A monthly blog about sites of literary interest throughout the UK and, if I should get a slightly better job soon, the world.

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Who loves maps?  I love maps.  Here’s one I made:

I recently started mapping all the locations that turned up as I researched various authors but it became far too complicated (and also, the name of the blog stopped making much sense). So I created a new map of locations worldwide. This is clearly a more ambitious project and I am expecting to complete it over a number of years. If you find anywhere on your travels that you think I may be interested in, please let me know and I’ll add them to the Literary Atlas.

I have tried to only feature places that are accessible to the public.  Most of them are museums, churches or pubs.  Some of them are guest houses or hotels. I have also included a number of libraries and bookshops but here the criteria for inclusion become a little difficult to define. Libraries should be open to the public in some capacity, or offer a public exhibition or events. Bookshops also should run some public events: there is a new trend of ‘literary cafés’ where you can have a drink in an atmosphere conducive to reading. I’m rather keen on this idea so have tried to include some of these.

Many of these places are run by enthusiasts who are very welcoming and keen to discuss their favourite authors and their work with you (this isn’t always the case and I will write about my experiences at Clouds Hill in a future post). I have tried to avoid private homes, except where there is a plaque honouring a previous resident. I don’t want to encourage people to march over someone’s property.  If I have included your home in my list and you are bothered by my hordes of followers trampling all over your property, I will remove it from the map if you contact me, as long as you first acknowledge what an exceedingly lucky person you are.

I do not pretend that this is a comprehensive guide to all the literary locations throughout the planet.  It is merely a collection of some that I’ve visited or read about. I have tried to do some background research before inclusion but i haven’t visited all of them (I’m just not in that financial league).  If I’ve made any mistakes or missed off anything important, please let me know and I’ll amend the entry.  Similarly, If I’ve included something that really shouldn’t be there, I’ll remove it. Many, many pubs throughout the country and particularly in London claim to have once been Charles Dickens’s local hostelry (unless you’re in Dorset, when it’s Thomas Hardy). Nearly every pub in the country claims to have once been visited by Dylan Thomas but, in this case, it’s probably right. Lots of stately homes claim to be “the inspiration for …” without any real evidence.  I have tried to avoid these and stuck to places with real literary connections.

If you want to get close to a writer the only real way to do it is to read their books.  If you are visiting an area that inspired a novel or poem, read it.  Try to get a feel for the writing and to understand how the landscape influenced it and is reflected by it. Then get out of the car and walk around: feel the ground beneath your feet, take in the view and breathe the air. You will get a far better understanding of, say, Wuthering Heights from walking through the moors around Haworth than looking round a gift shop and this is, pretty much, true of every location featured.

I do like gift shops though.

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I have one great love in my life.  Books.  Books have been an important feature in my life since I got through the Ladybird book of The Zoo, the first book I read all by myself (I remember this moment distinctly).  Virtually since I started reading, I have been fascinated with the lives of the writers that created the books I love. Nothing pleases me more than to visit a remote part of the world, discover a writer’s home and to read some of the words inspired by the landscapes they inhabited. Sometimes, this can bring you very close to a writer’s work. In Haworth, for example, you can tread the same route that the Brontës walked as they shared their stories. In Edinburgh, you can see the city through Robert Louis Stevenson’s eyes, noting, as you do, that it is divided into two distinct halves: a genteel, elegant New Town and a poorer, slightly shabby (but much more fun) medieval town.

At present, there are very few literary guidebooks.  A few ‘top ten places that inspired great literature’ lists online.  One or two gazetteer style guidebooks, listing towns alphabetically but very few actual guidebooks.  Having said that, it is not my intention to write a detailed guide to every literary location in the British Isles.  All I want to do is to share some of my thoughts about places I have visited, let you know where would be a good place to stay, eat or visit and to direct you to sites that can fill in all the missing information.

I am always looking to discover new locations so, if you know of anywhere with a specific literary link, leave me a message here or on Twitter @literarybritain. I’ll add it to the map and try to visit it in the future.

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