A Whole New World?
Creating a whole new world is one of the things I love about starting a new book.
And yes, I admit food and wine are often involved in the initial creation process….
The past few weeks while I have been working on my new book have been particularly fascinating. It always involves lots of daydreaming as I think of plots and characters, but one of the most enjoyable parts of starting a new story is the setting.
When and where will my characters live in this new world?
This latest book is set in 1750 London, so immediately, I dive into my cupboard. And yes, Dear Reader, I do have one, complete with a lock and a light, and it is plenty big enough to dive into.
It’s where I find my maps.
Ah, maps for my new world
These were collected decades ago from the Map section of the British Library.
They are getting rather dog-eared now, but I love to sit down with a magnifying glass and pore over the maps to check out where, in my new world, my characters will live and where they will visit.
I could make it all up
But why should I? I want my characters to walk real streets, if possible. Of course, some things are imaginary, but in this case I was able to fit my fictional characters in among the real historical characters who are to appear in the story. And London has so many wonderful places, streets and districts that conjure up all sorts of stories in my fevered brain.
And that is to say nothing of the real history of these places, which is often even stranger than fiction!
Street names tell a story : old world, new world
After a quick trawl through contemporary maps, directories and references, just look at the names that have turned up – DIstaff Lane, Stone Cutters Street, Hosier Lane, Magpie Yard, Gunpowder Alley (where Richard Lovelace lived… and died in poverty), not to mention Liquorpond Street and Knaves Acres. Who couldn’t make up a story with that lot?
Then there is Hanging Sword Alley.
It apparently got its name around 1564 from the large house there, known by the sign of the hanging sword. It seems this area was popular with fencing masters, so that makes sense.
I wonder if can fit in a fencing lesson for my hero, while he is in London….?
I don’t want to give too much away here, but…
… there are real events in 1750 that feature in my story, and my characters need to be close to the action.
For instance, some scenes take place in Essex Street, Strand, so I have one of my characters renting a house in the adjacent Arundel Street.
These streets date from the 17th century and are built on land formerly occupied by the great palaces of the Tudor era, with access to the Thames… Very useful for a bit of skulduggery
And now for a bit of real historical gossip…
At the end of Essex Street there is an arch (“Watergate”) and a flight of stone steps leading now to the Embankment, but it is said that originally these steps formed the water-gate to Old Essex House (owned by Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, the Earl of Essex). This will be a great way for my characters to come and go in secret, using the great watery highway of the Thames.
Of course, this is not a new idea. I found this delicious little snippet in British History online
“The late Lord Cholmondeley, who died in 1770, and who was not unknown as an antiquary, used to say that one day, when visiting a house in this street, he found, scratched to all appearance with a diamond, on a weather-stained piece of glass in a top room, the following letters, “I. C. U. S. X. & E. R,” which he interpreted, “I see you, Essex, and Elizabeth Regina.” If he was right in his interpretation, it would seem probable that some inquisitive occupant of this room, overlooking Essex House, had seen the Queen when visiting the Earl, and, like Captain Cuttle, had on the spot “made a note” of it.”
There is also mention of George’s Coffee House, which used to stand at the entrance to Devereaux Court (below). According to Google maps, this is just 2 minutes walk away from Arundel Street, perfect for a rendezvous between my characters!
All useful information about my new world…
…to squirrel away while I write my story. The maps are more useful than photos, too. One can imagine the streets more as they used to be, rather than the mix of styles and buildings that are there two and a half centuries later.
But now, sadly, most of the exciting bit is done. I have my characters and my setting. All that is left is to sit and my computer and actually write the darn book!
Wish me luck!
And finally, a question for you…
Anyone who has ever driven through rural Britain will know that helpful roadsigns can be rare. One can drive for miles through the labyrinthine lanes without seeing a signpost. Before the days of satnav it was easy to lose one’s bearings.
However, many years ago, I was exploring around the West Country and came across Sheepstealing Lane. An actual metal sign. (Sadly I did not have a camera with me.) Now, there must be a story connected to that lane……
What’s your favourite street name? I am sure there must be hundreds, if not thousands that conjure up stories in your imagination!