Walking In Their Footsteps


With Freshers’ Week quickly approaching, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when you promise yourself you’re going to make the most of your time in Exeter, whether it’s your first year or your last (eek!). One of my personal yearly promises to myself is to write more, because every writer knows that the first rule of being a writer is to, well, write something. For me, this usually goes out of the window by the time my first essay titles are published, but I decided this would be a good opportunity to compile a list of my favourite writers who have also called Devon home, in an attempt to inspire us all to pick up our pens, laptops, or typewriters (though I would suggest not attempting to carry the latter to campus).

Jane Austen – she is a well-known and much-loved figure all over the world, and is often known for her associations with the south-west city of Bath. However, she also spent holidays in Devon and loved it enough to set her first novel Sense and Sensibility in the village of Upton Pyne which is only a few miles outside of Exeter. Personally, if there’s one thing I always take from Austen it’s an appreciation for aesthetically beautiful writing.

Ginny Bailey – a graduate of the University of Exeter, her debut novel Africa Junction was published in 2011 and was awarded The McKitterick Prize which is awarded annually to a debut novelist over the age of 40. She is also co-editor and a writer for Riptide Journal which publishes volumes of short stories and poetry, alongside co-editor and writer Sally Flint.

Matt Harvey – describing himself as a “Writer, poet, [and] enemy of all that’s difficult and upsetting”, Matt is well known as a comic poet. He has been widely published in many forms, including short stories, poetry, and he has also has his own mini-series on Radio 4. He lives in Totnes, Devon and recently performed two short slots at TEDxExeter 2013. I have included the second of these below (as it’s my favourite of the two):


Alice Oswald – a British poet who lives in Devon, she is well-recognised for her poetry and has won several awards. These include the T.S. Eliot prize for her second collection entitled Dart (2002) which tells the story of the River Dart in Devon from source to sea through both poetry and short prose. My favourite of her collections, however, is Weeds and Wildflowers (2009) which is wonderfully laid out with the poems sitting opposite intricate etchings by artist Jessica Greenman.

J.K. Rowling – Frankly, I couldn’t write this list without including her. Everyone has heard of the Harry Potter author, but not everyone knows that she walked the hallowed halls not just of Hogwarts, but also the University of Exeter. She studied French and Classics, and there are countless rumours about Exeter landmarks that have inspired places in the wizarding world. Whether you believe them all is up to you – personally I have never quite bought the one about the Washington Singer toilets inspiring the Chamber of Secrets…

These are only a handful of the successful writers who have lived in Devon over the years and it’s easy to see why there are so many, as there’s plenty to be inspired by in Exeter and its surrounding area. From the beautiful scenery to the wonderful architecture of the city, Exeter combines the movement of the city with the tranquility of being in the countryside. So get out there while the sun is still at least partly with us and find something that inspires you!

Happy writing,

Teresa x

by Teresa Gale

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