Sunday, 10 December 2017
A relationship with an Old Lady - Willie Meikle
As promised, here's the first of the guest posts coming to you over the next few months. Here Willie Meikle gets the chance to talk about the place that inspired his latest short story collection, The Ghost Club.
A RELATIONSHIP WITH AN OLD LADY
I went to London to seek my fortune, or rather, to follow a woman, back in early 1982. My relationship with the Old Lady proved to be the healthier one of the two, a love affair that I still carry with me even though it lasted less than ten years.
For the first few months I was living and working outside the main city while making forays into the museums, cinemas and pubs of the city center at weekends. But the love only came after I started working in the old city itself. I got a job in a converted warehouse in Devonshire Square near Liverpool Street Railway Station. My desk looked out over Petticoat Lane Market, my lunchtime wanderings took me to the curry cafes of Brick Lane and the bars of Whitechapel in the footsteps of the Ripper. I was supporting computer systems down in the financial sector, and my wanderings down there took me to Bank and Monument, to indoor markets and gorgeous old pubs, to tiny churches and cemeteries hidden away in courtyards, and across the river, to Borough Market and even older pubs, like The George and The Market Porter. If you're after a true whiff of old London, there's few finer places to seek it.
A few years later we moved office to Farringdon Road and more old markets, Guardian journalists in the pubs and forays into the area between there and Euston. Then we settled in High Holborn which for me meant Skoob Bookshop, the British Museum and yes, more pubs, in the Victorian splendor of The Princess Louise, the high gothic weirdness of The City of Yorke and many more, including forays down to Fleet Street for some Dickensian musings in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the Strand for The George and the Coal Hole under The Savoy for some slices of theatrical history, and many other bars, too numerous to mention or too lost to memory in alcoholic poisoning of the brain cells.
For a while London got into my soul. I got able to find my way around from just about anywhere inside the M25, I lived south of the river in Bromley, Beckenham and Ladywell, where I discovered that the flat I'd bought didn't just have a bogeyman in the stairwell, but that the Old Lady's Well bubbled up in the cellar, to my eventual enormous financial cost, But at least I got to know the similarly drunken patrons of a variety of night buses after concerts or drinking sessions during my time there.
London is indeed a fine old city. Almost, but not quite, the equal of Edinburgh or Glasgow in my heart. My real love for it came from not just the place, but from the people I met there. I met many Londoners, but I also met people from all over the UK, people from India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Poland, Greece, Turkey and many other far flung spots. I made great friends and a lot of them are still friends today, 35 years on. We spent many happy hours in those aforementioned old bars, telling each other stories. They heard mine, and I heard theirs, and the telling of them bound, and binds us in friendship all across the globe to this day. That's been better than any fortune to me over the years.
Towards the end of my time in the Old Lady, I met my wife there too, in another of the old bars, and our courtship was spent over beer, curries, film and theatre around Covent Garden and in the West End.
We left London for Scotland in 1991, but the Old Lady came with me, in my friends and, eventually, in my own writing. When I started to drift into writing Victoriana, it was London that called loudest to me, from Baker Street and Cheyne Walk, from Whitechapel to Embankment and yes, from bar to bar, Charringtons IPA, Fullers London Pride, Young's Special and all.
In my newest collection, THE GHOST CLUB, most of the stories don't take place in London. But they are all told there, over a meal and a drink, by Doyle and Stoker, Stevenson and Oliphant, Tolstoy and Wilde and others, all drawn, like me, by the tales to be told, and heard, in the arms of the Old Lady.
THE GHOST CLUB, a new collection of supernatural stories, is out from me at Crystal Lake Publishing in paperback and ebook on 8th December.
It's a tad ambitious, and might fall flat on its face, but given my love for the city, the era and the storytellers who lived in it, writing a story as if written by each of them is something I had to try.
It's a simple premise.
In Victorian London, a select group of writers, led by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and Henry James held an informal dining club, the price of entry to which was the telling of a story by each invited guest.
These are their stories, containing tales of revenant loved ones, lost cities, weird science, spectral appearances and mysteries in the fog of the old city, all told by some of the foremost writers of the day. In here you'll find Verne and Wells, Tolstoy and Checkov, Stevenson and Oliphant, Kipling, Twain, Haggard, Wilde and Blavatsky alongside their hosts.
Come, join us for dinner and a story.
Here's the TOC, which may have a different running order in the final book.
THE GHOST CLUB MEMBERS AND THEIR STORIES
Robert Louis Stevenson Wee Davie Makes a Friend
Rudyard Kipling The High Bungalow
Leo Tolstoy The Immortal Memory
Bram Stoker The House of the Dead
Mark Twain Once a Jackass
Herbert George Wells Farside
Margaret Oliphant To the Manor Born
Oscar Wilde The Angry Ghost
Henry Rider Haggard The Black Ziggurat
Helena P Blavatsky Born of Ether
Henry James The Scrimshaw Set
Anton Checkov At the Molenzki Junction
Jules Verne To the Moon and Beyond
Arthur Conan Doyle The Curious Affair on the Embankment
You can order a copy here.