A City Of Darkness Part 2


A new online store of rare photographs shows London between the wars from the air, its Victorian buildings of white Portland stone blackened by sooty smoke.

Perhaps that wasn’t something Dickens had in mind when he wrote about London, but there’s truth in it; the city has a side that’s disreputable and rebellious, so of course it appeals to the youthful, the very people who kick-start new ideas into the city. Much has been written of London as a city of rebels, from Roaring Boys to Punks, but there’s a general tenor of pushback that’s always present; When the Lord Mayor banned the drinking of alcohol on the underground, students immediately started serving wine at dinner parties held in the train carriages.

I’m surprised by how many seniors live in London, renting flats after their children have grown, spending the days at theatres, museums and galleries. Because I work at home, I go to such places mid-week rather than face the crush of the weekends, and you see a completely different cross-section of the city at such times.

But London is also the home of the nefarious; more than two centuries of celebrated murderers have had their stories endlessly retold, from the misidentified assailants in the Ratcliffe Highway killings to the bizarre comic tragedy of Dr Crippen and Belle Elmore.

Even though the city is now clean and bright, the low light remains. How can it not be fertile ground for the creation of dark tales? Everyone has set macabre stories in London, it seems, and the best are ones that have learned Dicken’s greatest writing secret; that if you create indelible characters the stories fall into place.

As Harry Potter hits 15, it’s obvious that the magical schoolboy fits this pattern. Who remembers the plots, which are really a bit of a mess? The characters and situations are what’s important.

In my head there’s another London where every fictional character from every London book and film lives, so that Mrs Wilberforce still looks after her ladykillers in King’s Cross, Alfred Pendlebury makes his bogus paperweights in Lavender Hill and Steptoe and son bicker in their gothic junkyard in Shepherd’s Bush. Here, too, live Shaun of the Dead and the murderer in Graham Greene’s ‘A Little Place Off The Edgware Road’.

In the 150-plus tales of the macabre I’ve written, over half of them take place in the streets and houses of London. The stories were inspired by the shadowy, serpentine plots of Dickens and the gaslit grimness of Conan Doyle, by Saki and Orton and ‘The Avengers’, blurred with a thousand other elliptical influences born of rain and smoke and dimly perceived sunlight.

9 comments on “A City Of Darkness Part 2”

  1. Laurel says:

    Would you mind linking to the photo site?

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Two interesting posts on the heart of darkness, but more importantly: how’s that “chesty” cold coming? Need to keep the lungs and sinuses clear and avoid COPD or one of the other conditions.
    On the bright side though for your B & M fans: August 2nd is now only 36 days away!
    As a good friend from India says: “Tick-tock, tick-tock goes the clock.” Of course for us outliers, we have that nasty extra wait while the Royal Mail does its thing. Darn.

  3. Vickie says:

    Well, hullo, Dan Terrell, where have you been these last couple of weeks?

    London the city seems to have psychological depths that few others have…both in its physical being and in authors able to portray it thusly. Thank goodness… the end result being great absorbing reads.

    And yes, I too am tapping the table impatiently awaiting the release of the latest B&M.

  4. admin says:

    Dear Laurel – I would but I couldn’t find it in my history. Will do another check.

  5. snowy says:



  6. snowy says:

    Snowy you twit


  7. Dan Terrell says:

    I was in Germany on a vacation and business trip visiting small Thuringen towns, Leipzig and Berlin. I was fact checking the final version of an adult novel, researching with camera a future novel on J.S. Bach and meeting with my Berlin representative on the publication of an illustrated novella for children, hopefully the first of three.
    Enough said.
    This is the Admin’s blog and I have no desire to flog my work on his site, just mean to say I’m working and praying for publication like everyone else these days.

  8. Lisa Perry says:

    The London you set your stories in, is the London I wish I could visit. But when I try, it’s never quite there. Yours is so fascinating. I love the way you layer all of the histories into one slice, as it were. London trifle?

  9. Joel Kosminsky says:

    I love London too – when I was in the airlines (can’t say I ‘worked’ there as accusations of that were rare), I used my cheap tickets to see other big cities – they have character but only London has ‘atmosphere’, apart from the pollution our blonde Mayor won’t do anything about except shuffle older buses to the suburbs. Only London has that mix of medieval, gothic and brutal concrete, plus odd gems which either survive or slipped past the planners’ lack-of-taste filters. Tales of London only reveal a layer, and focuses on that – detail is left to the audience. There’s even nice bits of south London too…

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