Angel Igov is an Bulgarian writer and translator. His first novel A Short Tale of Shame (2011) won the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation contest for writers in English translation. He has also published two collections of short stories. The first, Road Encounters (2002) won the Southern Spring Award for debut in fiction (2003), and the second, K. (2006) was nominated for the Elias Canetti Award (2007).
Angel’s creative residency in Norwich is a project of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation implemented in cooperation with the Writers’ Centre Norwich, the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and the British Centre for Literary Translation. The project was made possible with the support of the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in London.
A writer’s residence is basically about two things: time and place. Because time is arguably the single most precious resource in the actual process of writing, the opportunity to leave all other responsibilities behind for a while is cherished by authors, especially those of us who do other things and have other guises as well. In my case, being also translator, professor, and critic provides a spectrum of activities and interests which I find essential for my well-being – but it also means that I spend most of my time doing things other than writing my own fiction. I normally need a conscious and organized effort to concentrate on writing (or translation, for that matter) and a residence programme comes in handy.
What is less obvious, is the meaning of place to the process of writing. Can writers work anywhere? Some of them can; others seem to be fixed to their own study. I remember the days when I was only able to write in a particular room of my own. Today, I am not so fussy, I can work in all sorts of places – but a place always influences your work, often in ways that are hard to notice and describe. A page written in Norwich, with your mind’s eye filled with the image of medieval cobblestone lanes, must be different from a page written in a buzzing metropolis or the quiet countryside. There is an aspect of that genius loci that pervades and influences you, a spirit that protects its territory by offering it to you. It is true that you carry back a piece of each place where you have stayed; but taking this piece makes the place itself larger because it has spread to your very home.
the city seems to oscillate between romantic introspection and intellectual curiosity
In practical terms, a 10-day residence is obviously a very short time if you want to write, so I took the generous opportunity, provided by Writers’ Centre Norwich (now the National Centre for Writing), to meet writers and scholars, outline future collaboration, and hopefully break ground for other Bulgarian authors to go to Norwich and pursue their own line of work. It is apt to say that my visit had an unexpected culmination in what was the first major public event of a just-announced Nobel Prize winner. Norwich seems the right place to go and listen to a talk by Kazuo Ishiguro, a writer who must have indeed received a blessing by the genius loci. The major conceptual contrast between the medieval city and the modernist university campus lent an additional dimension to Ishiguro’s reflections on our relations with the past. It is also this contrast that I find the essential feature of Norwich: it is a metaphor of how the city seems to oscillate between romantic introspection and intellectual curiosity about the wide world. A short ride in a cab, and you go from a self-exposing brutalist rawness to an ancient, crooked-timbered, witchmark-layered hall where a small dragon lurks. You hope it is a good dragon; it stays silent but it seems to understand your language.