A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
You might think Baskerville Hall (of Sherlock Holmes/Hounds of… fame) is in Devon, but it isn’t. I’m glad I knew this before I set off down to South Wales for my cousin’s wedding party several years ago, which happened to be taking place at Baskerville Hall, not far from the town of Hay-on-Wye (of Hay Festival/town of books fame).
This was my first time visiting a location so tied to a work of fiction; one I’d seen so vividly brought to life within a book and on screen over and over again. You might expect the place where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his most famous mystery to be rather grand, and it was – with pillared halls and galleried staircases, roll top baths and four poster beds, I felt more than a little shabby chugging up to it in my ancient white Saxo. But I also felt like I was entering a magical space – a feeling not exactly hindered by the New Age festival going on in the grounds – where the local legend of a ghostly hound had sparked a great writer’s imagination almost a century earlier. (In case you’re wondering why Doyle’s classic mystery is set in Devon rather than South Wales, it was because the Baskerville family didn’t want the dreadful hassle of having to deal with tourists. I think I would have liked the Baskervilles.)
I’ve visited a few places with literary connections since then, but none quite so famous. There’s Hilltop, the cottage in the Lake District where Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated her children’s tales; Cawdor Castle, as featured in Shakespeare’s Macbeth; Devil’s Bridge in Ceredigion, which inspired William Wordsworth to write The Torrent at Devil’s Bridge, and – slightly more tenuously – Lyme Park, where the lake scene from the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice was filmed (incidentally, they now have a massive statue of him in the lake, as though Darcy was some 15-foot giant… although maybe the sizing is symbolic?)
One of the great things about reading books set in real places is that even if I never get to visit them, I can feel as though I have. I got that sense after reading Lou Morgan’s vivid depiction of the Barbican in Central London in Sleepless, and Ruth Morgan’s futuristic version of Cardiff Museum in her brilliant novel Alien Rain.
My books have so far never been set anywhere real (although I try to make them feel as though they are). Blackfin Sky is set in a nowhere-ish town where wishing wells steal your money, and dead girls turn up at school; Breaker takes place in a gothic Pennsylvanian boarding school inspired by a derelict asylum in North Wales; and the cult-like community of Alteria in Purge is built inside a floating beige egg. All of these places are only as real as my words can make them.
That said, one of the things I find most useful when I need to fill up the ol’ inspiration bank is visiting weird and wonderful places. I love wandering historical buildings and dark forests, picking my way through the ruins of Cistercian abbeys, going ghost hunting in the early hours armed only with a camera and divining rods, sparking ideas that might make it into some future book. Maybe one day you will spot one of these places in my writing – a castle guarded by crows, a battlefield, a waterfall hiding forgotten caves… whatever the place, I’ll do my best to transport you there.
Kat Ellis is a YA author from North Wales. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time photographing ruins and cemeteries to inspire her creepy stories. PURGE is her third novel, and BREAKER and BLACKFIN SKY are also available now.