St. Julians Alley and Dragon Hall
by Anton Hur
This is part of the Walking Norwich series.
The first thing I did upon arrival in Norwich from Seoul via Amsterdam was to visit St. Julian’s Church on St. Julians Alley, right next to my lodgings at Dragon Hall. I’d been to St. Julian’s Church before, briefly, and knew it to be the most perfect little place: modest, cool inside, usually empty, and an atmosphere of absolute peace that permeates into the soul.
All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
I needed to believe this as I left behind the chaos of my career in Seoul to spend a month in the frenzy of the inaugural literary translators’ residency at the National Centre for Writing. I was overjoyed for this opportunity, but as soon as I was informed of my acceptance, doubt had immediately reared its pensive head. Why was I going to a different continent to do what I was already doing in my living room in Seoul? Why wasn’t anything selling? Would I even be a literary translator anymore after the current book contract? In the end, it was this last question that pushed me into going through with the residency; I wanted to prove that I really was, indeed, a literary translator. All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
There are a couple of ways into downtown from Dragon Hall, and one of them involves walking through St. Julians Alley, which is as quiet and exquisitely proportioned as the church itself with its leafy canopy shading from above and pinecones dropping onto the cobblestones. It’s a short walk, around fifty meters, and it always calmed my nerves at the end of a working day. The entrances to the alley, despite the signs, felt a bit hidden and mysterious; at one point, I had to help a passing American tourist find it. But once you do find your way in, it’s almost like another world.
At Dragon Hall, I was given what was called the Abbot’s Room to use as an office. My fellow literary translator in residence Jeremy Tiang remarked that this was appropriate, as translating was a monastic pursuit. What I remember most about it was the white wall I faced as I worked and the light from the window falling upon it, which reminded me of the Emily Dickinson poem “There’s a certain Slant of light.” One of the doors to the Abbot’s Room opened right onto the street and was about ten steps away from St. Julians Alley. I traversed that distance often.
I’m not religious, but I thought about devotion, faith, and practice a lot during that month. If Jeremy was right and we were the monks of Dragon Hall—”Our literature is a substitute for religion, and so is our religion,” to quote TS Eliot—my devotion was to the written word, my faith was that the message would traverse the borders of language, and my practice was to sit in a room and reach for clarity of the divine. By the time I left Norwich, I had the “miracle” of three new book offers on the table. But the true miracle was that I had found myself to be a literary translator after all.
Anton’s residency was supported by LTI Korea.
Anton Hur was born in Stockholm, Sweden. He has translated Kyung-Sook Shin’s The Court Dancer (Pegasus Books) and Kang Kyeong-ae’s The Underground Village (Honford Star). He is a PEN Translates winner and the recipient of multiple grants from the Literary Translation Institute of Korea, the Korea Arts Council, and the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea. He resides in Seoul.