Literary footsteps


Luke Marlowe continues his journey across Great Britain in the footsteps of some of our favourite LGBT literary trailblazers. He stops off in Winchester, Devon and Cornwall to examine the locations and legacy of acclaimed writer Patrick Gale.

Books are a refuge for many of us. Growing up as a gay teenager, when the internet could only be accessed through a family computer and smartphones were a good few years away, books were a source of great comfort during an otherwise isolating experience.

Happily, my Grandmother regularly shared books with me, and Patrick Gale's Rough Music came my way. It was a book that described perfectly the complications of growing up gay, offering a much-needed life-line and an antidote to the loneliness associated with teenage years. 

Patrick's latest novel Take Nothing With You is out this month – and to mark the release, I wanted to take you to the places and locations that have played a main role in his books over the years.

First to Cornwall where Gale has lived since the late 1980's. Cornwall is, as Sir John Betjeman said, a land of "golden and unpeopled bays...Shadowy cliffs and sheep-worn ways". It’s a land of incredible contrast - both in terms of the beautiful landscapes, but also in terms of community. Rural isolation and a lack of high-paid work has resulted in a region determined to be one of the second poorest in Northern Europe.

Gale embraces that diversity, using many of his books to explore the contrasting county of Cornwall; The Cat Sanctuary examines an isolated community near Bodmin Moor; the trip back to the Cornwall of the 1960's in Rough Music; a careful study of a Penzance family in Notes from an Exhibition; and a West Cornish community thrown into turmoil in A Perfectly Good Man. You can visit practically any corner of Cornwall and be close to the landscapes described in Gale's books. But a few places are most definitely worth taking the time to visit. 

Pendeen appears in A Perfectly Good Man - and the lighthouse here has been keeping sailors safe for well over a century. The lighthouse is worth checking out, and the keepers cottages along the stunning coast have been converted into blissful holiday lets:

Pendeen itself is roughly 14 miles from St Ives. The walk between the two offers remarkably beautiful views and the National Trust offers advice on making the most of this beautiful landscape here:

Head over to the Penzance of Rough Music, and do a spot of shopping. It's a good place to grab some lunch and has an eclectic selection of shops offering everything from books to antiques. From Penzance it's a short drive to Marazion where you can catch a boat to St. Michael’s Mount, or if you're lucky enough to get there at low tide, you can walk across the causeway to the island. 

St Michael’s Mount is a beautiful rocky isle made all the more spectacular by a medieval church and castle It’s both a beautiful tourist destination, and a living, working community. The subtropical garden is stunning in the Summer and the views from the island are unforgettable:

In terms of when to visit - it could be worth basing your trip around one of the many festivals that Cornwall has to offer. Music is a huge part of Gale's books - especially Take Nothing With You, and you'll struggle to find a better celebration of music than the twice-yearly St Endellion festivals. Based close to Port Isaac, St Endellion is a small hamlet that has been hosting the St Endellion festival every Easter and Summer since 1974.

The festivals attract hugely talented artists performing a wide range of classical music, from chamber concerts to full blown operas:

Now in its sixth year, St Endellion is also where the North Cornwall Book Festival takes place, a popular event packed full of well-known authors. This October sees the festival hosting such names as Joanna Trollope, Nina Stibbe, Fiona Mozley, Cathy Retzenbrink, and Patrick Gale himself:

Moving away from Cornwall, we make a brief stop in Devon where an architectural curiosity just outside of Exmouth should prove a delightful distraction for an afternoon. In Patrick Gale's The Facts of Life, the reader views the life of Edward Pepper and his family in a building called "The Roundel", an octagonal house owned by generations of women. The inspiration for this house is "A La Ronde", a remarkable place dating back to 1749 that Gale brings to vivid life in his book. It’s now run by the National Trust and is an unforgettable place to spend a few hours:

Onwards to Winchester, a beautiful English cathedral city. Gale moved here as a child, boarding at the College, and subsequently it's a place that crops up in his books fairly often.

Both Friendly Fire, a tale of friendship, and The Whole Day Through, a tale of rekindled love, take place in and around Winchester.

Winchester is dominated by a huge cathedral - one of the largest in Europe. Construction began on the cathedral in 1079, and as a sacred building of huge importance it's seen royals married, crowned and buried here. Take in the magnificent High Altar, and head down to the often flooded crypt to view a rather otherworldly statue by Anthony Gormley:

Whilst in Winchester, it's worth dropping into Winchester City Mill, a working mill right in the centre of the city. Over 1000 years old, it was rebuilt in 1744 and has only recently been restored to full working order. It also serves as the official gateway to the South Downs National Park, so it's a great place to start a walk in this rather stunning part of the world:

From Winchester, we journey down to our final destination, Weston-super-Mare. Here is where Gale's latest novel Take Nothing With You is set, and it's a seaside town that offers remarkable views over the Bristol Channel to Wales. Wander down Beach Road and catch a glimpse of the buildings that likely influenced Gale in creating the old people’s home that Eustace grew up in, and, weather permitting, head down to Weston Beach and grab an ice cream, before heading further down the coast to the dramatic cliffs and Victorian fort at Brean Down. There’s also a National Trust run holiday home offering accommodation for four and a dog:

A beautiful piece about longing, growth, music and family, Take Nothing With You is published by Tinder Press and released on the 21st August. Head to for more information on Patrick’s books as well as details on where you can catch him on tour later this year.