Bulgarian author Ivanka Mogilska stayed in Norwich UNESCO City of Literature between 1 – 8 October 2018. Her residency was organised in partnership with the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and was supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in London and the State Institute for Culture at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On my last day in Norwich I entered Costa to take a cup of coffee and the barista started asking me:
“Do you want extra milk?”
“Do you want chocolate in your coffee?“
In the end, she laughed, “You are such an easy person, you say yes to everything.”
“Well” I said, “you are asking me such easy questions! Who can refuse chocolate or extra milk?”
Then we chatted a little bit more, I took my coffee and I went outside. There was a street musician in front of Costa, close to The Book Hive. So I sаt with my coffee and listened. I looked at the people who walked down the street – you’ve probably noticed how music played on the street makes everything around you so charming and dramatic, like in a movie or in a novel. I had a feeling that while I’m collecting faces and situations for my short stories someone collects me for his. I would not be surprised. For me, Norwich is the perfect place for story hunters.
You just need to see the notes that shop owners leave to their customers when they are out of the shop for a while or renovating the place. They are all written by hand!
Why is this so important and what does it have in common with the stories and writing?
Well, nowadays, at least in Bulgaria and in the big cities all over the world where I have been, all notes of that type are printed. They are not even notes but posters with big sized letters. You can read them in a second while you pass the shop.
Norwich is the perfect place for story hunters.
These written-by-hand Norwich notes – you must stop to read them, you must make an effort to understand what the shop owner wants to tell you, he has illegible handwriting and the letters are small, and…
What I’m trying to say is, in the minute when you slow down and give a little of your time to something or someone, when you try to understand what it is, or what is trying to tell you, one story begins. That’s why Norwich is an easy place to find a story. From the Plantation Garden to Rosary Cemetery, through Dragon Hall, and Strangers Hall and all the Lanes – the city pushes you gently to get to know it, slowly and carefully. When you are in a hurry, you lose the details. And when you lose the details, the stories fade away.
Actually, that’s why I’m a little troubled to tell you how was my writing residency in Norwich. I’ve noticed and remembered so many details, and had such a happy meaningful time and I don’t know from where to start.
Imagine you are sitting next to me, with your coffee. We are surrounded by beautiful old buildings, we are listening to the street musician, we are looking at the people’s faces and we’re trying to guess what their lives are. Then we talk about books and favorite authors and how-does-the-time-fly when you are two writers, both with ten month babies, and for Moldova, and for the sadness of beautiful things, and what is the difference between the shepherd’s pie and the cottage pie, and the lead in the water, and the Korean poetry, and the bookseller who sometimes gives people the book they want even if they don’t have the money to buy it, and democracy, and sailing and owls… Imagine that at some point I’ve left and when you turn to me you see a small note instead:
“Thank you, Kate, Sarah, Fairless, Peggy, Hannah (both), Vicky, Tiffany, Megan Bradbury, Jeongrye Choi, strangers from the market, cafes and shops with whom I talked. Thank you, Norwich. I’ll be back.”
This residency is a partnership between the National Centre for Writing and the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and is supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in London and the State Institute for Culture at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With thanks to the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, and the British Centre for Literary Translation.
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 titleVáratlan utcák, translated by Peter Krasztev (European Prose Series, L’Harmattan, 2017). More information about Mogilska is available in English here.