There are plenty of good reasons to opt for an English holiday this year – not least because bookshops are offering a bumper crop of novels set on the British Isles.
Even if not in search of a holiday read for a staycation, it's always pleasingly absorbing to immerse oneself in a story with plot twists and turns taking place within familiar landscapes. So here, starting with her own novel set in Morecambe Bay, author Emma Claire Sweeney has put together a literary road trip travelling the length and breadth of the country.
From the unconventional family bonds of illegal immigrants in Sheffield to illicit love affairs in Oxford, read on for her top summer recommendations set in the towns and cities of England, perfect for holiday accompaniment or pure escapism from the comfort of your armchair.
Main image: iStock
Morecambe Bay, Lancashire
Read: Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney
We start our literary journey in Morecambe Bay, the setting of Owl Song at Dawn. Here we’ll find Sea View Lodge, a seaside guesthouse. Fiercely proud Maeve Maloney still runs the place just as her parents did during Morecambe’s 1950s heyday, with one major change: she now caters to holidaymakers with learning disabilities and her live-in staff have Down’s Syndrome.
Only they recognize the tenderness and heartbreak hidden beneath Maeve’s spikiness, until her old friend Vincent shows up. He is the only man alive to have known her twin sister, Edie, and he is the last person Maeve wants to see. This will appeal to fans of Elizabeth Strout and Maggie O’Farrell.
RRP £8.99, Legend Press. Buy it here
Read: The Museum of You by Carys Bray
Wending our way south along the edge of the Irish Sea, we soon reach Southport, the hometown of Carys Bray and the setting of her second novel – a book every bit as funny, down-to-earth and audacious as her Costa-shortlisted debut, A Song for Issy Bradley.
While Clover's father works as a bus driver between Southport and Liverpool, she sets out on her own journey of discovery – although she hardly ventures further than the spare room. Here, she searches through the belongings of her mother, who died when Clover was a babe in arms, and through them she tries to piece together her family’s untold stories.
RRP £12.99, Hutchinson. Buy it here
Read: Before the Fire by Sarah Butler
From Merseyside it’s a short hop to Manchester, and yet the gritty housing estates of Sarah Butler’s brilliant second novel will feel worlds away from our first two stops. Best friends Stick and Mac, on the verge of becoming men, can’t wait to escape their home city. They’ve bought a beaten-up car on eBay and they’re heading to Malaga. They’re going to meet girls, work in bars and maybe never come home…
But the night before they’re due to leave, Mac ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and suddenly Stick’s going nowhere. A brave novel that dares to go to places – both geographical and emotional – where others fear to tread.
RRP £7.99, Picador. Buy it here
Read: The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
Snaking our way from Manchester through the Peak District, we’ll hug the banks of the Ladybower Reservoir and the Riverin River until we reach Sheffield, where we’ll find a house inhabited by illegal immigrants from India. The cast of Sunjeev Sahota’s Booker-shortlisted tome comprises a makeshift family – each character attempting, in his own way, to forge a new life far from home.
While these young men muddle along together, they hesitate to trust each other with the stories of what led them here. An important and insightful novel that takes us deep into the heart of the UK’s most urgent issues.
RRP £14.99, Picador. Buy it here
Earl Soham, Suffolk
Read: The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson
A long journey south eventually leads us to the Suffolk village of Earl Soham, where, back in 1964, American author, Patricia Highsmith, holed herself away. Jill Dawson’s ninth novel offers a glimpse of her world-famous predecessor, who retreated to this sleepy village almost 10 years after the publication of The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Here Highsmith attempts to escape snooping biographers and journalists, planning to immerse herself in writing and enjoy exploring the countryside with her naturalist friend. But her idyll is shattered as much by her own demons as by the arrival of an obsessive fan. A mesmerizing act of ventriloquism.
RRP £8.99, Sceptre. Buy it here
Read: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Continuing down the North Sea coast, we find widowed Cora Seaborne, who has fled stifling London for the fictional Essex village of Aldwinter, where she builds a friendship with the local vicar based on their shared interest in the natural world. As they joust over Darwin's evolutionary theories, the locals speculate fearfully over the apparent return of an ancient mythical beast lurking in the marshlands.
Proudly defying the limitations placed upon them by Victorian society, it's the novel's stout-hearted women who lead the way in this satisfyingly Dickensian tale of the time where religion began to give way to science, but with a deliciously gothic twist right out of Bram Stoker.
RRP £14.99, Serpent's Tail. Buy it here
Read: Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
We travel from Essex through Berkshire to end in the city of dreaming spires. Long ago, celebrated Oxford author Jane Fairchild was a foundling and an indentured servant to Berkshire landed family, the Nivens, whose magnificent library she plundered for stories. Secreted between her duties came a liberating affair with Paul Sheringham, indulged son of a neighbouring estate.
Opening in the aftermath of sensuously illicit love-making on sun-dappled sheets, this immersive novella sees them stretch out their hours together as Paul puts off leaving to meet his moneyed fiancée – a delay that will have life-changing consequences. Graham Swift is a master of the slow tease, eschewing breathless page-turning for a style that mimics the mind's own constant recapitulation. It's worth finding time to absorb it in a single sitting, all the better to sit in thrall to fate's unstoppable unfolding.
RRP £12.99, Scribner. Buy it here