Children’s book: Once Upon a Time in Norfolk by Isabelle King

Author and storyteller Isabelle King at Norwich Castle, which is included in her latest book Once Up

Author and storyteller Isabelle King at Norwich Castle, which is included in her latest book Once Upon a Time in Norfolk (photo: Denise Bradley) - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

A scattering of silver coins lost for centuries, a grinning stone lion, and a doorknocker to the dreaded workhouse have unleashed crowds of characters from history

Once Upon a Time in Norfolk

Once Upon a Time in Norfolk - Credit: supplied

Isabelle King wanted to be a writer but was not sure how to start – so she set up a series of events linking established authors with people like her. This spring her second book is published and she is writer in residence at Norwich Millennium Library.

Her latest collection of stories for children was inspired by Norfolk museums and the treasures they house. Once Upon a Time in Norfolk includes a story of Boudicca’s Britain and silver coins in Lynn Museum and another where a comic-looking carved lion from Norwich Castle helps conjure Norman Norfolk. A curious kitten travels through time in Thetford’s Ancient House and the daughters of two weavers are joined by a fairy flitting through Norwich’s Strangers Hall.

“I had always wanted to write about Norfolk history,” said Isabelle. “And at one of my favourite museums, Gressenhall, I came across the Norfolk Collections Centre. It’s like a cabinet of curiosities and I thought I would love to write stories about some of these.”

Isabelle grew up in Norwich, leaving for drama school in London when she 17. She worked as an actress for several years but realised she really wanted to write.

“I thought, ‘How am I ever going to get the time to find out more about writing when one day I’m waitressing, the next I’m performing as a dancing house with chicken feet (that really was a role I played!)?’ So I decided to put an event together in the pub where I was waitressing, to provide insight about being a writer and the publishing industry, which would be accessible to everyone with an interest – myself included! I thought there must be a lot of people like me with full-time jobs, interested in writing as a career, and in general, who couldn’t afford to do a creative writing course.”

The events became Books Talk Back and led to Isabelle interviewing authors including Tracy Chevalier and Alexander Gordon Smith. She went on to host events at the British Library and this month a British Library exhibition of some of Quentin Blake’s classic Roald Dahl illustrations comes to Norwich, with Isabelle as official writer in residence.

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“I’m very aware that my way into writing was not usual at all!” she said.

When she moved back to Norwich she brought Books Talk Back with her and, alongside a job in Waterstones, began writing and storytelling. “I’m very passionate about stories. When I’m storytelling I don’t read from a book at all,” said Isabelle. “I improvise, and the children join in. I absolutely want children to think that writing books is something they can do too.

“And I would really like to just keep writing books until someone stops me and won’t let me do it anymore!”

Quentin Blake: The Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits runs from March 6 until June at the Millennium Library in Norwich Forum, with 10 new paintings of famous Dahl characters. Every Sunday from April 8 to May 27, writer in residence, Isabelle King, will run family trails, where participants can piece together clues to solve a historical mystery.

Once Upon a Time in Norfolk, by Isabelle King, illustrated by John McKeever, will be launched at Norwich Millennium Library on Saturday, May 12.

Author’s talk

On March 22 Isabelle’s one-time Waterstones colleague Mitch Johnson, now also a published author, will be at the Millennium Library to talk about writing for children.