GIVEAWAY: a copy each of Oracle (Delphi) and Plague (London)
Talking Location With author Abi Silver – SHOREDITCH in London
17th April 2021
#TalkingLocationWith .. Abi Silver, author of legal thriller, The Rapunzel Act: Shoreditch, London
Much of the outdoor action in The Rapunzel Act, my latest Burton & Lamb book, is set in the East End of London. I’ve labelled this piece ‘Shoreditch’ but we’re also talking about the expanse extending north from the Old Street roundabout as far as Hoxton and east to Bethnal Green and Haggerston. The area has undergone extensive renovation since the 1920s, when my newly married grandparents lived above the sweet shop they managed on Commercial Street and the period immediately post-WW2, when my mum skipped her way to Spitalfields school and watched the sparks fly from the tram lines outside her bedroom window.
Today it’s bustling and hip, with a host of sought-after places to live, eat and play. Although I’m still close by and often work in London and spend leisure time there, I haven’t lived in the city itself for 20 years. So, on a glorious November morning, I catch the train in and begin my walking tour at Hoxton Square.
Laid out in 1683, it’s one of the oldest public garden squares in London, and its largely Victorian buildings house a series of bars, restaurants and music venues, as well as desirable apartments. In the summer, locals picnic on the grass and enjoy the tranquil setting. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, when I decide that fictional character, Laura Mallard, daughter of murdered Breakfast TV host, Rosie Harper and former international footballer (now prime suspect) Debbie Mallard, should have her home here, in an apartment on the west side. It strikes me as the perfect setting for a young woman of means to while away her days.
Next stop is Columbia Road (where one of my two main protagonists, the determined but circumspect Constance Lamb, buys her flowers most Sundays) via the Birdcage pub on the corner, replete with the most amazing green tile frontage. Renovated by the Draft House group, it has retained its old charm and now serves a variety of pies and draft beer (including Hercule stout – a must for all Agatha Christie fans). But it’s the flower market that draws most of the footfall and for good reason. (A friend of mine lived in Bethnal Green when we were students and we were frequent visitors then, along with the unmissable 24-hour Beigel Bake on Brick Lane.)
You really wouldn’t know we were on the cusp of winter, as every colour in the palette is on show; from enormous headed two-tone hydrangeas, to fuchsia gerberas with the blackest of centres to the deepest orange Chinese lanterns. And the shops are a free ticket to anywhere in the world you want to go: food from Portugal and Japan (including cookery classes!), Mexican handycrafts rubbing shoulders with local ceramics and traditionally-made leather goods. You can even pick up a pair of sumo wrestler socks.
If you want to rest your legs, there’s no better place than the glorious Lily Vanilli bakery, tucked away in a nearby courtyard (exit by the Royal Oak pub and turn left again), another step away from the bustle into a haven of culinary masterpieces, primarily directed at those with a sweet tooth.
Walk it off on a brisk stroll through Haggerston Park. It’s home to Hackney City Farm, tennis courts, football pitches and cycling classes. Cross over into the wilder northern end – the park is bifurcated by a high wall covered in autumnal creepers and tropical palms – to sit beneath the woody wisteria, amongst the log stacks and look south towards the Gherkin and other modern City skyscrapers (as Constance often does, on a summer’s evening).
Amble past the eclectic collection of boats along the Regent’s Canal (there’s a conveniently placed entrance point to the riverside path at the bottom of Broadway Market) or finish, instead, further west in Shoreditch Park (where The Rapunzel Act begins), whose facilities include an outdoor beach volleyball court and amphitheatre and a granite boulder, quarried in Cornwall, which locals are encouraged to climb. Boulder, an artwork by John Frankland, is over four metres high and weighs around 100 tonnes and it’s a truly awe-inspiring structure. In the film he made of its journey, the artist remarks on how he is using ‘context as a material’, which, of course, is what writers do all the time, when they invoke for their readers the spirit of their books’ locations, whether far away or closer to home.
The Rapunzel Act is published by Eye and Lightning Books in paperback original on 15 April 2021
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