Is Chiswick Britain’s most literary location?

Famous authors associated with Chiswick

Chiswick’s writers have created some of the country’s greatest works, from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair to John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.  Director of the Chiswick Book Festival Torin Douglas decided to see how many writers there were who had some association with Chiswick, for the tenth Chiswick Book festival in 2018.

The best-known include Alexander Pope (who lived next to the Brewery), WM Thackeray, WB Yeats, EM Forster, GK Chesterton, Harold Pinter, Dame Iris Murdoch, Anthony Burgess, Patrick Hamilton, John Osborne, Sir John Betjeman, Sir Arthur Pinero and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Chiswick Writers Trail

Torin has created a Writers Trail featuring 21 acclaimed novelists, poets and playwrights who have lived in Chiswick or written about the area. He produced a leaflet for the 2018 Chiswick Book Festival with brief description of each writer and their connection with Chiswick, including a map so you can walk round and find the places where they lived. You can download the leaflet here.

He borrowed the idea from the Artists Trail, created by Karen Liebreich and Sarah Cruz for the launch of the Chiswick Timeline mural under the railway bridge on Turnham Green Terrace. You can download the Artists Trail leaflet here.

Chiswick Timeline of Writers and Books

‘Everyone has a book in them and that, in most cases, is where it should stay.’

The line is attributed to the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, well known for his sardonic wit and devastating put downs, (though it may have been recycled from an earlier acerbic cynic). It’s an argument which cuts absolutely no ice in Chiswick, whose population, undeterred by such negativity, seems to think they all have a story to tell and the ability to tell it. That may be a slight exaggeration but there does seem to be a remarkable glut of authors in a relatively small area.

Torin embarked on the massive undertaking of finding all the authors who live or have lived in Chiswick who have ever published a book. At time of writing the list was upwards of 250, which prompted the Observer and Guardian to pose the question: Could Chiswick be the most literary location in Britain?

Image above: snapshot of the Timeline of Writers and Books ‘how it all began’ page from The Chiswick Book Festival website

The project which started in the Book Festival’s 10th year has grown beyond all expectation and become something of a labour of love. 

“When we started the Chiswick Book Festival, I wanted to celebrate the writers who have lived here, because I thought Chiswick’s record had been under-recognised” says Torin. “I knew there were distinguished writers with W4 connections, and famous residents who’d written their memoirs, as well as less well-known authors, poets and dramatists. But I never suspected we’d find 250 – or that so many of them would be quite so distinguished!”

See the Chiswick Book Festival Timeline of Writers and Books here.