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10 Books Set Right Here…

The towns, landscapes and characters of South Devon and Dartmoor provide the inspiration for some great writers, past and present.

Just out in paperback, Kim Sherwood’s novel of pirates, smuggling and revenge, A Wild & True Relation is set in Kingsbridge and features Totnes. Kingsbridge is the starting place for walk of considerable distance, emotionally and physically in Rachel Joyce’s bestselling book The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, which was recently made into a wonderful film starring Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton. While the town of Totnes features regularly within the brain-bending fiction of Scarlett Thomas, especially in Our Tragic Universe.

Just down the road from Totnes, in Ashburton, Stephanie Austin is creating a fantastic series based around her home town, and Dartmoor with her series of Devon Mysteries.
And of course, how can we forget the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie. She spent time at Greenway on the banks of the river Dart and Torquay and was inspired to set many of her novels in Devon. Burgh Island and its hotel provide the setting of And Then There Were None while the setting of a big white Georgian house overlooking a river in Dead Man’s Folly, was clearly inspired by Greenway, and indeed the adaption of the book starring David Suchet was filmed there.

Stephanie is following in the footsteps of many great writers in finding the bleak and foreboding beauty of Dartmoor and the setting and inspirations for their novels. Joanna Briscoe keeps Dartmoor as a rugged presence in her multi-layered narrative of love and loss in You, and what better evocation of Dartmoor as a brooding presence is there than Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles

Children’s books can also be inspired by the local area. In The Dragonfly Pool, the boarding school within the book is based on author’s Eva Ibbotson’s own childhood school at the progressive Dartington Hall School.

Here in Totnes, we have many writers, Marcia Willet who sadly died last year was known and loved by many people locally. In her final novella Christmas at the Keep the inhabitants of an imagined house near Staverton meet in settings familiar to local: The Cider Press Centre, the Cott Inn and various cafes in Totnes are all recognisable and for my final selection, Alice Oswald blends the voices of people touched by the river Dart; from ferryman and sewage workers to swimmers and canoeists and all the wildlife that thrives there. Her poem Dart is a narrative of the river as it journeys through Totnes and beyond, winding its way to the sea at Dartmouth.

This is only a snapshot of the writings inspired by the local area, I’ve only mentioned the ones we know and are sure I’ve missed a few – please let us know if we did in the comments below.

Totnes, The South Hams and Dartmoor will continue to inspire authors in the future as they do now.

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