Just found out that I’ve had a short story accepted for the forthcoming Stations collection to be published by Arachne Press. It’s a collection of stories set around a particular train line in London, with one story for each station.
I have a grim kind of fascination with London – almost all of my short stories have been set there, as well as my first novel On the Holloway Road. In the next one, A Virtual Love, I venture about 50 miles up the motorway to Milton Keynes, but there are still passages set in London. And one of the things I really enjoyed doing was judging a short story contest at the London Bridge Festival entitled London: Glamour and Grime. So this idea for a story anthology was right up my alley – or, I suppose I should say, right on my platform.
Despite all this, I wouldn’t say I love London as many people do. I wouldn’t say I even like it that much. Perhaps that comes across in my work, most of which is quite bleak. The story that’s being included in the collection is about an old actress whose life got swallowed up by the city, and I realise that most of my fiction is about a similar kind of theme of dreams getting crushed or forgotten – in On the Holloway Road, for example, Jack and Neil can only escape and try to find freedom by following the Holloway Road as far away from the city as it goes, reversing Dick Whittington’s mythical journey.
It seems I’m not alone, either. When I think of London novels, from Dickens through Samuel Selvon’s Lonely Londoners and Martin Amis’s London Fields to Alex Wheatle’s depictions of Brixton poverty, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, London is depicted as a predominantly bleak and ugly place. Hey, don’t even mention JG Ballard. Writers seem to be drawn to London’s dirty, seamy underbelly. In the short story contest I mentioned, virtually none of the entries touched the glamour; grime was everywhere. The best fiction about London seems to be exclusively focused on its grime.
Maybe I’m being unfair on my home town. Can you think of any more upbeat portrayals of London in the 600 years or so since Dick Whittington? Come on, there must be some! Look at how beautiful the place is. Have you read any books that really capture the beauty of London?