Classic British Authors

Whether it's a novel you can get lost in for hours on end or an exceptional adaptation to bring the tale to life, nothing beats a good story! And we've had some pretty brilliant storytellers here in the UK - they've crafted tales that have inspired us for generations and even shaped our understanding of history.

We can't list every British author we love - this article would be neverending if we did! - so, here are eight of our favourite classic authors and where you can explore to follow in their footsteps:

Charles Dickens

Photograph of Charles Dickens

It's impossible to grow up in the UK and not know the name Charles Dickens! One of the greatest writers of the Victorian era, his novels focused on the lives of the poorer, working-class members of society rather than the upper classes, making his work very popular among English and History teachers alike.

It's no surprise that he felt the need to report on the plight of those in poverty. After spending a happy period of his childhood in Chatham, near Rochester, in Kent, 12-year-old Dickens suddenly found himself working 10 hours a day in a shoe-blacking factory while his father was sent to debtors prison. He didn't let this experience stop him, though, and he drew inspiration from this time to fuel some of his best-known works, including Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit and The Old Curiosity Shop.

Between 1833 and his death in 1870, aged 58, he wrote 22 novels - many of which started as serials - as well as a number of short stories, poems, plays, essays and non-fiction collections. 

To read...

  • A Christmas Carol - Dickens' most famous works and probably one of his best. A great read, especially in the lead-up to the festive season.
  • David Copperfield - Dickens' favourite of his books and a semi-autobiographical tale. The story paints a pretty bleak but insightful picture of Victorian England.
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood - the last of Dickens' tales, which he never finished. It isn't quite like the rest of his novels but is definitely worth a read.

To explore...

While Dickens’ tales may conjure up images of Victorian London, many key locations in several of his books – particularlyThe Pickwick Papers and Great Expectations – are based on real-life places in Rochester, including The Bull Hotel, The Guildhall and Satis House. The author’s links to the town definitely haven’t been forgotten, with a Dickensian Christmas Festival being held every year on the first weekend in December, featuring stalls, street entertainment and brilliant costumes.

You'll pass plenty of places linked to the author on the Rochester - A Dickens Mystery detective Trail, where you'll hunt high and low for evidence, patrolling past Tudor townhouses and through medieval gardens to the towering Rochester castle.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Photograph of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Scottish-born Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may be best known for his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, but that's far from the only tale created by this prolific writer. Doyle actually started out studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, which is where he became a pupil of Joseph Bell, whose skills in deduction became the inspiration for Holmes.

It was at university that he began writing short stories and articles for publication in various periodicals, a hobby he continued as he began his career. But while his medical career failed, his writing flourished, with the 1891 publication of A Scandal in Bohemia in the Strand Magazine introducing the great detective and his creator to the wider world.

During his career, Doyle had over 200 stories and articles published. He also wrote 13 books and 10 pamphlets about spiritualism and the paranormal, an area he was particularly interested and invested in - he was a member of The Ghost Club, a renowned paranormal investigation organisation. Even after publically being fooled by the Cottingley Fairies hoax, he was still steadfast in his beliefs until his death in 1930.

To read...

  • A Study in Scarlet - the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, who've since become the most famous fictional detective duo.
  • The Lost World - the first book of the popular Professor Challenger series. The sci-fi tale sees the professor head to a South American plateau, where dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals still roam.
  • Round the Fire Stories - an often forgotten collection of 17 short stories, these macabre tales of suspense, adventure and the unexplained are among Doyle's finest works.

To explore...

With so many settings across Doyle's various tales, there are plenty of places in the UK and beyond to explore. One must-see is, of course, 221B Baker Street in London, the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes, which is also the home of the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

The Hampshire village of Minstead is definitely high on the to-visit list for Doyle fans. It features in his historical novel The White Company and is also the site of his final resting place. On the Minstead and Sherlock Holmes detective mystery driving Trail, you can use your powers of deduction to solve the clues and crack the case while patrolling through the village.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë

Portrait of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë by Branwell Brontë, who erased himself from the painting

The Brontë sisters gained fame in the 19th century for their original novels and poems. They also had a brother, Branwell, who was a painter and writer, and two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, who died in childhood.

They, unsurprisingly, loved writing stories as children - it was originally a game for them to play and their favourite pastime. Charlotte, the older sister, was the first to gain success with her first published novel, Jane Eyre, in 1847, under the pseudonym Currer Bell. Later that year, Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey were published in the same volume, but as Ellis and Acton Bell. The trio ditched their pen names the following year, but sadly, Emily died of tuberculosis not long after and never saw her true name on the cover. The illness, which had caused the death of their eldest two sisters so many years before, had also claimed the life of their brother Branwell and, a year later, Anne.

Charlotte was the last surviving sister. She edited Anne's novel Agnes Grey and prevented the second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - the most shocking of the trio's novels - from republication for five years. Charlotte herself had four novels published during her life. She died in 1855 aged 38.

To read...

  • Wuthering Heights - Emily's only novel, this story of doomed love between Catherine and Heathcliff is often considered to be one of the best novels ever written in English.
  • Villette - the last of Charlotte's books published in her life, this tale is full of twists and turns, showing off all of Charlotte's literary skills, and is widely regarded as her finest work.
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - an instant hit, Anne's 'radical' second book is considered one of the first feminist novels, featuring heroine Helen, who leaves her abusive husband to protect her son.

To explore...

While Thornton, the Bronte's birthplace, is somewhat of a pilgrimage spot for Brontë fans, Haworth is the best place to discover the sisters' inspiration. Visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum to explore the home where they wrote their tales and lived out their lives. If you recognise it, that might be because it's also the home of the doctor in the 1970 adaptation of The Railway Children!

Then, venture into the village to follow in the sisters' footsteps with the Haworth in Bronte Country spy mission Trail, which takes you around all the hidden gems and down to the iconic Haworth steam railway station.

Roald Dahl

Photograph of Roald Dahl

A Roald Dahl novel is a staple on the shelves of any book-loving kid. His macabre tales, often filled with smart children in fantastical situations, feature high jinks, silly situations, villainous adults and lots of chocolate. Dahl himself was a mischievous child - in what became known as The Great Mouse Plot of 1924, he and some friends stashed a dead mouse in the gobstopper jar in a sweet shop run by 'mean' Mrs Pratchett, who inspired Miss Trunchbull. They got into plenty of trouble, and he was rather worried the next day when the shop was shut, and he thought Mrs Pratchett had died from fright!

Not only was Dahl a novelist, but he was also a fighter pilot, chocolate historian, inventor and spy! During WWII, Dahl trained as a fighter pilot. He met Ian Fleming, whose book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Dahl later wrote the screenplay for, and he also began secretly supplying intelligence to Winston Churchill.

Apart from his first book, The Gremlins, which was published in 1943, all of Dahl's novels were published post-war. He wrote 17 children's novels, two adult novels, and plenty of short stories, poems and scripts, including the screenplay for Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and play adaptations of five of his novels.

To read...

  • The Witches - one of the greatest stories written by Dahl, this terrifying tale features one of the best villains in a children's novel, the Grand High Witch, who plots to make every child disappear...
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - an iconic tale that shows that greed and entitlement don't always rise to the top, and sometimes the underdog claims the prize.
  • Esio Trot - one of just a few of Dahl's tales not from the point of view of a child. Despite the main characters being pensioners (and a tortoise), its silliness makes it a superb, sweet read for all ages.

To explore...

Venture to Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, where Dahl moved with his family in 1954 and wrote most of his novels, and is also the site of his final resting place. Here, you'll discover The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, which celebrates his life and his fantastical tales. You can even visit his writing hut!

To roll back the clock even further - to the time of the Great Mouse Plot - head to Llandaff in South Wales, where Dahl was born and spent his childhood. On the Llandaff Cathedral and Village treasure hunt Trail, you'll discover this small village's fascinating past while bravely scouting for clues besides the River Taff and around the cathedral.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Photograph of J.R.R. Tolkien

Despite plenty of fantasy authors coming before him, J.R.R. Tolkien gained the reputation as the father of modern high fantasy fiction, with his in-depth, highly imaginative works causing a resurgence in the genre.

Prior to WWI, Tolkien studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University. Post-war, he became the youngest member of the academic staff at the University of Leeds before returning to Oxford as a fellow at Pembroke College.

While back in Oxford, Tolkien and his close friend C.S. Lewis took part in the informal literary discussion group, The Inklings, where they predominantly read and discussed the unpublished works of members. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was read by The Inklings, and the fictional Notion Club in Sauron Defeated, a volume of The History of Middle-earth, was based on the group.

Tolkien took his writings very seriously - he crafted a vast backstory for the fictional universe used in his novels and short stories. This included intricate histories, myths and legends, and even languages! As well as his seemingly never-ending collection of Middle-earth works, Tolkien was also involved in numerous academic works, including the Oxford English Dictionary.

To read...

  • The Hobbit, or There and Back Again - Tolkien's first novel introduces readers to Middle-earth and Bilbo Baggins, who reluctantly sets off on a quest to claim the treasure guarded by a dragon named Smaug.
  • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil - a collection of poems from Middle-earth, some of which feature in other novels. The poems are supposedly favourites of the Hobbits and are fun to read out loud.
  • The Silmarillion - edited and published by his son, Christopher, after the author's death, this collection of myths, histories and short stories from his fictional universe truly reveals Tolkien's phenomenal imagination.

To explore...

While both Leeds and Oxford are great places to visit for Tolkien fans - a pint in the Eagle and Child while reading a book is definitely up there on the to-do list - one place comes up on top as the place to explore. Great Haywood, in Staffordshire, is where Tolkien was sent to recover during WWI after falling ill with trench fever. It was here that he began his writings, starting with The Book of Lost Tales.

The Great Haywood - a Walk with Tolkien spy mission Trail takes you around the village that sparked Tolkien's imagination, giving you the chance to go on a real-life quest to discover the secret code. You'll need stronger spy skills than Tolkien did, though - he was asked to serve in the cryptographic department of the Foreign Office during WWII, but after taking an instructional course with the Government Code and Cypher School (now GCHQ), he was told his services would no longer be needed!

Jane Austen

Portrait of Jane Austen, based on a sketch by her sister Cassandra

Last but not least, the great Jane Austen, whose works are still loved and widely adapted even 200 years after her death.

Much like the Brontës, who actually grew up reading Austen (Charlotte wasn't a fan), Jane grew up in a religious household as the daughter of a rector. After two failed attempts at education further afield, she was homeschooled in Steventon, with access to the libraries of her father and a family friend.

She began writing aged 11, primarily to entertain herself and her family. These tales would be classed as risque for the time, with tales of female power and exaggerated parodies of daily life. Among these early works was her first satirical novel - Love and Friendship - which she wrote at just 14 years old.

Before the family moved to Bath in 1800, Austen had written a novella and two full-length novels and began on a third. But it wasn't until the family settled in Chawton, Hampshire, that she wrote more. She only lived to see four of them published (all anonymously), with her last two novels, her novella, unfinished works and childhood writings published posthumously.

To read...

  • Pride and Prejudice - this story sports one of the most iconic opening lines in all English literature - "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife". Austen's second novel has been popular with readers since the moment it was published and still continues to be one of the most loved books of readers around the world.
  • Persuasion - the last book written by Austen, and published after her death, is a beautiful tale of lost love and second chances, tinged with an air of maturity not seen in her other books.
  • Emma - a fantastically funny book, with every scenario a chance to poke fun at the characters, including Emma herself, and every scheme turning into a blunder, which really highlights Austen's comedic side.

To explore...

Of course, Bath has to be on the top of the list for any Janeite, despite her lack of writing while living in the city. Its impeccable Georgian architecture will make you feel like you've stepped straight into the Regency era, and the Jane Austen Centre will give you a snapshot of her life in the city and how it affected her future works.

Winchester was another key location in Austen's life and death. You can walk passed the house where she spent her final days and visit her tombstone in Winchester Cathedral. But, it's nearby Chawton that deserves to be the go-to place. Here you can visit the Jane Austen House, where she finalised and published her novels. Take on a detective mystery Trail in the neighbouring town of Alton to follow in the author's footsteps and immerse yourself in a place that saw her novels come to life.

Be the star of your own story

With a Treasure Trail, you can walk in the footsteps of your favourite British authors AND star in your own-real life adventure story! Whether you choose to play the part of a fearsome pirate or brave adventurer on a treasure hunt, a super sleuth on a detective mystery or a top-secret agent on a spy mission, you'll have heaps of fun exploring, solving clues and unearthing fascinating facts.

Plus, if you tackle a Trail adventure with strong links to authors, poets or books, you might even be lucky enough to unlock the Literature special badge in your account. Just make sure that you submit your answer once you've revealed whodunnit, cracked the code or tracked down the loot, then check your badges to see what you've unlocked! There are 32 locations that'll earn you this badge, and here's a hint - five of them are linked above!

You can find out more about our Trail Blazer Badges and Footsteps Rewards here.

Trail Blazer badges: Literature special badge