On Location is a new series of posts about places which feature in my novel, minus the context. So the focus is on the place and why I think it’s interesting, NOT the part it plays in the book. (I hope you’ll find that out one day when you read it !) I’ll throw in a few red herrings while I’m at it. It’ll probably seem a bit of a random collection but that doesn’t matter. The randomness of things is what the book is really all about.
Whether you know these places or not, I hope you enjoy On Location.
#1 South Bank, London
When after my first term in an entry-level creative writing class, my tutor invited me to join a small novelists’ group, it wasn’t just a really exciting time for me as a writer (maybe I could actually be one), it led to me appreciating a part of London that had never held any appeal. For over two years, we’ve met fortnightly, first at the National Theatre, then at the Royal Festival Hall, which have huge foyers where people are free to sit around for hours on end – they seem to attract a lot of ‘creatives’. The Southbank Centre is known as much for the brutal style of its architecture as for its wonderful music, theatre and art. Sadly, concrete doesn’t age gracefully, but that’s not important once you’re inside.
The South Bank hasn’t figured much in my cultural outings. The place I’ve visited the most is the Hayward Gallery which has huge spaces perfect for displaying hard-hitting material. The Tracey Emin exhibition was the subject of my first ever Tweet in July of this year. A few years ago I went to a show that included an entire roomful of hard core pornography. But was it art? (No.)
The area wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to me. I lived in Camberwell, a Tube-less area of South London for four years after leaving university and crossed Waterloo Bridge on the 68 or 176 bus countless times, but I only admired the view looking north. Waterloo Station was my point of arrival on rare family trips from Salisbury, and later, at 17, the scene of torrid reunions with Daniele, a waiter at The Savoy who I’d met on a cross-channel ferry, that is, until I figured out what every woman knows deep down about Italian men.
How on earth did I get onto that?
The South Bank now is far more attractive than I remember it. In good weather, walking the wide path along the river to Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge is one of my favourite things to do in Central London and so is lunch on one of the restaurant terraces. This summer there was a fun, vibrant atmosphere and lots going on for the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain which gave the Royal Festival Hall its name and which inspired the very existence of the arts complex. The retro-cool Skylon restaurant has panoramic views of the Thames and is one of my absolute favourite places to eat out. Of course the London Eye is one reason the area draws so many visitors. I’ve been on it with each of my sons and on a clear day the views are spectacular. We were excited to spot Alexandra Palace up on its hill (very near our house) and the arch of Wembley Stadium, and in reverse, when we stand in front of Ally Pally looking over London, the wheel has become one of the landmarks to look for.
I get to the South Bank either by walking down the side of Trafalgar Square from Leicester Square Tube and over the Hungerford pedestrian bridge, or, my favourite, getting off at Holborn and walking over Waterloo Bridge. Strangely, the weather is almost always glorious (I’ve never taken a photo but when I get one which captures the mood I’ll add it). I always feel a mixture of anticipation and trepidation on my way to writing group and, as I cross the Thames, a surge of emotion at the view on either side of the bridge. Although I’ve lived in London half my life, it can still do that to me. If I have time, I nip into EAT café under the Festival Hall to grab a coffee. There’s a Spanish barista there with an angelic smile that could dissolve stone.
Writers like a place with a bit of human interest…