Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cathedrals, cars and shoes

So, yesterday I was in London for the Romantic Novelists Association annual Winter Party, but before tripping off to the splendid Institute of Mechanical Engineering, I spent some time wandering around the Museum of London. I'd originally gone there as a friend had told me they had a London Bridge exhibit, which was no longer there when I visited (although I've just been reading about the London Bridge Museum, which will be opening in 2012 and looks worth a visit).

London Bridge is a key location in The Untied Kingdom and I did a fair amount of research into it. Without this research I probably wouldn't have known just how dangerous the waters around the medieval bridge were, and how strong the possibility of drowning or being smashed to death against the wooden pontings would have been. These facts inspired one of the early scenes in the book, in which my hero gets one of many opportunities to be really heroic.

(One piece of research I entirely forgot about was a story my dad told me years ago when he worked at the Kirkstall Brewery in Leeds. I used Kirkstall Abbey as a fairly major location in the book, and there are one or two occasions where various characters sneak in and out. My dad, havoing read the book, asked me why on earth I hadn't used the brewery tunnel. The story was that a tunnel connected the Abbey to the brewery, supposedly leading out from one of the pitch-black, unlit cellars. Although my dad went down there with a torch one night, he never quite found the tunnel, which was supposed to be haunted. He said he ran out of time, but I'm thinking it might have been his nerve that didn't last...)

So I wandered around the Museum of London looking at exhibits on Roman, medieval and modern London, and found a lot of visual inspiration, not just for the Untied Kingdom but other works in progress.

St Paul's Cathedral
I was pleased to see this model of the medieval St Paul's (the model itself over a hundred years old) as it's the cathedral that would have dominated the skyline in Harker's London. In the Untied Kingdom there's been no Great Fire and no Blitz, so plenty of medieval buildings still stand. The medieval St Paul's had a spire 400ft high, and was at the time the largest building in England.

Victorian Tobacconist
Harker finds cigarettes monstrously expensive, but they're his only vice and for a man who gets shot on a regular basis, they're way down on his list of health hazards. He'd probably have bought his cigarettes from somewhere like this, at least before the war made them so hard to import.

Clerk's office
Harker gets summoned to quite a lot of offices. They'd probably look like this, more or less unchanged since the Victorian era, with a distinct lack of electrical appliances. Even the lamp would be running on oil.

1908 taxi
There are a few WWII-era trucks around in the book, but a few very wealthy individuals might own something like this. Harker requisitions one in the second half of the book.

Uniform of Richard St George, 1743
This doesn't really have anything to do with the book, except that it's the sort of uniform Harker despises. Lots of useless braid, pointless cuffs, completely ridiculous knee-breeches, and the less said about the hat the better. Even the colour is insane: a man can't hide in a red coat, and you can't tell if he's hurt, either.

Mind you, if Harker saw a soldier dressed like this, he'd probably end up hurt.

Jan Jones, Diane Pearson and Katie Fforde
And finally on to the RNA Winter Party, which was wonderful as usual. Celebrating 50 years of the organisation and of the New Writers Scheme, photoshoots were taken and sparkly ribbons handed out to all who'd graduated the scheme. Jan seemed quite surprised that I'd entered the RNA as an unpublished author, but I rather like the idea of springing into the place, fully formed, like Venus from her father's forehead (no, forget that, that's gross).

And before you ask, yes, my shoes were fabulous, and many pictures of them were taken, but I can't seem to track them down. If you have any, send them on!


  1. I was at Museum of London today! London Bridge model is at Docklands Museum. (*Thinks* I'm sure I told K8 that before.)

    Dunno whether official photographer was taking shoes. i slightly forgot I had my camera with me - but your shoes were beeyootiful. Also red satin. also slingback. also damn covetous.

  2. Is it? Oh dammit! I remember Melanie talking about the Barbican site and how hard it was to get in to (it really is!) so I ended up there. Boo.

    Those shoes? Also painful.

  3. Your shoes (and your dress) were absolutely gorgeous, but I was so rubbish I forgot to take any shoe photos.

    And yes, it was my name sticker that wouldn't stick to anything except the bottom of your shoe :D

  4. I had my camera too Jude, and that was the only picture I remembered to take! Clearly, we were all having too much fun.

    And your name badge really loved my shoes!

  5. Great photos, Kate! It was so nice to see you again last night - shoe, wonderful dress and all!