The UK is brimming with famous authors who were inspired by the societies in which they lived. Chris Charamba shares some of the highlights of the UK's long and illustrious literary history.

When I turned five years old, my father gifted me with ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ gathered into one volume. On the interior cover, he inscribed the words, ‘I know you like to read a lot, son. Here is reading material for when you are a big boy.’ This would be my introduction to British literature and foster a lifelong love for the written word.

Some of the earliest writers that I actually did read, because the Bard was a bit too advanced, included Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton. As I got older, I moved on to Charles Dickens and Jane Austen in literature class, while for pleasure I lost myself in the magical worlds that Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling created. These are but a handful of the writers who find themselves part of the United Kingdom’s long and illustrious literary history. There are more still, the likes of Burns, Lewis, Orwell, Gaiman, Lessing, Lawrence, Doyle, Christie…

For an avid reader like myself, the UK is a phenomenal place to be. Not only are you exposed to libraries with wide volumes of books, but you can also travel to actual places that were once words on a page and lived in the mind’s eye. On a boat ride down the Thames, I got to see the steps on London Bridge where Nancy, from Dickens’ Oliver Twist, met Mr Bronlow and Rose to inform on Fagin. In Bath, you can find the Jane Austen house and museum, the latter which contains letters she wrote to Cassandra, clothes from her time, and first editions of her books.

For the Potterheads like myself, you can travel to Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station in London and join the long queue to Hogwarts. In Edinburgh, you can pop into the Elephant House café where J.K. Rowling sat down to pen her magnum opus, the sensational series about the boy wizard. As any bookworm can tell you, the next best thing to reading a book is going on a literary tour. When it comes to such tours, nobody does it better than the amazing Allan Foster. Having written two books on the delights that Edinburgh has to offer, he is an absolute authority on the city for the literature-loving traveller.

Over an hour, Foster took us around the picturesque capital of Scotland and talked about Scottish writers from the 14th and 21st centuries within their historical context. It was a sheer pleasure seeing the houses, cafés, and offices where beloved authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson lived, dreamed, and wrote books that have stood the test of time. Foster peppered his narrative with little-known facts of the lives and loves of famous writers and poets helping me to get acquainted with the humans behind famous literary stalwarts.

And then there are the bookshops. Around every other corner is a tiny quaint store peddling pre-loved books of all different sizes, colours, genres, and writers. I would spend hours in these stores until the musty smell of books lingered on my clothes well after I left, flipping through pages of first editions or discovering curious reads from around the world. My favourite was the lovely two-floor Leakey’s Secondhand Bookshop in Inverness, where I purchased a copy of the Complete Works of Robert Burns, arguably Scotland’s favourite scribe.

If buying books is not for you, there is no reason to despair. The UK has an abundance of incredible libraries. One of my favourites is the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Established in 1877, this public library is home to over 1.2 million books and houses 800 years of Glasgow City’s archives.

In addition to all of this, the UK has a number of literary festivals that one can attend. Two that stand out are the Africa Writes festival in London, which takes place at the end of June and the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. Here one can attend panels and reading sessions with a number of their favourite authors from around the world.

My time in the UK has exposed me to a lot of books, both for academic and pleasure reading. The headache for this bibliophile is how he is going to carry the mini library he’s purchased throughout the year back home…


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