London: Thank You For 2012

I couldn’t end 2012 without something for my Shardenfreude followers. I’ve had a fair number of hits on the blog over the past couple of years looking for photos of its construction and now it’s finished and shining like a, well, shard.

Did That Party Hat Come Out of a Giant Cracker? The Shard 14th December 2012
Did That Party Hat Come Out of a Giant Christmas Cracker? The Shard 14th December 2012

And in the spirit of London 2012, here’s a few more night time photos of landmarks old and new.


It’s so apt that London’s most well known modern landmark (or is it now the Shard?) is an inclusive circle — or in the year of the Olympics — a ring.

The View from Westminster Bridge 14th December 2012
The View from Westminster Bridge 14th December 2012

As anyone reading the posts on this blog over the summer will realise, I think this was an extraordinary year to spend time in London — and it was a privilege for me to be here in 2012 to witness how the city, probably already the most international and cosmopolitan on earth, became a place that literally, with the extraordinary army of games-makers, welcomed the world — and incredibly efficiently too.

St. Paul's from the Golden Jubilee Bridge 14th December 2012
St. Paul’s from the Golden Jubilee Bridge 14th December 2012

I’m still awed by the Danny Boyle Opening Ceremony. I’ve watched the start a few times since — and I now have my Olympic DVD — and in places I still have that spine-tingling feeling of watching a piece of genius unfolding — and a peculiarly eccentric English genius. I’d almost forgotten that the official speeches were made from that bizarre interpretation of Glastonbury Tor — that spewed out industrial workers. Perhaps it’s because Danny Boyle comes from the fringes of Manchester, as I do, that the Pandemonium section with the rising mill chimneys had such resonance. But, as I’ve blogged already, the narrative of that sequence was brilliant — obscuring the denouement of the unification of the five rings, except for that wonderful moment when the audience suddenly realises what’s about to happen, and then has a final surprise payoff at the end with the raining fire.

In retrospect, it’s easy to forget the doubts we all had about London even having a tolerably good games and avoiding something disastrous. It’s not surprising in retrospect that the Olympics and Paralympics put on a great show. London routinely handles huge sporting events — with the likes of Wembley, Twickenham and Lords being some of the best stadiums in the world (I know Twickenham wasn’t used but, having lived nearby for several years it shows how 80,000 people can be processed in and out of a suburban stadium). London, and the country in general, put on huge cultural events, like Glastonbury and the Hyde Park concerts, every summer and the country is able to put on spectacular state events, like the Royal Wedding and this year’s Jubilee celebrations (though we can’t control the weather). And, here’s a slightly tenuous connection to the novel, London and the rest of the country has probably the most thriving cultural industry of any city (or country) in the world — punching way above its weight in music, art, theatre, television, writing — almost any branch of culture you can think of. And the government, for a change, didn’t cut the budget. Of course we should have put on a good show but it’s a reassuringly diffident British characteristic to think that we wouldn’t.

Apologies for repeating myself but we’re not going to get another event like it for a long time and, although the Olympics knocked my writing schedule way behind during the summer, it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed.

So maybe another few photos from the landmark that will explode in a huge circle of fire in a few hours to celebrate the end of such a great year for the city.

The Olympic Stadium from the London Eye -- Yes, You Can See It.
The Olympic Stadium from the London Eye — Yes, You Can See It.


Shard and Canary Wharf October 2012
Shard and Canary Wharf October 2012


BT Tower at Sunset
BT Tower at Sunset
A View of Westminster Bridge
A View of Westminster Bridge



There’s been so much else I’ve done in London in 2012 that I’ve not even had change to blog about — exhibitions seen, events I’ve attended, walks I’ve taken — the Shoreditch graffiti walk and previously mentioned Abbey Road Studio Two visit being but two of the highlights.

I’ve also met so many wonderful new friends, particularly associated with the arts in London. Maybe I’ll do a proper round up post in the New Year?

And between the Olympics and Paralympics I belatedly discovered Tuscany and Venice for the first time, which would have been the highlight of most years.

Venice: the Grand Canal from the Rialto
Venice: the Grand Canal from the Rialto

I do have a finished novel, although it’s not yet quite polished enough yet, which is a little frustrating, but I think it’s benefited from being in progress during the year — especially if I can manage to capture a little of the headiness of this past year in the city.

So 2013 is only a few hours away — the year when I finally hope the finished novel is going to gain me that MA in Creative Writing after three years of study (after all the OU, Lancaster and City courses as well).  So, in novel writing terms, perhaps a little like the Olympic hopefuls this time last year, but in a more modest, literary way, my New Year’s Resolution is pretty straightforward — do my best, work hard, accept any criticism and setbacks as constructive feedback and then see how my efforts measure up — finish the novel to best of my ability, send it out and then start on the next one…but also carry on enjoying myself as much with the next as I have with this one.

I Did Finally Get There -- At the Olympic Park for the Paralympics -- 1st September 2012
I Did Finally Get There — At the Olympic Park for the Paralympics — 1st September 2012

(And my other New Year’s Resolution is to clean out all the crappy extraneous characters in the old blog posts that appear to have arrived with the database copying problems.)

Dickensian London

I took this photo while on the pub crawl described below. The large lamp hangs outside Ye Old Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. The street posts show it’s in the City of London while floodlit St.Paul’s almost hangs in the sky like a spectral moon.

A Dickensian View of Fleet Street

As mentioned elsewhere, the slope of Fleet Street downwards is one side of the valley where the hidden river Fleet runs underground. When you realise there’s a river there the geography of London seems quite different and it’s almost possible to imagine what it would be like without any buildings.

There are suggestions that this route had some sort of mythical significance for prehistoric settlers in the area — that a ley line runs towards St.Paul’s along Fleet Street and that Ludgate Circus (at the bottom of the valley half way between where the photo was taken and St.Paul’s) was the site of a stone circle and megalith.

Ready for the Shardpener

Shard 7th October 2011
Shard from the Millennium Bridge 7th October 2011

Another photo for the fans of the amazing Shard who end up landing on this blog and wondering exactly why.

It’s very close to being finished on the outside. The concrete core has reached its final height and the glass panels have almost enclosed it — the impression this photo gives me is of a huge pencil with a bit of protruding lead at the top, ready to be put into the pencil sharpener.

This photo was taken on a research run in London (see the Google map below to see exactly what route I took). I did some checking out of the locations in which I’m setting parts of my novel — mainly at the eastern end of the route.

I can’t think of a running route that would go past any more tourist sights than this one — or at least one where you could actually get up some speed. I’m not sure if New Scotland Yard or MI5’s HQ are proper sights but they were on the first stretch, then London Eye, the Southbank Centre (where I went earlier this week to see Pipilotti Rist’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery), Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s, Victoria Embankment, Cleopatra’s Needle, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

I even took my research so far I wanted to wander into the St. Paul’s Cathedral shop but, having just done 5km at the time, and dripping perspiration in puddles from my bright orange Nike running top, I decided to respect the decorum of the church and come back again another day.

More pics from other research trips to come in the next few days.

Check out my run below.

View Westminster-St.Paul’s Circular 2011-10-07 12:30 in a larger map

The Shard Rises

I was in London yesterday around Oxford Circus then went to St.Paul’s and Southwark to have a walk around the settings I’m using for the first few chapters of The Angel — including the Tate Modern again where it was amazing to hear the number of French and German speakers.

Walking across the Millennium Bridge I was impressed again by the height of the internal core of concrete core of the Shard, which I think I heard became the tallest building in London in the last week or so.

Here’s a photo I took from the Millennium Bridge and the scale of the Shard can be seen in comparison with Tower Bridge and One London Bridge (the square building at the foot of the Shard).

The Shard Rising -- 18th February 2011
The Shard Rising -- 18th February 2011

The literary agent Carole Blake  (who I follow on Twitter) tweeted about this interesting article on the Shard’s construction from today’s FT which is currently available for free.

It does present a conundrum for my novel though as when I started it the Shard was a hole in the ground and by the time it’s finished then the Shard will be an unmissable landmark. However, although my novel is set in the present the time elapsed in the plot will be shorter than the time I’ve taken to write it. I suppose it might be a nice little touch at the end to mention the erection of the tall, central shaft (also adding in a bit of the rest of the book’s symbolism there too!).

I also solved a slight problem I had in the early chapters where I have James and Kim around St.Paul’s but doing something that would probably need a bit more privacy than they could find in the piazza around the cathedral. I think I’ve found an ideal replacement location on the way between St.Paul’s and the Viaduct Tavern — Christchurch Greyfriars. This, like the Aegidienkirche in Hanover, is a bombed out shell and has a rose garden where the nave of the church used to be — although it currently is closed off for some sort of refurbishment. It will be a very suitable place for the two of them to sit and I won’t need to be too heavy with symbolism — the location will do it on its own. I read on Wikipedia that the church, before the war, had a huge angel on its spire, which now sits in the entrance of a nearby (non-ruined) church.

It’s also opposite the Boots pharmacy where Kim will later go — my research for this section is pretty anal!

Also to get to Christchurch Greyfriars they will walk through Paternoster Square and there’s quite a curious sculpture there that marks its ancient use as a livestock market. It’s by Elisabeth Frink, a sculptor who liked to specialise in the human male nude form — and perhaps there’s something quite symbolic for the book about that sculpture as there are plenty of sheep where the two will end up. Despite the German sounding name, Frink was English but I read on Wikipedia that she was taught by an Austrian refugee from the Anschluss. Amazing how it all comes together.

Shepherd and Sheep - Elisabeth Frink - Paternoster Square
Shepherd and Sheep - Elisabeth Frink - Paternoster Square

Themes and Influences

Going back to Emily’s point about how themes emerge the more that one writes, I’ve realised I’ve unwittingly used some fascinating influences. I’ve just been writing, very slowly, a scene where Kim paints in her tube carriage studio and decides whether she likes James or not. Watching artists at work is not something I’ve properly researched yet but I found myself writing about gestures like her putting a brush to her mouth and nodding her head from side-to-side. I’ve realised where my mind dredged this up from — a rather famous Cadbury’s advert from the 1970s which can now be seen again on You Tube.

I’ve also given Kim a liking of religious choral music, partly because I have some of it on the computer and it’s randomly played as I’ve been writing. I did, however, buy the Classic FM CD ‘Music for the Soul’ last week which has Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ (apparently the third best loved piece of classical music in the country). I’ve seen this performed twice now — once at the Proms for the fiftieth anniversary of RVW’s death (in 2008) — and this really is music for the soul. Heard live, the bass strings resonate through your body. What’s special about the CD is that before the Fantasia is the original theme by Tallis which RVW used as the basis for his work — called ‘Why Fum’th In Fight?‘. It’s quite extraordinary to hear the theme sung and then elaborated by the string orchestra.

I may have Kim be inspired by the Tallis Fantasia later in the novel. I wanted to write it in the current scene but it’s getting quite long and I need to get the characters moving. Instead she plays John Tavener’s ‘Song for Athene’ (the 20th century Tavener, not Tallis’s contemporary). Of course this is most famous from being the music to which the Princess of Wales’ coffin was carried out of Westminster Abbey and was accompanied by the most striking images of the black and white tiling on the abbey floor. There’s also another connection between Tavener, Tallis, Vaughan Williams and Westminster Abbey. The part of Westminster Abbey where the choir sang ‘Song for Athene’  is where Thomas Tallis is buried and Vaughan Williams’ ashes are interred, which I’d not known until I did a bit of research.

I realised that I’m spontaneously generating quite a lot of references to cathedrals and other religious themes. St Paul’s is going to play a part in the story and so will the village church and churchyard (think about Emma). But it’s probably no co-incidence that this is happening with a novel that’s called The Angel — whether the title is a symptom or a cause of this is an interesting question but it all seems to tie in quite uncannily.

I also read on the Guardian’s Book Blog that angels as a general literary theme are meant to be the Next Big Thing, replacing the current vogue for vampires. I’m not sure this is a great thing for my title, seeing as my angels are on pub signs and are symbolic — not the scary sort made notorious by the likes of the famous Stephen Moffat Doctor Who episode — ‘Blink’. I do like the title, though. I’ve even worked it into the dialogue — from recently written chapter two:

He shrugged.

‘Yes, sorry about your job too,’ Kim said.

‘I’ve got the cash for you, though.’

‘You’re an angel,’ she said. ‘Come up and take a look around.’