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8 famous literary figures inspired by Somerset

PUBLISHED: 16:22 19 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:22 19 November 2018

Jacqueline Wilson (c) James Jordan Photography

Jacqueline Wilson (c) James Jordan Photography

©James Jordan

Celebrating National Novel Writing Month, Holly Eells discovers how Somerset has inspired some famous literary figures

Jane Austen

Jane Austen must be one of Somerset’s all-time favourite authors. The famous novelist paid two long visits to Bath towards the end of the 18th century and from 1801-1806 she called the vibrant city her home.

Her first real experience of Bath was at her aunt’s residence, No 1 The Paragon. Sydney Place was reportedly the property where Jane wrote one of her first novels, Northanger Abbey while gazing out of her bedroom window on to Sydney Gardens.

The novelist has a small museum dedicated to her - The Jane Austen Centre in Gay Street explores her life and well-loved books by retracing her steps and discovering her favourite Bath haunts.

Elizabeth Goudge

Award-winning and best-selling author of short stories and children’s books, Elizabeth de Beauchamp Goudge was born in Wells on 24 April 1900. An only child, she had a privileged upbringing, raised by her father Reverend Henry Goudge (who taught at Wells Cathedral School) and her mother, the former Miss Ida Collenette. Her modern-day upbringing perhaps encouraged her imaginative embryonic writing skills, storing away instances and images which would resurface later in her books, such as A City of Bells, Henrietta’s House, Linnets and Valerians, Sister of the Angels and The Lost Angel. Even her governess, Miss Lavington, was metamorphosed into the gentle Miss Lavender in A City of Bells.

Jacqueline Wilson

Critically-acclaimed children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson was born in Bath. Her writing career started in 1963 on the iconic teen magazine Jackie and she published her first novel for adults in 1969, before moving on to children’s fiction in 1985. The award-winning children’s author has created some of the nation’s best-loved children’s characters and novels, which frequently feature significant themes of adoption, divorce, and mental illness for young readers. Many of these have gone to become BAFTA-winning and nominated screen adaptations, including The Story of Tracy Beaker and The Illustrated Mum. She has now sold more than 40 million books in the UK alone.

Henry Fielding

English novelist and dramatist known for his rich, earthy humour, Henry Fielding was born at Sharpham Park on April 22, 1707. He was educated at Eton College where he laid the foundations of his love of literature and his considerable knowledge of the classics. In 1734 he returned to his Somerset roots and married Charlotte Craddock at the Church of St Mary in Charlcombe.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, was one of Fielding’s first picaresque novels. It boasts many anecdotes of this charismatic county, including the kind and wealthy Squire Allworthy and his sister Bridget who are introduced in the book for their lavish estate.

Henry FieldingHenry Fielding

Evelyn Waugh

Born in 1903, novelist Evelyn Waugh was best known for darkly humorous and satirical novels as Decline and Fall, Scoop and A Handful of Dust. In the early 1980s Waugh’s work came roaring back to life with the success of the BBC television series Brideshead Revisited, starring Jeremy Irons.

He chose to retire and enjoy the latter part of his life at Combe Florey House in Taunton from 1956 until his death in 1966. The author is buried on the edge of the private grounds beside a churchyard.

Evelyn Waugh (c) Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection at the Library of CongressEvelyn Waugh (c) Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection at the Library of Congress

Arthur C Clarke

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke was known for his many creative talents, including science fiction author, inventor and futurist, but he was most famous for the novel 2001, A Space Odyssey, which became an Oscar-winning film directed by Stanley Kubrick.

He was born in Minehead in 1917, later moving to a farm at Ballifants near Bishops Lydeard. He attended Richard Huish’s Grammar School in Taunton, where his fascination with space, stargazing and reading American science fiction pulp magazines began.

He wrote a number of non-fiction books about rocketry and space flight, as well as a host of science fiction novels. He emigrated to Sri Lanka to pursue his interest in scuba diving, but was always proud of his Somerset roots, returning in 1992 on his 75th birthday when he was made the first Freeman of Minehead.

Sir Arthur C Clarke (c) Amy MarashSir Arthur C Clarke (c) Amy Marash

Fay Weldon

Despite her profound misgivings about rural Somerset, Fay Weldon CBE called this county her home for many years, living in a bucolic cottage outside Pilton, a village near Shepton Mallet.

Although she preferred London, Somerset proved to be a very inspirational county for the author, particularly Glastonbury with its tales of ley lines, UFOs and new age therapy that centred on Glastonbury Tor. Somerset proved to be irresistible material for this most capricious of feminist writers, including books Puffball, The Heart of the Country and Big Women.

Fay Weldon CBE (c) Bella WestFay Weldon CBE (c) Bella West

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Somerset’s countryside certainly stirred the emotions and fed the imagination of some of the county’s most admired poets. It was the stunning landscape of the Quantock Hills that inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge to produce some of his best-known work, and it was here that his friendships with fellow poets William Wordsworth and Robert Southey flourished.

His connection with Somerset began in August 1795 when he and his wife Sara spent their honeymoon in a cottage overlooking the sea in Clevedon. In 1796 the couple moved to Nether Stowey, a small village at the foot of the Quantock Hills. During this time, Coleridge wrote some of his most famous poems, including Frost at Midnight, This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison and Coleridge’s masterpiece, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Now owned by the National Trust, Coleridge Cottage was originally two buildings which were later combined and expanded.

Did you know...?

The 1996 TV series of Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five, was filmed at Dunster Castle, and Cheddar Caves. It also featured the village of Bossington.

Elizabeth Goudge is best known for The Little White Horse, a book J K Rowling said was her favourite when growing up.

After serving in the RAF as a radar instructor, Clarke went on to become chairman of the British Interplanetary Society, and devised a system of geo-stationary satellites upon which all modern communication systems are now designed.

Fay Weldon CBE has recently released, After the Peace. Her fifth novel in the Dilberne family saga – in which the author traces the life and times of both Upstairs and Downstairs, from the end of Queen Victoria’s reign through the first half of the 20th century – jumping now into the bright new female light of the 21st century.

National Novel Writing Month takes place every November. It’s a fun, online-based creative challenge aimed at anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel. Those taking part are given guidance on how to write a 50,000 manuscript by the end of the month. nanowrimo.org

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