Why being a writer in Cambridge is f**king awesome

Based in Cambridge? Of the writerly persuasion? Read on to find out why Cambridge is the place to be, with insight from our on-the-ground writing retreat rep, Alexa Radcliffe-Hart.

When tasked with writing about why I love writing in Cambridge, there are some serious and not so serious reasons why I think it’s one of the best places to write. For me, I can find inspiration anywhere in the city. The history, the architecture, the diverse mix of people, the tourist’s punting skills, the singing bin. You name it, Cambridge probably has it. So. Onto the list because who doesn’t love a list?

#1: If it’s good enough for Winnie the Pooh then it’s good enough for me.

AA Milnes studied at Trinity College (as did Bryon and Tennyson), which is a seriously tenuous link but I like the heading. Sue me. Other tenuous links are Douglas Adams and Worthsworth who studied at St John’s, A S Byatt who studied at Newnham as did Margaret Drabble, Sylvia Plath and Germaine Greer, and C S Lewis was at Magdalene. On a much more realistic note, Ali Smith studied at Newnham (seriously, I want to have studied there!) and continues to live and write her brilliant books in Cambridge.

#2: Spoken word events

Venues for small to large events are spread throughout the city and there’s probably too many to mention. But I’ll have a try! Cambridge Junction (our old WHQ retreat home) hosts Hammer and Tongue every month among many other one off events. Bookshops Heffers, and Waterstones, regularly host author events and it’s worth following their social media channels for new and up-coming events. Anglia Ruskin’s Lit Fuse hosts a variety of events and workshops too which is well worth checking out. ADC Theatre is also well worth checking out, as is the Corn Exchange who don’t just do music events.

#3: Heffers

Any bookshop with a name like this is worth its own mention! As well as spoken word events, Heffers has a brilliant selection of books. Although they have specialist shelves for those studying at the various colleges, they also have an excellent fiction and poetry sections as well as the newer selection of graphic novels. Heffers is also heavily involved in the literary festival…

#4: The Cambridge Literary Festival

Run twice a year, the spring festival is a weeklong affair whilst the winter/autumn offers a weekend fling into the literary good and great. There are events for everyone but for writers’ looking for inspiration I would recommend Ali Smith’s debut authors panel to get a hit of new voices, as well as the many workshops that run alongside panels and speaker events.

#5: Libraries

As well as the various different college libraries, some of which are open to the general public, the Central Library that is based in the Grand Arcade is an amazing resource and well worth exploring. It offers miles of bookshelves as well as three floors of space to work should you wish to have a little more company on a day that doesn’t feature one of our retreats!

#6: Enviable people-watching spots

Whether it’s The Anchor, where you can watch tourists fall into the Cam in an attempt to punt, or getting lost in Mill Road’s selection of cafes, there is always an opportunity to people-watch, be amused or inspired, and jot some characterisation points down. My favourites, other than the aforementioned, are on the wall outside King’s College opposite Benets which serves huge ice-creams, 1815, the union bar which gets used a lot during the literary festivals – they have picnic benches outside too, and Parker’s Piece park which in the summer is filled with sprawling blankets and jumper goalposts with a range of public houses and big-ass burritos nearby to satisfy all needs.

#7: The Singing Bin

I felt like this one needed its own entry. If Charlie Cavey has the inspiration to sing and play the guitar from inside a bin, then I believe that you can find the inspiration to write your story.

#8: Cambridge Writers’ Retreat

At our Cambridge retreat, writers gather from within Cambridge and further afield (we have Londoners regularly attend our retreats but we have hosted a writer from New York before!) to write aaaaallllll the words and eat most of the cake. Find out more here and join us!


Alexa Radcliffe-Hart is a writer and editor who has worked closely with short story writers at The Word Factory, and has taught courses and workshops for Swanwick Writer’s Summer School, Alt.Fiction, and Jersey Festival of Words as well as various secondary schools.

Twitter: @Radcliffe_Hart
Website: www.servicestoliterature.co.uk

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