Heading for the Political Graveyard

As most readers know, London will elect a new mayor on May 5. One of the candidates will end up sitting pretty in City Hall while the others could be heading for the political graveyard.

Which is all the excuse I need to show you a few cemeteries and tombstones.

First up is Grover Cleveland, best known as the only president of the USA to serve two non-consecutive terms.

Grover Cleveland, Princeton Cemetery

Aaron Burr, the third vice-president of the USA, served alongside Thomas Jefferson. He shot dead his opponent Alexander Hamilton in a duel.  Burr died a nearly forgotten man. He’s now in Princeton Cemetery while Hamilton is on ten-dollar bills.

Aaron Burr, Princeton Cemetery

Not about to be forgotten any time soon is Karl Marx, buried in Highgate Cemetery.  Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery

Among the other notables nearby is Saad Saadi Ali, the Iraqi Communist leader, left-leaning even in death.

Saad Saadi Ali, Highgate Cemetery

I really like this memorial to Douglas Adams, also in Highgate Cemetery.  

Douglas Adams, Highgate Cemetery

Anyone know this more obscure writer, buried in St Brelade, Jersey?

St Brelade's churchyard, Jersey

Here lies the Swiss novelist, racing driver and pioneer of the anti-vivisection movement, Hans Ruesch.

Hans Ruesch, cimetiere du Petit-Saconnex, Geneva

If you’re a Londoner, remember to vote on Thursday.  

William Foyle, Highgate Cemetery

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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.

 

A Stroll though Highgate Cemetery

My mate Gus was out one day;

Someone asked ‘Do you know the quickest way 

To Highgate Cemetery?’

‘You bet I do’ said Gus

As he pushed the poor fellow under a bus.”

There are lots of reasons for visiting Highgate Cemetery in North London. Here are just a few of them.

It’s a final resting place for many literary folk, among them Douglas Adams, Alan Sillitoe, George Eliot, Pat Kavanagh and William Foyle (who founded Foyle’s with his brother Gilbert).

Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams, with pencil tribute

 

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’s writer

 

Literary agent Pat Kavanagh

Literary agent Pat Kavanagh

 

One half  of W & G Foyle Ltd

One half of W & G Foyle Ltd

Then there’s this avid reader.  

Jim Horn 1976-2010

Jim Horn 1976-2010

Poor Harry Thornton didn’t survive the flu pandemic.  

Pianist Harry Thornton 1883-1918

Pianist Harry Thornton 1883-1918

I expect you know who Malcolm McLaren was, unlike the couple nearby who thought he had something to do with double buggies.   

Malcolm McLaren

Malcolm McLaren 1946-2010

Pop artist Patrick Caulfield plays a visual joke on the headstone.   

Patrick Caulfield

DEAD or alive? Probably dead if you look closely.

But Jeremy Beadle goes all serious with books.

Jeremy Beadle 1948-2008

There are war graves, mainly from World War One, and a 1930s monument to the London Fire Brigade. There’s also one very bad boy.

Mastermind of the Great Train Robbery 1963

Bruce Reynolds, the brains behind the Great Train Robbery

 You were expecting the big man? Oh, all right. Here you go.

Karl Marx 2

Funny how the communist gets the most lavish tomb, dwarfing those around him. Souls of lefties gather round, among them historian Eric Hobsbawm and Iraqi Communist leader Saad Saadi Ali, while a little further away lies Philip Gould, architect of New Labour.   

Eric Hobsbawm 1917-2012

Eric Hobsbawm 1917-2012

 

Saad Saadi Ali

Saad Saadi Ali

See? Ali is left-leaning even in death.

We were not alone, as we soon discovered.

we are not alone

These days you can still be buried in Highgate, though space is at a premium. The impressive statuary is packed close.  

angels

crosses

ivy on crosses

selection of statuary

statuary

Victorian tombstones

We’d only visited the East Cemetery, but, as the sun began to set, it seemed time to leave…  

open tomb 1