When you think of Nottingham as a City of Literature, iconic names such as DH Lawrence, Lord Byron and Alan Sillitoe tend to spring to mind. But did you know that there is more to the city’s literary history than meets the eye?
Take the Arboretum, for instance. Stroll around on a spring day and the entire park is picture perfect, covered from head to toe in blossom and greenery as far as the eye can see. Sounds pretty idyllic, right? It certainly was for J.M Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, who worked on the Nottingham Journal between 1883-4. The Arboretum was known to be one of Barrie’s favourite spots,and, rumour has it, the inspiration behind Neverland.
Step back into the 21st century and you’ll discover that Nottingham has produced contemporary writers, some of whom still call the city home. There’s Susanna Clarke, the author of Jonathan Clarke & Mr Norrell, who was born here in 1959. History and fantasy combine in this blockbuster of a novel, which tells the tale of magician Gilbert Norrell and his apprentice (and later rival) Jonathan Strange as they strive to earn their place as magicians in nineteenth-century England. The novel has since been turned into a prime-time BBC drama and was even recognised by the British Film Institute as one of the top ten most important television programmes of 2015.
Nottingham is also home to the Queen of Chick-Lit, Mhairi McFarlane, who lives in Sherwood with her boyfriend and cat, Mr Miffy. Having recently finished her most recent novel, It’s Not Me, It’s You, I was subjected to more than a few funny looks on the tram. “Why is this girl laughing at her tablet thing?!”, I could practically hear the old couple sat opposite me thinking. But as Geordie girl Delia Moss’s discovery of her boyfriend’s Other Woman turns life as she knew it upside down, you know within the first chapter that you’re in for a rollercoaster of a read. Having read my fair share of chick-lit over the years, McFarlane keeps you on your toes and throws a few spanners into the works just when you think you’re getting comfortable. I certainly wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the characters, either – although that might just be the case of a classic Lit student getting far too emotionally invested in everything she reads.
While you’re never short of a WH Smith or Waterstones around the city, bookworms might want to sample something slightly more off the beaten track. If so, Five Leaves Bookshop may be just the tonic you need. As the first independent bookshop to open in Nottingham this century, it follows in the footsteps of ‘rebel’ bookshops, which have been present in and around the city since the 1800s. There’s also Bromley House Library, a literary refuge smack bang in the middle of the city whicheven boasts its own secret garden – rings a bell, don’t you think?
If curling up with a book isn’t your idea of fun, fear not, as there are plenty of literary-inspired eateries to tickle your tastebuds. Curious Manor – a personal favourite – is a restaurant/bar themed on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, where you can sip on Cheshire cat cocktails or indulge in afternoon tea that the Mad Hatter himself would be proud of. It may sound a little crazy, but I’ll tell you a secret: all the best places are.
So go on, take a leaf out of Nottingham’s book and experience this City of Literature for yourself.