Horrible Histories are great - but they are just part of Sunderland's rich literary heritage
Wearside’s literary fame is set to be raised with the release of the all-star Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans, based on the books by Sunderland’s Terry Deary, who has sold over 25 million copies in 32 languages.
It’s always gratifying when local talent thrives. Hurrah then for Jessica Andrews too. Her debut novel, Saltwater, which draws heavily on her adolescence in Washington, is not one of your self-published, vanity projects.
It was printed by major publisher Hodder and Stoughton, whose prestigious author roster includes Stephen King, John Grisham and JM Barrie.
It’s an achievement for authors to be published at all. For a debut author to land a biggie as Andrews, 27, has done is bordering on the impossible (unless, of course, you happen to be a celebrity, in which case they’ll publish any old piffle that leaves your pen).
Saltwater is in both hardback and paperback; which means that Andrews’ publishers really rate her. She is scoring sales and reviews.
She is the latest addition to Wearside’s surprisingly (to some) rich literary heritage. This continues today with the sensational prose in your local newspaper; but it goes way back.
About 1,300 years ago in Monkwearmouth, theologian, scholar and Mackem, the Venerable Bede, knocked out some of Christianity’s most important literary works. Mind you, I’ve never read them.
Nor have I ever curled up of an evening with the 1802 book Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity by Sunderland philosopher William Paley.
Again, not a rib-tickler, but a seminal book arguing the case for intelligent design that inspired Richard Dawkins’ response 184 years later in The Blind Watchmaker.
Rather more accessible are the works of Roker’s Alf Wight, AKA James Herriot.
His hugely popular books were adapted into the television series All Creatures Great and Small, which ensured that no one would ever look at a veterinary’s left arm in quite the same way again.
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Houghton thriller writer Sheila Quigley is another author of significance.
Former MP and Sunderland resident of over 30 years, Chris Mullin, has written diaries and memoirs, lauded across the political spectrum, as well as his novel A Very British Coup, which was adapted for television; twice.
It’s well known that the fun but loopy classics of Lewis Carroll were much inspired by Sunderland. Like all great authors, he spent his holidays in Southwick. His sister Mary married a bloke from there.
Also drawing inspiration from Sunderland, regrettably, was the famously dreadful Victorian “poet” William McGonagall, whose work is still in print today; although only so people can snigger as he was so spectacularly awful.
His 1883 rubbish, The Sunderland Calamity, concerns the Victoria Hall disaster and contains the gloriously excruciating couplet:
“Her Majesty’s grief for the bereaved parents has been profound,
And I’m glad to see that she has sent them £50.”
That was one of his better efforts too. We’re sure he meant well.
McGonagall aside - what a list. Who’ll join it next?