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.

 

The 12 Quotes of Christmas

Right now you can hardly turn around without hearing the word Christmas, usually accompanied by lame puns on seasonal words like holly and merry, and the lazy journalist’s headline The 12 whatever-they-are, even if those particular whatever-they-are have nothing to do with Christmas.  Well, I’m not about to get left behind in this frantic festive scramble, so here are my 12 favourite quotes.  Just in the St Nick of time.

If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.”  Khalil Gibran

“What we’re saying today is that you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” Eldridge Cleaver

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”  Nelson Mandela

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”  Vincent van GoghMLK crop

“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Martin Luther King, Jr

“True friends stab you in the front.”  Oscar Wilde

‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”   W. Somerset Maugham

“I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear better shoes.” Oprah Winfrey

“Stupid is as stupid does.”  Forrest Gump

“I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.”  John Cage

“You cannot predict the future.”  Stephen Hawking

and that’s why you probably didn’t expect this 12th quote

يوم عسل يوم بصل

This anonymous Arabic quote translates as “One day honey, another day onions” and I think it nicely encapsulates the bittersweet nature of life.

What are your favourite quotes?