Research trip to London

I'm clueing for looks!

I’m clueing for looks!

Despite having lived in London for the first six years of my life, and visited the city for a few days at a time in the years since, this was the first time I got to focus on research for my Portia Adams series.

Here is my Sherlockian itinerary:

  • Sherlock Holmes Museum (at the actual 221 B Baker Street)
  • Holmes exhibit at the Museum of London
  • Old Scotland Yard (and new Scotland Yard)
  • 10 Downing Street
  • Regents Park
  • The Strand
  • Westminister, Waterloo and London Bridges

Click below to see pics and my take on each of those fabulous locations, but suffice to say, I’m feeling even more inspired to keep writing about Portia’s adventures in London!

Sherlock Holmes Museum (at the actual 221 B Baker Street)

Actually located on Baker Street (unlike where the current BBC Sherlock is filmed on North Gower Street in London), the private museum had to get special permission from the City of Westminster to call itself 221B even though it is located between numbers 237 and 241. Downstairs you will find the shop of wonderful memorabilia, but upstairs they have attempted to recreate the original canon-descriptions of the offices of Holmes and Watson circa the 1880s. You find the sitting room, Sherlock’s little laboratory and Dr. Watson’s room laid out with medical books and equipment. It’s lovely and quaint but SO tiny. It made me really wonder how two men could plausibly live in such a tiny space. Not sure if the dimensions are different than those Conan-Doyle intended or if a lifetime of living in Canada has spoiled me for open-spaces.

Holmes exhibit at the Museum of London

Sherlock Holmes Exhibit poster from the London Museum.

Sherlock Holmes Exhibit poster from the London Museum.

This was just a lucky coincidence that my trip to London lined up with this exhibit at the London Museum. Sub-titled “The man who never lived and will never die” it features some fantastic original Conan-Doyle manuscripts, all kinds of movie posters, an interview with the author about his creation and vintage costumes and a lot of little details even I (an aficionado if there ever was one!) didn’t know. Like for example: did you know that the original names of the detective duo were J Sherrinford Holmes and Ormond Sacker? I knew about Sherinnford, but wow, Ormond Sacker instead of John Watson? Yikes.

Old Scotland Yard (and new Scotland Yard)

Great Scot(land Yard)!

Great Scot(land Yard)!

Now called the Norman Shaw buildings, Old Scotland Yard is both romantically beautiful and very business-like in its architecture.

I sat on a bench at 4 Whitehall Place for a half hour imagining Portia running up and down in pursuit of clues and following Brian around as he does his work.

10 Downing Street

I should have known this I suppose, but when you get to Downing street, you are confronted by a large fenced in area and you can go no further. It was disappointing, but when I turned around I saw a lovely sculpture dedicated to the women for World War II, so I felt rewarded for hiking all the way to that location.

Statue on Downing Street

Statue on Downing Street

Regents Park

This park is huge, I don’t think I had an appreciation for Portia and Nerissa’s favourite stomping ground until I actually walked around for 5 hours in it! It’s gorgeous and green (even in March) and filled with people, critters and ponds. I could see spending hours writing on a park bench if it were a bit warmer.

The Strand

Back in Portia’s day, the area of London called ‘The Strand’ was the centre of nightlife and theatre. She visits the area often because King’s College’s main campus is located here, and she takes a few classes, and meets up with friends there. These days it has theatres, lots of shops and is a major tourist hot-spot. I visited King’s College on the Thames and it is a beautiful campus with white stone buildings and lovely statues of Sappho and Sophocles. I think Portia, Beans and Gavin would have spent many a happy hour on this campus.

The Bridges

This is Tower Bridge which I did not walk across, but saw from the Tower of London

This is Tower Bridge which I did not walk across, but took a photo of from the Tower of London

So, I walked across Westminster Bridge, where the jewels were actually tossed into the Thames, and where Portia does her midnight stakeout. It was busy in the middle of the day, but when you lean over the side, you can imagine what it was like 100 years ago because it quite simply has not changed that much. Well, except for the garbage. Back in Portia’s day the Thames was still being used as a sewer, a garbage dump and God knows what else. In 1957 it was actually declared ‘biologically dead’ if you can imagine.

Waterloo Bridge I crossed while on a tour bus (when your feet get tired, it’s the best way to travel!) and London Bridge I hopped off and walked across on my way to the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

Writer’s Blindness (like snow blindness except pertaining to your words!)

Ryan Gosling is poking his eye because he has Verbameakeratitis.

There truly is a name for everything on the internet. I was searching around this morning for a phrase to describe the feeling where you’re reading over your umpteenth edit of a manuscript you know off by heart and you’re not even seeing the words anymore.

Terena Scott over at Medusa’s Muse called it “Writer’s Blindness” in her post: ‘Beware the Danger of Writer’s Blindness.’

That feels apt, but to take it further, the same way snow blindness has a scientific name (Photokeratitis) I am coining a new term for writer’s blindness Verbameakeratitis. Verba mea is latin for ‘my words’

In my own case, as I get ready to hit <send> on my second-edits for Thrice Burned, I find myself using these tricks to ‘see’ my own errors and catch them before inflicting them upon my poor editor/publishers <again>.

  • Read Aloud – this is something they teach to every first year journalism student (I should know, I was one) and it really does work. You are much more likely to catch an error if you have to read your words aloud.
  • Read your writing on a different machine – I find PDFing my document and reading it on the iPad helps me not slip into complacency. I’ve caught lots of typos that way
  • Know thy faults. I have a bad habit of adding stage direction (usually eyebrows a-waggling) so I do a search of the document for my own bad habits.
  • Read the document in order: just because you’re SURE that first chapter is pristine, do not feel you can skip it. Read the whole story as if you were a first time reader to really SEE the mistakes.
  • Check all dates and locations if you write historical fiction – this is a big one. Make sure every instance of a date is double-checked and makes sense.

What are your tricks for avoiding Verbameakeratitis ?

Road maps of downtown London

I found a great site today with road maps of London from 1926 that I had to post (click on it to see the large version and take a look at Regents Park — cause that’s right next to Baker street):

road map of london from 1926

SOURCE: Daily Mail 1926 Road Map of London and Ten Miles round showing the New Arterial Roads and Main Roads out of London. Published by Associated Newspapers, Ltd., Carmelite House, London, E.C.4

The borough of Stepney

Photo taken by John Gay. "On a cold day a woman walks past the Chevrah Shass Synagogue, which is tucked away down an alley. The carriage archway from the street is flanked by local shops."

Photo taken by John Gay.
“On a cold day a woman walks past the Chevrah Shass Synagogue, which is tucked away down an alley. The carriage archway from the street is flanked by local shops.”

For my latest villain (she’s not so bad, but she does tend to blow things up poor dear) I was looking for an area of London where she could set up a home base.

Stepney is the borough I chose because it was a friendly place for immigrants, which my villain is.

It’s in East London, on the North side of the Thames.

Stepney Station

Royal Watchers and the UK

Royal Watchers and the UK

Kate and William – the happy new parents!

With the BBC’s cameras trained on Buckingham Palace and the hospital where new mom Kate has given birth to a princely baby boy just makes me nostalgic. Not just for Portia and writing about her life in London, but for when I lived there in the late ’70s. Just wanted to post something about the occasion without actually joining the paparazzi madness around them. All the best to the new parents!

6000 words transcribed, way more to go

Turns out that 20 pages of handwritten story in my Moleskine = 6,000 words when typed into a word doc, which gives me a word count I can claim in the future. So when I tell you that I’ve written a page of Casebook 10 (not started, don’t get too excited) you will know that means about 300 words.

I feel like I’ve just created my own google currency convertor except it’s my Angela-font-handwriting-convertor. THE POWER!!! The universe is mine to command – to control!!

Ahem.

And now back to transcribing.

Scene stealers

Nailed it!

Oh yes,that scene is lovely, yes it is.

I don’t know if this is your experience as well friends, but there are times when I write a scene in my handy-dandy Moleskin and it’s… well, for lack of a better word, kind of meh.

It hits all the points it was supposed to, sure, and might even have some nice dialogue in it, but there’s nothing memorable in it. Nothing that makes you want to turn the page if you know what I mean.

I find that when I am transcribing from notebook to laptop I create much more visual and packaged scenes. The kind of scenes that not only paint a picture but frame it, hang it on the wall and get bid on in an auction.

That was what happened this morning in my first all-important scene between Portia and Dr. Olsen – my magical laptop took it to the next level, and if my readers are not asking themselves  ‘Holy crap, I wonder what Portia is going to do with THAT?’ at the end of it, I’ll eat my Moleskin. Or a new moleskin (not the one I’ve written in ’cause that’s just crazy-talk).

Top 5 tricks for writing for a time period

Speeches are a great source of inspiration for dialogue!

Speeches are a great source of inspiration for dialogue!

One of the hurdles of writing dialogue for a story based in the past (in my case 1930s London) is that you have to keep reminding yourself of how people talked way back then. Everything from slang to formality of language has to be kept in mind — even for the simplest scenes.

So here is my Top 5 List of tips:

  1. Read as much non-fiction as you can from the time and place you are writing about. This can include newspaper articles and magazines, but in the case of really really bygone eras, may include translations a limited number of books preserved from that period.
  2. Read published speeches, honestly, though more formal than your dialogue is going to be, I find the way people wrote things that they then spoke aloud to an audience is a great source.
  3. Read other writer’s fiction that is based in the same era (so people like us!)
  4. Use the internet as a resource (obviously). I for example have two dialects to keep track of — Portia’s which is based out of 1930’s San Francisco and everyone else she interacts with (who are very much based out of 1930’s London). I like to use University Libraries, like this one to get ideas about how people wrote to each other and spoke about events happening at the time.
  5. Watch movies from that era (if you can) or about that era (in the hopes that the filmmaker did HER due-diligance in researching the dialogue before committing pixel to film). For the 1930s in London, Wikipedia has a lovely list I have been culling through of films released in this time period. I find after watching one of these movies I am usually inspired to re-write a scene of dialogue to try and make it even more authentic.

What are your tips and tricks friends?

Scotland Yard

New Scotland Yard

New Scotland Yard

For my next scene, I needed to have a better understanding of the layout of Scotland Yard, so chased down the architect – Richard Norman Shaw, and found some very interesting documents about him.

I also found some data here at http://postwarbuildings.com and compared it to Wikipedia and a few others:

The original New Scotland Yard was at Whitehall. In 1890, the Metropolitan Police moved into Norman Shaw’s celebrated purpose-built headquarters overlooking the Thames on the newly built Victoria Embankment. Described by one commentator as, ‘a very constabulary kind of castle,’[1] it was an eclectic building typical of the emerging Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century with numerous busy motifs. It was finished in striped red brick with Portland stone and characterised by a skyline of turrets and a steep roof patterned by dormers and lofty chimneys. The original building provided 140 offices and they were assigned according to rank. High-ranking officers were given rooms within the turrets overlooking the river or larger rooms close to ground floor, while lower ranking officers were consigned to smaller rooms higher up. The original single building was joined by two extensions both overseen by the Met surveyor and closely mimicking Shaw’s design. Despite the much-enlarged complex, as early as the 1930’s there were complaints of overcrowding and the force eventually left the site for the present building on Victoria Street in 1967.

That image above comes from the Metropolitan Police Service’s page on the history of Scotland Yard.

I also found this detailed PDF of the history of the Norman Shaw buildings here.

Interestingly, the New Scotland Yard was supposedly “the first public building in its entirety to be lit by electricity. [3] This electricity was provided by its own generator, thus freeing it from any interruption to its telegraph and later its 999 emergency system.” – historyhouse.co.uk which is important to this casebook (see my post on Vaults for a hint as to why 😉