Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Guest Blog! Kate Griffin
Kate Griffin wrote one of my favourite books of last year and although I haven't picked up her latest book, 'The Midnight Mayor', just yet the blurb is promising more of that very same goodness. Don't believe me? Scroll down the page to the 'Midnight Mayor' competition and see what I mean.
London is a magical place and I love it when authors can tap into that magic and show everyone just what a strange and wonderful city London really is (I'm looking at you Ms. Griffin as well as Mr. Gaiman and Mr. Carey). Where do they glimpse that magic though? Kate very kindly agreed to give us a little insight into just how it might have all came about for her...
It was an evening in autumn - I was walking back from university to my hall of residence through Smithfields, when I saw it.
My Dad was working in an office in Smithfields at the time. The office was above a Starbucks; the Starbucks was opposite the meat market, a study in repainted ironwork and obvious secrets, full of history and looking brand sparkling new. Above its automated gates to let in the meat trucks before dawn, silver dragons holding white and red crossed shields perched with their tongues perpetually sticking out like angry schoolchildren (with claws). Just beyond the meat market was Barts Hospital , complete with X-Ray machines and the stone busts of Tudor kings, where I was born the day after a nuclear disaster. From my Dad’s office you could just about make out the gold shape of blind Justice standing above the Old Bailey, and of course beyond that, St. Pauls Cathedral. I would walk by after my evening class on the international politics of Elizabeth and Philip, 1540-1610ish, and we’d have a hot chocolate, me and my Dad, and then I’d walk him to the bus stop through the Barbican centre at that hour of the evening when all the lights are coming on behind the windows, and you can see people moving about their offices and homes like tiny puppets in a gleaming dolls house. My hall of residence was conveniently situated just beyond Liverpool Street Station, in that part of Aldgate where bankers and lawyers convene in tight Georgian alleys with tourists on the Jack the Ripper walk, and where the air begins to smell of Brick Lane curry.
The ‘it’ that I saw, one evening much like any other in Smithfield , had been stuck to the back of a green telephone exchange box. Illegally stuck, but who was counting. It was in black and white, and depicted a face smiling a crooked smile that I can only describe as madly evil and pleased with itself. Beneath this image was a message, in a wobbly font to match the hysteria of the face’s expression. The message said: GIVE ME BACK MY HAT.
Puzzlement ensued. Who, exactly, had lost their hat? Why, exactly, did they need it back so urgently? And most importantly of all, what did that mad grin of evil delight entail for the unfortunate person or persons unknown who’d been responsible for the initial removal of the hat? Essays suffered as contemplation ensued.
London is full of much that is, to the average traveller, unexplained. The tendency of Piccadilly Line trains to put multiple exclamation marks into its rolling screen displays, the wide prevalence of TOX09 (now TOX10) across the railway lines of London, not to mention his rival, 10Foot who appears to have made his stamp in locales as far apart as Clapham and Clapton Junctions. Hints of medieval wall popping out of Victorian terraces before vanishing once again underneath car parks. The curious case of the 341 bus, that somehow manages to have formed packs of 3 by the end of its route no matter how far apart the buses may have been at the beginning, as if a double decker bus can get lonely. The sounds that suddenly become apparent in the city when the traffic stops; the tendency of a single left hand sports shoe to find its way to the top of bus shelters; the way the train to Streatham always left 5 seconds before you, and only you, made it to the correct platform. The fearless stare of the urban fox trotting calmly down the middle of the street; the bewildering scrawl of someone else’s working on the evening crossword abandoned in frustration on the train.
Now, your cynic might just say ‘well what do you expect… 4 million people in the city and only two trains to Streatham per hour on a Sunday, I mean duh, of course there’s gonna be stuff you don’t get!’ Thankfully, anyone with half an imagination and eye to see will easily come up with a far better solution… that perhaps all these things in the city that seem just a little bit strange and maybe just a little bit wonderful, are more than just a little bit of both.
So to everyone out there wondering about me and my books, the stories I write about, I have one key message, just one, that I want you to take away from reading this, to turn over in your minds in the sleepless hours of the night.
GIVE ME BACK MY HAT.
If that doesn't make you want to give 'The Midnight Mayor' a go then I don't know what will! Read 'A Madness of Angels' first though...