When I lived in London one of my favourite places was the Mount Street Gardens a quiet residential area in the heart of Mayfair where I spent peaceful summer afternoons reading or writing. The public gardens are a sanctuary hidden behind red-brick mansion blocks and the neo-Gothic Church of the Immaculate Conception. I didn’t live in Mayfair but how I wished I did. I visited London recently and found that the gardens hadn’t changed, it is still the same beautiful space.
Mount Street Gardens has large London plane trees, lawns, plants and shrubs, including laurels and hollies and camellias. Park benches that have been donated by or in memory of people who have loved and used the garden line the paths. If you are ever in the gardens you might notice in a warm and sheltered spot an Australian silver wattle (a touch of home for this Australian author) and there is a Canary Islands date palm. The gardens provide a home for birds, including robins, magpies, and blackbirds.
The green and open city squares, parks and gardens are an integral part of London and they often have connections to writers from the past and are perfect for a novelist to use in a story. I wrote about Gordon Square, and Tavistock Square where Virginia Woolf once lived, in my recent novel.
My WIP (work-in-progess) warrants such a setting and my protagonist sets off one morning from a Victorian mansion in Mount Street, for a destination that will change her life forever. And even though it was pouring rain that morning the gardens are so familiar to me it was an easy scene to write.
I wrote about an American serviceman in my novel Castle of Dreams and by serendipity discovered a US connection to the gardens during the era part of my WIP is set (I write dual narrative stories set in the past and the present) when I read about a bench inscribed, ‘An American who did not find a park like this in New York City’. During World War Two, the American Embassy was situated in Grosvenor Square and began to accommodate many US government offices, including the headquarters of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the European headquarters of the United States Navy. I later discovered many of the benches were donated by US citizens who have enjoyed the gardens.
I wouldn’t be surprised if my protagonist meets an American, perhaps a serviceman maybe a spy in the Mount Street Gardens!
I have never visited the Persephone bookshop but plan to do so when I am next in London. They have kindly sent me The Persephone Biannually since I first discovered their books in 2011 and I recently received No 22 Autumn/Winter 2017-18. It is now available to read on their website for overseas customers.
Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. All of our 125 books are intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written and are chosen to appeal to busy people wanting titles that are neither too literary nor too commercial. We publish novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs and cookery books; each has an elegant grey jacket, a ‘fabric’ endpaper with matching bookmark, and a preface by writers such as Jilly Cooper, David Kynaston and Elaine Showalter. Reference: Persephone website
Interior Persephone Bookshop
And don’t you love the window display?
While the Christmas period is a busy one I made time to start a new novel and while it doesn’t have a working title as yet there is something magical about writing the first word of a new story on the first day of a new year.
‘For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice.’ ~ T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
May the joys of the season be with you throughout the coming year.
I write time-split novels where the past impacts on the present and in my new novel One Bright Day I have a scene set in St Pancras Old Church London. I lived in London many years ago and visited this lovely old church and adjoining cemetery. There is nothing more I enjoy than discovering churches new to me and wandering around old cemeteries. When I lived on a farm north of Perth we’d always stop when we drove past an old country cemetery. There is something captivating about them, especially for a writer, imagining stories for those long ago people and the lives they may have lived.
St Pancras Old Church
One of my characters walks through this gate to attend a London wedding.
The Hardy Tree
In the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church in London, hundreds of old gravestones circle an ash tree. Of course, these were not how they were originally laid out. So, how did they get to this, their final resting place, as it were? And who was responsible?
Long before he became famous for novels like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (like any other aspiring writer) had to find employment with which to pay his way through the world. His chosen field was to be architecture.
When the church grounds were being cleared tomake space for the railway line, Hardy was a London architect’s assistant. He had the grim task of exhuming hundreds of bodies and removing their graves.
During the work Hardy ordered headstones to be placed under this ash tree. His reasons are unknown but Hardy was a keen naturalist and may have done it to prevent the tree being removed. Alternatively, he saved the stones to respect the people whose final resting place had been disturbed.
Have a wonderful weekend, writing, dreaming, reading!
There is a bookshop in London called Persephone Books.
Persephone was carried off by Hades and made queen of the underworld. Demeter refused to let the earth produce its fruits until her daughter was restored to her, but because Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds in the other world, she was obliged to spend part of every year there. Her story symbolises the return of spring and the life and growth of corn.
I like to think Persephone Books symbolise the return of forgotten women authors.
I subscribe to their blog and read on it recently of the death of Nova Pilbeam the most wonderful actress who never was. Duncan Hannah, a painter intrigued by Nova, although as far as I know he never met her, painted her and you can view his evocative picture of her and many others which I just love on his website.
My WIP (work-in-progress) is set in WW2 in England. My finished novel will be published in 2016 by Allen and Unwin. It is set in Australia in WW2 and also in contemporary times and has two chapters set in Northern California.