It’s been a few difficult years for me in the UK. During the run up to Brexit, political divisions within the nations became bitterly apparent and then the pandemic tore the community, economics and security apart even further. Sometimes I’ve felt ashamed to be English and not at home in the country at all. However, for all the regrettable posturing and poor political decision-making in some parts, the islands of this small corner of the North Sea are rich in culture and creativity. For that, I am proud. My latest map, ‘A Map of Literary and Musical Houses of Britain and Ireland ‘, commissioned by The Literary Map Company, highlights many of the writers and composers who have lived here.
The map pinpoints historical homes and associations of creative greats such as Jane Austen in Hampshire, J.M Barrie (author of ‘Peter Pan’) in the Scottish highlands or poet, WB. Yeats in Ireland. Buildings range from the suburban houses of Lennon and McCartney in Liverpool to the grand turrets and crenellations of Lord Byron’s home at Newstead Abbey.
An elaborate border is filled with writing paraphernalia. Illustrations of musical instruments and music scores are woven throughout. Quotations in scrolls fill the seas with words and wisdom from each artist talking of the love of home or how to feel at home in life wherever you are…
Literary bookplates (used for dedications in the front of books) inspire the front cover panel. The featured houses form a curious artistic village of jostling styles and varying levels of grandeur.
You can visit many of these places. Step inside the tiny writing shed at Dylan Thomas‘ Boathouse on the Welsh coast. With the sound of seagulls above you, imagine how he stirred up the magic of ‘Under Milk Wood’ there. Breathe in the quiet and gentle air of John Milton’s Cottage in Buckinghamshire. Within its prayer-soaked walls, he completed ‘Paradise Lost’.
Some of the showcased writers and composers worked through great periods of historical upheaval and I can’t imagine how important the wood, the bricks and mortar, the tiles and thatch of those houses were to each artist. Their homes must have allowed them the security and solitude to create – regardless of what was happening in the world outside.
By necessity, I have spent much time in my own home in the last year; locked down, sometimes reading or listening to music but still illustrating. It’s been hard but I have slowly come to the realisation that whatever political strife or global pandemic rages outside its walls, I should be grateful for the safe shelter of my small personal port-in-the-storm. And that, in itself, is a privilege and allows me to continue creating – doing what I love the most.
‘A Map of Literary and Musical Houses of Britain and Ireland’ will be available from The Literary Map Company and many of the featured houses across the countries. Opening times vary according to pandemic rules at the time of writing.