My novel Crucial Evidence is set in the London with which I was very familiar. Until a few years ago I was often working at the Central Criminal Court, more commonly known as the Bailey to the lawyers who work in there. The original Edwardian building houses the famous Number 1 Court and the hall with its painted ceiling. Next to that, opened in 1970 by the then Lord Mayor of London, is a newer building in which the courtroom 12, where much of my novel takes place, is situated. My journey to work was by Central Line Tube from Notting Hill Gate to St Paul’s. The map shows where the Old Bailey is on the edge of the City of London.
I would walk along Newgate Street to the Old Bailey which is the name of the street which gives its name to the court. Quite often, when a terrorist trial was taking place the police would hold the traffic and pedestrians back at the junction with Warwick Lane to allow the prison van to sweep into the yard of the court. They would be dressed in bullet proof vests and carrying guns. I thought it was a bit stupid to hold up to twenty people where they would be in the line of fire if anyone tried to free the prisoners. The police may have prevented the escape but they risked a number of dead bystanders.
I wanted to see if the area had changed since I had last been there and if, when I described the places my main character, barrister Cassie Hardman would see on her journeys around the area, they were the same as I remembered them. In the novel Cassie stands in the Bailey looking out onto a wet street scene. She describes the cobbles of Seacoal Lane glistening in the rain. If you look at the map, the lane has vanished into the middle of an office block. In another scene she looks sees the spire of St Brides Church – the journalist’s place of worship – now a new building under construction will hide it from view, if it has not already done so.
I will have to do some editing when I come to the part in may next novel, whose working title is The Fatal Step where Cassie is looking out of the windows of the Bailey. At the moment as she gazes across the city the spire of St Brides in sparkling sunlight, but it will not be visible so instead she’ll have to look at the glass of the building opposite. But at least it was worth while going to London and walking around to see these changes for myself and, of course see how or when I can work them into my story. I’ll continue my walk along Fleet Street another time, but there have been changes there as well. Creating that sense of place in a novel really does rely on knowing the streets scenes you are writing and there is nothing like walking around with a camera and capturing it to take back to your desk.
How time flies it’s nearly two weeks since the Chudleigh Literary Festival took place and I’m still trying to absorb everything I learnt at the workshops.
We started with character building with Patrica Fawcett. We had to create a character from a photograph. I know it’s quite a common teaching aid but I’m always surprised by the way the characters evolve when I begin writing. Naming the character can be difficult and until you decide what their social status is – I always think of Hugo as being a bit snobbish so if my character is from a social housing estate then I’d call him something else.
Then we looked at place specific writing led by Oriana Ascanio. She took us like a crocodile of school children into the churchyard to write about a burial from the point of view of a huge pine – again a change of perspective is always challenging. The next exercise was to imagine you are a saint and part of you is kept somewhere in the Church. Some people did some amazing things with that being the patron saint of lost things was one, but I found imagining my self as a saint a bit difficult.
Our next workshop was on how to write your memoir. Sophie King encouraged everyone to try write their life story as she believed we all have something to tell the next generation. She asked us to think about the major events in our lives and write about one. Again the group came up with some really interesting stories. Then it was poetry with Jennie Osborne. I haven’t written poetry for some time but listening to the sounds of your writing are important if you write prose. Again it was events from childhood that provided the most inspiration for the pieces we wrote.
The final event of the day was a ‘Meet the Authors Supper’ when about fifteen authors came and had supper with us. Their was a lot of laughter and exchanges of writing experiences over a meal and a glass of wine.
It’s summer and here in Devon it is the time for Literary Festivals both large and small.
I spent the whole of Monday at beautiful Dartington Hall where the Ways With Words Festival has held for the last twenty years. The highlight of the day or rather highlights among so many stars were the talks by Jill Dawson and John Goodby. Jill Dawson talked about her latest book ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ and explained how she works from real life events into fiction. She talked about writing in the gaps between the known facts. I think all writers do that to a greater or lesser degree. After all facts don’t have feelings and it is in that unknown place the writer can work.
I have been trying to read Dylan Thomas’s poems from a collection I bought many years ago at the boathouse in Laugharne South Wales, where he worked. The collection says on the cover that it ‘contains most of the poems I have written, and all, up to the present year that I wish to preserve.’ The collection was published in 1952, a year before his death. I have been struggling with them so I was pleased to listen to John Goodby talking about Thomas’s use of word with multiple meanings, and his use of puns. I wanted to know if the collection was chronological as I found it hard to equate the poems I was reading (I’d got as far as Death has no Dominion) with ones like Fernhill and of course the humour in Under Milk Wood. Professor Goodby said I should wait until his annotated collection of Thomas’s poems is published in October which includes other poems and demonstrates how he developed over the years. It does make one query whether the author is the best judge of his own work? Is he too influenced by his own mood at the time?