Who? Muriel Spark (nee Camberg), Scottish writer, novelist and poet
When? 1 February 1918
Why should I read her work? Spark’s novels are unmistakable, marked by her wry, subversive amusement at her characters’ foibles and fancies, their prejudices, delusions and illusions. Unsentimental, she lays out their often ridiculous lives in sharp, bold strokes of the pen.
Try: Memento Mori (1959), The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), The Girls of Slender Means (1963)
Interesting fact: Spark worked as a propagandist for the war effort during World War II and was awarded a DBE in 1963 for her services to literature.
Who? Susan Hill, English novelist
When? 5 February 1942
Where? Scarborough, Yorkshire
Why should I read her work? Citing Thomas Hardy as an influence (‘I don’t do jolly. I don’t know why, I just don’t.’), Hill’s characters often struggle with harsh and difficult lives, though her writing is compelling and vivid.
Try: A Change for the Better (1969), I’m the King of the Castle (1970), The Woman in Black (1983), Mrs de Winter (1993)
Interesting fact: Her novel about bullying (I’m the King of the Castle) is widely taught in secondary schools.
Who? Kate Chopin (nee Catherine O’Flaherty), American short story writer and novelist
When? 8 February 1850
Where? St Louis, Missouri
Why should I read her work? Chopin’s most influential work deals with women’s lives and their continuing struggle to create their own identity, set against the oppressive values and expectations of late 19th century Southern society.
Try: Bayou Folk (1894), A Night in Acadie (1897), The Awakening (1899)
Interesting fact: The Awakening, which focuses on a married woman’s attempts to achieve greater personal freedom and a more fulfilling life, was condemned as vulgar and disagreeable on publication but is now considered to be an essential American classic.
Who? Howard Spring, Welsh author and journalist
When? 10 February 1889
Why should I read his work? Spring was forced to leave school at the age of twelve but was determined to make his life a success, attending evening classes and forging a successful career as a journalist. His wide understanding of human nature, of provincial life and personal ambition informs his best novels.
Try: My Son, My Son! (1938), Fame is the Spur (1940), A Sunset Touch (1953)
Interesting fact: Fame is the Spur is the story of an English politician who abandons his radical views for more conservative values as he rises to prominence; it is believed to be loosely based on the career of the Labour politician Ramsay MacDonald.
Who? Jules Verne, French novelist, poet and playwright
When? 8 February 1828
Why should I read his work? Verne’s scrupulously researched novels, known collectively as Voyages extraordinaires, dealing with scientific innovations and technical advancements years before they became reality, have inspired generations of scientists, inventors and explorers.
Try: Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870), Around the World in Eighty Days (1873)
Interesting fact: Although originally poorly translated and dismissed as a children’s writer in Britain, Verne remains a major literary influence in Europe. He is the second-most translated author in the world, behind Agatha Christie.
Who? [John] Anthony Burgess [Wilson], English writer, critic, linguist, academic, musician
When? 25 February 1917
Why should I read his work? A polymath, Burgess was one of the most respected writers in the world and a leading academic. His wide ranging output includes historical, satirical and comic tales though the dystopian A Clockwork Orange remains his best-known novel.
Try: The Right to an Answer (1960), One Hand Clapping (1961), A Clockwork Orange (1962), Earthly Powers (1980)
Interesting fact: A Burgess spoke six languages and invented the slang used in A Clockwork Orange.