Location Scouting

I went location scouting this week, visiting the places I talk about in my books.

I think, if a book is set in a real place, the place should be recognisable, and correctly portrayed. One of the things that attract me to Anne Perry books is that when she writes about a place I know, I recognise it. She has obviously walked the streets.

So I did the same things. It can be a bit difficult for an historical novelist – the place you’re talking about may be long gone. However, this is London, and a lot of Victorian London is left. (As is a lot of Edwardian London, Regency London, Georgian London, Stuart London, Elizabethan London, Tudor London, Medieval London, Roman London….). On the other hand, the area around Baker Street, Marylebone, was pretty badly devastated by the Blitz, and what’s more, the area of Baker Street where Sherlock Holmes lived didn’t actually exist when Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the books. (He kept getting letters asking him if he knew there was no 221b Baker Street).

I was working from a Victorian street map, and although some of the street names had been changed – Northumberland Street is now Luxborough Street – and many buildings gone, the layout is still exactly the same. I had no problem finding my locations.

It was very useful. I had planned to set a particularly horrible crime in a certain building, but when I saw it, the building was so beautiful and peaceful, I couldn’t bear to sully it with blood, so that was changed.

One crime scene I thought was round the corner from Baker Street turned out to be twenty minutes walk away – but very usefully included a nice garden to hide lurking suspects in. It also included John Lennon’s old house, but I don’t think there’s any way I can get that referenced in a Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson book.

Two vital places that I thought were quite far apart turned out to be very close, which means I can now arrange for an actual witness sighting, adding another clue.

Marylebone Workhouse has gone completely, replaced by a university, which is quite appropriate, poverty replaced by education, but is also frustrating, because although there is a layout, and photos, I still can’t get a good sense of it. However, that’s where my imagination will come in.

So, it was useful. And there is a certain frisson in walking the same streets Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson and Sherlock Holmes would walk. There’s enough left of the Victorian Marylebone to imagine what they would have seen. And it has inspired a few moments too.

I would always recommend, if possible, location scouting your area. And if you’re writing fantasy – well, there’s a reason all the best fantasy books come with maps of their fantasy world. It just helps to know where your characters are going.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

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