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Girl reading at The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds

Literary Suffolk

Suffolk has been an inspiration to many artists, writers and poets over the centuries, some of whom have been influenced by the county's enchanting landscapes throughout their whole lives.
Sometimes it's the people who inspire great works and sometimes it's the atmospheric setting of a place that sets an idea in motion.
Sunrise over Westleton Heath in Suffolk (c) Justin MinnsSunrise over Westleton Heath in Suffolk (c) Justin Minns
Ronald Blythe wrote his fictionalised depiction of life in a Suffolk village, Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village (1969), based on conversations he had with people in the village where he lived. The book has become a classic of its genre and was later made into a film by Peter Hall in 1974.

John Appleby, an American serviceman who was stationed near Bury St Edmunds and Lavenham during WWII wrote his ever-popular and highly evocative book A Suffolk Summer (1948). Describing his time here towards the end of the war, he wrote: “The English landscape at its subtlest and loveliest is to be seen in the county of Suffolk. I can say this with dogmatic certainty because it is the only county in England that I can pretend to know. Furthermore, the people of Suffolk themselves tell me this, and I know it must be so.”

Author of the famous Swallows and Amazons series of children's books, Arthur Ransome, moved to Suffolk in order to be nearer the sea, where he could more easily indulge his love of sailing, and he moored his beloved yacht the Nancy Blackett at Pin Mill on the Shotley Peninsula. It was in this peaceful place “down the deep green lane that ended in the river itself…this happy place where almost everybody wore seaboots, and land, in comparison with water, seemed hardly to matter at all” that he set the opening of his book We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea (1937). Read the fascinating story of the restoration of the Nancy Blackett here.

The Royal Hospital School and Holbrook Creek in Suffolk © Colin PatonThe Royal Hospital School and Holbrook Creek in Suffolk © Colin Paton
Crime writer PD James lived for many years in Southwold on the coast
and set some of her detective stories in Suffolk. James's good friend of 40 years and fellow crime writer Ruth Rendell lived in Polstead, and she too based some of her stories in the county. Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds. Polstead, Orford and Aldeburgh all feature in various novels she wrote and she also produced a book Ruth Rendell’s Suffolk (1992) about her favourite places in the county.

Many writers have childhood memories of Suffolk, having visited during family holidays or attended school here. Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell), best known for his works Nineteen Eighty Four (published in 1949) and Animal Farm (1945), went to school near Southwold and later returned to live in the town in his family home. He adopted the nom de plume George Orwell, inspired by the River Orwell, which flows through the county, because he thought "it is a good round English name."

There are many more writers who have links with Suffolk who we don't have space to elaborate on here: Charles Dickens, Beatrix Potter, Hammond Innes, Enid Blyton and Dodi Smith to name a few.

Sunrise over Southwold Pier in Suffolk (c) Martin PettittSunrise over Southwold Pier in Suffolk (c) Martin Pettitt

Upcoming Literary Festivals in Suffolk

Our literary heritage is celebrated across the county with a number of festivals taking place each year. The highlights for the coming months include:

Lavenham Children's Festival
Medieval Lavenham hosts a literary festival every two years and this year has introduced a children’s festival, a two day event taking place on Friday, 28th and Saturday, 29th October 2016. There will be reading, writing and other creative workshops; story telling sessions and Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell will be in attendance, taking questions and providing his answers in the form of a doodle (not quite literature, but entertaining and creative nonetheless!). See the programme:

Poetry in Aldeburgh
The poetry festival in the lovely seaside town of Aldeburgh takes place on Friday, 4th to Sunday, 6th November 2016 with over 100 poets, groups and other artists providing a weekend of readings, creative workshops and art. See the programme:

Way With Words
The annual literary festival takes place in the coastal town of Southwold from Thursday 10th to Monday, 14th November 2016. Speakers include artist Maggi Hambling, who will be talking to author James Cahill about her new book, Touch; former Foreign Secretary, Lord Owen will discuss Churchill's war-time cabinet, looking at the minutes of some of the crucially important meetings which took place during the war; and writer, TV presenter and adventurer Ben Fogle will talk about his new book Land Rover, his journeys and the nation's love affair with this iconic vehicle. The full festival programme can be seen here. See the programme:

The Swan Hotel in Lavenham (c) The Swan at LavenhamThe Swan Hotel in Lavenham (c) The Swan at Lavenham

Bookshops worth browsing...

There are many bookshops worth browsing in Suffolk and this list is just a taster of what's on offer:

The Aldeburgh Bookshop is the winner of the Independent Bookshop of the Year award and plays host to book signings, launches and other events and have a regular book club.

Browsers Bookshop in Woodbridge offers regular talks by authors, book launches and a book club.

Westleton Chapel Books in the village of Westleton, is a secondhand bookshop oozing with character. Definately a place to spend an hour or two browsing its eclectic collection.

Landers Bookshop in the elegant village of Long Melford, sells new and secondhand books.

Gainsborough's House (birthplace of artist Thomas Gainsborough and now a museum, gift shop and print workshop) in the market town of Sudbury has a gift shop with an extensive selection of art books (in particular on Thomas Gainsborough).

Waterstone's in Bury St Edmunds extends over two floors in the heart of the town. Selling new books, there is also a cafe and events take place during half term and at other times.

The Harris & Harris Bookshop in the pretty village of Clare, sells new and old books and is a “one-stop literary haven for readers of all ages”.

Harris & Harris Bookshop in Clare, Suffolk© Harris & Harris Bookshop, Clare, Suffolk

Not forgetting....

Many tourist information centres in Suffolk sell unusual local history and other specialist books, which are not always available elsewhere. Try Stowmarket, Sudbury, Lavenham and Ipswich Tourist Information Centres for books on timbered buildings, history, WWII airfields and much more.

Which are your favourites?

This list of bookshops is by no means exhaustive and we would love to hear which are your favourites in the county. Let us know via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.