Sometimes it’s people who inspire great works and sometimes it’s the atmospheric setting of a place that sets an idea in motion. Suffolk has been an inspiration to many writers and poets over the centuries, some of whom have been influenced by the county’s enchanting landscapes throughout their whole lives.
Roger Deakin influenced opinion about the environment, access to the countryside, its rivers and waterways, with Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain. Outney Meadow near Bungay (6 miles) features in this journey across Britain in which he takes a swim in every rock pool, river, mountain tarn and open-air swimming pool encountered on the way, thus founding the wild swimming movement.
WG Sebold‘s famous Rings of Saturn combines the details of a walking tour in Suffolk with meditations prompted by places and people encountered. It has been described as “a hybrid of a book – fiction, travel, biography, myth, and memoir”.
George Ewart Evans. Ask the Fellows who cut the Hay is a classic picture of the rural past in a remote Suffolk village, revealed in the conversations of old people who recall harvest customs, home crafts, poetic usages in dialect, old farm tools, smugglers’ tales, and rural customs and beliefs going back to the time of Chaucer.
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 .
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.
Crime writer PD James lived for many years in Southwold on the coast and set some of her detective stories in Suffolk. James’s 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 Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm, went to school near Southwold and later returned to live in the town in his family home. His nom de plume, George Orwell, was inspired by the River Orwell, which he thought “a good round English name.”
There are many more writers who have links with Suffolk for example, Charles Dickens, Hammond Innes, Dodi Smith to name just a few.