Every year at Noirwich we explore how the festival’s surroundings have inspired writers – those that live here as well as those who choose to set their stories in East Anglia. Author of Normal, Graeme Cameron, is one of several writers on the Norfolk Noir panel this year, hosted by Harry Brett. Tickets are available.
I grew up in Coltishall, in the not-much-of-owt between Norwich and the Broads. It’s ten miles from the city, which seems like nothing now, but to a child in the late 70s it might as well have been another planet. It’s a pretty place, but in retrospect insular and vaguely menacing; the church loomed large outside the windows, the sky loud with the nuke-laden Jaguars of 54 Squadron. A thumbnail, some might say, since Norfolk is a county of churches and air bases; a lot of the former still in business, most of the latter – at one time there were over fifty – decommissioned, sold, repurposed. Coltishall is now a prison. Snetterton Heath is a motor racing circuit, and host to my day job. Metfield (just over the border in Suffolk) is farmland, though the taxiways survived at least long enough for my dad to teach me to drive on them.
‘the endless sky and the wild, desolate and implicitly dangerous beauty’
Mum grew up to the west, amid the vast, eerie emptiness of the Fens – a land where myth and legend ring true and you can all but hear the buried secrets clawing at the lids of their caskets. It’s as much a part of my childhood as the dunes at Cart Gap; though in many more ways than mere geography they couldn’t be further removed, they share the endless sky and the wild, desolate and implicitly dangerous beauty that characterise the county.
Norwich, which I now consider my home, has all of the above and more: an ancient history steeped in myth and blood and secrets; dark corners where mysterious things crawl and hide; a program of regeneration that uncovers them as it sweeps away the remnants of an industrious past. There may not be a church for every Sunday any more, but there’s still a Jaguar on a plinth at County Hall.
All of these places and things have featured to some degree in my books – Norfolk does, after all, have something for every crime. More than that, though, they’re my frame of reference, a considerable chunk of my psyche, so naturally they guide everything I write. And none more so than Thetford Forest at seven o’clock on a snow-covered morning in March. After a decade without writing a word as I moved from place to place, all it took to create Normal was a glimpse of a crisp golden Norfolk sunrise through rows of dripping pines.