Christ Church Spitalfields. Photo: Melanie Clegg.
I’ve had some really really bad news this week about a family member that I’m very fond of and am having a bit of trouble digesting it. It’s been a time for quiet reflection, lots of tears and just generally giving in to my natural hermetic tendencies.
As is usual though, besides my family, the one thing that is keeping me sane is my writing. I don’t want to give too much away at this early stage but I will say now that I am FINALLY AND AT LAST hard at work on my much promised novel about the Whitechapel Murders of 1888. In fact, all this avoiding the internet and not speaking to people means that I’m flying through it at a rate of knots. It’s almost as if the book is already all there, dwelling in my head, just waiting for me to touch fingertips to keyboard. I don’t think I have ever had a story come to me so easily before or characters speak to me so vividly.
Still from From Hell.
As long term readers of this blog will know, it is the stories of the victims and the women of the district that really compel me as a feminist, a lover of history and a cultural Cockney (I hope there is such a thing – I was raised by a born and bred Cockney which may explain my passionate love of gin, songs about following vans, eels, pie and mash and dark humour) and I am using this as an opportunity to explore their lives even further so don’t expect any gratuitous slicing and dicing of women. There can’t be much of that anyway as I’m pitching this at a young adult level, which may seem a bit odd but the Whitechapel Murders are now covered by the GCSE syllabus here in the UK. Actually, I suppose it doesn’t seem that odd to me – I’ve been studying the murders since I was fourteen, which I suppose means that I’ve been researching material for this book for rather a large chunk of my life.
The other element I’m drawing on here is the life of my own great great great grandfather who was a policeman in Whitechapel at the time of the murders and may well still have been living in Commercial Street police station with his family while they were going on. I’m so proud of him; he’s probably my most favourite ancestor. Yes, even more favourite than John of Gaunt or Robert the Bruce, mainly because EVERYONE is descended from them while we David Lee descendants are a rather more select bunch (not THAT select though as he had a bazillion children!).
Anyway, that’s what I am up to while I take a bit of a break from the internet. It’s been really cathartic actually – what better way to take your mind off potential heartbreak than poring over Booth’s Poverty Map to find the perfect des res for one of your main characters (I ended up moving them into a rather nice Victorian villa on a road that I used to live on in North London) and meticulously planning a tram journey from Victorian Moorgate to Highbury with the assistance of an 1891 map, Google Maps and a tram timetable?
The old and the new existing side by side in the City. Photo: Melanie Clegg.
I’m already planning another one of my epic research weekends in Spitalfields, possibly sometime next month to coincide with a much looked forward to visit to the Banqueting House so that I can see all that remains of the fascinating Whitehall Palace. One of the very best things about writing historical fiction is the excuse to lurk about your favourite places and I would definitely say that Spitalfields, heartland of my family, is my MOST VERY favourite place, yes even more favoured than Paris.
Anyway, I’d best get on with my writing and hoping that the next few days will bring better news.