts ‘Rotten Row,’ set in the imaginary town of Eetanswill in his book, The Pickwick Papers, which was, in part, written whilst he was a guest at the Angel Hotel in nearby Bury St Edmunds. Written in 1836, the ‘Rotten Borough’ was thought to be inspired by Sudburys long history of electoral and political corruption where, in one election, a wealthy Sudbury parliamentary candidate was accused of spending over ten thousand pounds in bribing local voters. A character in the story, The Honourable Samuel Slumkey has an electoral agent that is said to be based upon a Sudbury solicitor called George William Andrews who Dickens would have encountered during his reporting.

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Small town politics have always been hotbeds of gossip, intrigue and double crossing and this remains the case today- maybe in Sudbury, maybe not- and has inspired all manner of authors and writers alongside Dickens. In 1835 Dickens was covering East Anglian election meetings for the Morning Chronicle and after condemning Chelmsford as “the dullest and most stupid place on earth” in a letter to fellow journalist Thomas Beard, came away with no better impression of Sudbury or, to be fair, most of our other regional towns. Some steps had been taken to combat some electoral abuse in the form of the Great Reform Act of 1832, addressing the “rotten boroughs”  which all too often sent MPs to Parliament despite having very small populations, but until 1870 little legislation of any great effect came into play and, in the 1840’s, Sudbury ended up disenfranchised as a named seat because of its rotten practices.

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Sudbury had its own version of Mo Farah in the form of the ‘Running Boy’ when, in April 1879, a young apprentice by the name of James Bigmore ran alongside the Norwich coach, all the way from Sudbury to Norwich, a distance of 60 miles in 6 hours and bronze No5 depicts this remarkable (if bonkers) feat of endurance, although the contemporary and dreadful service offered by Greater Anglia rail between London-Norwich today might mean locals adopt the example of James and start running it because it would probably be as swift. The story was reported in the Ipswich Journal as a race undertaken for a bet or wager:

“James Bigmore, the Suffolk Pedestrian started on Monday the 1st, at Sudbury to go 50 miles in nine hours, on a half mile piece of ground, which he performed in eight hours and 50 minutes.” (Ipswich Journal:  March 6th 1824).

Nearby Boxford had its pub and lion owning Wall of Death artiste in the form of Tornado Smith but Sudbury can boast the Great Blondin, subject of bronze No 6 and a trapeze artist who, in 1872, visited the town and, on a rope suspended across the yard behind the Anchor Pub in Friars St, demonstrated his prowess by pushing a Sudbury resident along a rope slung across the gap, in a wheelbarrow. The Suffolk Chronicle failed to report on this visit but did excitedly report on his visit to Ipswich, reminding readers of the artistes various feats of balance:

“On the 16th July, he again crossed Niagara, wheeling a wheelbarrow.  On the 5th August he crossed again, turning somersaults and performing extraordinary gymnastics on the rope.  On the 19th August he performed the unprecedented feat of carrying a man across the Niagara River on his back, thousands of spectators looking on, and momentarily expecting the death of one or both of the daring men.  On the 27th August he went over as a Siberian Slave in shackles.   On the 2nd September he crossed at night, and stood on his head amid a blaze of fireworks…the last performance at Niagara was given before H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.   On this occasion, Blondin put the climax to all his other achievements by crossing the rope on stilts.” (Suffolk Chronicle:  May 24th 1873)

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Born Jean Francois Gravelot in Northern France, the Great Blondin became obsessed with crossing Niagara Falls, succeeding in Feb 1859 on a rope measuring some 1,100 foot long and 3 inches in diameter. He even performed high wire at the Crystal Palace pushing his five year old daughter in a little wheelbarrow. He went on to cross Niagara eight more times, was easily the most famous artiste in his speciality  and died aged 73.

Bronze No 7 needs little introduction, being a memorial to one of Sudburys most (if not the) famous sons- Thomas Gainsborough, born in the town and previous owner of the eponymous house in the eponymous street, now a museum.  Scion of a weaving family also involved with the wool trade, both industries being closely associated with Sudbury, at the age of thirteen Gainsborough went to London to study art in 1740, training under the engraver Hubert Gravelot and eventually becaming associated with William Hogarth and his school of painting.  This bronze shows Thomas and his wife Margaret and is located not too far from Gainsborough House, the museum and well worth a visit to see his work.

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Vital to the prosperity and livelihood of the town was its proximity to its river, the Stour which provided a navigable connection to the sea and a way of transporting the products of regional industries- farming, bricks, wool among many. A river with two names, the pronounciation of which causes much good hearted debate, it can be pronounced Stower (rhyming with myrrh) or Stour (rhyming with hour). I am not going to disclose which I favour. Bronze No 8 depicts the river transport so crucial to the wellbeing of Sudbury.

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During the reign of Queen Anne in 1705, Parliament passed an act which made the River Stour navigable from Sudbury, Suffolk to Manningtree, Essex, making it one of the country’s earliest statutory rights of navigation. Sadly many of the locks have now disappeared rendering the waterway navigable only by lighter craft along the entire length. The journey from Sudbury to the estuary normally took around 2 days, with an overnight stop halfway at Horkesley where bunkhouses offering refreshments were provided. Goods, particularly bricks were taken down river via pairs of horse drawn barges and brought other goods back and were often featured in John Constable’s paintings. In 1914 the entire Sudbury fleet of around 20 lighters was scuttled in the Ballingdon Cut part of the river because of the fears of invasion at the start of the First World War.

Nowadays there are companies offering pleasure craft rides along the river, Sudbury Rowing Club operates from premises behind the Quay Theatre and the latter itself offers visitors the chance to see an exquisitely restored granary in a glorious setting. The river and water meadows are famously depicted by Constable and are one of the regions best walks with miles of beautiful views and safe, well maintained pathways.

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Sadly dancing bears remain one of the more reprehensible ‘tourist attractions’ in some countries but thankfully Britain has moved on from this ‘entertainment’ although back in the day, Sudbury saw its fair share of visiting bears and traveling showmen who trained their captive bears to dance at the end of a chain connected to a ring through the animals nose. In the 19th century and before the establishment of zoos, travelling menageries or single travelling showmen reached the height of their popularity, partly because overseas trade encouraged a marketplace for animals but also because publicity glorified the experiences of explorers and travellers and created a public hungry to see living creatures in the flesh.

Brought  by Victorian showmen to entertain the locals, the muzzled bears were housed down the passage beside 54 Church Street before and after their ‘performance’, near to where the showmen lodged in cheap accommodation at the rear. Bronze No 9 depicts two of the bears and is much admired by children brought up on a literary diet of bears treated considerably more amiably than those in our Victorian past.

Although I used to live in Clare, with the motte of the famous Clare Castle at the bottom of my garden, Amecia, the daughter of the Earl of Gloucester in the 12th century who married  into the powerful De Clare family and brought her wealth to Sudbury, was unknown to me.  Bronze No 10 commemorates her and her founding of a hospital by Ballingdon Bridge, itself thought to have been constructed with stone from northern France, a legacy of her family heritage. Originally a Norman family, the De Clares took their name from Clare in Suffolk where their first castle, and the seat of their barony, was located. The family went on to hold huge estates across Wales, Ireland, and twenty two English counties by the 13th century with a descendant, Gilbert, going on to become one of the twenty five barons involved in the administration of the Magna Carta in 1215.

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Sudbury had come into the possession of the de Clare family through the marriage of Amicia Gloucester to Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford, around 1182; the couple were described as relatively generous Lords of the Manor but it was vital that the town, bursting at its seams, be allowed to expand. But in 1314 the last of the male line of the family died out with the death of young, childless Gilbert at Bannockburn. It took some time to sort out the estate but after being divided between Richards sisters, Sudbury became the property of Elizabeth De Burgh who set about endowing and expanding the town via a new trading centre incorporating the field which was the site of the annual trading fair:s a field we know now as Market Hill. Amicia also granted grazing rights to the Hospital of Saint John for four cows and twenty sheep on Kings Mere (now Kings Marsh) and Portmanscroft (now Freemans Common).

Amicia and the family of the De Clares were great founders of religious houses and no less than sixteen monasteries were established by them. Amicia endowed the Hospital of the Knights of Saint John at Jerusalem, near Ballingdon bridge, with the tolls charged by bridge users and the rents of nearby houses. The Monasticon Anglicanum (1654), refers to a hospital situated in the messuage of Saint Sepulchre which was also endowed by the Clare family. There were three hospitals  in the town: St Sepulchre’s, the Knight Hospitallers near Ballingdon bridge (the site now known as HospitalYard) and John Colney’s leper hospital dedicated to Saint Leonard and situated near St Bartholomew’s Priory and Chapel on the Melford Road. Human skeletons and remains of foundations of buildings have been found near and on the site of the church and during the excavation of a cellar in School St, the street adjoining Stour Street in 1800, many intact skeletons were disinterred.

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The De Clare family are also closely associated with the common lands that surround Sudbury, especially its water meadows and subject of bronze No 11, depicting lands that have been continuously grazed for over a thousand years: a topic close to my heart because my own daughter is eligible to be made a Freewoman of Sudbury although, at time of writing, she has yet to take it up. in 1260, Richard De Clare gave the pastures to the burgesses of Sudbury for a rent of up to 40 shillings a year, and to this day Freemen and women recieve their share of this rent alongside their own grazing rights. Historically, they would have been the only people of the town to have a parliamentary vote and although the role now is purely honorary, they still work hard to preserve the traditions. The grazing of cattle is central to the management of this delicate and beautiful eco system because their continual grazing keeps the land at a specific point in its succession, creating an open pasture land and the frequent flooding that occurs from the neary Stour keeps the grass lush because of silt deposition, providing a great diet for the cows that dine out there.

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Another of Sudbury’s famous events was the Peasants Revolt of 1381 which saw the head of Simon of Sudbury separated from his body after angry poor locals rebelled against the imposition of a Poll Tax of 15p, to go to the King and support the war with France. As Chancellor, gaining support for this was Simons job and it didn’t go down too well. Bronze No 12 commemorates this. An event that has its roots in the aftermath of The Black Death of 1348-9 that wiped out a third of the population, the resulting crucial shortage of labour meant that surviving labour forces were able to exploit the situation as for the first time competitive wages were on offer. The government sought to control this with a ruling in 1351 that saw rents and wages fixed in an attempt to control this labour/wages situation but it was unsuccessful as were attempts by subsequent governments. Labourers were understandably miffed at this measure designed to prevent them from earning more than basic wages for their work and were clearly not going to give up without a fight. When you consider that the King had to pawn his own jewels to the City of London as a surety for a loan of £5,000 to fund the war with France, you can see how both sides were fighting a cause neither could afford to lose.

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Research shows that local women were instrumental in this protest and the leader of the group that arrested Simon and dragged him to the executioners block was a woman called Johanna Ferrour. The poll tax was deemed to be much harder on married women who were taxed separately from their husbands, regardless of their employment status or income, and their pole position (sorry) in the protests against the Poll Tax was explained by this. As for Simon, he was beheaded near to the Tower of London but his head, complete with axe marks, resides in a vault in Sudbury’s St Gregorys Church, something that seems rather unchristian in my opinion and making his image the subject of unlucky bronze No 13 – a clear case of art imitating life.

The final bronze in the Talbot Trail depicts ‘Kemps Jig’, danced famously by William Kemp who, instead of running to Norwich from London as the famous Running Boy did, decided to dance from London to Norwich in 1599. His partner was a milkmaid from Sudbury who got cold (dancing) feet in Long Melford and rather sensibly gave up there. When you consider the likelihood of infected blisters and the lack of antibiotics, she appears to be one very sensible women (if not much fun), although getting up at dawn to milk herds of cows would dampen anyones dancing ardour.

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More commonly referred to as Will Kemp, he was an English actor and dancer who specialised in comic roles including being an original player in Shakespearean early dramas. He may have been associated with the role of Falstaff  and became one of a core of five actor-shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men alongside Shakespeare and Richard Burbage. To counter claims of falsehood after his dancing marathon he published an account of the event, referred to as ‘The Nine Daies Wonder,’ with its wager that he could achieve it in less than ten days. Which he won. (Thank goodness because the sum of £100 on the table was a ruinous amount to lose in those days.) Kemp also inspired a tune titled ‘Kemps Jig,’ which became well known during the times of the Renaissance and was arranged specifically for lute players.

Kemps account went on to be sold by the west door of Saint Pauls Church in 1600 and was described as thus in the epigrath, addressed to Mistris Anne Fitton, Mayde of Honour to the most sacred Mayde Royall Queene Elizabeth:

“Containing the pleasure, paines and kinde entertainment of William Kemp between London and that Citty in his late Morrice.

Wherein is somewhat set downe worth note; to reproove the slaunders spred of him: many things merry, nothing hurtfull.

Written by himselfe to satisfie his friends.”

William Kemp / Amaranth Press
William Kemp / Amaranth Press

If you’ve worked up an appetite after walking the trail then Sudbury has a variety of good places to eat, some actually on the trail. Along Friars Street is the Rude Strawberry which provides home made snacks and small meals alongside high quality teas and coffees. Ingredients are locally sourced where possible. Slightly out of town in Borehamgate Precinct is the hub of all things chocolate,  Marimba whose Hot Chocolate Melts are made from flakes of real chocolate from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Ecuador. Gainsborough Street has the CoffeeHouse and the Waggon & Horses Pub on Acton Square is very close to St Gregorys Church and the beautiful Croft with the river Stour flowing nearby. Finally, should you be craving a properly handmade burger with all the trimmings, then Shakes N Baps is for you, right by Belle Vue Park.

Sudburys Talbot Trail pdf can be downloaded from here.

Living On The Edge, a local blog has also visited the Talbot Trail.

 

 

Walking on the beaches…. in Suffolk

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Suffolk’s beaches are atmospheric and historic, well-managed and award-winning with reliable water quality and surrounded by picturesque countryside, making the journey part of the pleasure. We have beaches that are slowly returning to the sea as a result of coastal erosion and famous holiday resorts that are enjoying a new lease of life. The richness of the local flora and fauna has been preserved via the creation of nature reserves and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the countryside is quilted by a network of coastal paths and cycle routes which in their own way contribute towards a climate of protective benevolence towards our relatively unspoilt coastal regions. Our coastline also tells of threat and potential invaders: guarded by cannons, forts and martello towers we are confronted by our vulnerability although past invasions have struggled with the watery nature of East Anglia where apparently clear routes end in creek, marsh and water. The biggest threat now is that of the tide and the edges of Suffolk bear witness to its destructive nature. Do we adopt a policy of managed retreat or do we cover parts of our coastline in swathes of concrete and banks of giant stones in an attempt to mitigate the risk?

With more edge than middle, the geography of the Suffolk coastline has resulted in miles and miles of easily accessible beaches, as opposed to somewhere like Devon or Cornwall where many of the best beaches remain partially inaccessible to all but those in the know or with boats. So although people here have some secret places they go to to get away from the tourist crowds, most of them remain public property and easily found. Here are some of our favourites:

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The beach at Ewerton

Johnny All Alone Creek is a piece of insider knowledge. The Stour/Orwell long distance path runs along the river wall to Holbrook in one direction and Shotley in the opposite direction. The River Stour is 47 miles long and forms the boundary between Essex and Suffolk, the tidal estuary running from Manningtree to its confluence with the River Orwell at Harwich in Essex. Just across the fields from Johnny All Alone Creek can be found the village of Erwarton;  worth a visit for its connections with Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Anne was a frequent visitor to her aunt who lived at Erwarton Hall and legend has it that she liked the place so much she asked for her heart to be buried in the local church after her death. When the church was renovated in 1838 a small heart shaped casket was discovered and subsequently reburied. The creek is bordered by beaches of fine grade shingle and lines of larger pebbles, punctuated by stands of jade green Samphire, bleached oyster shells, overhanging scrub and hedgerow busy with the many birds that live here. Now walk along the river path to Holbrook Creek, another atmospheric tributary off the River Stour with moorings for small dinghies; not a place for family bathing per se BUT it is a place for picnics and wild imagination.

Southwold pier
Southwold pier

Southwold Pier beach has also been awarded a European blue flag, so you can be confident of clean bathing-water and sand with little settlements of beach huts along the promenade and by the beach. Plenty of independent shops, a superb chemist packed with covetable products and a new Waterstones branch make shopping a bit of an attraction in itself. The pier has a restored collection of quirky arcade machines, a couple of restaurants and the town also has a lovely trad boating lake.The Denes is a dog friendly beach as is the beach stretching towards Walberswick which also boasts a beach cafe near to a carpark and low dunes to sunbathe in. The beach cafe sells cake, sandwiches, ice creams and hot and cold drinks. The carrot cake was pretty special when we visited in the summer and they offer take out containers too.

View across the Denes
View across the Denes

The Denes Beach at Southwold is a quieter, more secluded, shingle beach next to the River Blyth – good for walking, dunes and views across the estuary plus of course the lovely town centre to explore when you grow tired of the beach. Limited in its development by its location on a hill that gently rises from the Blyth Valley, making the town virtually an island, surrounded by the River Blyth to the south and Buss Creek to the north, this has helped to retain an old world charm. Visitors use the beach for surfing,windsurfing and fishing and a coast path takes you north to Southwold or south along the banks of the river.

Walberswick
Walberswick

Walberswick is a tiny village that is situated slap bang in the middle of the AONB and offers one of the best beach in the area for sandcastles, with coarser sand rising towards the dunes. Famous for its crabbing, the quay and creeks that meander across the flat countryside are well endowed with crustaceans and popular with those who want to pit their wits (and crabbing line) against them. The official crabbing championships became victim of its own success and is held no more sadly due to safety fears but ad hoc crabbing is not discouraged and it isn’t difficult to buy the necessary supplies of bacon, crabbing lines and buckets locally. Walk to Southwold along the banks and creeks of the river and over the Bailey bridge or use the foot ferry which operates during the summer months.

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Covehithe Beach has none of the Enid Blyton charm of nearby Aldeburgh and Walberswick and is more akin to the wild beauty of the beaches of north Norfolk – for elemental majesty and crowd free enjoyment, you will be hard pressed to find a better place. To reach the beach you must park your car in the village and take one of two footpaths down to the beach (10 minutes or so walk). The path curves towards the eroded cliffs then bends inland again past bracken and the trees, plants and grasses that have tumbled from the falling cliffs. These crumbling cliffs are home to sand martins whilst the  low-tide mark exposes rockpools full of tiny crabs and sea anemone. Freshwater lagoons (Benacre Broads) lie behind the sea, sheltered by an arc of broadleaf woodland and are lovely for swimming although the salt of the sea is gradually leaching in- a slow commingling that will eventually join them with the North Sea.  If you follow the path to the north instead, you will arrive at the Benacre National Nature Reserve at Benacre Ness, where a varied habitat of dunes, broads, heath and woodland provide shelter for breeding birds and other creatures.

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Dunwich

Dunwich Beach is next to the Flora Tearooms which serves excellent fish and chips, neon bright sundaes and hot chocolate and backs onto the famous Ship Inn. This shingle and pebble strip of beach edges some of Englands most diverse heath and woodland- Dunwich Heath, looked after by the National Trust. Backed by low lying, collapsing cliffs tufted with Marram Grass, you can walk for miles here, undisturbed except for the (reputed) chimes of the village church, lost under the waves since 1904. Dunwich was once the capital of East Anglia until that moment when the harbour and most of the town were claimed by the sea, causing a slow decline into what is now, a tiny coastal village. The drive towards the village and beaches is a joy, especially when the broom and gorse is in bloom. The road dips and rises through heathland and low wooded scrub, the sharp yellow, honey scented flowers perfuming the air for miles around. As you approach the car park near the sea, the road noise becomes deadened by the sand blown inshore creating a thick layer on the tarmac, and then become twisting lanes, narrowed further by hedges of eglantine roses and honeysuckle and the streams of walkers and cyclists.

Shingle Street
Shingle Street

Shingle Street, the subject of fevered speculation since it was evacuated in 1940 is now a SSSI and protected in parts. Lying at the mouth of the River Ore is a collection of houses sitting between a row of Coastguard cottages and a martello tower. In summer the shingle beach is alive with flowering plants and seals sun themselves at low tide on the islands in the mouth of the River Ore. The erosion has made it treacherous to walk parts of the coastal path south-west of Shingle Street, so take care when setting off in that direction. Not a beach for sunning yourself on the sand, it is however bleakly beautiful and one of our favourite places to see the Suffolk sun rise and set and see history writ large upon the landscape. Another curiosity here in front of the coastguard cottages is a line of bleached white shells arranged in a sub-geometric pattern of swirls and concentric circles, ‘beach art’ created here over 5 years ago by childhood friends Elsa Bottema and Lida Kindersley for future visitors to do with as they wish.

Felixstowe
Felixstowe

Felixstowe beach offers the classic day at the seaside against the backdrop of this lovely Edwardian town with its bright rows of beach huts and steep roads rising up behind the promenade to the town centre. From playing on the seafront amusements, building sandcastles on the beach, walking the promenade and exploring the Winter gardens which are now being restored to their full magnificence, Felixstowe is coming out of the shadow cast by the more well known Suffolk resorts, and deservedly so. The pier hosts crabbing competitions each year too and the sea defences, called groynes, that divide the beaches collect pools of sea water around their stumps, great fun for children to fish with nets.

Felixstowe ferry gazing across to Bawdsey with its small sand beach
Felixstowe ferry gazing across to Bawdsey with its small sand beach

Felixstowe Ferry is the older part of the town, predicated upon the fishing industry that once sustained this part of the coastline, all black washed bargeboards, clank of chains and fishing huts, some still selling their catch. There’s also a pub and a river and an estuarine cafe selling seafood and pots of hot tea. Walk along the sea wall at Felixstowe Ferry to gaze upon Bawdsey Manor on its peninsula across the river Deben or catch the eponynous ferry over there. It is a secret WWII facility and home to the invention of Radar. You will also come across two of Felixstowe’s Martello Towers built between 1804 and 1812 to repel Napoleonic invasion. Bawdsey peninsula has a small sand beach too.

Part of the old jetty off landguard Point
Part of the old jetty off landguard Point

Landguard Fort, Point and Nature Reserve covers over 81 hectares and is a sand and shingle spit off the Southern tip of the Suffolk coast and near to Felixstowe. Originally built at the behest of Henry the Eighth, this fort is the only one in England to have repelled a full scale invasion attempt. At the mouth of the River Orwell, Landguard Fort was designed to guard the entrance to Harwich and with its prime position overlooking the enormous cargo ships arriving and departing the port, it is one place you won’t want to forget to bring your binoculars. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, the reserve has frequent activities arranged for all ages and is an important ecological part of the world. You can cycle along part of the National Cycle Network (Route 51), walk the boardwalk around the point and eat in the museum and fort cafe.

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Lowestoft beach is situated on the UKs the most easterly point and is a town is in two parts, divided by a narrow strip of water called Lake Lothing, which connects to Oulton Broad, the most southerly of the East Anglian Broads. Lowestoft is at the forefront of Britains wind generation industry and combines Edwardian majesty with a friendly seafront that has amusements: a pier, its own maritime museum and places to eat alongside a wide and safe sandy beach with huts to hire. The promenade also has a marker showing that easterly point and fountain jets of water that erupt from the ground at multiple points, delighting children and dogs. The North beach is backed by chalk cliffs studded with fossils from the Creaceous period, Marram grass covered dunes and plenty of secluded places to sit and relax. Or try the fine stretch of sand known locally as ‘Victoria Beach’, south of Clarement Pier Beach, Ask the locals for directions.

Kessingland
Kessingland

Kessingland offers dog friendly beaches , is pretty unspolit and never seems over populated with beachgoers; maybe its proximity to the more popular Lowestoft is the reason why. A mix of marshland, sand and shingle, there are uninterrupted views towards Lowestoft to the North and Southwold to the South although you can only walk along the beach to Southwold from the town at low tide and the beach here is littered with the drowned bleached corpses of fallen trees and other casualties of coastal erosion. Kessingland is popular with archaeologists who come for the remains of an ancient forest, discovered on the seabed and also the Palaeolithic and Neolithic implements which have been found there. Walk the opposite way between Lowestoft and Kessingland along the cliffs, and encounter the point at which they disappear into a gully, known locally as ‘Crazy Mary’s Hole’ (I am saying nothing). This part of the walk is backed by low, grass tufted cliffs and at the right time of year, huddled masses of nesting terns on the strips of sand and shingle.

The cliffs at Pakefield
The cliffs at Pakefield

Pakefield is swiftly becoming the premier site for fossil collecting in East Anglia although experienced collectors know to visit the day after a storm when the pounding North Sea has scoured the cliffs on their behalf, freeing up the ammonites and other remains of ancient reptiles and echinoids this coastline usually keeps hidden in its boulder clay. Ensure your children are under supervision near the cliffs although the foreshore is also a good, and safer,  hunting ground. The fastest and most direct route is dependent upon the steps down to the beach being undamaged- the inclement weather can sweep them away and they may remain unrepaired until spring. There is another way of getting onto the beach which requires a longer walk.

Aldeburgh
Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh Beach is home to Maggie Hamblings’ iconic Scallop – a tribute to local composer Benjamin Brittain and ranked third in the Sunday Times’ Top Ten of cultural beaches. A fishing village, Aldeburgh has managed to largely hang onto its sleepy coastal appearance although Summer sees the influx of many visitors from London and the Home Counties. Predominately shingle, the beach is wide, banks towards the shoreline and is dotted with boats, fishermen and their huts. Dog owners will find a mile of dog-friendly beach just to the north of the town, which is well signposted. Walk north and you’ll eventually reach the quaint village of Thorpeness and its famous Mere whilst a southerly route  takes you down towards Orford Ness.

Thorpeness
Thorpeness

 Thorpeness is home to the House in the Clouds (a water tower disguised as a house), a boating lake in a meare designed by JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, and a sizable collection of hugely rambling Edwardian Summer houses designed by Scottish railway designer Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, a friend of Barrie. He brought up a large stretch of coast to the north and south of Thorpeness and turned it all into a private holiday retreat, indulging a penchant for mock Tudor and Jacobean pastiche in his housing designs. A place with even more of a playful, childlike vibe is the Meare boating lake with Peter Pan monikers: Pirates Lair, Wendy’s home and an annual summer firework display and regatta. The low cliffs along the steely shelving shingle beach are brimming with trove for fossil hunters: shells, echinoids, bryozoans and corals.

Approaching Sizewell from Dunwich heath
Approaching Sizewell from Dunwich heath

Sizewell beach is tucked away between Dunwich and Thorpeness and boasts fantastic coastlines with have no restrictions on dogs year-round, unlike most other Suffolk beaches which have April-Nov restrictions in place. Long level beaches offer long walks north to Dunwich, past RSPB Minsmere, the Minsmere levels or south to Thorpeness. The beach is a mix of sand and pebbles, has a small cafe, a wooden walkway for the less steady on their feet and public toilets nearby. Oh, and that dramatic view of the power stations ‘giant golfball dome’ is unmissable, in the distance as the bay curves towards it. This is most definitely a beach for the early summer mornings with the sky a milky haze and the only noise that of the gulls, and the sound of your feet on the pebbles.

Abandoned Coastguard Station Orford Ness

Orford Ness is an internationally important nature reserve with a truly fascinating (and previously secret) war time history as suggested by the views of ramshackle and forbidding buildings scattered along its length. Remote, bleak and accessed only by boat and managed by the National Trust, this is a place to visit and marvel at as opposed to sunbathe on. Indeed visitors are not allowed to stray off the marked pathways for fear of stepping on unmarked and unidentified ordnance. For most of the 20th century the military used the Ness for top secret experiments on a vast range of weapons and it was intensively used as a bombing and rocket range. Orford Ness may also contain as much as 15% of the world’s reserve of coastal vegetated shingle, and is one of the best preserved shingle ridges in Europe- all eleven miles of it. The lack of human access for so long is what allowed nature to flourish and the Trust is keen to ensure that the site remains as undisturbed as possible for the many breeding creatures that have made it their home. Access it by ferry from Orford Quay on one of its open days (check the NT website for more information) because whilst most National Trust coastline is open to the public, the public can visit the spit only on Saturdays from April to June, and Tuesday to Saturday from July to September.

Orford
Orford

Orford beach runs south along the coast from Aldeburgh to North Weir Point and is protected as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and managed by the National Trust and the RSPB, in partnership with Natural England. The shingle here supports a number of rare insects and beetles, while the marshland and creek are home to birds like the avocet and curlew. The striped Orford Ness Lighthouse and the turret of Orford Castle stand sentinel over the village and its coastline and the village itself is a bit of a paradise for those who love great food with the Pump Street Bakery, Smokehouse and Oysterage and Crown and Castle pub among others.

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Ramsholt

Ramsholt is another prime site for fossil hunting, yielding sharks teeth, echinoids, fish remains and coralline from the clay and rocks for visitors to its small sandy beach. Boats moor here and you can barbecue and picnic along the shore. Again, if you want fossils and other combing finds, visit after a storm and high tides and be prepared for a bit of a walk to the cliffs (30-60 mins depending on conditions and in winter it is very slippery). Ramsholt is only a few miles from Bawdsey and has a wonderful waterfront pub and pretty quay from which a river walk runs beside the river wall almost to Woodbridge. Or take the circular walk along the marshes to the All Saints Church with its round tower, one of only 38 in Suffolk.

Photo of Nacton costal walk by Jon Bennet / Flickr
Photo of Nacton costal walk by Jon Bennet / Flickr

Nacton, a tiny village on the banks of the Orwell in southern Suffolk, was closely associated with the  admiral, Edward Vernon who christened the watered down tot of rum given to some of the workforce to help them through their day. The mixture of water with rum was given the moniker ‘grog’  as a reference to Vernons wearing a coat of grogram cloth. Nacton itself is also the site of Orwell Park, the estate where he lived and a sandy tidal beach and pretty coastal path offering spectacular views of the sailing boats that cluster along the Orwell River and berth at Pin Mill marina on the southern side of the river. Runnng through woodland approximately 50 feet above the shoreline, the coastal path is signposted, and bordered for much of its length. The Ship Inn at Levington or the Butt & Oyster at Pin Mill offer sustenance and at low tide, a small pebble beach can be accessed by climbing down laddered steps from the latters carpark. To be honest, this entire riverside and estuarine district yields lots of secret coves and hidden beaches, known only to the locals and pure Arthur Ransome territory.

My Book (ish) life

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We asked folks from all over (including some well known East Anglian people) about the books that made a deep impression upon them as both as children and as adults and it has been an absolute pleasure to compile this feature- so much so that we intend this to be the first in a series of literary reminiscences. All of them read as children, seeing books as solace, inspiration, as a companion or maybe a way of validating their own thoughts and lives. Others were spirited away by their book from a life which held challenges for them, whether from the usual tumult and clamour of childhood or something more. What also emerged was the way in which these readers reinterpret the books they loved as children, reframing them in the current cultural and political context that perhaps escaped them at the time. Or they revisit the comfort the books brought, seeing this in a new and fresh light which nonetheless continues to retain its original youthful purpose. Finally, we see the vivid imagination of the child at play in the way some of the contributors lived those stories, dressing as the characters, apeing their habits or in contrast, rejecting those behaviours or characters they perceived as wrong or unpleasant.

Ray Bradbury was clear about the importance of books and libraries and urged readers to go forth with the ideas discovered within: “You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”. We would say that every person interviewed here is trying to do that, in positive and creative ways, even if those hats upon their heads are strictly metaphorical, albeit many and varied.

So…..from the more traditional childhood reading to the less so; from the books that transported and educated to those that fired them up and made them want to do something, they are all here, in no particular order – person or book. Enjoy.

Suffolk-Bin-Doc-Karen-Cannard-2Karen Cannard lives in Bury St Edmunds and is the creator of the Rubbish Diet, writer of a personal blog and columnist for the Suffolk Free Press. Resourceful and possessed of great shoes, Karen has recently been a judge for the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize, continues to take the Rubbish Diet from strength to strength worldwide and has given a well regarded Ted Talk – ‘Abate, renovate & innovate: individual power over waste’. Here are Karen’s book choices:

“My choice for a childhood book is most definitely Lord of the Flies by William Golding, which I read as as a textbook for English at school.  It was quite a scary read at the time.  It wasn’t so much the crash on an isolated island that I found terrifying but how the structure of civilised behaviour could so easily break down into savagery and terror when everyday reference points disappeared and life became a fight for survival.  For me, Lord of the Flies marked an end to my own childhood innocence and my view on the world, saying goodbye to the ginger-beer fuelled adventures created by Enid Blyton and hello to the wider grown-up world of conflict.

As an adult  ‘The Struggle for Land’, by Joe Foweraker, was a study text for one of my degree subjects, International Relations.  Published in 1981, Foweraker tells of the violence, politics and profiteering surrounding the agricultural development in Brazil.  It was my first insight into the social injustice and environmental issues in an economy striving to serve an increasing global demand for farmed produce. From deforestation, violence and a corrupt political system, it was a real eye-opener.

‘Enough: breaking free from the world of more’ and written by John Naish questioned my own part in our consumer culture and my constant need for the latest gadgets and replacing broken things for new. Along with my growing awareness of waste, It helped foster my appreciation of what I already have, encouraged me to keep hold of things for longer and to value creativity and reuse.”

linda-tirado-110714It is not hyperbolic to affirm that Linda Tirado has raised some much needed hell. Linda’s original essay about poverty, “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts’ was written as a comment on a Gawker thread and went on to birth her book, ‘Hand to Mouth’, the raw and honest truth about being poor. A campaigner and activist on many issues, civil rights and health care among them, Linda can be found on twitter at @killermartinis and via her website Bootstrap Industries. Her choices are firmly located in the context of access to education and books and the importance of this. 

“The books that stick out are The Borribles, and the ones by Madeline L’Engle and Roald Dahl. I loved scenes of children making big plans and learning incredible things. As an adult, I’ve mostly read nonfiction and history, and I’ve a soft spot for biographies of philosophers because knowing the ideas without context is only half of the philosophy really. Just now I’m reading Tom Clark’s newest book on the economy and I’m back on John Locke.

I still retain a bit of whimsy because of my childhood books; they taught me to accept the impossible and as I dealt with depression and anger I have recalled those lessons and been able to live a bit more comfortably in my head. After all, I’m not a strange elfchild battling giant rodents in Battersea with a slingshot, so how bad could it be really?

I didn’t go to college. But I’m well educated because books exist. They have at times been my only friends, and there is nothing so comfortable as a decent book and a decent whiskey. Preferably in yoga pants.”

Photo by the Bury Free Press
Photo by the Bury Free Press

Barry Peters is the Group Editor at Anglia Newspapers Ltd for five regional print and digital media titles and is also on twitter. He has edited the four edition print newspaper, The Bury Free Press since 2000, steering it successfully into the digital age. Here he tells us about the books that inspired and influenced him, first as a child and later as an adult:

“I was given Richard Adams’ Watership Down as a young boy in the Fens. It conjured up images I could relate to and really got me hooked on words – something which led me eventually into journalism. I loved books which related to country matters at a young age – the fun vet books from James Herriot were magical and a quick, easy, accessible read.

 As for adult books, I’m sure others will write about To Kill A Mocking Bird...I could read that book over and over again and never get bored. I can always lose myself in Pride and Prejudice – you can’t beat Jane Austen being didactic. But here are some left-field ideas:

I love sport and the people who excel. I loved John McEnroe, worshipped Ian Botham and admired Lance Armstrong for his battles with cancer and his ability to win the world’s greatest cycle spectacle. David Walsh’s 2013 expose of Armstrong -Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong- cuts across both my joy for journalism (he is the Chief Sports Writer on the Sunday Times) and sport. Film to follow.

Sadly for my family, I’m a keen (if poor) angler. Chris Yates’ Casting at the Sun evokes such great imagery and is written in a way which will excite both avid anglers and those without much knowledge at all. Yates featured on the classic A Passion For Angling and, in 1980, was a boyhood hero of mine when he landed a record fish in the fabled Redmire pool. He famously cast aside buzzers, boilies and bedchairs and fished the old way with rod, line and bread flake which reminded me of my (late) dad.

Bit quirky and not very bookish, but hopefully a little different…”

West_MMichael Lee West is the author of eight books, and counting and a blog which celebrates her life on a rural farm in Tennessee. Her books are quintessentially Southern in a modern way, suffused with the glorious food of this diverse region and acknowledging of its complicated history. A food lover to her core (as all those brought up in Louisiana are wont to be), Michael Lee West cooks as well as she writes and shares her recipes with readers on her blog, on twitter and in her books, the first of which was a memoir of food, love and family. 

“I was ill one summer and my mother brought books home from the library. I adored Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (all of the books). The books took me away from quarantine, into the world of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. When I got a bit older, mom introduced me to Dickens. I began to understand the potent magic of fiction and its power to change a life.  As an adult, I re-read the masterful works of Dickens and find something new each time. I also adore Agatha Christie and MC Beaton. and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were also childhood favorites. Now I’m almost 61 and still read JRR Tolkien. So do my children.”

9f264d09ce0c9fae50f959740aea81acThe prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour in South Suffolk, Jane Basham’s connections with the region go deep, over 23 years deep in fact. As chief executive of Suffolks leading civil rights charity (ISCRE),  Chair and Womens Officer of the South Suffolk Labour Party, Board member at Runnymede Trust and the Police Public Encounters Board, Jane is deeply committed to the politics of fairness and equality and is a staunch supporter of local campaigns to defend mental health services from cuts. She is a force for good on twitter but does, however, find some time to read and this is what she told us:

“The book that influenced me the most when I was young was Great Expectations. I was born in Gravesend a town closely connected to Charles Dickens. I was therefore only a short distance away from the cottage and forge in Chalk that it is said Dickens based Joe Gargery’s forge on. I find Dickens characters larger than life yet so believable. Great Expectations contains some powerful messages. How those who commit crimes do not lose their humanity.  How betrayal can destroy beauty and how money provides both  and sorrow. How your past influences your future and the power of memory.

The Swimmer by Roma Tearne (originally from Sri Lanka) a book that I discovered in 2011 when I was the Chief Executive of the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality. Set around Aldeburgh the story centres on a refugee from Sri Lanka, his relationship with a ‘middle aged’ woman, the ‘State’ and the memory of home. The book resonated with me with because of my work with refugees, asylum seekers and my understanding of the tragedy that is the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka. Tearne makes Sri Lanka feel familiar as the main character connects to the Suffolk landscape – the reeds and migrating birds that remind him of home. Again the book speaks to me about the influence of the past upon us and the power of memory.”

1dd20a84e349712c334d175dd2a50f6c_400x400Alumni of Edinburgh University, teacher at Bury St Edmund’s County Upper School, feminist and organiser of the Bury St Edmunds Fawcett Society, Eleanor Rehahn is deeply involved in regional politics and social affairs. Keep an eye out for the Fawcetts campaign in the spring which will be encouraging young women locally to vote. Eleanor can be found on twitter here.

“Books have been such a massive part of my life, to the extent that I am very suspicious of people who don’t have books in their house, at their fingertips, and are not able to tell you what they are currently reading. In terms of childhood reading there are so many to choose from.

 However, the books that have remained with me for their uniqueness and magic have been the Moomin books. I have been enjoying them again reading them with my 7 year old over the past year and this has at times been a very moving experience.”

Photo- Ben Hatch
Photo- Ben Hatch

Ben Hatch is a writer, family man, gives great twitter and has both fiction and travel books to his name. His book ‘Are We Nearly There Yet’ triumphed at the top of the Kindle non-fiction charts, not just because of his digital promotion skills but because it is great writing. Ben’s latest novel is called ‘THE P45 DIARIES: How To Get Sacked From Every Job in Britain’ and is under development as a BBC sitcom. A former BBC Radio 4 Book of The Year, it is loosely based on Ben’s experiences of his teens and 20s.

“As a child the books I remember most were the ones that scared me. I remember reading about a description of the plague in a Dr Doolittle story and watching my skin for days to check it wasn’t blackening. Ted Hughes‘ story of The Iron Man gripped me for the same reason. We lived in a tower block and I’d hope each night to see a giant robot staring in through the curtains.

Mostly literature passed me by though until I was 19 and read The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield seemed the coolest guy in the world to me and for at least a year I wore a deerstalker hat turned around the wrong way to emulate him. Salinger just seemed to nail so well how you’d like to be a young man it’s a book I still dip into now. Other books that have blown away as an adult – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is so breathtakingly funny and audacious you smile and lap the book down on virtually every page. Other favourites with more subtle humour – Revolutionary Road and Tender is The Night. More recently I just love Geoff Dyer’s take on friendship in almost all his books.”

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Photo by Lynn Schreiber

I’d say Lynn Schreiber is well on her way to becoming a force to be reckoned with in the field of child and young adult digital media. Lynn is the founder of Jump! Magazine, a site whose only assumption about girls and boys is that they want lively and intelligent content that is not predicated upon gender assumptions. Interactive and with content partly generated by its young audience, Jump! recently branched out into digital publishing with a series of e-books. Lynn and Jump can both be found on twitter; here she talks about her book inspirations:

“I’d have to say Anne of Green Gables, as it has always been one of my favourite books. Aside from the wonderfully descriptive writing, and the great humour, I love that girls were encouraged to have confidence in their abilities and their talents, and to view their physical appearance as secondary. Now more than ever, this message is vital, for both boys and girls.

I would love to say that a worthy tome, or a slim book of philosophy had most impact on my adult life, but in my day to day life, the book that most affected me was How to Talk So Kids Will Listen. It changed the way I speak and communicate with my children, and also made me more aware of communication skills with others.”

downloadAngela Wiltshire trained as a mental health nurse and now works as a psychotherapist and certified Transactional Analyst with a practice in Hadleigh, Suffolk. Active on twitter too, Angela is deeply involved with local politics for the Labour party and works very hard to support her local High St, encouraging people to shop locally and campaigning about the issues affecting local, rural economies. Angela  was also successfully nominated to stand for the South Cosford by-election to Babergh District Council last Spring, 2014. 

“The book that I read in my childhood, and again in adulthood, and which impacted me very deeply was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird‘ by Harper Lee. We read it in English classes at school. I remember looking forward to class to read it. It was powerful and my teacher did all the Deep South accents which strengthened the force of it and after she had read a piece, she would hand over to us to read a paragraph each too. Nothing in my childhood matched it, and I was reminded of it for the rest of my days at that school, as it introduced my classmates to a new name to call me…..’N*gg*r’ (Angela is part Burmese.)

The book that I read as an adult which really left its mark on me is ‘The God of Small Things‘ by Arundhati Roy. Such a sad story. I finished it and immediately started it again. The characters in the story seem trapped in all kinds of cultural quick sand, finding forbidden love outside their groups with unhappy outcomes. Roy’s characters are robbed of their cultural ‘histories’ in post colonial India, something which I strongly relate to, and do not fit into the groups designated to them. The story’s sinister ‘Orangedrink Lemondrink Man’ is way more frightening than any Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster and I couldn’t shift him out of my nightmares for years.”

Photo- James Anderson
Photo- James Anderson

James Anderson is the author of The Never-Open Desert Diner, due to be published in February 2015.  Born in Seattle and raised in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, he has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College in Boston. For many years he worked in book publishing alongside other jobs including logging, commercial fishing and, briefly, as a truck driver. He currently divides his time between Ashland, Oregon, and the Four Corners region of the American Southwest from where he also tweets. We reviewed ‘Never Open Desert Diner’ here. 

“The most lasting gift of art, in this case literary art, is that is refuses to be static. A poem or a novel read at a young age begs to be read again, and when it is, we find it is a whole new experience because we have changed. I have read Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain over ten times throughout my life and it has never failed to inform my appreciation of those Siamese twins, imagination and youth.

My first introduction to magic realism in my early twenties came not from Marquez or Borges, but from Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, at the time banned in the Soviet Union. Magic realism is the voice of the marginalized and oppressed. The experience of powerlessness and victimization is real and the safety of magic in heightened image and metaphor offers sanctuary and hope in a world beyond understanding.  Though seemingly unrelated, Bulgakov’s novel led me in the 1980s to a profound appreciation of desert literature, most notably The Telling Distance: Conversations with the American Desert by Bruce Berger, and the works of Terry Tempest Williams, Barry Lopez, Gretel Ehrlich and, ultimately, Thomas Merton’s Wisdom of the Desert Fathers. In these books I discovered a thread of magic realism that spoke for the beauty of the desert and its preternatural light, again a sanctuary and a hope for a world beyond understanding.”

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Photo- Glosswitch / New Statesman

Blogger , twitter person, writer for the New Statesman, the Feminist Times and other media outlets, Glosswitch shines a feminist light on everything from parenting, mental health and illness to politics- from the big arena stuff to the more personal. Often focusing on the parts of the stories that other media do not reach (the reduction in life expectancy of people with mental illness; why farting is a feminist issue), Glosswitch’s writing is poignant, often very funny and always scythe sharp. Here’s what she said about her life in books:

“I would like to say something much cooler and less politically questionable, but the truth is the books that made the biggest impression on me and which I enjoyed the most as a child were ones by Enid Blyton – first of all The Magic Faraway Tree series, then later the Malory Towers and St Claire’s ones. I’d like to think that in some small way the influence they had on me was positive – I later wrote my PhD on German Romanticism, an interest which was inspired in part by reading slightly sinister fairy stories as a child (I think The Faraway Tree could count as one!). I also wonder if part of the attraction to the boarding school stories was that of a female-only space, in which girls were clearly independent agents who were not acting on behalf of a male audience. I was around 12 when I read the St Claire’s series, a time when my own school life couldn’t have been more different to the ones Blyton described (at a mixed-sex comp with major stress about puberty, impressing boys etc. etc.). While I wouldn’t say Malory Towers is exactly a feminist manifesto, I do think there’s something powerful about how female-centred it is (unlike, say, the Sweet Valley High books I later started reading and now look back on in dismay).

The main focus of my PhD was E.T.A. Hoffmann, a male writer, but beyond that I would say that as an adult I lean very heavily towards reading female authors – there’s less ego in the writing, more truth and less of a desperation to impress (I say, generalising wildly). Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal is one of my favourite novels as I think the characterisation is just perfect . Another would be Emma Donaghue’s Room. I would love to be able to write like these women but I can’t imagine how it is that one puts oneself so completely beneath the skin of another, entirely imaginary human being. As a feminist I’ve lately got into reading Andrea Dworkin’s work and that I find utterly inspiring – there’s real lyricism in the way she writes and it manages to convey a real love for women (I put off reading her for years, so convinced was I that love for women = hatred for men!).”

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Photo courtesy of the BBC

Lesley Dolphin, radio broadcaster and show presenter began her career at the BBC in 1980 at Look East, moving onto BBC Radio Norfolk. A migration to Suffolk a few years later saw her start her broadcasting at BBC Radio Suffolk where she presents an afternoon talk and music show packed with regional colour, music and chat alongside promoting local charities and events. A true local ‘celeb’ Lesley is a season ticket holder at Ipswich Town Football Club and is very much involved with Suffolk life although she has been known to step outside of the county to do things like climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Find her here on twitter. 

“I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. My bookshelf still displays several dogeared, well read books from my childhood.  There are the classics like The Borrowers, Wind in the Willows and Winnie The Pooh alongside all 12 books written by Arthur Ransome.  These were my dads favourites and several of our summer holidays were spent in the Lake District following in the footsteps of The Swallows and Amazons. I loved our weekly visit to the library although my 4 books didn’t always last so I would also save my pocket money to buy the latest Chalet School paperback.

It’s hard to choose any particular favourites from those years because I just devoured books and so many titles flood to mind :  E Nesbitt’s Five Children and It, Fell Farm Camping, Milly Molly Mandy, Ballet Shoes, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Secret Seven, 101 Dalmations – I could go on!  However If I really have to pick my favourites there are two, both of them trilogies. Firstly Elizabeth Goudge’s The Elliot’s of Damerosehay – I had not read a family saga before and I loved her descriptive writing. The other book was a Christmas present and it was the best year ever when I unwrapped Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings – I didn’t leave my bedroom for 3 days while I read it!”

Photot- Emma Healey
Photot- Emma Healey

Based in Norwich, author Emma Healey’s first novel ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ was published in 2014 to great acclaim and is now being filmed for an upcoming TV drama. A graduate of a book binding course, Emma’s writing speaks of a love of books that goes far beyond the written word and her first novel is partly inspired by the memory of her two grandmothers, one of whom had dementia, the subject (in part) of her book -read our interview with her here. Instagrammer in residence at  the Reading Activists Account, Emma’s website also features her vines and other short films and animations, another form of art she is interested in. Here is Emma’s list:

“One of the books I remember loving as a small child was A Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy. I read it over and over with my mum when I was 3 or 4 and I remember getting a huge stuffed lion for Christmas because of my obsession with it. The book is all about credibility, and imagination versus reality, which is a theme I still find interesting!  Secondly, Red is Best by Kathy Stinson. I loved the stubbornness of the child and the focus, I felt similarly about the colour red, but wasn’t as tunnel-visioned. It was the first time I really thought about character, I suppose.

As a teenager I loved I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. There are two styles of writer in the book – the protagonist, Cassandra Mortmain, who writes while ‘sitting in the kitchen sink’, and her father, the tortured genius who hides himself away in the castle gatehouse. I thought I’d be happy being either.

I also choose The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. I was pretty obsessed with Ann Radcliffe when I was 15  (The Sicilian Romance was my other favourite). The Mysteries of Udolpho is a gothic story from the end of the eighteenth century about a young woman locked up in a forbidding castle, what I liked best was the fact that all the seemingly supernatural happenings had ingenious human explanations in the end. The author (and reader) is having her cake and eating is – creating a spooky sinister atmosphere, but anchoring the action firmly in the real(isn) world.

 
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. As you can see above I loved the eighteenth century gothic romances which this book is sending up, and it’s very clever in the way it treads a similar path to Don Quixote, but without becoming farce in the same way. I also think the meeting between Tilney and Catherine is one of the most exhilarating and witty moments in literature – and a master class in dialogue.”

 

As an adult I would choose The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden. It’s really wonderful, vivid and funny. The children are brilliantly drawn without sentimentality, the plot is exciting but never takes over, and the structure is quietly innovative. The protagonist and narrator,Cecil Grey, is exactly the confused jumble of awkward/ passionate/ romantic/ practical/ knowing/ innocent that I was as an adolescent. I just wish I’d had a summer in a French hotel with an international criminal.

Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller. This is a brilliantly subtle book, one that explores loneliness above all (a theme which I think is increasingly important in our society). The narrator is sympathetic despite being inherently untrustworthy, the plot unfolds beautifully, and the way the story is told matches the story itself perfectly. Lastly, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym says so much about the position of certain kinds of women in church communities, it promotes a gentle form of feminism and is also very funny. There are some wonderful characters too: Anglo-Catholic priests and anthropologists, a sexy officer just back from the second world war and an elderly woman who insists on having chicken for dinner because she hates birds and believes in ‘eating your enemies’.”