Humorous fictional memoir – “Floreat Etona**” (set in Windsor)
Talking Location with Jennie Ensor – London
23rd December 2016
#TalkingLocationWith... author Jennie Ensor who takes her readers to a very well evoked London in #blindsidebook
“London, the crucial ingredient in my thriller Blind Side“
London is the setting of my debut novel Blind Side, a psychological thriller blended with a love story set during 2005, the year of the city’s tube and bus attacks. (The novel also contains scenes in Russia and Chechnya, by the way.)
Why I chose London as the setting
London is my home town – also I have a deep fondness for the city and tend to think of myself as a Londoner above a Brit. So naturally I wanted to write about London 🙂 Also the social landscape of London is diverse and changes rapidly as you go from one micro region to the next, which I used to highlight the social differences between my characters.
My main narrator Georgie lives close to affluent Hampstead; my secondary narrator, her close friend Julian, has a chic apartment in trendy Camden Lock. Georgie meets ex-soldier Nikolai in a pub near where she works, not far from the Regent’s Canal (a short walk from Kings Cross station). A recent immigrant surviving on low-paid work, Nikolai lives in Finsbury Park only a few miles to the east of Georgie, but a world away from Hampstead’s local leafy avenues and fashionable cafes.
Evoking the mood of July 2005
The 7/7 attacks on London are central to Blind Side, timeline wise and thematically (the novel is concerned with the idea of ‘the enemy within’). I’ve done my best to vividly evoke the tense, fearful mood post 7/7 against the physical backdrop of London.
For example, Georgie sets off to meet Nikolai after work on the day of the failed bomb attack on 22 July. She travels to Crouch End by bus. Due to severely disrupted transport, she decides to walk the remaining distance to Finsbury Park via a disused railway line, the Parkland Walk. The sometimes oppressive atmosphere of this path reflects her increasingly fearful mood as she ponders Nikolai’s disappearance. (My latest short story is set there, click here).
Capturing a changing city
I’ve lived in London for a good part of my life, so I thought I knew it quite well. But after returning from a long trip overseas I realised how fast it is changing. Since 2005 when I began to explore the settings in Blind Side (I started writing it over a decade ago), many aspects of London have changed or disappeared. The Kings Cross redevelopment has removed much of the area’s seedy allure. Walking around its new towers and pedestrian areas recently, I was startled at how hard it was to find a ‘greasy spoon’. Some of the area’s pubs have closed too. Similarly when I explored Finsbury Park ten years ago, parts had a distinctly rundown feel; today it is an area ‘on the up’. The Parkland Walk back in 2005 was a wild, overgrown place on a summer’s day. These days, trees and plants are cut back and there are helpful signs at every exit.
In the early stages of writing Blind Side I spent hours tramping alongside the Regent’s Canal and trying not to get lost on the maze of paths covering Hampstead Heath. Writing this piece, I realised that paths of one kind or another – river and canal towpaths, footpaths and even an alleyway – wind their way through the pages of my novel. A late addition to the plot involved Julian watching the back of Georgie’s flat from an alleyway. These narrow paths between the fences of back gardens seemed widespread in the suburbs of my childhood. My belated realisation that they are actually quite scarce in inner north London resulted in a frantic search of the internet followed by a day’s cycling on the lookout for a suitable alleyway.
Jennie’s personal tips for visitors to London:
For an interesting stroll that passes through contrasting parts of London in close proximity – and to retrace Georgie’s footsteps – I’d recommend the Parkland Walk. It has information boards on the history of the former railway line and its features (e.g. rare grassland and a bat habitat in the mouth of a tunnel).
Enter the path at Holmsedale Road (two minutes walk from Highgate tube station, beside The Boogaloo Pub, a good stop for a drink or Sunday lunch) or Crouch End (further east – entrance on Crescent Road) and continue for a mile or so to the end. To visit the myriad of eateries and food shops in Finsbury Park, turn left over the mainline railway bridge then head right towards the park gates.
For more books set in London, just click here.