Local Lit: Nottingham

5th Mar 2015

Local Lit: Nottingham
Image: Creative Commons
From the world's first computer programmer, to the host of some of our very own Furies contributors, this city should be a must on any lit-lover's travels.


Nottingham has recently launched a bid to become a UNESCO city of literature. Its famous sons – Lord Byron, D. H. Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe – are regarded as the famous faces of Nottingham writing, but there are plenty of women writers in Nottingham who ought to be celebrated too.

Mary Howitt lived in Nottingham when she published the poem ‘The Spider and the Fly’ in 1829. ‘The Spider and the Fly’ has been referenced by everybody from The Cure to Doctor Who. Howitt’s Nottingham-born daughter, Anna Mary Howitt, was an early feminist, painter and writer of spiritualist books.

Ada Lovelace is often described as the world’s first computer programmer. In 1842, Lovelace translated and greatly expanded an Italian article on an Analytical Engine and her finished work is recognised as the world’s first computer programme. She is buried in Hucknall, a short tram-ride away from the centre of Nottingham.

Dorothy Whipple, who has eight titles republished by Persephone, lived in Nottingham for most of her life. Two of her novels, They Were Sisters and They Knew Mr Knight, were made into films in the mid-forties; after years of being caught in book-wilderness, they are now thankfully back in print.


Today there is a thriving writing scene in Nottingham, much of it spearheaded by women. The University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University host wonderful creative writing courses; notable alumni include Nicola Monaghan (author of three novels, including the wonderfully gritty The Killing Jar) and Kim Slater (author of the acclaimed YA book, Smart).

Sarah Jackson teaches on Nottingham Trent University’s creative writing course, and her first collection of poetry, Pelt, won the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry in 2012. Her writing is haunting yet beautiful; often examining the uncomfortable in everyday life.

Communities and Writing Workshops

Nottingham Writers Studio is a place for Nottingham-based writers to work and discuss their writing, and is home to many great writers, including the wonderful Alison Moore. Moore’s second novel, He Wants, was published in 2014. And her first novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Nottingham’s biggest bookshop, Waterstones Nottingham, hosts writing courses set up by Writing East Midlands. These courses are taught by local authors; a recent class completed by poet Jacqueline Gabbitas focused on contemporary environmental poetry, and how nature poetry can be written whilst living in a city.

Mouthy Poets is a poetry group, currently on tour, set up by Deborah Stevenson for people aged 15 – 30 who want to write and perform their own poetry. Through Mouthy Poets, young people can have their voices heard.

Local Bookshops

Five Leaves Bookshop is the ‘first independent general bookshop in Nottingham this century’ and is fantastic. Five Leaves hosts many talks and poetry events featuring people such as Helen Mort and Jo Dixon; both of whom were featured in For Books’ Sake’s own poetry anthology, Furies. Five Leaves also has an excellent section on women’s issues.


Bromley House Library is a beautiful refuge in the middle of the city, founded in 1816. It hosts many events and even has its own secret garden.

Bromley House’s writer-in-residence is Judith Allnatt, a short story writer and novelist. Allnatt’s second book, The Poet’s Wife, focuses on Patty Turner, the wife of John Clare, as Clare falls into madness and believes himself married to his childhood sweetheart; Allnatt says that she had to ‘give Patty a voice.’


Nottingham’s second Festival of Words happened in October 2014 and hosted a diverse selection of wonderful local and not-so-local authors. From Ali Smith, who discussed her amazing novel How to be Both, to Sujata Bhatt, who discussed her eight volumes of evocative poetry, the events were creative and exciting and a real boost to all of the literary based groups in the area. We’re looking forward to the third!