Inspiring Oxford Authors

Recently, as I walked past a local café, I saw this chalkboard announcing a little-known fact about Oxford:

 
Oxford chalkboard.JPG
 

 

“We have more published writers per square mile than anywhere else in the world!”

Now, I don’t know how accurate this statement is, but when I started to think about all the famous authors who lived and wrote in this city the list kept on growing.

Since the Middle Ages, Oxford has been a centre for writers and poets, often through their academic study at the University. There are so many it would be impossible to do justice to them in this article so here is an abbreviated list:

John Donne

Percy Shelley

Lewis Carroll

Oscar Wilde

Gerard Manley Hopkins

T.S. Eliot

Dorothy L. Sayers

Philip Larkin

C.S.Lewis

Robert Graves

Graham Greene

W.H. Auden

John Betjeman

Dr Seuss

J.R.R. Tolkein

Iris Murdoch

Colin Dexter

Mark Haddon

Philip Pullman

Ian McEwan

The Inklings: famous Oxford writing group

As a resident of Oxford and member of two writing groups that meet monthly to discuss our work-in-progress, it’s inspiring to discover that some of Oxford’s literary inhabitants were doing much the same, reading and critiquing each other’s work before they deemed it ready for publication.

The Inklings literary group: JRR Tolkein, CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll and friends (source: Google Images)

The Inklings literary group: JRR Tolkein, CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll and friends (source: Google Images)

Oxford’s best-known classic authors, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein formed “The Inklings”, a literary group that would meet in a corner of The Eagle and Child pub as well as The Lamb and Flag across the street (St Giles). They took it in turns to read from and discuss their unfinished works – one of which was Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings!

Oxford Sleuths

Oxford is steeped in history, inspiring its authors to put pen to paper in the guise of detective and crime novels.

They include author of detective stories, Dorothy L. Sayers, who was an Oxford academic and on finishing her studies joined Blackwell’s publishers, because she disliked the routine and seclusion of academic life. Today, visitors to Blackwell’s in Broad Street, Oxford, can arrange to go through a door in the shop and climb the stairs to see her perfectly preserved office. The view is magnificent, looking out onto Wren’s iconic stone heads that guard the Sheldonian theatre across the street.

Meanwhile, the backdrop of Oxford’s historic buildings in Coilin Dexter’s Inspector Morse crime novels and TV series have helped put the city on the map as a top tourist destination. The Perch pub, in nearby Godstow, was used to film episodes of Inspector Morse and also draws visitors from far and wide.

Contemporary Oxford authors

Philip Pullman is probably Oxford’s most famous contemporary author and a familiar face around the city. His writing shed has also acquired the distinction as the place where he conceived and wrote His Dark Materials trilogy, naturally set in Oxford.

Booker prize winner, Ian McEwan wrote Atonement, whilst living in North Oxford. I have a personal connection here, as our sons were friends and used to play at each other’s houses. My son, Leo, fondly remembers the “very good ratatouille” that Greg’s dad used to make them for their lunch!

Oxford author Mark Haddon achieved fame with his novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, one of the first books to be simultaneously published for adults and children.

 

Like so many before me, I’m inspired by the beauty, history and mystery of Oxford and often seek out secret spots to write - a corner of the Oxford Botanic Garden or under a tree in Christchurch meadows overlooking the river are favourites of mine. I may not be a famous author (yet…!) but it’s enough to be in the company of so many great writers.

 

IMOGEN MATTHEWS