ONE of the main reasons behind setting up the Salisbury Literary Festival was to celebrate the rich literary heritage that this city has been blessed with. As well as events such as the Literary Walk, where we’ll follow in the footsteps of Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope, we’ve also set up a series of events called Salisbury Greats, looking at the work of some of our most illustrious writers.

For the first year of the festival, the three Salisbury Greats we have chosen to focus on are Terry Pratchett, William Golding and John Creasey. Out of these three extraordinary writers, it is John Creasey’s story that is the least well-known and possibly the most intriguing. Creasey was born in Southfields, Surrey in September 1908, the seventh of nine children. He contracted polio when he was two and his parents were told he would never walk. But against medical opinion, and thanks to a lot determination and sheer willpower, by the age of six, Creasey was walking: ‘I had to fight for everything I got,’ he later said of the experience. ‘I think it had its effect on me. I have this compulsion to work. I can’t stop.’ This drive and self-belief were crucial in Creasey becoming a published writer. Leaving school at fourteen, he spent the next seven years trying and failing to get published – all the while getting fired from a string of jobs for writing on the office typewriter when he should have been working. In total, Creasey amassed a run of 743 rejection letters for his work – an achievement of sorts that would earn him a dubious place in the Guinness Book of Records.

Creasey was pragmatic – ‘all deserved’ he later commented – and wrote on. Eventually, he had his breakthrough when his tenth novel, a thriller called Seven Times Seven, was accepted and published in January 1932. To say this was the first of many would prove an understatement. Over the following four decades, Creasey matched his early number of rejection letters with the number of books published: an astonishing 600-plus titles, which would go on to sell over eighty million copies in twenty-eight different languages.

Such was Creasey’s prolific nature that he had to employ a number of different pseudonyms to stop the market being saturated with his work: there were twenty-eight of these in total, including bestselling names such as JJ Marric, Gordon Ashe, Jeremy York and Sexton Blake. His work included a number of celebrated characters including Inspector West, Gideon of Scotland Yard, Dr Palfrey and The Toff – the latter a rival to The Saint, and who narrowly pipped him to TV success.

Creasey wrote at a remarkable rate: up to 36 books a year, at a mind-boggling 20,000 words a day. And that drive from his early life never left him: when he initially struggled to break America, he spent six months in New York, firing off book after book until he was published there. He took his family on some remarkable round the world trips, selling the rights to his books as he went. In 1958, Creasey and family moved to New Hall in Bodenham: a 42-room Georgian mansion where he lived until his death in 1973 (today New Hall is a private hospital). He used his local knowledge in particular in The Theft of Magna Carta, concerning an audacious attempt to steal from Salisbury Cathedral.

Today, Creasey’s legacy lives on in the Crime Writers’ Association, which he founded in 1953, in his archive, which he left to Salisbury library, and in his many books, ready to be discovered by a new generation of readers. We’re delighted that the Literary Festival can do its part in remembering his remarkable life.

Richard Creasey on John Creasey is at Salisbury Library on Saturday, October 28, 1.15pm. Tickets are free, but need to be booked either at the library or online at