Writers on the Riviera

Writers on the Riviera

A new guide to Torquay’s literary heritage will reveal facts about Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Bovril, war poetry, Frankenstein and evolution. 

Torquay’s literary connections will be brought to life in Writers on the Riviera, a beautifully illustrated printed map and guide which highlights writers who have taken inspiration from the area.

The English Riviera is well known as the birthplace of the world-famous crime writer Agatha Christie, but the area has provided an inspiration for many other writers over the years. Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley, Charles Kingsley, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and many others were attracted to Torquay’s beautiful coast.

The English Riviera is a UNESCO Global Geopark, internationally recognised for its rich geological, historical and cultural heritage. The health benefits of the sea air, beautiful shoreline and inspirational dramatic landscape have been amongst the attractions since the beginning of the 19th century, and the area is still home to authors today.

International bestselling author Lesley Pearse loves life in Torquay, especially long walks on the beach. Award-winning author Adam Nevill, renowned for his supernatural horror writing, lives in the bay and is inspired by the South West Coast Path.

Adam Nevill said:
"For years to aid inspiration, I've been walking local stretches of the South West Coast Path, swimming and kayaking the coves and beaches near my home in Torbay and exploring the closest estuaries and rivers. What never fails to surprise me is how the landscape, and its flora and fauna, changes so dramatically here (as does its geology). Within a few miles I can walk from the sub-Tropical to the volcanic and forbidding. I’ve taken hundreds of pictures and studied the light and atmospherics, the coast, valleys, woods and open expanses, the skies, cliffs, caves and farms, before trying to define and recreate it all in my thrillers and horror novels. By 2019, three of my novels have been set here - Lost GirlUnder a Watchful Eye and The Reddening. As far as inspiration goes, as I often say: the Bay provides."

Writers of the past with connections to Torquay include Charles Darwin, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Beatrix Potter and George Bernard Shaw.

Charles Darwin’s seminal work On the Origin of Species,and his theory of evolution shocked Victorian society. He arrived in Torquay in July 1861 and lived at No 2 Meadfoot House in Hesketh Crescent, having chosen the town for health reasons. 

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novels are the source of phrases including ‘the great unwashed’, ‘pursuit of the almighty dollar’ and ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’.

Bulwer-Lytton had an in-depth knowledge of the occult. One of his most popular excursions into the occult was his novel Vril, the Power of the Coming Race. The word ‘Vril’ came to be associated with ‘life-giving elixirs’, so when  John L Johnston was looking for a name for his ‘liquid life’ beef extract drink, he chose a blend of the words Bovine and Vril, and named the new beefy beverage ‘Bovril’. 

Beatrix Potter was an English writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for ’The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. Kents Cavern is thought to be the inspiration for her drawing of the entrance to Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s house. 

George Bernard Shaw is perhaps best known for Pygmalion, and is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Oscar (for the screenplay of Pygmalion). His 1897 play You Never Can Tell was set in Torquay. Bernard Shaw regularly visited the Hydropathic Hotel above Meadfoot Beach, now the Headland Hotel & Spa.

The guide has been commissioned by Torbay Culture and the English Riviera BID Company to attract new tourists as well as showing another side of the area to existing visitors and getting the local community exploring.

Martin Thomas, Executive Director of Torbay Culture said:
‘This area has a fascinating and long-standing literary heritage. For generations, writers have lived and visited the bay, and been inspired to create work here. This new trail focuses on Torquay and features internationally celebrated writers from Agatha Christie and Wilfred Owen, through to contemporary authors living and working here today’.

The Writers on the Riviera free printed guide is available from the English Riviera Visitor Information Centre and online at www.englishriviera.co.uk. It is the first guide in a series as part of a cultural tourism project under Torbay’s Great Place Scheme. Two more guides are planned: Artisans & Makerswill highlight local independent designer-makers and wonderful shopping experiences, while a guide to Speeding Up & Slowing Down will provide options for the adrenalin-fuelled break or the super-relaxing one. 

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