Northern Writers

by Laura Storey & Sophia Smith



Off t’ Huddersfield wi Armitage

Poet laureate since 2019 and a professor of poetry at the University of Leeds, for a northern lad, Simon Armitage hasn’t done bad for himself. Pulsing with dry Yorkshire wit, his accessible poetry is beloved by many throughout the north and beyond. Growing up in the village of Marsden, encased by moors, many of his poems capture the routines of the village locals observed from his childhood bedroom window.

Armitage’s words are literally carved into the landscape of the valleys and moors in which he lives, with six of his poems carved in rock and forming the Stanza Stones Trail – a 47-mile walking path from Armitage’s hometown to the Ilkley Literature Festival for which the six poems were commissioned.

Armitage’s words are literally carved into the landscape of the valleys…

As well as his hometown, Armitage’s poetry has been inspired by many momentous world events, from his first poem as Poet Laureate commemorating the 1969 moon landing, to the poem ‘Lockdown’, which was a nod to the pandemic. After the Queen’s passing, Armitage celebrated her life with a poem, thanking her for her decades of service. The poem is arranged so that the first letter of each line combines to read Elizabeth.

‘Off t’ Hull wi’ Larkin

A 7ft statue of Phillip Larkin stands at Hull railway station, a monument to the city’s best-known poet and one who, if you read his early work in the city and his correspondence, detested the city, describing it as a “fish-smelling dump”. Larkin was born in Coventry but moved up to Hull when he was appointed as a librarian at the university. His letters during his early years in the city show him settling in, but not in a good way– “every day I sink a little further”.

I don’t suppose I’m unhappier here than I should be anywhere else.

Something about the city, however, began to grow on him –“the surprise of a large town” where “spires and cranes cluster” less pretentious than London, Phillip Larkin is known to have written his best work in Hull with his best-known poetry stemming from the city –the Whitsun Weddings, Here and Arundel Tomb. Some say he even liked the city and is quoted as “I don’t suppose I’m unhappier here than I should be anywhere else.” High praise from the typically gloomy poet. Despite Larkin’s lukewarm view of Hull, the city continues to celebrate this literary connection; the Larkin Trail encourages visitors to explore the university and Avenues area where Larkin spent much of his time.

Off t’ Pennines wi’ the Brontës

For fans of the Brontës, nowhere on earth (not even Lancashire), can quite compare to their literary location of the village of Haworth, West Yorkshire. The Brontë family moved here in 1820 when Patrick Brontë, the sisters’ father, got a job as the local vicar. Visit Thornton village, which is the birthplace of the sisters and their brother Branwell; they were born here while their father was the Parson at Thornton Church before moving to Haworth.

Top Withens on the Moors is the location where Wuthering Heights is set…

Stanbury is a little village near Haworth; Ponden Hall was a 17th Century farmhouse where the Bronte children played and is said to have inspired the farmhouse in Wuthering Heights as well as ‘Thrushcross Grange’ and ‘Wildfell Hall’. From Stanbury, you can walk to the ‘Bronte Waterfall’ and Top Withens. Top Withens on the Moors is the location where Wuthering Heights is set and is a great walking location and perfect for enjoying the beautiful scenery on the Pennine Moors. It’s an absolute must-see for any Wuthering Heights fans! This rugged landscape inspired the book’s setting; you can take a walk across the moors, which is best on a cloudy and windswept day when the landscapes really come to life to recreate the book’s haunting atmosphere.



The Wardstone Chronicles: Delaney woz ‘ere

Preston-born Joseph Delaney is best known for creating his dark fantasy series, The Wardstone Chronicles. These books are chock-full of witches, wizards, and ghosts. When naming some of his fictitious places, he drew heavily on the county where he grew up. Preston is a loose inspiration for Priestown. Blackpool is Black Pool, Lancaster is Caster, and Chipping in the Ribble Valley is considered to have inspired Chipenden.

The haunted house is based on Preston’s Number 1 Water Lane…

The Spook’s Apprentice, the first book in the series, was made into a film in 2015 titled Seventh Son. All of The Spook’s apprentices are taken to a spooky mansion in Horshaw, where they are instructed to descend to the cellar at midnight and confront whatever may be waiting there. While some pass the test and start their apprenticeship, others, like Tom Ward, flee, screaming into the darkness. The haunted house is based on Preston’s Number 1 Water Lane, where Delaney lived until he was eleven years old. They never used the attic, which had two modest rooms downstairs, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms. The door was mysteriously nailed shut. Delaney experienced the recurring dreams that are depicted in both “The Spook’s Apprentice” and “The Spook’s Tale”, but as far as he is aware, the house wasn’t haunted. Delaney, who was also raised in Preston, attended Lancashire University before founding the Media and Film Studies programme at Blackpool Sixth Form College.

The Familiars: Halls woz ‘ere

Lancashire literary would not be complete without mentioning the Pendle Witches. The Familiars contains real characters and events from the early 1600s. It’s a darkly atmospheric tale of friendship, loyalty and witchcraft. The Pendle Witch Trials serve as the backdrop to the story as it centres around Fleetwood Shuttleworth, the young mistress of Gawthorpe Hall. After losing three babies, we join Fleetwood as she is pregnant for the fourth time and hires Alice Gray to be her midwife after reading a letter that leads her to believe she won’t survive childbirth.

The really fascinating thing about this book is that it’s based on entirely true events, and all the people in it existed. Fleetwood Shuttleworth was the mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, and Alice Grey was accused of witchcraft.

It’s based on entirely true events, and all the people in it existed…

Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire.

The Fortunes of Philippa: Brazil woz ‘ere

Angela Brazil captivated generations of readers with her schoolgirl adventures as one of Lancashire’s most prolific published writers. Born in Preston in 1868, she is also acknowledged as being one of the earliest British writers of modern schoolgirl stories.

Angela, the youngest of four children, was primarily raised by her mother, who instilled in her a love of nature, reading, and art. At the age of 18, she rejected university studies in favour of attending Heatherley’s Art College in London, where she afterwards worked as a governess. She travelled to Europe and the Middle East with her sister Amy and mother when her father died in 1899.

Surprisingly, Angela didn’t begin writing professionally until she was 36. From 1904 until her death in 1947, she produced at least one book a year, over 50 titles in all.

Characterised by her own memories, the use of schoolgirl slang, close friendships, respect for authority, and dedication to sports and games, particularly hockey, established a prominent sub-genre of children’s writing. Brazil’s work challenged gender stereotypes, particularly in the stories she published during World War I, in which her female characters insisted on their ability to contribute to the war effort. She presented a young female point of view, aware of contemporary issues; she acknowledged adolescence as a time of transition and embraced girls as having interests and concerns that could be shared and addressed. Almost all subsequent school fiction, notably boarding school stories from Enid Blyton to Harry Potter, can be traced back to her legacy.

NorthernLife July/Aug 23