Sian Norris

July A.i.R. | Introducing Siân Norris

Throughout July I’ll be the artist in residence at Wales Arts Review. It promises to be a really exciting opportunity and I can’t wait to start sharing my work with you all.

To get started, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about me as well as outline some of my plans and aims for the next five weeks…

I’m a writer – a novelist, short story writer, poet, journalist and copywriter. My first book, Greta and Boris: a daring rescue was published in 2013 by Our Street. Since then I’ve been working on my new novel, The Red Deeps, which is set in 1920s Paris. I’m currently working on rewrites with my agent Kate Johnson. The novel explores the lives of women living in the Left Bank during the modernist period, with particular focus on Gertrude Stein’s salon. To support the novel-writing process, I recently self-published a collection of essays about the (mainly expat) women living and working in 1920s Paris. It’s called …and my home town is Paris, and is available on Kindle.

My short stories and poems have appeared in 3am Magazine, Halcyon Lit Mag and some charity anthologies. As a journalist, I’ve written for the Guardian, New Statesman, the i, Prospect UK, politics.co.uk and Open Democracy. I also have a chapter in the forthcoming Dead Ink collection Know Your Place.

As well as a writer, I’m the founder and director of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. I’ve organised two festivals so far – one in 2013 and one in 2015, and I’m aiming to put on a third programme in 2018. The festival has been a huge success and speakers included Stella Duffy, Helen Dunmore, Selma Dabbagh, Michele Roberts, Professor Helen Taylor, Professor Helen Hackett, Samantha Ellis and many more.

Over the past year a lot of my writing has focused on issues around home, travel, exile and migration. It’s these themes I want to explore throughout the residency.

As a result, I’ll be sharing poems, short stories and conversations that explore what home means; that tell stories about travel; that look at constructions and types of home; that ask what makes a home and what it means to be exiled from home, and that more generally reflect on travel and being away from home.

I’ll also be sharing sections from a longer work-in-progress. Between January and May 2017 I worked as the writer in residence at Bristol arts centre Spike Island. During those months I started developing a novel that looks at refugee crises past and present. The novel has two timelines – spring 2016 and autumn 1938. The former timeline follows the story of Lina, who has set up a campaign to try and prevent the deportation of a lesbian asylum seeker to Belarus. The second timeline tells Caro’s story, a journalist reporting on the refugee crisis in Eastern Europe before the Second World War. The two narratives are linked by Lina reading Caro’s memoir of the two weeks she spent reporting on the refugee crisis.

I’m interested in looking at the parallels between the refugee crisis today and what was happening back then. When I was reading descriptions of the 1938 situation, as well as watching film clips from the crisis in 1945, I was struck by how similar the images were to the news footage beaming to our screens from Eastern Europe today. Delving deeper, I saw how the hand-wringing and scapegoating language from politicians and the media also has barely moved on in the last 75+ years.

I was particularly interested in looking at the 1938 refugee crisis as I believe this is a moment in history that was terribly traumatic and devastating, yet is rarely spoken about. It was so swallowed up by the events that came a year later, that this sliver of history where thousands of people were killed or displaced has slipped out of our memory.

Please bear in mind that the work I’m sharing from this novel is a work-in-progress and very early days. It’s not polished and will be much edited in the months to come! But I wanted to take the opportunity of this residency to publish snippets as part of the wider exploration of home, travel and migration. I wanted to take this time to explore how we respond to the refugee crisis with literature and creativity, how we write about the often frightening times we are living through, and how we connect to the untold or unspoken stories of the past.

That’s it! I hope you enjoy the work!