9th July 1911

Birth of Sark-based writer Mervyn Peake

Mervyn Peake, author of the Gormenghast books, was born in China in 1911, where his father was a medical missionary. Although remembered primarily as a writer, he was also an accomplished painter.

Peake’s family returned to London and Peake himself settled there in the 1920s and early 1930s before he moved to Sark. His former teacher was already living on the island and had set up an artists’ colony there. According to one report by the BBC, Peake was rumoured to paint naked on the headlands, aside from a sombrero.

He returned to London after four years, but that wasn’t to be the end of his association with the island.

He came back to Sark at the end of the Second World War, living there with his family from 1946 until the early 1950s. By then, the first of his Gormenghast books had been published.

Gormenghast and Sark

Although not explicitly set on Sark, many Sark placenames appear in the Gormenghast series. The Coupee, Silvermines and Little Sark itself all turn up in its pages. Gormenghast castle is described as being like a rocky island with sheer cliffs, which is a fairly accurate description of Sark.

The Gormenghast series was planned to have at least six instalments. The existing Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone, plus the novella Boy in Darkness, would have been joined by Titus Awakes and Gormenghast Revisited. However, Peake developed dementia and possibly Parkinsons disease in the late 1950s and died in a care home 1968. He left the last two books incomplete.

Titus Awakes was later completed by his widow, Maeve Gilmore, and released in 2009.

Mervyn Peake was also the author of the short novel, Mr Pye, which was published in 1953. While Gormenghast merely hinted at its Sark connections, Mr Pye was explicitly set on the island. It was filmed and broadcast by Channel 4 in March 1986 with Derek Jacobi in the title role.


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