Saturday, 30 September 2017

Favourite First Lines

In the words of a Jon McGregor title, there are So Many Ways To Begin. I’ve been in search of the best beginnings, or more specifically first lines, from Notts fiction and discovered a variety of gems. As Graham Greene’s opening sentence in The End of the Affair explains, A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.

The same can be said for the opener. A good first sentence often occurs at a key point of conflict or interest. They operate to hook the reader and sometimes they can stand alone, memorable and compelling. Several years ago, I compiled a list of my favourite first lines from crime fiction. You can read them at the bottom of this post but, before you do, allow me to present some of the best opening sentences - in my opinion - from stories or authors associated in some way with Nottinghamshire.

Probably the best-known first line that can be associated with Nottingham is:

All children, except one, grow up.
Peter Pan by J M Barrie. The story is said to have been partly influenced by the writer's time in Nottingham in 1883/4.

And now for our best offerings:

Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. It's possible that there would have been no Brighton Rock if its author had not spent time in Nottingham, in 1925/6.
The moment I heard how McAra died I should have walked away.
The Ghost by Robert Harris

Even on the night she died, Rose Shepherd couldn’t sleep.
Scared To Live by Stephen Booth

I knew I was a target when I opened the cottage door that morning and found, sitting on the doorstep, a pair of false teeth.
Dead on Course by Glenis Wilson

Life through a phone is a lie.
Who’s That Girl? by Mhairi McFarlane

He approached her from behind – as he had done every night since he started to visit her.
Dream Lover by D Michelle Gent

People think when someone is stabbed they just fall down on the ground and die.
Something Might Happen by Julie Myerson

There were ghosts at the loch house long before we arrived with ours.
The Lives of Ghosts by Megan Taylor

Mr. Broke of Covenden had for the enlightenment of his middle life one son and six daughters.
Broke of Covenden by J C Snaith

Some people’d say I was destined for all this killing when Uncle Frank came into my life but it goes back further than that.

The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan

They break down the door at the end of December and carry the body away.
Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence

Our best exponent of the first sentence could well be Alan Sillitoe. Here are a few of his finest:

The rowdy gang of singers who sat at the scattered tables saw Arthur walk unsteadily to the head of the stairs, and though they must have all know he was dead drunk, and seen the danger he would soon be in, no one attempted to talk to him and lead him back to his seat.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe

As soon as I got to Borstal they made me a long-distance cross-country runner.
The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe

I remember childhood as an intense and wonderful love-affair that was stamped out by the wilful circumstances of growing up.
A Start in Life by Alan Sillitoe

Facing each other across the table they took care their eyes wouldn’t meet, experienced to know that the ley lines of mutual attraction ought not be played with irresponsibility.
Alligator Playground by Alan Sillitoe

And the award for the longest first sentence (from a Nottingham book) goes to:

It was the night Milt Jackson came to town: Milt Jackson, who for more than twenty years had been a member of one of the most famous jazz groups in the world, the Modern Jazz Quartet; who had gone into the studio on Christmas Eve, 1954, and along with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, recorded one of Resnick’s all-time favourite pieces, ‘Bag’s Groove’; the same Milt Jackson who was standing now behind his vibraphone on the stage of the Broadway Media Centre’s Cinema Two, brought there with his new quartet as part of the Centre’s Film and Jazz Festival; Milt, handsome and dapper in his dark grey suit, black handkerchief poking folded from its breast pocket, floral tie, wedding ring broad on his finger and catching the light as he reaches down for the yellow mallets resting across his instrument; Milton ‘Bags’ Jackson, born Detroit, Michigan on New Year’s Day, 1923, and looking nothing like his seventy-three years, turning now to nod at the young piano player – relatively young – and the crowd that is packed into the auditorium, Resnick amongst them, holds its breath, and as Jackson raises a mallet shoulder high to strike the first note, the bleeper attached to the inside pocket of Resnick’s jacket intrudes its own insistent sound.
Still Water by John Harvey

If you’re wondering if John Harvey’s got a great shorter first line in him, try this belter:

The man running down the middle of the Alfreton Road at five past three that Sunday morning was, as Divine would say later, absolutely stark bollock naked.
Living Proof by John Harvey

With attention now turned to crime fiction, here’s that list I referred to, of my favourite first sentences from crime fiction. Enjoy:

This time there would be no witnesses.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

It was the bright yellow tape that finally convinced me my sister was dead.
The Damage Done by Hilary Davidson

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.
City of Glass by Paul Auster

They were in one of the “I” states when Zeke told Isaac he had to ride in the trunk for a little while.
By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman

I wasn’t doing any work that day, just catching up on my foot-dangling.
Goldfish by Raymond Chandler

I rode a streetcar to the edge of the city limits, then I started to walk, swinging the old thumb whenever I saw a car coming.
After Dark, My Sweet by Jim Thompson

When the guy with asthma finally came in from the fire escape, Parker rabbit-punched him and took his gun away.
The Mourner by Richard Stark

I opened my eyes to see the rat taking a piss in my coffee mug.
Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.
Darker Than Amber by John D MacDonald

It is cold at six-forty in the morning on a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.
The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

It’s hard to get lost when you’re coming home from work.
Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley

Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement.
Dennis Lehane by Live By Night

A big noisy wind out of the northeast, full of February chill, herded the tourists off the afternoon beach, driving them to cover, complaining bitterly.
The Quick Red Fox by John D MacDonald

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there'.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

She was ten years old, but knew enough to wipe clean the handle of the bloody kitchen knife.
A Bitter Taste by Annie Hauxwell

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte.
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

Arthur Henry Spain, butcher, of Harlow Place, Flaxborough, awoke one morning from a dream in which he had been asking all his customers how to spell ‘phlegm’ and thought – quite inconsequentially: I haven’t seen anything of Lilian lately.
Lonelyheart 4122 by Colin Watson

Winter came in like an antichrist with a bomb.
The Pusher by Ed McBain

The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband.
The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes

It is one of the sorry human habits to play the game of: What was I doing when it happened?
The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper by John D MacDonald

Death is my beat.
The Poet by Michael Connelly

An hour before her shift started, an hour before she was even supposed to be there, they rolled the first corpse through the door.
Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Jack Reacher ordered espresso, double, no peel, no cube, foam cup, no china, and before it arrived he saw a man’s life change forever.
The Hard Way by Lee Child

I never knew her in life.
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

There were two armed men in his backyard when Detective Ash Rashid came home from work, and neither looked happy to see him.
The Outsider by Chris Culver

The business of murder took time, patience, skill, and a tolerance for the monotonous.
Vengeance in Death by J D Robb

I was standing on my head in the middle of my office when the door opened and the best looking woman I’d seen in three weeks walked in.
Stalking The Angel by Robert Crais

Four months and twenty-two days after he stopped taking his medication, Robin Greaves dragged the chair out from under the desk and sat down opposite the private investigator.
Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie

The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of the Dancers.
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

When the car stopped rolling, Parker kicked out the windshield and crawled through onto the wrinkled hood, Glock first.
Backflash by Richard Stark

One evening, it was towards the end of October, Harry Arno said to the woman he’d been seeing on and off the past few years, “I’ve made a decision. I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone before in my life.”
Pronto by Elmore Leonard

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.
Firebreak by Richard Stark

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.
A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Meet our new Young Poet Laureate

Georgina Wilding has been named as Nottingham’s first Young Poet Laureate, a title she’ll keep for two years.

Nottingham born and bred, Georgina is already established on the poetry scene, beginning her poetry career working with the Mouthy Poets. She has a degree in Creative and Professional Writing from the University of Nottingham and is the founding editor of Notts-based poetry publishing house, Mud Press.

On her new title, she said: “I am in absolute awe of the opportunity that’s been given to me. Both Nottingham and poetry are home to me, and I cannot wait to officially marry the two together for this prestigious role.”

The judging panel for the Nottingham YPL, which included London’s Young Poet Laureate and the founder of the Nottingham Poetry Festival, and the Director of Nottingham City of Literature, have said: “Georgina Wilding’s poetry, performance presence and ambitions to use the power of poetry to change lives made an immediate impression on the judges. She will play a fantastic role in promoting poetry to young people, and young people will love and be inspired by her.”
Georgina will be leading five residencies in venues across the city, including City Arts, Lakeside Arts Centre and Hyson Green Library. She will also be working internationally through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Her first outing as the new YPL will be a workshop at Hockley Hustle. NottsLit wishes her all the best, and looks forward to seeing what she will achieve in the role.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Our first Young Poet Laureate

Nottingham’s first ever Young Poet Laureate.

And the winner is...announced tomorrow. Here are the shortlisted poets:

Tyrone, Georgina, Chris and Cleo

Tyrone Moran-Healy
Ty Healy is a rapper/poet from Nottingham, England. Between being one of the frontmen for legendary Nottingham collective ‘1st Blood’ & one half of DJ and Rapper duo ‘Green Ratt’, Ty Healy has since started to work on solo material which has taken the spoken word route. The poetry side of this art form has taken centre stage as Ty establishes himself in the local Nottingham poetry community. His new spoken word project is due to be released called #BURY - a collection of poems recited over lush production inspired by various other genres of music.

Georgina Wilding
Georgina is the Founding Editor of Mud Press - Nottingham’s own independent poetry publishing house. She’s been commissioned by organisations such as the BBC to write and perform for both radio and TV, has toured her poetry across the UK and Germany, and recently performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She has a first class degree in Creative and Professional Writing from the University of Nottingham, and began her career in poetry working within the spoken word collective, Mouthy Poets.
Chris McLoughlin
Chris is a writer and workshop facilitator based in Nottingham. Chris’ writing focusses primarily on mental health and enabling others to discuss grief through writing. His aim is to create a platform for those suffering silently, and for readers and audiences to feel less alone. Chris has received a Distinction in MA Creative Writing from the University of Nottingham, been Artistic Director of Mouthy Poets, and is now pursuing a full-time career in writing.
Cleo Asabre-Holt
Cleo is a Nottingham-based Spoken Word Poet and creative writing Workshop Facilitator who has performed throughout the Midlands, London, and internationally. Cleo has also performed widely in Nottingham including headline and feature slots for Hockley Hustle, Poetercize, and Poetry is Dead Good. Always one for wearing her heart on her sleeve, Cleo’s poetry is an honest exploration of nature, relationships, childhood, and the urge to dance. She’s also unafraid to tackle vulnerable issues such as mental illness and societal discomfort. Cleo was recently awarded the prestigious M3C Scholarship to undertake a Masters in Creative Writing at The University of Nottingham.


Monday, 25 September 2017

Bookshops in Notts

The trail below is a work in progress so please contact me with the name/details of any Nottinghamshire bookshop missing from this list.

A Walking Tour of Nottingham’s Bookshops – from the oldest to the newest

We begin at Jermy & Westerman.

293 Mansfield Road, Nottingham, NG1 3FS
Open: Mon-Sat 11am-5pm

Nottingham’s best second-hand bookshop was established in 1978. The shop, which also sells some new books, has been owned by Geoff & Richard Blore (father and son) since 1987. The ground floor houses antiquarian books of local relevance as well as a tearoom. As the stairs climb upwards, so do their eclectic mix of books, which cover every wall and crevice. The shop was one of the host venues for the Nottingham Poetry Festival 2017, with performances from Nottingham poets Andrew Martin, Trevor Wright, Rosie Garner and Henry Normal.

Head down Mansfield Road, to the Intu Victoria Centre.

Once inside the main thoroughfare, look ahead, diagonally right, and you'll notice a branch of WHSmith.

124-126, Victoria Centre, Victoria Street, Nottingham, NG1 3QD
Twitter @WHSmith
Open: Mon-Sat 8:30am-5:30pm, Sun 10:30am-4:30pm

This store hosts celebrity appearances and book signings. All its fiction, non-fiction and magazines are on the ground floor but for our next stop you’ll need to take the escalator up a level.

Head along a little farther and seek out the Victoria Market, Nottingham’s largest indoor market.

On the left hand side is Mary and Tony’s Books.

Victoria Market, Nottingham, NG1 3PS
Open: t.b.c.

In the middle of the last century D P Storey had a bookstall on the old Nottingham market. Mr Storey is now 98 years old and, unsurprisingly, retired, but his passion for bookselling has been inherited by his daughter. Mary began working with him when she left school and still sells books as one half of Mary & Tony's Books. They changed the name from D P Storey to Mary and Tony’s as that’s how customers referred to them. These friendly sellers of second-hand books (and the odd new book) are one of the few survivors from the time the market moved to the Vicky Centre back in the mid-1970s.
Tony, one half of Tony and Mary's

Head down and exit the shopping centre, then take a left on Lower Parliament Street.

As you pass Argos, note that it was about here in 1826 that Susannah Wright set up her first freethought bookstall, in what was then the Tradesmen's Mart. After one week, she moved across to Goose Gate in Hockley, and that’s where we are headed as we cross the road and cut through to Broad Street.

On the right is Rough Trade.

5 Broad Street, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ
Twitter @roughtradenottm
Open: Mon-Thurs 10am-10pm (Music Floor 8pm), Fri-Sat 10am-11pm (Music Floor 8pm), Sun 11am-10pm (Music Floor 7pm)

The Nottingham branch of Rough Trade opened in 2014. More associated with music, Rough Trade also sells new books and hosts literary events, supporting local authors and poets alike.

At the end of Broad Street you might fancy turning left and taking a look inside Bookwise.

10 Goose Gate, Nottingham, NG1 1FF
Twitter @BookwiseNottm
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-5:30pm

Proceeds from this charity shop go to Music for Everyone, a music-education charity which provides imaginative music participation opportunities across Nottingham and the region. As the CDs are front of house you’ll find most of the second-hand books upstairs.

There are more preloved books to be discovered at Oxfam.

16-22 Goose Gate, Nottingham, NG1 1FF
Open: Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sun 12-4pm

This stylish branch of Oxfam opened in 2009.

Up the hill we join Carlton Street. Carry on to Byron’s green plaque then continue down Victoria Street.

At Bridlesmith Gate turn left. From here you’ll see Nottingham’s largest bookshop, Waterstones.

1-5 Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham, NG1 2GR
Twitter @WaterstonesNG
Open: Mon-Sat 9am-6:30pm, Sun 11am-5pm

This grand Victorian building fills five floors, a coffee shop and a large events’ room.

From Waterstones take a walk down St Peter’s Gate.

On the left is St Peter’s Church which has a small Christian bookshop at the entrance to a large coffee shop.

Open: Mon-Fri 10am-2:30pm

Move along to Wheeler Gate.

For over a century there was a bookshop on Wheeler Gate (1897-2005). The once impressive store is now flats and a Sainsbury’s Express.

At the end of the street you might fancy a short trip up Friar Lane to Forbidden Planet, if the comic, manga, anime, graphic-art forms of fantasy are your bag.

19-23 Friar Lane, Nottingham, NG1 6DA
Open: Mon-Sat 9am-5:30pm, Sun 11:00am-4pm

Otherwise, continue up Beastmarket Hill and take the natural left of Angel Row (if it’s a Thursday or Friday).

Opposite Central Library is West End Arcade, inside which you’ll discover Books and Pieces.

19 West End Arcade, Angel Row, Nottingham, NG1 6JN
Open: Thurs & Fri daytime.

It’s a small unit, rammed with thousands of used books.

Walking back towards the Old Market Square you’ll pass Market Street on your left. Up here is Page 45.

9 Market Street, Nottingham, NG1 6HY
Twitter @PageFortyFive

Created in 1994, Page 45 sells comics and graphic novels, as well as second-hand books. It’s an award-winning shop of which Neil Gaiman said, “I’ve long thought that Page 45 is the best graphic novel shop I’ve ever been to…”

Also on Market Street is Oxfam Books & Music.

19 Market Street, Nottingham NG1 6HX

After the delights of Market Street continue back along Low Pavement, to the Nottingham Tourism Centre.

1-4 Smithy Row, Nottingham, NG1 2BY
Open:  Mon-Sat 9:30am-5:30pm

Another award-winning venue, the Tourism Centre stocks a decent selection of books of local interest.

Looking across and right from here is The Works.

14 Long Row, Nottingham City Centre, Nottingham, NG1 2DH

The Works has a good stock of new books with commercial fiction and non-fiction at reasonable prices.

Next door is our final destination, Five Leaves Bookshop.

14a Long Row, Nottingham, NG1 2DH
Twitter @FiveLeavesBooks
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-5:30pm, Sun 12-4pm

Radical and independent, Five Leaves opened their doors in 2013. They stock a good selection of new books with sections devoted to poetry, beat writers, art, travel, anarchism, Jewish interest, LGBT issues, black history, philosophy and spiritualism. The venue hosts book launches, poetry readings and more with a busy programme of literary events. They even run their own mini-festival, Bread and Roses.

Other City Centre Bookshops

Bargain Book Time
12 Broadwalk, Broadmarsh, Nottingham, NG1 7LE
Open: Mon-Sat 9-5.30pm, Sun 10:30am-4:30pm

This store opened in 2010 and has a wide selection of new books.

Ideas on Paper
Unit 4b, Cobden Chambers, Nottingham, NG1 2ED
Twitter @Ideas_on_Paper

A selection of magazines, journals, and books on fashion, art, culture, design, business, economics, food, wine and travel. The shop focuses on independent publications.


38 Listergate, Nottingham, NG1 7DD

Blackwells University Bookshop

Chaucer Building, Goldsmith St, Nottingham, NG1 5LT

More Notts Bookshops


50 Main Street, Lowdham, Nottingham, NG14 7BE
Twitter @TheBookcase1
Open: Mon-Fri 9am-5:30pm, Sat 9am-4pm

An award-winning independent bookshop situated in the heart of Lowdham. This small but perfectly formed shop was founded in 1996.

Strays Newark

17-21 Boar Lane, Newark, NG24 1AJ
Open: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9am-12noon, Sun 9am-5pm.

A family owned business that has been selling books in Newark since 1994, specialising in books for children and young adults, they also stock local titles, history, travel and literature.

Gladstone Books

No.2 Bull Yard, (off King St & Queen St via Harmans Walk), Southwell, Nottinghamshire, NG25 0EH
Open: Thurs-Fri mornings and afternoons, Sat morning.

About 3000 high quality books are on display, with good selections of classical and modern fiction, history, poetry, essays, biographies, local and natural history, gardening, various arts and crafts, philosophy, theology, sociology, politics and reference books.

Beeston Bookshop
58 High Road, Beeston, Nottingham, NG9 2JQ

Beeston Bookshop is a long established 'remaindered' bookshop selling discontinued books.

Book Law Publications

382 Carlton Hill, Carlton, Nottingham, NG4 1AJ

Established in 1987, they specialise in transport books, which this family business also publishes.

The Mustard Seed
2 Main Road, Gedling, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, NG4 3HP
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm

A Christian bookshop and tearoom, it’s been around for over 30 years.

Blackwells University Bookshop

University of Nottingham, Portland Building, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD
Twitter @BlackwellsUofN ‏

Blackwells University Bookshop

Nottingham Trent University, Clifton Campus, Clifton Lane, Clifton, NG11 8NS

The Works

43 Market Place, Newark, NG24 1EG
Open: Mon-Sat 9am-5:30pmm, Sun 10am-4pm

Caliver Books

40a Percy Street, Eastwood, Nottingham, NG16 3EP
Open: Mon-Sat 9:30am-4.45pm

Purveyors of military and historical books.


1 Spa Lane, Retford, Nottinghamshire, DN22 6EA

Oxfam Bookshop

12 Central Avenue, West Bridgford, Nottingham, NG2 5GR

Bookwise, Newark 

Church Street, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1DT  
Open: Mon-Sat 9:30am-4:30pm.

Bookwise, Southwell

2 Queen Street, Southwell, NG25 0AA
Open: Mon-Sat 9:30am-4:30pm.


54 Bridge Place, Worksop, S80 1JN     


Four Seasons Shopping Centre, Mansfield, NG18 1SN      


24-26 Front Street, Arnold, NG5 7EL


Kingsmill Hospital, Mansfield Road, Sutton-In-Ashfield, NG17 4JL


Market Place, Newark        


55 High Street, Long Eaton, Nottingham, NG10 1HZ


25 High Road, Beeston, Nottingham NG9 2JQ


142 Front Street, Arnold, Nottingham, NG5 7EG


25 Plains Road, Mapperley, Nottingham, NG3 5LG


650 Mansfield Road, Sherwood, Nottingham, NG5 2GA


58 High Road, Beeston, Nottingham, NG9 2JP

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Our Entertaining Evolutionist

Banned, Rebellious, Sex-mad, Poetic... no, not another portrait of Lawrence or Byron, meet Erasmus Darwin, a Notts literary legend.

Erasmus Darwin, described as ‘The Da Vinci of the Midlands’, is a man whose philosophical poetry has been called dangerously radical. Without him ‘On the Origin of Species’ - perhaps even ‘Frankenstein’ - would not have been written. 

The son of a Nottingham lawyer, and the youngest of seven children, Erasmus Darwin was born at Elston Hall, near Newark, Nottinghamshire in 1731.
The Darwins’ long association with Elston in Notts began in 1680 and ended with the second world war.
In the mid-1750s Erasmus Darwin qualified as a doctor and started a medical practice in Nottingham. With no patron to recommend him he only lasted a few months. After treating just one patient the physician moved to Lichfield. A few weeks later he successfully treated a young man for whom death had seemed inevitable. This feat, brought about through unconventional care, led to Erasmus becoming famous. His unusual treatments included the advocating of exercise regimes and the use of herbal medicine. He was a strong believer in the benefits of good ventilation, putting holes into crowded rooms for the fresh air. He also held sympathetic views on mental illness, and was known to dish out the opiates and prescribe sex.
The combination of a debilitating knee injury - caused by falling out of a carriage - and large appetite meant that Erasmus was a big man. He cut a half-moon out of his dining table so that he could sit closer to his food. Despite his big belly, and possession of a stutter, Erasmus was a real charmer and a womaniser.
Erasmus Darwin (1731 – 1802).
Unlike many of his generation Erasmus had no sexual hang-ups. He had no issues with masturbation or homosexuality, and was known for having a large heterosexual appetite.
"Sexual reproduction is the chef d'oeuvre, the masterpiece of nature," he wrote. Darwin believed that reproduction allowed the imprinted patterns of experience to be passed on to each new generation, in a way that sits comfortably with the latest in epigenetics.
Given his methods of treatment it’s no surprise Erasmus became so popular in Lichfield and word of his reputation reached King George III who asked him to become his personal Royal Physician. Darwin declined. Aside from his Republican tendencies his business was booming, allowing him the financial freedom to treat the poor free of charge.
Erasmus Darwin’s first wife died of alcoholism. This affected Erasmus’s attitude to drink, an anti-alcohol stance which passed down the family for generations to come. Years after his first wife's death, he fell in love with a patient, the married Elizabeth Pole. He wooed her with a deluge of verse and, when the situation allowed, married her, moving his offspring in with hers. He had at least fourteen children.
Through his poetry, Erasmus Darwin wanted to achieve things and to change people’s attitudes, so he turned to ‘didactic poetry’ (poetry with a message/instruction). His purpose was "…to enlist imagination under the banner of science". It was an inventive mix; poetry that contained science and radical ideas including a new theory of biological evolution.  
At that time science, literature, philosophy and religion formed one common culture, and Erasmus was especially interested in how science and the arts were connected. Nearly all of his scientific ideas appeared in verse.
Erasmus Darwin translated the works of the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, producing volumes of work in which he coined many of the English plant names used today. One long poem ‘The Botanic Garden’ (1789), structured in rhyming couplets of four thousand lines, consisted of two parts, ‘The Economy of Vegetation’, and ‘The Loves of the Plants’.
‘The Economy of Vegetation’ attacked political tyranny and religious superstition. The poem includes a vision of the universe’s creation that’s much like the big bang theory; a pagan version that insists on a non-divine, self-regulating economy of the natural world.
‘The Loves of the Plants’, a popular rendering of the Linnaeus' works, applies Goddesses and eroticism to the classification of plants. Produced by the radical publisher Joseph Johnson it was quickly followed by further editions. Johnson, later imprisoned for a ‘dangerous’ publication, paid Erasmus a huge sum for the poem and went on to publish many of his future works. Erasmus Darwin became a leading poet of his time and inspired many of the Romantic generation with his epic, erotic, evolutionary and philosophical images.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s most famous poems, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Kubla Khan’ are both influenced by Erasmus Darwin’s writing. Mary Shelley’s idea for Frankenstein came as she overheard a conversation between her husband (Percy Shelley) and Lord Byron in which they referred to Erasmus Darwin and his reanimation of corpses. Byron would have been well aware of Erasmus Darwin’s poetry and, tracing back to his time in Southwell, there is a loose but significant connection between a young Byron and Erasmus through Elizabeth Pigot who encouraged Byron to publish his juvenile poems (1803/4).
One final connection comes in 1824, as works by Darwin and Byron are published together: The Botanic Garden (Erasmus Darwin’s poem in two parts) and Byron’s Poems (Don Juan) and his memoirs, were bound together in the one book. It made sense as by then both men had a reputation for being mad, bad and dangerous to know. A friend of Erasmus Darwin’s, the chemist James Keir admitted that he “paid little regard to authority.”
Erasmus Darwin vigorously opposed slavery and included his views in his poetry and personal correspondence:

E'en now, e'en now, on yonder Western shores
Weeps pale Despair, and writhing Anguish roars:
Ee'n now in Afric's groves with hideous yell
Fierce SLAVERY stalks, and slips the dogs of hell.
Conscience must listen to the voice of Guilt:
Hear him, ye Senates! Hear this truth sublime,

And in a letter he wrote to Wedgwood (the potter): 'I have just heard that there are muzzles or gags made at Birmingham for the slaves in our islands. If this be true, and such an instrument could be exhibited by a speaker in the house of commons, it might have great effect.'
At this time the British were still taking African slaves. Slavery was vital to the British economy, especially the sugar trade which depended on it. Erasmus helped to drive the British abolition movement. In Phytologia he wrote:
‘Great God of Justice! Grant that it (sugar) may soon be cultivated only by the hands of freedom.’
One of the leaders of a campaign to grow sugar beans in England, Erasmus argued that this could be used as a  sweetener instead of importing cane sugar from the slave-fuelled plantations.
Popular poetic taste began to turn away from Erasmus after establishment-backed critics ridiculed his political ideas by attacking his heroic couplets. Samuel Coleridge, who thought of Erasmus Darwin as "the first literary character of Europe, and the most original-minded Man" commented that "I absolutely nauseate Darwin's poem." His popular poetry was parodied, linking him with the French Revolution and the irreligious. In the early 1790s, Erasmus Darwin nearly became Poet Laureate but the respected doctor was now seen as a crank and labelled an atheist. His next (and best) book ‘Zoonomia’ (or, ‘The Laws of Organic Life’) (1794–1796), wouldn’t help. Darwin’s nationwide approval turned to scorn. William Wordsworth used the book as the source for a poem he published in 1798 but popular opinion was disapproving. Erasmus had expected his radical book to stir controversy, saying that he was "too old and hardened to fear a little abuse." However, his ideas caused great harm to his reputation.
In ‘Zoonomia’ he expanded upon the theory that life could develop without the guiding hand of a Creator. In this two-volume medical work Erasmus incorporated pathology, anatomy, psychology and biology, and contained the ideas relating to the theory of evolution. Anticipating natural selection Erasmus Darwin wrote about "three great objects of desire" for every organism; those wants being "lust, hunger, and security."
He wrote: “Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”
This was a depiction of an earth as being not as it's described in the bible, and thus argues against the teachings in the book of Genesis. This controversy roused a reaction. Criticism of the Jacobins (the most radical and ruthless of the political groups formed in the wake of the French Revolution) was made alongside criticism of 'Zoonomia'.
Undaunted in his commitment to progress Erasmus offended political and religious conservatives equally. He was ridiculed for suggesting that electricity might one day have practical uses. He was criticised for his belief that women should have access to education, expressed in ‘A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education’ (1797), and his establishing of one of the first public schools for girls which adopted Erasmus’ orders that the girls should be well-fed, undertake exercise and breathe fresh air. He was lambasted for his prodemocracy stance and argument that not just the owners of property should have the right to vote. And above all, he was hated for his views on creation, not helped when he added to the family's coat of arms the Latin phrase 'E conchis omnia' ('Everything from shells'). By shells he would have meant molluscs and that everything evolves from formless objects. The Dean of Lichfield Cathedral criticised Erasmus’s new coat of arms, demanding that he withdrew it. Living close to the cathedral, and knowing that many of his patients were influenced by the Dean, Erasmus obliged.
British opinion to the French revolution was one of concern that a dangerous idealism could be coming over the channel. The execution of Louis XVI, by means of the guillotine in 1793, had brought with it the threat of radical politics and fears of revolution. It didn't help that one such ‘dangerous’ radical was Joseph Priestly, a good friend of Erasmus Darwin. 
Together with contacts like Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, and James Watt, Erasmus set up the Lunar Society which became an intellectual powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. They would meet up under a full moon, giving them the maximum light in which to travel back. For invention and importance, the society were second only to the Royal Society, of which many of them were also members.
The visionary reformers and leading thinkers of the Lunar Society were one reason the Industrial Revolution happened here before the rest of Europe. Many of their ideas were shared, with Darwin in particular displaying an incredibly creative and practical mind. He gave the first recognisable explanations of photosynthesis and the formation of clouds. He also invented many mechanical devices.
Erasmus Darwin’s unpatented inventions include a flushing toilet, weather monitoring machines, a lift for barges, an artificial bird  and a copying machine which used two pens; one operated by hand, the other by an attached machine, with the resulting copies being identical. Keen to help those with speaking difficulties, Erasmus also developed a speaking machine able to recite the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments.
Perhaps the most impressive of his inventions was a steering machine for his carriage. This method of turning made carriages less likely to overturn (as you’ll recall Erasmus had an accident falling out a carriage). In the early 1900s all the modern cars were using this Darwinian steering.

In 1813 The Lunar Society was formally wound up. With only Keir, Watt, Edgeworth and Galton still alive they held a lottery to decide who gets to keep their collected books. Samuel Galton won.
Erasmus Darwin’s final long poem, ‘The Temple of Nature’, was published in 1803, a year after his death. The poem, originally titled ‘The Origin of Society’, is widely considered his best poetic work, tracing the progression of life from micro-organisms to civilized society and confirming his belief in shared ancestry. Like many of his works it owes much to Lucretius.
'The Temple of Nature' was on the Vatican’s banned list. Erasmus’s idea that nature was in a state of constant warfare in which evolution happens proved dangerous to Christian teaching whose ideas on the origin of life on Earth were not used to being challenged. By this time Erasmus had made his point: his argument that we all come from one common ancestor may have been developed by his grandson, Charles Darwin, but it was very much Erasmus who provided the bulk of the theory.
One of Erasmus’s sons - Charles Darwin’s father - Robert Darwin, was in the family business, working as a doctor, and it was expected that Charles would follow suit. Like Erasmus, Charles went to Edinburgh to become a physician but he couldn’t bare the sight of blood. Breaking with tradition he took a route that should have meant his becoming a clergyman but, whilst at Cambridge, he saw the chance to take a place on HMS Beagle to work as a naturalist. He nearly didn’t make the trip as the ship’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, didn’t like Charles Darwin’s nose. FitzRoy was convinced that a man’s character could be judged by his features and so doubted Charles had the energy or determination for the journey. FitzRoy was persuaded by a professor at Cambridge and the financial support of Josiah Wedgewood II (Charles's future father-in-law) that Charles was the right man for the expedition.   
Charles Darwin formed his own theory of evolution by natural selection but didn’t give Erasmus the credit he was due. I believe that Charles wanted to distance himself from Erasmus’s work as he had been aware of the storm his grandfather had aroused. Charles was known to have been concerned about causing controversy and held off publishing his own theory for many years. By leaving out the Erasmus name, Charles thought he had more chance of achieving credibility.
With ‘On the Origin of Species’ (1859) and ‘The Descent of Man’ (1871) Charles was abused and satirised in much the same way Erasmus had been.
Robert Grant, who had mentored a young Charles in Edinburgh, was a great admired of Erasmus’s theory of evolution and there is ample evidence that Charles adopted his grandfather’s ideas. Charles read Zoonomia as a student and did so again when coming back from his voyage on the Beagle. There is a notebook that exists today in which Charles’s ideas are first depicted. This book includes his famous evolutionary tree of life.

On the first page of Charles Darwin’s famous notebook is written the word ‘Zoonomia’. Charles would have grown up with Erasmus’s books and would have visited his ancestral home in Nottinghamshire. Charles named his first-born William Erasmus Darwin and later wrote a biography of Erasmus.
Charles Darwin wasn’t born until ten years after his grandfather’s death. By then, the idea that humans pass down improvements through the generations had already been made by Erasmus. Predating the term ‘survival of the fittest’ by seventy years, Erasmus wrote that "the strongest and most active animal should propagate the species, which should thence become improved."

A child of Nottinghamshire, Erasmus Darwin was a man who expressed his dangerous ideas and, looking back, was not only on the right side of history, he changed it. To many, however, the theory of evolution remains dangerous and controversial.
This is an extended version of an article first appearing on the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website.
"All nature exists in a state of perpetual improvement." Erasmus Darwin.