“In the end, we’ll all become stories.” – Margaret Atwood

Our wonderful heritage volunteers, Rosemary and Richard, have recently researched Woking’s literary history – covering topics such as Woking libraries, local newspapers and famous authors who lived in Woking.

This week, we are looking beyond HG Wells at some other distinguished literary figures who have drawn inspiration from the area.

John Braine (1922- 1986)

A radical author from post-war days. John Braine, who although a dour Yorkshireman from Bingley and one of the ‘angry young men’ of the 1950s came to live and write in Woking in 1966, rapidly adapting to middle-class ways.

Raymond Harold Sawkins (aka Colin Forbes, Richard Raine, Jay Bernard and Harold English) (1923-2006)

He published three of his first books under his own name, but is best known for his 24 thrillers in a series, featuring Tweed, Deputy Director of the Secret Intelligence Service. In Woking he lived successively in Woodham Road, Elm Road and Heathside Road. On his death the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds inherited his estate, which was their biggest donation to date.

Andrew Swanston (b. 1949)

Local author Andrew Swanston has held various positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone's and chairman of Methven's PLC. His first book, ‘The King's Codebreaker’ was published pseudonymously in 2010, reissued in 2012 as ‘The King's Spy’ under his own name. His books are largely set in the sixteenth century and in Napoleonic times.   

There are many authors who are buried in Brookwood Cemetery or who were cremated at Woking Crematorium who cannot be counted among Woking’s literary heritage, but that may be another story.

Not only writers, but locations and quotations…

Most readers will know of the location of H G Wells’s ‘War of the Worlds’ in Woking, but there are some other references as well.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story ‘The Adventure of the Naval Treaty’ was first published in ‘The Strand Magazine’ in 1883, and then in ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’. It concerns the theft of the treaty from the London office of one Percy Phelps who lived in Woking and entails several visits by Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson to Woking. The whole story is available to read online. Doyle knew Woking quite well as he was a member of New Zealand Golf Club, and in the tradition of the club his name remains, with a line painted through it, on his locker there.

Edward Lear’s limerick, familiar to many from its opening appearing on the floor of Woking’s Story runs: “There was an old person of Woking,/Whose mind was perverse and provoking;/ He sat on a rail, with his head in a pail,/ That illusive old person of Woking.”

Neither of Paul Weller’s two songs ‘A Town called Malice’ and ‘Amongst Butterflies’ actually mention Woking by name, but the former is generally seen as expressing contempt for the town while the latter is a more reflective piece on the calm of The Peace Garden, formerly the Muslim Burial Ground.

Paul Weller's guitar. Available to view in Woking's Story

Andrew Martin’s ‘The Necropolis Railway - A Novel of Murder, Mystery and Steam’ (Faber and Faber, 2002) is set around the railway which linked London and Brookwood Cemetery until 1941.

If any reader can recall other references to Woking in literature – prose, drama or poetry – we would be pleased to hear of them. Who are your favourite authors? Were you surprised to discover that some of these well-known authors had lived in Woking?

For more blog posts on Woking’s literary history – or some fun ideas for staying creative, please visit our blog.