The dramatics of the undulating coastlines, romance of the picturesque villages, and enchanting woodlands of Cornwall have been inspiring some of the world’s most influential novels and poems for centuries. Read on to discover 10 authors from Cornwall that lived and wrote their literature in our corner of the map.
Daphne du Maurier
One of the most famous authors from Cornwall, and one you probably knew about already – we couldn’t skip past the incredible works of literature that Daphne du Maurier penned during her time in our county. She moved to Cornwall in the late 1920s and made the pretty fishing town of Fowey her home.
Famous for her historical, gothic novels, she’s best known for writing Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, and The Birds – all set in Cornwall. The Birds also influenced a Hitchcock movie that combined Maurier’s writing with a similar true story of a bird attack on the coast of California, earning the story a spot in the cult classic movie vault.
William Golding wrote over 12 volumes of work in his lifetime, but it was his debut novel, Lord of the Flies, that would go on to make him a household name. Golding was born in Newquay at his Grandmother’s house – 48 Mount Wise to be precise! Although he moved around a lot in his life, many great childhoods would be spent in Cornwall, and in the last years of his life he lived in Perranarworthal.
You might have read a book by this Cornish author and not even realised it. Rosamunde Pilcher, born in Lelant in 1924, published her first ten novels under a pseudonym – Jane Fraser. Her romantic fiction has won awards, and the settings for her novels were often in Cornwall.
After her tenth book, she decided to start publishing her work under her birth name, and released a further 16 volumes of fiction. The most successful book of her career was The Shell Seekers, written in 1987. The book sold over 10 million copies in 40 different languages. The plot follows an elderly British woman who reflects back on her life over World War II.
Thomas Hardy was best known for his novels and poetry, with themes covering the social and economical struggles of the Victorian era. Born in Dorset in 1840, his link to Cornwall comes not through childhood or influence, but love. Alongside his writing, Hardy was an architect, and it was this occupation that led him to a short stint in Boscastle in 1870, where he was restoring the church of St Juliot.
Here, he met his future wife Emma Gifford, who is said to have inspired his third novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes. Her passing in 1912 had a traumatic impact on Hardy, and he would often make trips back to Cornwall to remember her, writing poems that reflected upon her death.
Winston Graham is the writer behind the 12 historical Poldark novels, written between 1945-2002 and set in Cornwall. Born in Manchester, Graham moved down to Perranporth when he was 17 years old, and lived there for a further 34 years.
He died in 2003, but his Cornish stories lived on, and the Poldark books were later adapted into an award-winning BBC television series between 2015-2019, with a large amount of the scenes filmed on Cornish soil. Some of the most famous filming locations included Botallack Mine, Bodmin Moor, Porthcurno, Charlestown, and Kynance Cove.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Night Manager, and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, are just some of the works of literature from John le Carré. The espionage novels he wrote followed on from a career as an intelligence officer, working for both MI5 and MI6.
The Cornish connection comes from the 40 years Carré lived in our county. He set up home in the West Cornish village of St Buryan, and even owned a mile of cliff near Land’s End. In 2020, at the age of 89, he passed away in Truro Hospital.
Born in Launceston, Charles Causley was one of the authors in Cornwall best known for sharing very candid and honest accounts of navy life in World War II, through the medium of poetry.
His first collection of poems, Farewell, Aggie Weston, were an ode to his personal experiences post-war, and the long-term effects he lived with. Causley loved his home in Launceston, and his final place of rest is in the churchyard at St Thomas Parish Church, where you can visit his grave, just down the road from his house.
Specialising in crime novels and murder mystery, Jessica Mann lived in Truro, and wrote 22 books in her lifetime. Alongside her fictional works, she dabbled in non-fiction too – one of her best-known works being Out Of Harm’s Way, a moving account of children from World War II who were evacuated overseas, published in 2005.
The final string to Mann’s bow was her broadcasting career. She often appeared on BBC One’s Question Time, and BBC Radio 4’s Round Britain Quiz.
Named by The Guardian as “the Queen of the contemporary Cornish novel”, Liz Fenwick has written 9 novels thus far. Her award-winning fiction focuses on romance, for the perfect escapism read, all set in various locations across Cornwall.
Her latest book, The Secret Shore, was released in May 2023, and follows the love story between Merry, a wartime map-maker, and Jake, an American officer, working on the rugged coastlines of Cornwall. Some of her other titles include, A Cornish Stranger, The River Between Us, and One Cornish Summer.
Patrick Gale is a British novelist, who has written Rough Music, The Aerodynamics of Pork, and Ease. Born in 1962 on the Isle of Wight, Gale moved to Cornwall in 1988, and has been an advocate for the literature industry and creative writing in the county.
He is currently the artistic director of the North Cornwall Book Festival, held annually in St Endellion, and is a patron of the Charles Causley Trust which creates opportunities for artists and authors in Cornwall. He also has involvement with the Penzance LitFest.