Alfred, Lord Tennyson is probably the best known Lincolnshire writer but in this issue Alan Middleton takes a look at two popular Lincolnshire authors of the 20th/21st century.
Colin Dexter was born in Stamford in 1930 and attended schools in the town. After completing his National Service he read Classics at Christ’s College Cambridge, graduating in 1953 and receiving an honorary masters degree in 1958. Colin became Classics master at Leicester in 1954 before moving on to Loughborough and Corby Grammar schools.
In 1966 the onset of deafness forced him to retire from teaching and he moved to the Oxford Examinations Board, a job he held until his retirement in 1988.
The first books he wrote were General Studies textbooks, but he started writing mysteries in 1972 during a family holiday. Colin explained, “we were in a little guest house between Caernarfon and Pwllheli. It was a Saturday and it was raining. The children were moaning. I was sitting at the kitchen table with nothing else to do, so I wrote the first few paragraphs of a potential detective novel.”
Last Bus to Woodstock was published in 1975 and introduced the character of Inspector Morse, the irascible detective whose love of cryptic crosswords, English literature, cask ale and Wagner mirrored Dexter’s own interests. In all there were 13 books and 33 episodes of the highly successful TV series starring John Thaw, produced between 1987 and 2000. In the manner of Alfred Hitchcock, Colin made a cameo appearance in almost every episode. The last Inspector Morse was screened on 15th November 2000 with Colin appearing as a wheelchair bound tourist.
Margaret Dickinson was born in Gainsborough in 1942 but the family moved to the Skegness area when she was 7. Thus began her love affair with the Lincolnshire coast, sea, landscape and countryside, where she has lived ever since. Margaret was born into a creative family, her mother and siblings all having skills in that area. She wrote her first story at the age of 14 and her first novel was published in 1968. This was followed by eight others between 1969 and 1984 but there followed a period of seven years when she was unable to write because of heavy family commitments. By 1991 life had become a little easier and she was able to start writing again.
Her greatest ambition was to be published in paperback. Margaret approached the literary agent Darley Anderson, who specialises in regional romantic sagas. He advised her to write about the places she knew best, so she did – Lincolnshire.
In particular she focused on the flat farmland near the coast. This is how Plough the Furrow was born, but she soon realised that it was going to be more than one book and it turned into The Fleethaven Trilogy, incorporating Sow the Seed and Reap the Harvest, stories of three generations of women, which revolve around Brumby’s Farm which is modelled on Church Farm Museum at Skegness, with scenes at Gibraltar Point.
Margaret continued to base her stories on places she knew. The Miller’s Daughter was inspired by the windmill at Burgh le Marsh, the Manor House at Alford gave her the idea for Chaff Upon the Wind and The Fisher Lass was set around Grimsby’s fishing industry.
More recently, a visit to Gunby Hall eventually produced Fairfield Hall. There have been many more.
In addition to all this, Margaret worked at the District Education Office in Skegness and helped with administrative duties in connection with her husband’s business.