Writer on the ground
It’s always reassuring when memory and photographs combine to create a correct setting for a scene, rather than a setting absolutely impossible for what you’d intended. I finally got into London yesterday to check on the details of Westminster Bridge, which plays a major part in the ending scenes of The Green Man (name to come! soon!! I swear!!!) I started at Green Park, walking down Pall Mall (Mycroft’s home) and past the Horse Guards Parade ground and along the back of Whitehall (Downing Street is now shut to foot traffic, sensibly enough) to Parliament Square, where I was greeted by the noon strike on the Parliament clock, the four-fours of the famous striking quarters followed by twelve reverberating beats from big Ben.
I prowled around the bridge for quite some time, comparing the angles, noting the considerable rise in the middle, both lengthwise and across; the relationship between the placement of my characters; the needs of clear lines of fire from there to here. (I was grateful my thoughts could not be heard. Grateful also I was a grey-haired female crime writer rather than a young male of the species, since I’d seen no fewer than three young men being questioned by the police, their rollie-suitcases opened, their identities checked—St James’s Park is alarmingly close to Buckingham Palace for police comfort.)
One building down the Victoria Embankment from Westminster Bridge is the two-toned brick pile that was New Scotland Yard (now replaced by the modern building a stone’s throw inland, known, disappointingly enough, not as New-New Scotland Yard, but just the same old New Scotland Yard.) You may remember that Our Heroine was shot at in a window of that very building, in 1919, and the building will play a part in the denouement of the next story.
A bagpiper was playing on the north part of the bridge itself, a great temptation for a writer looking for Authentic Colour but perhaps not suited to the scene as written, which takes place not only in 1924, but at three in the morning. A juggler will have to do. And I peered across the wall at remnants of the truly ancient St Thomas’s hospital, skulking along the edges of the modern hospital and convenient for concealment of Russell’s means of escape.
And Monday? Kensal Green cemetery, site of many eminent burials and one minor (and apparently fictional) riot. And an evening event with my friends at Heffer’s in Cambridge, and then an attempt to cram all the books purchased on this trip into a suitcase, and away to home tomorrow.