Written by Chris Gribble, CEO at Writers’ Centre Norwich
It was with huge sadness that we learned last week of the death of Rebecca Swift. A fine poet, librettist, critic and writer herself, Becky was also the co-founder of The Literary Consultancy, the UK’s first, and leading, manuscript and editorial assessment service. It was through her role at TLC that Becky came into the orbit of Writers’ Centre Norwich, or New Writing Partnership as we were called when she joined our Board in the autumn of 2005.
I first met her at my interview for the post of Director in the spring of 2006. My first impressions of her then – bright, witty, curious, wry – proved to be accurate, but offered only a snapshot of her wider talents and capacities. Passionate about writers and writing, intrigued by the psychology of authorship and absolutely committed to supporting talent wherever she found it, Becky combined a deep intellectual engagement with the literary arts with a practical grasp of how to make things happen, how to bring people together and how to collaborate. Her in-depth knowledge of the worlds of publishing, agenting, manuscript assessment and literature development helped her pull together remarkable networks and interests; her talent for friendship, camaraderie and fun ensured those networks persisted and bore fruit for writers in many ways over the eleven years I knew her.
Each June in Norwich, we hold an event called Worlds. It’s a gathering of writers, literary translators, literature activists, thinkers and critics from all over the globe who dedicate four days to extended discussions of the art and craft of literature. Becky was a central presence at so many of those events – absolutely in her element whether talking to a Nobel laureate, an emerging writer from Eastern Europe or a festival director from South East Asia. She was never far from the heart of the discussions, ready to empathise, challenge, contradict, refute or confirm as she saw fit; sometimes managing all five of those things within a few short minutes.
Her ability to laugh – with others, at herself, about the absurdities of the literary world – shone out. That and her capacity to care, offer support and empathise with others. We once travelled together to the Jaipur Literature Festival in India and despite coming down with a dreadful cold virus (which involved a rather hair-raising trek alongside a motorway to a pharmacist and comedic translation sessions with a very patient doctor) she delivered fantastic sessions for the writers there, listening, talking and exploring what they wanted to achieve for hours on end.
She left our Board at the end of 2012 but we remained friends and colleagues and we shall miss her – here at WCN, in the literary world, in the arts world, in many places.
Read Rebecca’s obituary in the Guardian.