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Writers and their notebooks

Lawrence Norfolk talks to AS Byatt and David Mitchell about their notebooks, and Samira Ahmed chairs a discussion with Wendy Cope, Bidisha and the British Library's Rachel Foss.

As the British Library launches a website devoted to writers' notebooks and manuscripts, Discovering Literature, novelist Lawrence Norfolk takes a look at his own notebooks, and talks to AS Byatt, John Cooper Clarke and David Mitchell about theirs.

He's joined in the studio by Wendy Cope, Bidisha, and Rachel Foss of the British Library for a discussion - chaired by presenter Samira Ahmed - about notebooks, creativity, and how the digital age - which sees many novelists write straight onto a computer - might be changing literature.

The notebook can be the seed of a novel, or many novels, or it can be an act of prevarication and diversion. Thomas Hardy kept several different types of notebook, including one called 'Facts', in which he noted down local newspaper articles that caught his eye. One such story was 'Wife for Sale', which later became the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge.

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45 minutes

Lawrence Norfolk

Lawrence Norfolk

Lawrence Norfolk investigated other writers' notebook keeping habits for Free Thinking...

Writers' notebooks: 'A junkyard of the mind' by Lawrence Norfolk

A S Byatt

A S Byatt

AS Byatt… used her notebooks to keep novels going when family life intervened

David Mitchell

David Mitchell
David Mitchell… writes himself letters from his main characters to capture their voices

John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke…. Never travels without his notebooks

Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope…. Sold hers to buy a house



Bidisha… wonders whether less notebooks might have meant more novels

Discovering Literature


The British Library has posted over 1000 of its greatest literary treasures online in a new website, Discovering Literature – including manuscripts, notebooks and diaries from Romantic and Victorian writers including Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Wordsworth, Shelley and many more. This is just the first phase, and the British Library will continue to add more to the resource until it covers English literature from Beowulf up to the present day.


Role Contributor
Presenter Lawrence Norfolk
Presenter Samira Ahmed
Interviewed Guest A.S. Byatt
Interviewed Guest John Cooper Clarke
Interviewed Guest David Mitchell
Interviewed Guest Wendy Cope
Interviewed Guest Bidisha
Interviewed Guest Rachel Foss
Producer Laura Thomas


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