Staying in? Here are five of the best novels set in Bedfordshire

Many of us are going to be at home more in the next few months – but there’s no reason to be bored. The pleasure of reading can be enjoyed anywhere, so here’s our guide to some of the best novels set in Bedfordshire. What would you include on the list? Email [email protected]

Thursday, 19th March 2020, 3:36 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th March 2020, 4:02 pm

1 MY UNCLE SILAS

H E Bates, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, published 1939

One of the more evocative portraits on life in Bedfordshire gone by can be found in this book of short stories. They focus on an elderly man of the country, the uncle of the title, an endearingly rogueish figure of stout character and earthy humour, but one also given to whimsy; his character is described as possessing “strong original devilishness”. The collection of charming tales was published in 1939 but had its origins in a story called The Lily, published in the early 1930s, which introduced the character to the reading public. The Lily was followed by The Wedding and The Death of Uncle Silas; the stories were by now proving so popular that Bates was encouraged to write 11 more. More followed in 1957. Their enduring appeal has led to various adaptations, including television series in 2001 and 2003, starring Albert Finney as Silas. The books are among the most loved of Bates’s career, which also included the similarly pastoral The Darling Buds of May. The illustrator, Edward Ardizzone, is a similarly beloved figure, known his charming, warm and intricate work.

H E Bates, the author of My Uncle Silas and The Two Sisters. Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images.

Publisher: Vintage Classics

2 THE TWO SISTERS

H E Bates, 1926

Another work by Northampronshire native Bates, The Two Sisters was his first novel. The book, written when the author was 19 and living in Rushden, was inspired by one of his midnight walks, which took him to the small Bedfordshire village of Farndish. There, late at night, he saw a light burning in a cottage window, which sparked the story. The tale tells of Jenny and her younger sister Tessie, who ive in an isolated farmhouse with their recently widowed and tyrannical father Jacob and their two brothers Jim and Luke. Tessie seeks escape in the local dancehall, while Jenny stays at home. But an unexpected visitor breaks into their quiet lives.

Publisher: Severn House

3 ALAN STOOB – NAZI HUNTER

Saul Wordsworth, 2014

Here’s something very different. Stoob is a resident of Dunstable and a former policeman with the Luton Constabulary. The premise is that hoards of elderly former Nazis have travelled from Bremen to Biggleswade via underground tunnels and set up home throughout Bedfordshire . Much of the action takes place in the Dunstable area, including major scenes at the Luton & Dunstable Hospital and Luton Hoo. Stoob worries about his piles, suspects his wife of an affair with the late Henry Cooper and is outraged when people wastefully use A4 sheets to photocopy A5 documents. In the build-up to the book’s publication, Stoob gained a huge following on Twitter, his celebrity fanbase including Dara O’Briain, Sarah Millican and Al Murray. Saul, who chose the location because of his familiarity with the area, said: “The area is depicted warmly and all local villages are cited. I would imagine this might be the first novel to be set in Dunstable.”

Publisher: Coronet

4 JUST IN CASE

Meg Rosoff, 2006

The acclaimed young-adult novel is set in Luton, where 15-year-old David Case saves his younger brother from falling out of an open window. Scared by the experience, he starts to see danger everywhere, believes that fate is stalking him, and decides to change his identity in order to escape his destiny. The book won Rosoff the Carnegie Medal, recognising the year’s best children’s book published in the UK and made the shortlists for the Booktrust Teenage Prize and the Costa Book Awards.

Publisher: Penguin

5 BEATNIKS: AN ENGLISH ROAD MOVIE

Toby Litt, 1997

Set in Bedford in 1995, the story tells of the adventures of a group of young people who admire the Beat writers and musicians of the 1950s and 1960s America – the likes of Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. It’s a tale of adventure, love and tragedy.

Publisher: Secker & Warburg