Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A city full of inspiration

I have just finished reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  While I find some sentences fairly clunky, Neil Gaiman is a story teller.  Each and every story is guaranteed to stick with you for a long time and each character is fully and wonderfully developed.  Neverwhere is no different and each character effortlessly comes alive for the reader so much so that next time I go to London I believe I will be keeping an eye out for Door, the Marquis De Carabas, Hunter and Richard Mayhew.  I will certainly never look at tube stations in the same way.
Neverwhere is a fantastic book and I strongly recommend it to everyone, whether you enjoy fantasy or not.  I'm now very interested in watching the BBC series that was being filmed as Gaiman wrote the novel.

One of the many things that struck me about Neverwhere was that Neil Gaiman made London itself into a character.  And why not?  London is perfect to develop into a character and cities should not just be a setting or scenery for characters.  Terry Pratchett has successfully created Ankh-Morpork into a Disc World character alive with heavy smells of baked goods, cooked meats, spoiled magic and thick sewage floating on the river Ankh.

This got me to thinking about other cities.  London is a good city to use as a setting as international readers can relate, but what about the lesser known?  I thought this would be an excellent excuse to give a run down of my three favourite cities and how they could be used in writing;

  • Bristol
  • York
  • Edinburgh

I’m going to start with Bristol because this is where I live.

I first stepped foot in Bristol four years ago (I think) to meet my now husband.  I knew Bristol was the city for me as soon as I stepped off the train.  It is a large city, although not quite as big as London, with a bustling urban feel and more culture than you can shake a stick at.

Bristol may lack the strong history of London – there is no royal connection and the museums are poor and lacking.  What Bristol does have, however, is a beautiful harbour, grand buildings holding the Central Library and Council House, lots of green spaces and steep hills (Park Street) with boutique shops.  There is the posh Clifton with its tall Edwardian town houses and celebrity residences next to the Downs, a large green space surrounded by mansions and the Clifton Suspension Bridge and there are the cheaper areas of the city, home to a strong sense of community.  Of course that’s putting a shiny gloss on it.  Bristol, just like London, has rough patches and those places can be just as inspirational as the beauty spots.

There is always something going on in Bristol.  There are the grand buildings of Bristol University lurking down residential roads.  There is a strong art and graffiti presence – Bristol is the home of Banksy.  There are old factories and regenerated warehouses mixed with new apartments and tall buildings made of glass.  You can visit @Bristol, the aquarium, the M Shed museum or Bristol museum, Clifton Suspension Bridge or, my personal favourites, the SS Great Britain and Bristol Zoo, to name just a few.

If you fancy a spot of theatre, music or comedy there is Colston Hall and the Hippodrome (a beautiful, quaint theatre that must surely be haunted somewhere and is perfect for comedy performances as no matter where you sit you will be close enough to see the details on the comedians face!) as well as a number of smaller pub venues.  

Bristol is brimming with history - the most memorable belonging to the slave trade unfortunately - and inspiration.  Many writers come from or live in Bristol and many have used the city to inspire them, one of which is Chris Beckett's Marcher.

I have personally found inspiration in Bristol and a chapter of my first novel Silver is based in Bristol.  Another chapter will be based on the SS Great Britain.  The last time I visited was the hottest day of the year and we melted beneath deck.  The narrow corridors and tiny rooms, along with the idea that the ship is haunted, sent my mind into overdrive.

The Downs also feature in Silver – a beautiful expanse of green popular with joggers and dog walkers.  There are regular football games, a lovely small café that sells amazing cake and an ice cream van.  The perfect place for a werewolf to run wild.

Neverwhere made me start to look at Bristol in a new light.  Neil Gaiman focused on London’s sewer system and tube stations which are the real mysteries of London – the underground where there are huge Victorian brick tunnels.  Could a similar focus be found for Bristol?

Next post: York’s history and inspiration

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