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.