‘London, London, how I’ve missed you, you filthy, rotten city,’ These words are spoken by Annaleigh, the narrator of The Vanishing, but they apply to me too. I don't always like London, but I'll always love it.
Like Annaleigh, London has shaped my life and my personality. It gave me opportunities and experiences, good, bad, mad and indifferent. Through it, I've experienced love, despair, disaster and success; met people, and seen things I never would have known if I'd stayed in a safer, calmer place. All of these things go into my books in one way or another.
But the thing I love most about London is its history, which is as vibrant as its present: the sense of the people who have gone before. The images below were all taken in the City of London, the section of the city which still forms its commercial heart (in past centuries, people would have to gain the Freedom of the City in order to trade within its walls, usually through one of the City livery companies). They are:
The view of a tree, planted within the church of St John Zachary. Known from the 12th century, this church was almost completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Now, its footprint forms a garden (first tended by fire watchers in the Second World War). Its branches stretch before Goldsmiths' Hall and the modern Investec Building.
One of the ceramic plaques placed around the City, marking buildings and roads which have been lost. I love these because they superimpose the ghost of the old landscape onto the new.
A Victorian boot scraper. A small detail which you'd miss, if you hurry past. London was a more visibly dirty place in past centuries, not least because of the number of horses on the streets. I can almost see a man in a greatcoat and top hat scraping his boots before entering the house.
The ancient walls of the City of London. A wall was first built around the City by the Romans, and it was repaired and rebuilt over following centuries. There are fragments of it throughout the City, nestling close to modern office blocks and developments such as the Barbican estate. Here, you can see beehives beneath it.
Another view of old/new London. The building on the left is the church of St Anne and St Agnes, founded in the 12th century, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, and then destroyed in the Blitz during the night of 29-30 December 1940. It was reconstructed, and rededicated in 1966.
A plaque marking the site of Charles Wesley's conversion. Methodism plays a part in The Vanishing, especially the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer, with its moving message of acceptance: 'Let me be full, let me be empty/Let me have all things, let me have nothing'.
A plaque marking the site of the Bull and Mouth coaching inn. Particularly special to me because it is where Annaleigh, the narrator of The Vanishing, catches her coach to Yorkshire: 'The air I breathed felt thick and heavy, and the constant rocking of the coach threatened to bring up the punch I had drunk at the Bull and Mouth Inn with Mr Plaskett. What had they put in it? I thought. And then, what had he asked them to put in it?'
Finally, reflections of the sky in a puddle. Taken in the garden of St John Zachary, when I was sitting on a bench, talking to a friend. Fragments of sky and trees in the heart of the city.
I also promised ghosts, but I don't have any pictures of those. I'm not saying I haven't experienced them though...