This time last year the community around Burnham Norton Friary and Burnham Market school was preparing itself for an intense week of rehearsal for the Imagined Land pageant performance. This was the culmination of NAT’s project – led by Simon Floyd and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund – designed to put Burnham Norton Friary at the heart of the community through research and creative activities. In this month’s blog, one young participant, Sophie Brown, tells us how the project inspired her to write an award-winning story.

Sophie Brown’s story:

As a teenager who dreams of writing the next ‘New York Times’ bestseller, a creative writing workshop is – in my opinion – the best way to spend an evening. Although I had never heard of the ‘Imagined Land’ project, or paid attention to the Burnham Norton Friary, I was excited to immerse myself in the past of my home county.

Kevin Crossley-Holland, armed with no more than a brass key and images of an ornate Carmelite book transcribed by monks, captured the minds of all in the room. He, alongside Mags Chalcraft, spoke of an immigrant society led by religion who found solace on the Norfolk shores. By using our new knowledge of the friary and the artefacts provided – including a gold clasp – we began to create our own imagined land; one not too dissimilar to our own.

I am fascinated by the beauty of the Norfolk landscape, especially our idyllic, iconic coastline. As Kevin had said both nature and religion were prevalent in Carmelite society I wished for both of these aspects to be reflected in my work. My only dilemma was my personal disinterest in religion. I posed the question ‘could someone just not believe?’. But religion was so fundamental, not believing wasn’t an option. Instead, I created a character so rooted in religion he had no choice but to believe despite his sins and lack of faith. From the character of Matthew, ‘Ashes to Ashes’ was born. Inspired by not only the well known line in many burial services; the iconic line in Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde ‘I let my brother go to the devil in his own way’ and the biblical story of Cain and Abel, ‘Ashes to Ashes’ tells the story of a young man with so much anger and hatred it consumes him.

The piece uses a range of natural and religious imagery, metaphors and language to create a broody yet soothing atmosphere emulating Norfolk’s misty winter mornings and the friary itself. Set between the friary and the marshes of Norfolk ‘Ashes to Ashes’ is an ode to my home county and heritage; despite the feelings of the protagonist, there is a certain beauty expressed.

‘Ashes to Ashes’ was entered as my Original Writing A Level English Language coursework and received full marks from the moderator. The piece featured in my university application portfolio earning me an unconditional offer to study English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia this September. The short story also came first in Lancaster University’s annual writing award for prose fiction where it was published in their literary magazine Cake. Jenn Ashworth, judge of the fiction category commented on ‘Ashes to Ashes’: ‘A well controlled, evocative and intriguing piece of prose written with technical confidence and a real flair for atmosphere and mood’.

Sophie is starting her degree in English Literature with Creative Writing later this month – good luck! The Imagined Land anthology can be downloaded from the Imagined Land Project Website