The world of literature provides a welcome retreat for many, giving readers the chance to explore dreamt-of lands, take a trip into the future, or step back in time with a much-loved childhood favourite. Britain’s rolling hills, golden sandy beaches and quaint country villages have provided inspiration for hundreds of authors over the centuries, with many locations often reflected in their works and celebrated at renowned events such as the Hay Festival, a regular on the literary calendar since 1988. While the spectacular backdrop of the Brecon Beacons, and Hay-on-Wye in Powys, Wales, is usually the setting for the celebrated event, this year the Hay Festival is going digital.
Bringing writers and readers together from 22-31 May, Hay Festival Digital will feature a packed programme of free interactive sessions and live broadcasts. Famous literary figures and actors, including Hilary Mantel, Ali Smith, Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch are among those set to share their insights and discuss some of the world’s key issues. More than 100 sessions will be streamed via Crowdcast, with individuals able to register to confirm their free virtual seat by browsing the programme of events.
A five-day Hay Festival Programme for Schools will also run from 18-22 May, including an array of creative reading activities and films for primary and secondary school children to access with their parents. But the event isn’t the only means of discovering a slice of literary Britain, as these classic tales reveal…
Born in Gloucestershire, renowned Harry Potter author J.K Rowling penned her wizarding works after moving to the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. The release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 sparked a global phenomenon that has seen her tales published in 80 different languages. Rowling wrote much of her early works about the boy wizard in The Elephant House café, overlooking Edinburgh Castle, as well as a number of other coffee houses around the city. Delve into her wizarding world for a journey that has enthralled the imaginations of millions around the globe.
Famed for his humorous yet distinctive style of writing, Welsh writer Roald Dahl’s works have captivated children for generations. Born in Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegian parents, he wrote many of his classic novels from the confines of a small writing hut in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire. From the exploits of Mr Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the adventures of James and Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr Fox or the BFG (Big Friendly Giant), his works are packed with thought-provoking adjectives, sounds and poems, as well as striking illustrations from Quentin Blake that help to bring the stories to life.
Born and educated in Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson travelled widely during the 19th century, journeys that influenced several of his works. The Scot helped transform modern perceptions of pirates with his Treasure Island adventure novel, a tale of buccaneers and the search for buried gold that has been transformed into film and television spin-offs. He also penned the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a gripping gothic novel that delves into the dual nature of humankind.
Having been born in Belfast, the life of Clive Staples Lewis took him from the trenches in the First World War to literary positions at Oxford University, alongside fellow author J.R.R Tolkien, and at Cambridge University. The Chronicles of Narnia, one of his most famous works, is a series of fantasy novels, set in the fictional realm of Narnia and packed with magical happenings, talking animals and mythical beasts. A hit with children and adults alike, it has appeared in at least 47 languages and has since been adapted for radio, television, theatre and film.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, penned the classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass in the mid-to-late 19th century. It follows Alice, a pre-teen girl who discovers an underground land packed with mysterious characters – including the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts – after she falls down a rabbit hole. The vicarage in Cheshire where he was born, All Saints’ Vicarage in Daresbury, is home to several stained glass windows depicting characters from the novels, while the adjacent Lewis Carroll Centre explores his life and that of his family – all of which will leave children grinning like a Cheshire Cat!
Set against a bucolic English country backdrop in the early 20th century, Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale The Wind in the Willows follows Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger on their animal adventures. Born in Scotland, Grahame moved to Berkshire at a young age and it is thought he took great inspiration from the landscapes of the Thames Valley when penning the novel. Known for the beautifully-imagined friendship between the animals, it has been adapted for both the theatre and the big screen, has appeared in multiple languages and has continued to enthral those of all ages since its publication in 1908.
Inspired by the picturesque surroundings of the Lake District where she regularly holidayed, Beatrix Potter used the spectacular environment as a basis for The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Published in the early years of the 20th century and following the adventures of Peter, the book became an instant hit and is still produced in multiple languages to this day. Her stories have also been adapted for the ballet, for cartoons and in feature films, including Will Gluck’s 2018 3D live-action computer animated comedy Peter Rabbit. Following her literary success, Potter purchased a number of properties in the Lake District, like Hill Top Farm, while the World of Beatrix Potter in Windermere explores how the magical tales are brought to life.
From warrior polar bears to angels and witches, English novelist Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials takes readers on a journey through a series of parallel universes. The trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) has scooped a host of literary prizes and is available in more than 40 languages around the world.
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