From the metropolis to Newcastle Noir

I spent a few days in London last week. A combination of work, research and seeking out interesting places. I am not familiar with the East End of London but a birthday present last month sent me off on a journey around Spitalfields and Canary Wharf.

I was given a copy of Spitalfields Nippers, a collection of photographs taken by Henry Warner around 1900. The photographs are poignant reflections of a society where children were working from a young age; selling flowers, cutting wood and often looking after younger siblings while their parents were out at work. There is an innocence about them but it was a world of immense infant and child mortality. For any writer, photographs are a great source of inspiration and the ones in this book have triggered ideas for short stories that are waiting to be written.

Spitalfields is in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and even now still has high levels of deprivation and child poverty, Compare this to other parts of the Borough; in particular, Canary Wharf and you wonder how in the 21st Century you can have great wealth and extreme poverty living side by side.

A great place to visit is the Museum of London Docklands in West India Docks where you can see the history of the river and the life around it. From Roman times to the present day this is an area that has seen it all. Invasions, world trade, slavery, wartime bombings and the metamorphosis from docks to skyscrapers.

From this visit my current read is Jack London’s ‘The People of the Abyss’. A review will follow in my next post.

I love crime fiction and spent an amazing afternoon on Saturday at Newcastle Noir Festival. The first panel was Northern Landscapes with Howard Linskey, Nick Quantrill, David Mark and Craig Robertson, chaired by Luca Veste. A great insight into how the landscape of places plays such a crucial part in crime novels. Cities such as Glasgow, Newcastle and Hull all give writers and readers a sense of the places they are. It is not just about cities in crime, wilder landscapes such as the countryside around cities and the Faroe Islands also represent the uniqueness of the northern landscapes. But what is the North? North of Bloomsbury was one comment. Is there a North/South divide and where is that indistinct line?

Writers in Prison had Mari Hannah, Russ Litten and Alexandra Sokoloff sharing their experiences of prison life from a range of perspectives. Mari as a former probation officer, Russ as a Writer in Residence in a prison and Alexandra as a screenwriter, novelist and early in her career working with young offenders. Are killers evil? What makes people kill? A fascinating discussion around crime, rehabilitation and the future of prisons made this a very thought-provoking session.

My final panel for the day was Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites ‘In Conversation’ and what a conversation it was. This whizz bang session was funny, informative and enthralling. These two writers were a great double-act and kept the audience entertained with their experiences of writing, researching and a short reading from their respective books ‘Time of Death’ and ‘The Woman in Black – Angel of Death’. Great entertainment.

Walking is back on the agenda tomorrow. Twenty six miles from Budle Bay to Alnmouth. Madness I hear  you cry and yes I think I am probably suffering from some type of mid-life crisis which made me sign up for the Coastal Challenge Walk. Yet walking is a time to think, to plot, to argue with yourself and also create characters and landscapes that will touch the lives of many. As Nietzsche said ‘All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking’.

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