Sunday, 22 February 2015

An A to Z of Notts Literature

It’s natural that Nottingham is bidding for UNESCO City of Literature status given that our literary history is so remarkable. Below is my A-Z guide of Notts-Lit. With many of the letters I was spoilt for choice (so there are some notable omissions), other letters were difficult to fill - X anyone? (Xylophone Man, our famous busker with his plaque on Lister Gate, nearly made the cut). 
Alan Sillitoe is best known for his first two works: the novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and the short story collection The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Sillitoe was born in Nottingham and drew on his experiences living in the city when writing his gritty depictions of working-class British life in the post-war era.
Albert Finney portrayed the 'Angry Young Man' Arthur Seaton in the 1960 film version of
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Bromley House Library, founded in 1816, is one of the few remaining subscription libraries in the country. The fine Grade II* listed Georgian townhouse keeps 40,000 books and is situated in the centre of Nottingham. On the first-floor is a Meridian Line, dating from 1836, which was used to set clocks to Noon local time in the days before Railway time or Greenwich Mean Time.

Charlie Resnick is the jazz-loving Nottingham DI and protagonist of John Harvey’s twelve police procedurals set in the city. The first and final novels in the series (Lonely Hearts and Darkness, Darkness respectively) are particularly good. 
Academy award nominee Tom Wilkinson played Resnick in the BBC films based on Harvey's novels Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment 
D H Lawrence is one the 20th century’s greatest writers and poets. Eastwood born Lawrence penned such classics as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sons and Lovers, Women in Love and The Rainbow. The fourth child of a struggling coal miner, he won a scholarship to Nottingham High School and later studied at Nottingham University. 

A bust of Bertie at Nottingham Castle
Edward Harley was a dedicated and extravagant collector adding to a library started by his wealthy father. Edward’s collection included pivotal works such as Shakespeare’s second folio and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. By the end of his life in 1741 he had amassed the largest private library in Britain containing 50,000 printed books, a collection that helped found the British Library.

Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer
Festus, the longest poem in the English language, was written by Nottingham’s Philip James Bailey. Born in 1816, Bailey was brought up on the poetry of Lord Byron. Festus is a vast pageant of theology and philosophy, comprising in some twelve divisions an attempt to represent the relation of God to man and of man to God. Tennyson was among the poem’s admirers.
“We live in deeds not years In thoughts not breaths In feelings not figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives who thinks most, feels noblest, acts the best.” From Festus.

Philip Bailey in his study at the Rope Walk
Graham Greene lived in Nottingham in the mid-1920s while he worked as a sub editor on the Nottingham Journal. His novel A Gun For Sale was set in a fictional version of Nottingham and his time living in the city helped inspire Brighton Rock. He left Nottingham after being baptized in the Roman Catholic faith.

The Express Offices. 'I have happy memories of this bizarre old building...' Graham Greene

Helen Cresswell was one of Britain's most prolific children's writers. The Nottinghamshire author - educated at Nottingham Girls High School - of many critically acclaimed novels also wrote for TV and received a BAFTA Writers’ Award. Her writing credits include Lizzie Dripping and Moondial.

Set at Belton House near Newark
International Impac Dublin Literary Award winner Jon McGregor wrote his first book, the multiple award winning and Booker nominated If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, after moving to Nottingham where he still lives. He won the IMPAC award, one the world's most lucrative literary prizes, for his third novel Even the Dogs.

Jon McGregor with his IMPAC award
J R R Tolkien repeatedly visited Nottingham, staying at his Aunt Jane's farm. He wrote the first draft of The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star there describing it as "a tremendous opening up of everything for me" and the start of his mythology. It’s believed that he based the wizard Gandalf on his aunt who had strong physical presence and mystical tendencies.

For more on Tolkien's Gedling read Andrew H Morton and John Hayes' book
Katharine (also known as Mollie) Morris was nine years old when her first story was published in Tiger Tim’s Weekly. A publisher later advised her to write about the village in which she lived. That place was Bleasby in Nottinghamshire and it provided Katharine with the material for five novels including The Long Meadow 

Her 1958 novel
Lord George Gordon Byron was a poet, adventurer and a leading figure in the Romantic Movement. Whilst living in Southwell he wrote his first poem, aged ten:
In Nottingham county there lives at Swine Green, 
As curst an old lady as ever was seen; 
And when she does die, which I hope will be soon,
She firmly believes she will go the moon.
Byron was buried in Hucknall, Notts, and the county is home to his ancestral home, Newstead Abbey.
Tribute to Byron at St. Mary Magdelene Church, Hucknall

Mhairi McFarlane lives in Nottingham and is a former reporter-turned-feature writer on the Nottingham Post. The bestselling chick-lit author is one of Britain’s best and funniest rom-com writers. Nottingham's award-winning production company Wellington Films are working on a movie version of her debut novel You Had Me At Hello.

Mhairi McFarlane's 2nd novel

Nigel McCrery lives in Nottingham, the city he served as a police officer working on a number of murders and serious crimes. He later became the creator of many successful television shows including Silent Witness and New Tricks. The author of several fine novels, Nigel has also penned non-fiction titles on forensic science, the Second World War and the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege.

George Spencer Academy in Stapleford named their Learning and Inclusion Centre after former pupil Nigel McCrery.

Odyssey came from the pen of a young, headstrong, unmarried Sicilian woman, according to Samuel Butler, whose easy-read translation of Odyssey in 1900 was hugely popular. The Victorian novelist, philosopher, satirist, artist and critic often challenged the accepted views of religion, evolution, art and literature. A proud son of Notts, he was much admired by George Bernard Shaw and E M Forster, and influenced Aldous Huxley's seminal Brave New World.

St Andrew's Church, Langar, where Samuel Butler's father was rector

Peter Pan creator J M Barrie lived in Nottingham in the mid-1880s working as a writer at the Nottingham Daily Journal. It’s said that he took the character of Peter Pan from a little boy he saw walking alongside the River Trent, and Nottingham’s Arboretum is claimed to have inspired the setting of Neverland.

Barrie explored the Arboretum's beautiful park in his spare time 

Quaker poet and prolific children’s author Mary Howitt introduced British readers to the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. She learnt Danish specifically in order to translate Andersen’s tales and, at one time, they were friends. Mary lived in Nottingham with her author husband William and is perhaps best-known for the 1829 poem The Spider and The Fly.

Thumbelina was one of Andersen’s stories first translated by Mary Howitt

Robert Harris was born in Nottingham in 1957 and grew up on a council estate where he enjoyed a culturally rich childhood. The son of a Nottingham printer became a worldwide bestselling novelist with classics Fatherland, The Ghost, Enigma, An Officer and a Spy and others, several of which have been made into films.
Alternative history most chilling

Stanley Middleton won the Booker Prize in 1974 for his book Holiday, one of his 44 novels, many set in ‘Beechnall’ (his home city of Nottingham). Born in Bulwell, he attended High Pavement School, took a teaching diploma at University College Nottingham and taught English at a Nottingham school for many years. His work explored the quiet everyday lives of middle-class professional men.
Stanley Middleton 1919-2009

Tales out of School by Geoffrey Trease, a ground-breaking survey about children’s books, was published in 1949. Geoffrey, the youngest son of a Nottingham wine merchant, wrote historical fiction for children, not for any literary merit but because it helped to nurture the children of Britain. The Nottingham born writer produced 110 books in a 60 year career. One of his stories, A Flight of Angels, was inspired by the deep sandstone cellar-caves dug out under Nottingham by the old wine merchants.

The sign over this Castle Gate door marks the site of the family business of the innovative children’s author.
Unfit to Plead is one of the best of Frank Palmer’s six crime novels featuring DI 'Jacko' Jackson. The author’s second series followed Nottingham cop Phil ‘Sweeney’ Todd. Before retiring to write detective fiction Frank was a successful journalist. The first to interview Matt Busby after the Munich Air disaster, he achieved the rare feat of writing the day’s front and back page leads for the Daily Express.

In 1978 Frank won the British Press Reporter of the Year award for his scoop on the infamous sex-in-chains case involving Joyce McKinney and the kidnapped Mormon missionary.

Victoria Four-Thirty is one of Cecil Roberts’ most read novels. First published in 1937 and translated into many languages, it’s about a journey from London’s Victoria Station through Europe, and the differing experiences thirteen of the travelers have on the train. The author edited the Nottingham Journal between 1920 and 1925 and was a friend of Graham Greene.  

 Cecil Roberts receiving his Freedom of Nottingham award in 1965
William Howitt was a carpenter’s apprentice in Mansfield when Sherwood Forest inspired his poetical imagination. Together with his wife Mary, William wrote 170 books from the time of their marriage in 1821. On moving to Nottingham they joined the subscription library (at Bromley House on Angel Row). Their arrival in the city coincided with their first collaborative book, The Forest Minstrels and Other Poems, published in 1823.

Sculpture in the portico of Nottingham Castle

X-ray computer tomography (CT) was developed by Godfrey Hounsfield. Born and raised on a farm near Nottingham, his vital work delivered a Nobel Prize in 1979 and is examined in a book by S. Bates, L. Beckmann, A. Thomas and R. Waltham, entitled Godfrey Hounsfield: Intuitive Genius of CT. It includes many recollections from Hounsfield's family, friends and colleagues.

Young Robin Hood by George Manville Fenn is about a boy that gets lost in Sherwood Forest. Separated from his father the little lad meets Robin Hood and his merry men. Published in 1899, with 23 illustrations, this popular children’s story is a good example of the many hundreds of tales inspired by the legend of Robin Hood and his association with Notts.


Zoe Sharp, the award-winning author of the Charlie Fox thriller series, was born in Nottinghamshire. Her work has been nominated for the prestigious Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards in the United States, as well as the CWA Short Story Dagger in the UK.

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