It wasn’t until after I had finished writing my first novel, ‘A Darker Moon’, that I realized the importance to my writing of location. In relation to the fiction and poetry I create, I once would have described landscape as simply a thing to move through in pursuit of a story or poem. I would never have thought of describing myself as a writer of landscapes.
I’m a British writer, born and bred in the deep-rooted and ever-expanding metropolis of London and I admit to taking my home city for granted, both while I was living in it and since I’ve moved out and away to the rural flat-lands of East Anglia. When I began writing ‘A Darker Moon’ I needed to base my story somewhere and where better than my home city? This, however, was a decision of convenience rather than considered artistic choice. It was a location I knew well and didn’t have to think too hard about. If you’d asked me at the time, I’d have said that the story I was planning could actually have taken place anywhere. Now that the novel is finished, I’ve realized my error. The dark, psychological fantasy of ‘A Darker Moon’ could only take place in London.
Abe Finchley, the novel’s main character, is a damaged man, an orphan with no roots and no family ties. It is fitting that he lives in a big, anonymous city like London – a place where it’s very easy to be lonely, but very difficult to get away from people. As Abe himself says, “I love the anonymity of living in a big city. Millions of people constantly stirred together in the mixing bowl of time and place, and yet you can squat like the lush cherry on top of the trifle, never having to interact except at the most superficial of levels.”
London is very much a city of contrasts, a place where the houses of the well to do can stand shoulder to shoulder with the rougher parts of the City. Ritzy restaurants can be found in close proximity to Piccadilly’s porn industry and it is as easy for Abe to visit the mansions that surround Regents Park, as hang out in the down-at-heel and dubious areas around Kings Cross. In this cityscape, one man can easily be a creature of two worlds.
Art, and in particular paintings, play an important part in Abe’s life and the darkness that envelops it. He is fascinated by the stories created from paintings’ “freeze-frame” moments and his search for the woman he has been haunted by all his life is focused on a series of painting and images. Here London’s myriad art galleries come into their own. Abe’s search would not be as possible, nor so frustrating, if there weren’t quite so many art galleries to choose from.
In London you are never far from water. The River Thames ribbons its way through the heart of the City. Both the Regent’s and Grand Union Canals slice their straight ways through it and lakes like The Serpentine are dotted across London’s many parks and open spaces. Part of London is even known as Little Venice. My own excitement at standing at night on any one of London’s many bridges straddling the Thames and staring into its black, silky depths, whilst watching the city lights twinkle on its surface, became written into the book. Dreams and memories of dark water surround Abe and in his fantasies dark hair flows tantalizingly like fluid rivulets. When Abe’s dreams merge with reality it is appropriate that he is in the midst of so much water.
Regents Park, home to London Zoo, has it’s own large boating lake and is bordered by the combined Regent’s and Grand Union Canals curving, at this point, more like a natural river than a man-made creation. Across the park, lion’s can be heard roaring against the sound of the city’s buzz and nature and artificial construction meet and merge. This place of unclear boundaries is a significant backdrop to Abe’s mental and psychic melt-down, with the animals of the zoo providing a feral chorus to the novel’s darkly subdued denouement.
And finally the history and timelessness of London has a role to play in the novel. It is the City as a crucible of time and place, so perfectly captured by Peter Ackroyd in his many books on the subject, that creates an atmosphere in which the past reflects against the present, whilst shadowing the future and anything is possible. London is the perfect setting for the mythic ambiguities of ‘A Darker Moon’.
Having realized the importance of location to ‘A Darker Moon’, I started to reconsider the role it plays in my other books and what do you know? When I revisited the poems in my two published collections I discovered that landscapes, both real and imagined, are integral to more of my work than I had realized. These landscapes are not always obtrusive, but they are there, sometimes like the cityscape of my childhood, sometimes reflecting the rural surround I now live in. At times the landscape is little more than lightly sketched: a wide open skyline, the brief flapping of crow wings or the winding, silky blackness of night-time waters, but it is still there coloring and shaping my writing. It turns out that where I am and where I have been physically really does influence me as a writer.
J.S.Watts is a British writer. She was born in London, England and now lives and writes near Cambridge in East Anglia. In between, she read English at Somerville College, Oxford and spent many years working in the British education sector. She remains committed to the ideals of further and higher education despite governments of assorted political persuasions trying to demolish them.
Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and the States including Acumen, Envoi, Mslexia and Fantastique Unfettered and have been broadcast on BBC and independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Literary Magazine and, until its demise, Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales. Her debut poetry collection, Cats and Other Myths and a subsequent poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue are published by Lapwing Publications. Her novel, A Darker Moon, is published by Vagabondage Press Further details of her books can be found on her website: www.jswatts.co.uk . You can also find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/J.S.Watts.page