Layers of London

Honestly, we’re so lucky. Doing research now, with all the incredible collections at our disposal, and a huge range of digital tools, is both a whole lot easier and a whole lot faster than ever before. And it helps you imagine past worlds in different ways.

I’m finalising Vigil, the final book in The Firewatcher Chronicles at present, and one of its motifs is the many layers of history in London.

And look. Here’s a website called Layers of London, which helps us see through the centuries – perfect for schools and readers of the books (and me, of course).

It lays digital map over map, decade after decade or century, and adds local collection items. Take a look here: Layers of London.

And another very smart website traces all the major Blitz bomb sites in London. Handy (Although I have to admit I did make some of the bomb sites in Brimstone up – buildings that were destroyed in a raid were sometimes hit directly or sometimes destroyed by fires started by bombs landing elsewhere, so it’s  also a bit confusing trying to trace the history.)

Bombsight maps the official bomb site census for the Blitz months. Here’s the map for Christopher Larkham’s part of the world.

Fascinating stuff. Researchers (and readers of all ages) everywhere give thanks to inventive developers, libraries, museums, publishers and archives who create new ways for us to access and visualise information.

Coming up

We’re hunkered down for winter here in Melbourne. Especially me, as I’ve managed to come down with a boring cold and my head’s too thick even to read.

But the good thing about winter in this neck of the woods is that it’s writers festival time.

So here are a few of the events and classes I’ve got coming up.

Woodend Winter Arts Festival: June 10

A panel with Robert Gott,  Eliza Henry-Jones and Mark Brandi, hosted by Kate Cuthbert. We’ll read a bit and talk a bit and answer your questions.  It’s help to celebrate 30 years of Writers Victoria, our wonderful state-wide writers’ organisation.

Details here.

Emerging Writers Festival: June 29

One of my favourite writers’ festivals, because it is for writers, and it’s always innovative and so helpful to people who are starting out. So I’m delighted to be part of it again this year, with a workshop on how to write historical fiction.

And it’s free!  Details here.

Bendigo Writers Festival:  11 August

Bendigo Writers Festival 2019 logo

Another of my favourite festivals, in one of the most interesting areas of Victoria. This time, I’m chairing a session with two lovely writers: Kate Forsyth and Ilka Tampke. We’ll talk about researching the past, and knowing the three of us and our enthusiasm for the topic, they’ll have to drag us off stage with a shepherd’s crook. Details here.

I’ll also be quizzing the editor and some contributors of Kindred, a new anthology of YA queer stories, just out last month. I haven’t read Kindred yet, but I’m very much looking for to it, and to talking to Michael Earp, Claire G Coleman, Erin Gough and Nevo Zisin about their work. Details here.

Gender and Love conference: 25-27 September

In Spring, I’ll be back in South Africa for the Gender and Love conference and  doing more research for my YA novel, Roar, which is set in the late 1980s in London and Apartheid-era South Africa.

HNSA conference: 25-27 October

By October, the sun will be out again, and I’ll be in Sydney for the Historical Novel Society of Australasia conference at historic Parramatta. I’m teaching writers how to use Scrivener in a craft workshop  on the Friday, and then in the weekend program will be chatting with Sophie Masson about our approaches to writing for different age groups. And I’m co-convening the academic stream on the Sunday.

In between, I’ll be recording podcasts, teaching, attending some other writers festivals and events, moving house, releasing the new editions of  the Firewatcher Chronicles … oh, and finishing Vigil, book three of the series.

If I can just shake off this cold!

Three new book covers

 

Brimstone and the Blitz

The Firewatcher Chronicles are set during the Blitz in London, and in a very specific area by the banks of the Thames: Puddle Dock and the City, up to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Street sign - Puddle Dock

When I was first researching the books, I wanted to set them in a specific place that was affected by the many fires covered by the series. So it had to be somewhere inside the old Roman city but close to the riverbank. I wanted somewhere that’s not famous, just a place where the hero, young Christopher Larkham, and his family – normal working-class people – worked and lived and watched for fires during the Blitz. It had to be somewhere close to the river, so the kids can go searching the riverbank at low tide, and surrounded by those wonderful narrow, winding streets of the old city – streets with fabulous names like Addle Hill and Bleeding Heart Lane. This is how the area was laid out around the seventeenth century:

Puddle Dock map 17th century

I chose Puddle Dock because there are few traces now of the place it once was, and also I loved the name. This is how it looked in the 1940s, with the tide out and the dock itself filled with debris from bombed buildings:

Puddle Dock 1947

Here’s what that area looks like now, from across the river.

Puddle Dock form the south bank

I admit it’s not all that glamorous (besides that glorious cathedral, glowing in the evening light). Puddle Dock now houses a theatre, apartments and offices, and is tucked in between two busy roads.  There’s no dock any more. Great swathes of the City are like that, not just because it is still one of the great financial centres of the world and therefore filled with office blocks, but also because so much of the area was flattened in the Blitz.

Southwark bridge to Blackfriars in the Blitz

Brimstone, the first book in the Chronicles, takes place on  the night of 29 December 1940, when wave after wave of German air force bombers dropped 100,000 incendiary bombs, followed by more than 20,000 high explosive bombs and parachute mines, starting a series of fires that devastated the City.

That night became known as the Second Great Fire of London. Among the worst-hit areas were places burned in the first Great Fire of London  – Paternoster Square and the area around St Paul’s Cathedral, right down to the banks of the Thames, including many of the churches rebuilt after the Great Fire by Sir Christopher Wren. And much of the area around Puddle Dock.

St Paul's surrounded by bomb damage

Hundreds of years before the Blitz, on the night of 2 September 1666, the original Great Fire of London started in Pudding Lane.

This is how the city looked before the Great Fire (that big cathedral on the hill is old St Paul’s, where key scenes happen in Brimstone):

London from Southwark before the Fire

And during it:

Great Fire

How terrifying that must have been!

And here, hundreds of years later, is how the same area looked during that one night of the Blitz:

Herbert Mason's photo of St Paul's

This is Herbert Mason’s famous photo, ‘St Paul’s Survives’, one of the most iconic images from the Blitz, and taken on the night of 30 December 1940 – the night on which Brimstone is partly set. This photo meant so much to Londoners, and people across the world who were watching with horror as the Nazi attacked Britain and many other places. London had just copped a beating, but the cathedral was still standing – surrounded by smoke and flames.

So you can see what poor Christopher has to deal with in Brimstone, time-travelling between not just one but both of these enormous conflagrations.

And, perhaps, why I couldn’t resist writing a story about a kid who fights both of the great fires of London in one night.

 

Photo sources:

  • Imperial War Museum
  • Museum of London
  • Wikimedia 
  • A London Inheritance
  • Me.

School holiday fun

It’s nearly school holidays here and I’ve got a few things planned to celebrate the release of Brimstone, the first book in the Firewatcher Chronicles.

First up, I’m visiting the gorgeous town of Kyneton this weekend for a writing workshop for kids at Squishy Minnie’s bookshop. We’ll talk about adventure stories and have a go at writing some. Sunday, 23 September from 11am-1pm. For readers and writers 8-12.

Details and bookings here.

And then, at the other end of the holidays, I’ll be at Readings Kids bookstore in Carlton.  The lovely Amie Kaufman and I will talk about writing, and especially writing adventure stories, and then we’ll all write a story together. We reckon it’s about Stories of Fire and Ice, because my books are all about fire, and Amie’s new series is all about ice. Friday 5 October at 11 am. For readers and writers 7 years and up.

Details and bookings here.

I really wanted to have launch events for kids, because that’s who the book is for. So I hope you can come celebrate with me.

But do save another date:  The Firewatcher Chronicles launch for all ages will be on the afternoon of 27 October in an actual (well, former) fire station! Stay tuned for details.

Firewatcher logo

Coming up

Not long until Brimstone, the first book in my new Firewatcher Chronicles series, is in the bookshops.

1 September 2018, to be precise.

So you can get your hands on it soon.

In the meantime, here are a few events I have on my dance card.

Book cover And ThenThe new And Then… adventure story anthologies will be launched (there are two hugevolumes) on 5 August at the Rising Sun Hotel in South Melbourne. A whole lot of the authors will be there, including Kerry Greenwood, Sulari Gentill, Alison Goodman and me.

(This is the anthology – Volume 2 – which includes my first ever ‘Boots and the Bushranger’ story).

 

Also in August is Bendigo Writers Festival, a terrific festival – always a great line-up, thoughtful programming, and a wonderful host city.  It’s schools program, Text Marks the Spot, is equally fab. I’ll be there (10-12 August), talking about podcasting, interviewing some lovely authors, and launching Rachel Nightingale’s new novel, Columbine’s Tale.

On 28 August, I’ll be speaking alongside Linda Weste and Ali Alizadeh on History and Fiction, as part of the History Council of Victoria’s ‘Making Public Histories’ seminar series.

Phew. That’ll keep me out of mischief for a couple of weeks, anyway.

I’ll update you soon on events to celebrate the release of Brimstone.

Ciao.

PS Did I mention I’ve just been on holiday in Berlin and Prague? Oh my. So many story ideas. So much fascinating history.

Lately I’ve been…

A bit frantic.

Remind me to never again move house on book deadline and just before teaching starts.

But that’s over now. I have settled into a new home, where I’ve made the strategic decision to place my desk under a window in the living room, instead of tucked away in a tiny room at the back of the house. After all, I spend more time at the desk than many other places, so I may as well be  right here, looking out on the garden.

Also, it’s close to the kitchen. (Though that may not be a good thing. Snacking control is not a strength.)

In the meantime, I’ve been:

Writing 

I’ve drafted (very roughly) Phoenix, the second book in the Firewatcher Chronicles. It needs lots more redrafting over the next couple of months, but it’s such fun. There are Vikings and Saxons and London Blitz bombs and archaeologists and all sorts of drama.

I’ve also been writing a number of book chapters and conference papers and essays, mostly for academic conferences and publishers. I’ll let you know when they come out.

Editing

Brimstone, book one of the Firewatcher Chronicles, is at the printers! It comes out on 1 September. And for mysterious production reasons, it was all go for a while there. I got notes back from the editor, found a few errors myself, sent it all back, and then the next week, miraculously, typeset pages appeared for a last proof-read. They don’t muck about, those fine folk at Scholastic.

And just look at the beautiful cover for it.

Brimstone front cover

I’m thrilled with the artwork by Sebastian Ciaffaglione, and the series logo by Chad Mitchell.  Can’t wait for you to get your hands on this book.

Also due out the very same day is a new YA anthology, Meet Me at the Intersection, edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina. It’s published by Fremantle Press – my story is called ‘Trouble’, and it’s set in Melbourne in the 1950s. I’m honoured to be part of this collection of #ownvoices stories and believe it will be a very important moment in young adult fiction in this country.

Book cover: Meet me at the Intersection

So that’s been in editing and proofreading mode too, over the last few weeks.

Next up, I’m redrafting Grace and my goldrush bushranger stories. I look forward to being in their company again.

I’ve booked myself a stint at Varuna, the Writers’ House, in June, to lock myself away and redraft as much as I can get through.

Podcasting

Over on my podcast, Unladylike, Adele and I were delighted to interview three crime queens, and to release my discussion on academic writing recorded last year in Denmark. New episodes are on the way in the next week or so.

Reading

I admit, my reading has been minimal over this busy time, but I’ve read and loved, among other things:

  • The Endsister by Penni Russon
  • White Night by Ellie Marney
  • The Unexpected Education of Emily Dean by Mira Robertson
  • On Coming Home by Paula Morris
  • Manda Scott’s Boudica series
  • Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series
  • And Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s grand finale to the Illuminae series, Obsidio.

Right now I’m reading Karen Joy Fowler’s Sister Noon and Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, edited by Dr Anita Heiss.

Research

Research for the Firewatcher Chronicles continues – Romans, Celts, Vikings, Saxons, Second World War – there are just so many areas to cover, and it’s all a little bit too fascinating.

I’m also deep into my Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria,  researching my great-grandmother and key figures in the Australian suffrage and peace movements of the early twentieth century.

I’ve realised that project, Sisterhood, is bigger and more complex than I imagined, so I expect to spend a lot more of my life on it in years to come. It will eventually be a kind of group memoir of an extraordinary generation of early feminists and pacifists, along with a memoir of my life in student and feminist politics in the 1980s. So it’s big and complicated and hard and all so interesting. To me, anyway.

Suffragette and anti-conscription campaigner Vida Goldstein (Photo: State Library of Victoria)

So you see, I have had one or two things on the go.

And one day soon, you’ll be able to read them. Funny, isn’t it? We lock ourselves away for months or years to write these things, and then burst out of solitude, blinking against the light, to release them into the world.

And then we vanish again.

Writers, huh?