EVERY month, I host the Salisbury Writing Circle, a local and lively community of writers in the city, featuring everyone from absolute beginners to international novelists. Each session, we get an author to come along and talk about their work, with recent guests including Claire Fuller, Mark Dawson and Fergus McNeill.
This month, we had a particularly special guest in the form of Barney Norris.
Barney is the Salisbury boy done good, both as an award-winning playwright and as a critically acclaimed novelist, with his debut Fiver Rivers Met on A Wooded Plain. Barney is currently back in Salisbury, working on his new play Echo’s End at the Playhouse, and took time out from rehearsals to talk to our group.
Barney might have been named by the Evening Standard as one of the capital’s most influential Londoners, and he might be Playwright in Residence at Keble College in Oxford, but hearing him talk about his writing, there is part of him that remains firmly rooted in this area.
As well as his first book being set in Salisbury, his new play is similarly Wiltshire-based: around Bulford during World War One. His second novel, out next January, is set in Penton Mewsey, a village just north of Andover.
Barney isn’t the first writer to base their work in the area: Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens and William Golding are just some of the other writers whose work has featured Salisbury and the surrounding area in some shape or form.
But as anyone who has read Five Rivers… knows, he is the writer who best captures what Salisbury is like today, and the myriad of characters who live here.
Hearing Barney talk, it’s a homecoming he’s enjoying – the last time he was involved with a performance on the main Playhouse stage was when he was involved in Youth Theatre just over a decade ago. Some things in the city have changed – he described walking the streets with a fellow actor telling him which shop used to be where – but the essence of Salisbury has stayed the same.
‘There exists in all of us a song waiting to be sung which is as heart-stopping and vertiginous as the peak of the cathedral,’ Barney wrote in Five Rivers… ‘That is the secret meaning of this quiet city, where the spire soars into the blue, where rivers and stories weave into each other, where lives intertwine.’ In Barney, we are lucky to have such a talented writer giving our quiet city a voice.
Echo’s End by Barney Norris is on at Salisbury Playhouse from March 29 to April 15 (www.salisburyplayhouse.com).
For details about Salisbury Writing Circle, visit www.Salisburywritingcircle.com.