About Liz Shakespeare
I have written five books set in Devon. I draw my inspiration from the North Devon countryside, from the strong historical identity of the area and the sense of past lives that can be experienced in any long-inhabited area. I am interested in social history and particularly in the lives of the less advantaged.
I was born in Bideford and have lived in Devon for most of my life. My mother’s family are from the Bideford area and my father, although born and brought up in London, had fond memories of long childhood holidays with cousins on the North Devon/Cornwall border where his mother’s family originated. The family stories I have grown up with and the sense of being deeply rooted in the area have been a powerful influence on my writing.
When I was seventeen I moved to London where I worked in bookshops and acquired an honours degree in English. I then trained as a primary teacher, returning to Devon after teaching in London for two years. I have lived ever since in Littleham, a small village three miles from Bideford.
My father introduced my brother and I to books at an early age and we have been fervent readers ever since. I wrote stories as a child but following my degree, which taught me above all to be critical, it was some years before I felt sufficiently confident to start writing again. I wrote short stories, some of which were published in small literary magazines, then embarked on an oral history project which I published as The Memory Be Green. This was originally conceived as research for a novel; the novel was never finished but I think the interviews I carried out have helped me when I am finding a voice for a particular character in fiction. The Memory Be Green was very well received and after an abandoned novel and more short stories, I started work on Fever: A Story from a Devon Churchyard. This took seven years to research and write.
While researching Fever I became interested in the Workhouse and the lives of those unfortunate enough to spend time in one. The Turning of The Tide is a novel based on a true story; it is set in nineteenth century Bideford and concerns a young Clovelly girl, Selina Burman, who spent several years in the Bideford Workhouse. Her story is intertwined with that of Dr William Ackland of Bideford. Dr Ackland, who makes a brief appearance in Fever, was a friend of Charles Kingsley and like Kingsley was concerned for the health and welfare of the poorer people.
Devon and its people were again the main inspiration for All Around The Year, despite the stories being purely fictional. For each month, I created a character whose life is in some way influenced by the landscape around them.
I returned to historical research for my new book, The Postman Poet, published in March 2017. You can read more about it here. I think it was my favourite book to write, and it is great fun working with Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll to tell audiences throughout the southwest of England about the life and work of the Postman Poet.
I am now working on a new novel set in nineteenth century Devon. This one focuses on North Devon’s agricultural history and tells the true story of a young brother and sister who were sent to work as parish apprentices on a remote farm. They experience extreme hardship but in time the farming and chapel communities come together to help them start a new life. I am at the stage of research when I am buried in parish registers, census returns and newspaper reports!
I have successfully self-published all my books, through choice rather than necessity. I enjoy the process of self-publishing which gives me more control of my books, from the design right through to distribution. I am fortunate in having well-read friends who are also writers and they help me through the editing process; another old friend does the proof-reading for me; and I have two talented sons, the oldest of which, Ben, designed the covers for my three most recent books. I now also have many customers who are generous with their appreciation, which is heartening after the years of solitary work!
– Last updated: 27/02/2018