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female writers

Storytelling Queens - Beloved British and Irish Female Writers

Rabbie
Posted on 24 Oct 2023

What makes a good story? What is it about the characters that make us fall in love with them, despite being fictional? What is it about the plot that makes such an impression we can’t help but recommend it to everyone we know?  

Travel is made up of stories. Everywhere you go, there’s a story to be told. There’s a story in the vintage street sign on that alley you just wandered down. There’s a story about that pub you just drank at. Thers’s a story about why those standing stones ended up in that foggy moor... though we may never know that story.  

We love telling stories here at Rabbie’s. It’s our bread and butter. Every day on tour, that’s what we do. We tell stories as you create one of your own. 

And that got us thinking... about the amazing writers that have come from this very land. From the United Kingdom, a small patch of land when compared to the rest of the world, and yet some of the world’s greatest storytellers are ours. Maybe that’s why you’re here, to connect to the places where the great writers are from. To learn about their history, to get a glimpse into what their life might have been like. Or maybe you’re yet to discover many of these wonderful writers. If that’s the case, we thought it might be fun to run through some of the UK’s most notable female writers. This blog was inspired by a conversation our marketing team were having one day about one of our tours in which we visit the Lake District. We got to talking about its connections to the famous Beatrix Potter... and the rest is history.

Without further ado, meet the A-team. 

Beatrix Potter (England, 1866 – 1943)

Let’s start with the woman that inspired this blog post. We (and by that we mean the Marketing Team) were having a little chat about storytelling and inspiration a while ago and the name popped up. Beatrix Potter. She came to mind because we visit the Lake District on several of our tours, and the Lake District is (partly) famous for its connection to this famous children’s author.  

More than just a writer, Beatrix was also a talented illustrator and is best known for her children’s books “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”. It’s widely known that our dear Ms Potter drew inspiration for several of her stories from the Lake District. Something about that wild natural beauty, teeming with wildlife of all sorts, stuck with her. Inspired her. And she used the Lake District’s incredible landscapes, flora, and fauna as backdrops and characters in her stories.  

Beatrix was also a passionate conservationist. We can just imagine her looking around at the beautiful landscape that inspired her day after day, knowing she had to help preserve it. In particular, she was oddly drawn to mycology (the study of fungi) and became an authority on the subject, supporting its conservation in the Lake District region. 

It’s no surprise then that she set up shop in this place she loved so much. Beatrix purchased Hill Top Farm in 1905, and this picturesque farm with its stone buildings and luscious gardens became her home. Today, you can even pop into Hill Top Farm which is now a museum dedicated to her life and work. 

Leaving a legacy beyond the books that are still loved today, Beatrix’s conservation efforts continue to influence the region’s approach to preservation. And her detailed illustrations of the Lake District’s flora and fauna did more than enrich her novels, they added to the scientific understanding of the region. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kim Burton (@kimedith)

Jane Austen (England, 1775 – 1817)

Surely this one needs no introduction. The accomplished and brilliant Jane Austen. You’ve likely read at least one of her novels, whether it be the iconic Pride and Prejudice or the eerie Northanger Abbey, her books are beloved for a reason.  

They might sound like ‘girly’ books about love and finding a husband and family issues – but the beauty of Jane’s work is the passionate way in which she writes about universal emotions from head-butting family dynamics to people’s inability to resist falling head-first into love. All the while her books are as atmospheric as one would imagine from books set in England in the 18th and 19th centuries.  

Get ready for sweeping moors, luscious farmscapes, and idyllic cobbled villages. Quaint notions like dropping your handkerchief to get a man’s attention. Dance-cards at the local ball (an odd concept). And those good old days when you were considered poor even if your two-story stoned house would be considered a mansion in these bleak modern times.  

Austen’s novels explored the everyday lives and dilemmas of those living in an English society in the 18th and 19th centuries. She is often credited with setting the standard for novel writing and is praised for her complex and compelling characters. Her knack for taking seemingly dry and bland moments in the daily lives of her characters and injecting wit and humour into them has resulted in her work’s enduring popularity.  

Jane existed in a male-dominated world – not to mention striving to be part of a male-dominated industry. But her strong-willed heroines and championing female agency in a world that so often tried to squash it has ensured her books are a staple across the world.  

Rabbie’s own Bron was visiting Bath earlier in the year and she had the pleasure of learning more about Jane’s life at the Jane Austen Centre. Jane and her family lived in Bath from 1801 until 1806 and this gorgeous vacation city became a significant part of her life and even influenced her writing. Northanger Abbey is predominately set in Bath, while Persuasion explores the city’s stimulating social scene.  

Supposedly, Jane had mixed feelings about Bath, raising issues with the city’s high costs (not much has changed there) and the superficiality of the upper-class society that frequented Bath. But, like any good author, Jane explored this in her writing, such as in Persuasion, in which she explores the city’s stimulating scene. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tamara (@iren_jsi)

Ali Smith (Scotland, 1962 – present)

Jumping ahead in time now to the current day, an author living in a modern society, a world we know and understand... for the most part. You may have seen Scottish author Ali Smith’s books around at your local bookshop. If not, now’s the time to get looking.  

Born in the city of Inverness back in 1962, Ali Smith’s writing career didn’t begin until many years later in 1995 when she published a collection of short stories called Free Love and Other Stories. Clearly an intelligent and well-read woman, her name quickly became synonymous with talent, her work noted for its distinctive style, clever wordplay, literary references, and thematic depth. But she didn’t just stop there. She has a wide collection to her name, including novels, short stories, and essays.  

Perhaps her most known work is her seasonal quartet, Autumn (2016), Winter (2017), Spring (2019), and Summer (2020). This series of novels explores contemporary issues and the human experience in the context of four seasons through the eyes of her characters. At the time of publication, her works were deeply connected to the social and political landscape of the time – but it’s Smith’s creativity, playfulness, and depth that made people fall in love with her work. 

Kate Roberts (Wales, 1891 – 1985)

You’re not from Wales unless you’re from a place with a complicated name. Rhosgadfan. Doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it? But that’s where Kate Roberts grew up with her Welsh-speaking family. It’s said that growing up with the sound of complex Welsh words all around her was a big influence on her love of the Welsh language and culture. Something many today don’t even know that much about. 

Her love for her culture continued throughout her work as a schoolteacher. She helped preserve and promote the use of the Welsh language by teaching it across several communities. Then in the early 20th century, Kate’s writing career began. Across her body of work – including novels, short stories, and essays – she depicted the life and culture and community of Wales, exploring the day-to-day, challenges and their way of life. 

Her dedication to the promotion and preservation of the Welsh language and culture has resulted in several awards and honours. She is widely recognised for her celebration of the Welsh identity and her involvement in resuscitating the threatened Welsh language.  

Agatha Christie (England, 1890 – 1976)

You know you’ve achieved greatness when you earn yourself the nickname the “Queen of Mystery”. How badass can one woman get? You know Agatha Christie. Trust us. If you’ve not read one of her detective novels, you’ve at least heard of them. Murder on the Orient Express. Death on the Nile. The incomparable Hercule Poirot, a detective with both charm, wit, and brains.  

Agatha’s love for the written word began at a young age and through her home education, that love was developed and nourished. After marriage and some time serving in World War I, Christie published her first Detective Poirot novel in 1920. Her iconic creation – a man who is the very characterisation of old-school detective – is revered today. It’s said that the inspiration for Poirot likely came from many influences, including her time aiding Belgian refugees and working with Belgian police during World War I (since Poirot is Belgian), the incredible works of Arthur Conan Doyle and his own detective Sherlock Holmes, and her own unique genius. 

Christie was a machine. Her writing career spanned over six decades during which she produced 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, and the world’s longest-running play The Mousetrap, which opened in London’s West End in 1952 and ran continuously until 2020. Only a global pandemic could stop her... and only temporarily.  

We can only imagine what it might have been like inside her mind. To create some of the most famous detectives to ever exist in literature (because let's not forget about Miss Marple!), to weave together such intricate plots, and to keep readers on the edge of their seats with unexpected twists and cleverly concealed clues... simply put: the woman was a genius. She was the Hercule Poirot of writing. A giant in her field. Undeniably brilliant.  

Maeve Binchy (Ireland, 1939 - 2012)

Some writers are remembered for their mind-bending plot-twists. Others are remembered for their sharp observations about society. And some are remembered for their heartwarming stories. For their passionate insights into the lives of everyday people.  

This was Maeve Binchy’s specialty. Born in Dalkey in Ireland in 1940, Maeve started her life as a teacher and journalist before becoming a full-time author. Her time spent as a journalist continued to influence her life, her later novels defined by their accessibility and relatability. She spent much of her time as a journalist exploring the lives of common folk and this led to her novels being filled with richly developed characters, multi-dimensional and highly relatable.  

Maeve’s novels centered on themes of love, friendship, family, and the complexities of human relationships. She was a celebrated storyteller, her writing evoking deep emotions of warmth, love, and hope. Because of this, her work became highly regarded around the world.  

Readers love dramatic tales of epic fantasy quests. They love a classic whodunnit. They love a political drama that could end in hope or tragedy. But, at the end of the day, we’re humans first, readers second. We’re always looking for little pieces of ourselves in the things we read. The essence of human emotions and relationships. What it means to be heartfelt. What it means to suffer, to love, to have hope. And Maeve Binchy’s work tapped into those very ideas. 

“I don’t have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories. I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks.” - Maeve Binchy 

Humans are storytellers by nature. Through song, dance, the written word, art on cave walls, art on gallery walls... we’ll find endless ways to share our thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Without stories, who are we? Without these storytellers, perhaps all would be lost. But that’s the thing: we’re all storytellers. When you recount what happened at work to your loved ones, you’re a storyteller. When you tell your family about that wild experience you had while travelling, you’re a storyteller. It’s how we relate. It’s how we learn and grow. It’s sometimes how we experience the world, which is why we strive to be storytellers here at Rabbie’s too.  

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