Why Do Authors Love Setting Novels in London?

There are a zillion places to set a novel, even more if you include locations that don’t exist yet, but this side of the pond London is at the top of the list.

It’s no surprise that London’s attractions shape my writing: I was born in the capital, and after a junket of a decade or two came back here to live and work. But even if you’re not a Londoner there are plenty of good reasons to set your action there.

Abbey Road crossing

1 Things happen all the time in London: knife crime, break-ins, births in hospital carparks. So you can slip in a fictional car-crash or multiple murder and it won’t seem nearly as odd as it might in a dozy village.

2 London is incredibly romantic, even in the rain. That means lots of places for your characters to wander arm in arm in Highgate cemetery, should you wish them to. 

Highgate cemetery

Or, if you prefer, to argue on the top of Primrose Hill.

Primrose Hill

3 Everyone knows something about London. Its iconic features can be used as a kind of shorthand, such as the Tower, the London Eye, and the Tube. However, if you want to include real detail, there’s no substitute for the author joining the melée and checking it out.

Tower of London, field of poppies

4 Medieval buildings can be found all over the place, including smack dab by Big Ben.

© Elvis Santana (tome213)

Then again, there’s no shortage of great new architecture, and more to come, judging from the number of cranes.

The Shard, London

5 It’s very green. Should your characters wish to stretch their legs, or their children’s, offer them Regent’s Park, Clapham Common, or perhaps just a walk by the Thames. Time it right, and they can watch Tower Bridge open.

Tower Bridge

6 London is very diverse, with some parts that are distinctly upmarket, like trendy Marylebone, where my novel One Night at the Jacaranda kicks off.

Waitrose, Marylebone High Street

I’ve also included Edgware Road, where you’d be hard put to find any newspapers that aren’t in Arabic.

There, groceries spill out onto the pavement, with watermelons as big as Beirut, and shiny aubergines, pearly white onions and wrinkly green things that I’ve forgotten the name for, all lying with fat bunches of sweet-smelling herbs.

On the street there are always clusters of young men in T-shirts and jeans, standing on corners as they shout into mobiles or talk urgently with their hands, and, during the annual Saudi summer invasion, streams of women with pushchairs, most of them in a black abaya, some veiled so you could only see their eyes. They glide by, with their Fendi handbags and large retinues of children, while older men sit outside cafés and juice bars, smoking shisha. The men stared hard at passers-by, at any passing Mercedes. They have nothing else to do.

No surprise my next novel is also set in London.

Royal Albert Hall

7 It’s full of characters, like the woman walking down Finchley Road with a black bin liner under her hat. And when I say walking down Finchley Road, I mean in the middle of the bus lane. Or the man in Goodge Street dressed from head to foot as an African grey parrot. This being London, nobody gives either of them a second glance.

8 Finally, consider the US market: to Americans, London IS Britain.

 

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Is Beatles Music a Health Hazard?

Exactly 45 years ago, photographer Iain Macmillan stood on a ladder and shot the iconic image for Abbey Road. Tourists from all over the world continue to come to London’s most famous crossing. They gawp, revere, take selfies and generally mess about, taking no heed of cars, vans or the 189 bus. This was the scene yesterday.

Abbey Road

Now Westminster Council is considering the use of a lollipop lady to keep people safe. I hope they recruit a lady or gentleman who looks the part in period 60s gear.

On that August day in 1969, did the Fab Four realise the poor example they might be setting for future generations of fans? I think not. If they had, they’d never have larked about as they did. And Paul would have surely kept his sandals on. It’s madness to walk around London in bare feet.

Pretty much everyone (not just Charles Manson) has their own interpretation of Beatles lyrics. While most people focus on the drug references, the songs may contain other menaces to health.

Beatles vinyls Sleeping in the bath is something I’d never recommend, yet that’s exactly what happens in Norwegian Wood. Luckily John doesn’t drown. But what does he do when he wakes up? He burns the house down. OK, so he was a Beatle scorned, but arson does seem a tad over the top.

There’s another fire hazard in A Day in the Life.  The track opens with John’s graphic reminder of what happens if you run a red light. But in a later verse Paul dices with death when he nods off on the bus with a lit cigarette in hand.

I feel like shouting the B-side of Can’t Buy Me Love (in case you don’t remember, it’s You Can’t Do That).

Paul survives his bus journey. He still hasn’t kicked the tobacco habit two years later, though, because there he is holding a ciggie on that album cover. But the USA did some unauthorised airbrushing and removed the offending item from posters.

Other risky lifestyle choices advocated by Lennon-McCartney:

The Beatles will always be my favourite band, but as a doctor I’m concerned about an already over-stretched health service having to extract coins from noses, bandage injured feet and give whatever medical help is needed to those mugs who take their oeuvres too literally.

Beatles mugsOn Revolver we’re even told that you can call Doctor Robert day or night, he’ll be there any time.

In your dreams, John and Paul. Not in today’s NHS.

The thing that worries me most, though, is on the White Album. Yes, hotel rooms cost money, but doing it in the road is the ultimate in unsafe sex. Nobody’s watching you! So you’re even more likely to get killed by some motorist who wasn’t expecting to see people bonking on the asphalt.

I’m really hoping Westminster Council will be wise enough to install appropriate signage.