‘Oracle’ Art

Given the antiquity of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and the cultural influence it has had over the millennia it’s not surprising that large numbers of visual artists have been inspired by it.  Followers of my twitter feed will know I have been collecting and sharing images of Delphi, the Temple of Apollo and the various historical or mythical beings who came there, drawn or painted by famous artists.  So, we’ve had Gustave Dore’s Dante and Virgil encountering the Erinyes or Furies (left), Edward Lear’s water colour of the Phaedriades, the massive cliffs which loom over the Temple site and William Blake’s illustration for ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’ showing ‘The Overthrow of Apollo and the Pagan Gods’.

I’ve come across plenty of works, from ancient times onwards,  which portray events or characters from Greek drama set at Delphi. On Greek redware (right) for example, showing the sleeping Erinyes being roused from their Apollo-induced slumber by the vengeful spirit of Clytemnestra, urging them to hunt down her son, and murderer, Orestes ( from Eumenides by Aeschylus ). Later paintings include Orestes being pursued by the same furies by, among others, John Singer Sergeant, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, John Flaxman and Franz Stuck, until we’re up to date with John Wilson (after  Bouguereau).

So popular did the image of this pursuit become that cartoonists soon created their own versions, like that in Puck magazine (1877) or in Punch (left). In this instance it is the Rt. Hon. John Bright MP who is in the Orestes role, being pursued by the vested interests which he opposed through the Anti-Corn Law League. It was Bright, famous for his oratorical skills among other things, who coined the phrase ‘Mother of Parliaments’. He is also credited with first using the phrase ‘flogging a dead horse’ to illustrate the pointlessness of certain activities (in Bright’s case this meant getting the House of Commons to consider Parliamentary reform – ’twas ever thus).

As figures of terror and myth the Erinyes feature strongly across the ages. Wenceslas Holler etched them in the seventeenth century (right) and they have re-emerged in modern day gaming ( though with a rather different, sexy, look which speaks to who it is who plays those games rather than any mythological authenticity ). Naked the furies may have, traditionally, been, but not looking like a set of pouting, come-hither dominatrices.

The Pythia, or priestess of Apollo who spoke, as the Oracle, with Apollo’s voice is also a favourite subject in paint and in sculpture.  Eugene Delacroix showed Lycurgus consulting her, John Collier made her a hooded, pre-raphaelite religious perched high on her tripod or three-legged stool (left).  Note the gases swirling upwards from the crack in the floor of her underground room, the inhalation of which led to her madness and prophecies.  No such crevice has been found at the Temple site, but, as a character explains in the book “geologists have found that two geological fault lines cross beneath Delphi, with fissures under the Temple itself which allow small amounts of naturally occurring gas to rise to the surface. Rock testing showed ethane, methane and ethylene − formerly used as an anaesthetic − to be present. These would create a calm, trancelike state and, if a lot was consumed, a form of wild mania.”

I will be posting more of the images I have found – of the Erinyes, of characters from the Orestia and of Delphi and the Temple of Apollo in the coming weeks on my twitter feed and Facebook page.  Look out for some of those mentioned above, as well as works by Klimt, Claude Lorraine and others in the run up to the publication of ‘Oracle’ on 5th May.

Second Time Around

…and things are more familiar. The activity which accompanies publishing a crime fiction book was new to me with Plague, but this time, with Oracle, it’s less so. There are fewer decisions than last time because much has already been determined, Oracle will be consistent with Plague, in size, in print, in design.  It even has approximately the same number of pages.

I’m having fun choosing, and helping create, some of the promotional images and these days such images come in various forms – Facebook banners, Instagram posts and Twitter headers – and some come with animation.  The one on the right is an Instagram post, which uses a photograph of the Treasury of the Athenians at the Temple of Apollo, Delphi, as well as a copy of the cover and its tagline – ‘Blood calls for blood’ on a background of a full moon rising above a hillside. There is an animated version of this too.

As I did for the launch of Plague, I’ve uploaded a new Facebook and a new Twitter Header, using the new banner shown below, which also now lies beneath my email signature.  This includes the same images as the Instagram post, with the addition of a rather wonderful artwork by Gustave Dore. The engraving is one of the French master illustrator’s pieces for The Divine Comedy, Canto IX ( 1867) and it shows Dante and Virgil encountering the Erinyes, or Furies. It is entitled ‘Megaera, Tisipone  and Alecto’, so I would imagine this might get used quite a lot ( it’s also out of copyright ). I’ve always been a Dore admirer and I’m not alone. As the Tate’s exhibition on Van Gogh showed, the Dutch painter loved Dore’s work and collected it, basing some of his own compositions on Dore engravings. This image appears in the banner, with the others, set against a background of black, with a wisp of blue/grey smoke curling across it and the tagline, which is in red this time. Very dramatic. I think it’s eye-catching. I just hope that the book isn’t mIstaken for a vampire novel (because of that tag-line). A number of early readers of Plague thought, from the blurb, that it was about a pandemic.  No fear of misunderstanding the title this time, the blurb makes reference to the ancient oracle, but who knows what else people with think of.

There are some differences too, in part because I’ve learned from experience. So, for example, there’s an Oracle postcard to send out with review copies (last time I exhausted my personal stock of notelets). Claret is having the ARCs printed at the moment and I’ll be looking to take receipt of boxes of books in the next week or so.  The other, more exciting thing is that readers are telling me that they’re waiting for the book to come out ( the virtue of having a series ). Also, it seems, there are a lot more media events – interviews, talks, blogs, podcasts – than last time.  In part, I suspect because I have more media contacts now (and I’m good value i.e. or the most part, free), but also because I’m no longer an unknown.  That Oracle is ‘the further adventures of…’ helps.

If any of the readers of this post has a book group which enjoys crime/mystery books and wants an author to come along and chat, let me know, I’m already doing some of these around the country (via the magic of the internet).  You can find out about them on the Events page of this web-site.

For more on Oracle                            Adieu to Delphi                   Crime Scene                Myths & Legends                     Zemiology                    Art and life – again!

 

Crime Scene

My new crime thriller Oracle is set in Delphi, Greece, close to the ancient Temple of Apollo half way up Mount Parnassus.  The crimes happen during an international conference taking place at the European Cultural Centre which lies just outside the town of Delphi. The ECCD is a real place, which I visited at the end of last century when I attended a conference there.

The Centre was founded in the 1970s, as a way of taking forward the modern Festivals held at Delphi in the 20s and 30s which were, in turn, a revival of the Festivals and Games held here in classical times.  Now the Centre is home to the Delphi Academy of European Studies which hosts symposia on European subjects, puts on performances of Greek drama ( in the ancient Theatre as well as the new, purpose built one ) and has an excellent collection of modern art. You can read more about it here.

It has a stunning and scenic position, high up and looking down to Itea on the Gulf of Corinth.  The Conference Centre and Guesthouse nestle among the cypress trees on the mountainside and there are private suites (one of which is occupied, in the novel, by a government Minister and his party).

Aside from the view and the nearby ancient Temple, I remember its fine, confident modern architecture, using local stone as well as concrete and lots of glass – making the most of those spectacular views.  My heroine, Cassandra, occupies one of the rooms in the Guesthouse (left) above the restaurant on the ground floor.

It was November when I was there and the weather wasn’t kind – it was mostly raining, but the mountain peaks were snow covered.  As I sat in that same restaurant with a storm raging outside and the lights flickering, briefly, a fellow conference goer suggested that it would be a tremendous place for a murder mystery. Over twenty years later, when Claret Press suggested that I write one, the ECCD and the beautiful ancient temple nearby immediately sprang to mind.

So it was Delphi, not London, which was the setting which I thought of first, but it soon became apparent to me that my first book, introducing the recurring character of my detective and her associates, should be set where most of the books would be taking place and that was London.  From there on it had to be Westminster and Thorney Island, places which I knew very well, having trodden the streets there for years.  Thus was Plague born. At the end of Oracle it is where Cassie returns to for the third book in the series, Opera, although I confess that I do have a yen to take her off to Rome at some point in the future, another city which I know very well.

I should point out that the title of this article is misleading, however. The ECCD is not, in fact, the scene of the crime, although it is there that both murderer and victim(s) meet.  And that, I’m afraid, is all you will get out of me about the plot.

Oracle (Claret Press) will be published on 5th May 2021.  It will soon be available for pre-order on Amazon and via the Claret Press website.

The Circumlocution Office

Let me take you back in time.

Back to Sunday, 21st January 1855 in a Trafalgar Square deep in snow, where about fifteen hundred people are gathering. They’re meeting to protest at the mismanagement and needless loss of life in the Crimean War, but can’t help larking about and they pelt passing traffic (and pedestrians) with snowballs. The police ask them to stop, but the protesters pelt the police too.

What begins in laughter escalates into a full scale riot and troops are called. Yet these protesters are representative of public opinion in regard to the war.  Enthusiastic support among a populace worked up into a war fury by the press at the war’s beginning had turned to amazement and shock as disaster after disaster was reported by war correspondents like William Howard Russell for The Times and the photographer Roger Fenton.  Not just military mismanagement – the Charge of the Light Brigade in the previous October came to symbolise that – but the failure to provide troops with the most basic necessities of life and the dreadful death rate resulting.

Florence Nightingale, quite aside from the assistance her hospital gave, was a first rate data gatherer, a medical statistician who documented the privations and resulting medical conditions of the troops, far more of whom died from disease, malnutrition and neglect than on the battlefield. These logistical failures were partly because of difficulties with distance and terrain but also because government positions were filled by placemen unqualified for their role and supplied by contractors who had got their contracts because of their connections, not because they provided the best goods and services.  Money was made, stipends were paid but the servicemen were not supplied with what they needed.

Like many others the novelist Charles Dickens was angered by this. Dickens fans will recognise the name of this article as belonging to the government office in his Little Dorrit, where Arthur Clennam goes to discover the details of William Dorrit’s incarceration in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison. The Circumlocution Office was Dickens satirising the parlous state of what passed for the civil service in those days. Totally dominated by the Barnacle family  (a not so subtle metaphor on parasites clinging to the ship of state) it is ‘0ne of the principles of the Circumlocution Office never, on any account whatever, to give a straightforward answer.’ You can read Chapter 10, in which the Circumlocution Office features here.

In late 1854 and 1855 the press turned against the government and Parliament passed a vote demanding a full investigation. Lord Aberdeen, the Prime Minister, resigned on 30th January 1855. 

In fact, the sorry state of government civil services had been noticed earlier and a report commissioned by none other than Gladstone in 1853. The resulting report, by Northcote and Trevelyan, recommended the establishment of what is now the Civil Service and what the historian, Lord Hennessey calls “the single greatest government gift from the nineteenth century to the twentieth century; a politically disinterested and permanent civil service, appointed on merit and with core values of integrity, propriety and objectivity.”

That’s what Britain still has. There are some service failures today – nothing is perfect – but these are often driven by politicians not civil servants, however much politicians seek to blame them (sometimes aided and abetted by the press). We touched on this in last night’s panel discussion on COVID, Corruption and Crony Capitalism, but we ran out of time before we could discuss why cronyism is so damaging to public service provision and so destructive of human lives. This article is by way of a reminder;  January 1855 is where we were. Let’s not go back there.

The discussion was fun to do, especially for such a serious subject and, I am told, is generating lots of good feedback (and some book sales). Thanks to everyone at Claret Press for organising and to fellow panellists, Vicky Pryce and Dr Emily Barritt.  The recording is available on YouTube HERE.

And rest…

Phew! I finally get to look forward to Christmas after the whirlwind of activity – talks, discussions, events, giveaways – which has accompanied the publication of my first crime thriller back in September. All something of an eye-opener to this writer, whose adventure books set in 13th century Spain never generated this much activity and interest. Even in a world reduced by COVID I’ve been very, very busy, almost always online. It’s been tremendous fun, by and large, and I’ve worked with and met some great people, online, on social media and, not least, the readers of my book.

I’ve learned what to avoid  – the number of ‘umms’ and ‘ers’ in my delivery when I was talking to my own slides, unable to see myself or others last Wednesday for the Libraries, was excruciatingly embarrassing. Nonetheless, it prompted contact from a U3A crime fiction reading book group who have chosen Plague as their book for March and want me to do a talk for them, which I’m happy to do.  The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster people also seemed pleased, they have asked me to do another talk in January, this time about ‘Politics and Prose’ – political fiction in a time of increasing citizen journalism and social media commentary. That’s something I’ve blogged about in the past ( see Stories of Democracy on The Story Bazaar web-site ). The more one does, the more one is asked to do.

I’m beginning to realise that what works well is behaving naturally, and letting my genuine enthusiasm shine through. I’m definitely more comfortable when interacting, either with other speakers or with questioners.  That is, in part, why the Secrets of Subterranean London discussion worked so well. If you haven’t watched it, you can find a link here and on the Events page.

It is the first in a series which Claret Press hopes to produce and Claret’s number of subscribers increased after the broadcast. The second, on Crony Capitalism, is  scheduled for January and I’ll be taking part, with a well-known economist and an activist ( names cannot yet be revealed but I’ll be writing about them and it nearer to the event ). Siphoning public funds into the pockets of allies and associates is, of course, one of the corruptions taking place in Plague, as Cassie says to the villain on page 246 ‘You’re ensuring the contracts go to the right companies so you can reward your friends and allies…’  Its topicality astonishes me still.

Yet now I’m looking forward to relaxing over the holiday, I need a break and January is already filling up fast. Aside from anything else, I have to completely sign off on Oracle by 31st January and there’s all the work associated with the preparation of a book for publishing – meta data, Netgalley etc. and a whole new round of promotion and publicity to agree.

One piece of encouraging news is that I now have an Italian literary agent. Factotum, or Zecchin, Bellaciccio & Aragno have signed me, and other Claret authors, with a view to selling the Italian publication rights and having Plague ( and the next two Cassandra Fortune books ) translated into Italian. Katie, from Claret Press, told me half an hour before the live broadcast of Secrets, that a representative from Factotum would be watching, in order to decide whether or not they wanted to sign me up. No pressure there then. Fortunately, it worked out well.

But – bring on the mulled wine!

Wishing everyone a joyous and safe Christmastide – the year turns on Monday, as Saturn and Jupiter conjoin closer than for almost 400 years and Spring – Spring! – is on its way. Here’s hoping for a better year in 2021.

Going underground

Like any place inhabited by humans for centuries, London is a multi-layered city, its history piled up beneath the feet of the people who walk its streets. This was the subject of last night’s tremendous discussion with Dr Tom Ardill of the Museum of London and award-winning Blue Badge Guide Fiona Lukas.

Tom showed us just how Londoners from the Romans onwards had utilised the natural tributaries of the Thames. First the Walbrook in the Roman city, which soon became clogged with waste, then, later, the Fleet, which met the same fate, becoming notorious for its floating bodies of dead cats and dogs ( and sometimes humans, falling into the noxious Fleet was a death sentence ). It wasn’t surprising that, by the thirteenth century Londoners of the City were seeking for a fresh water supply further afield and they lighted upon the Tyburn. In order to bring its waters to the City they constructed the Great Conduit which ran south then east across London.

Engineers installing gas pipes along Oxford Street in the 19th century stumbled upon the remains of this and, in the 21st century, Crossrail again unearthed it. The Tyburn also supplied water, supposedly, to a set of Roman baths near North Audley Street and Oxford Street. There are references to these baths in a number of sources and a detailed description, but no physical evidence has yet been found. It is here, in ‘Plague’ where  crime is committed and where the detectives first meet George Bindel London sewer man extraordinaire.

Another fascinating element last night was Tom’s explanation about the plans of the Tyburn Angling Society, a quixotic enterprise which seeks to ‘daylight’ the River, bringing it back to the surface ( and destroying millions of pounds of Mayfair real estate, including Buckingham Palace, in the process ). As he pointed out, there are cities elsewhere in the world where this has been done, like Seoul in Korea and it is being done,  on a much smaller scale, with the River Quaggy in London.

Fiona’s description of the modern travails of London Transport with new London Underground stations was very interesting, especially the example of the new, very deep and very modern, Westminster station .  I never knew that the two District line tube tunnels were on top of one another not along side, but, when I thought about it, this made sense of the way the inside of the station was designed. I certainly wasn’t aware of the difficulties encountered because of the proximity of the station to the Houses of Parliament, not least the secrecy about why designs for the new station were repeatedly vetoed.

Learning about the ghost stations, often abandoned because too many stations had originally been built ( which meant that the tube journeys were taking too long, so often were the trains stopping and starting ) was also fascinating. Down Street, where Churchill’s wartime cabinet used to meet when the Cabinet Office War Rooms were unavailable, or Brompton Road. There is also Aldwych, formerly Strand, a station I used to walk past every day on my way to work in Bush House, close to, yes, a bona fide Roman Baths.

My own contribution was limited compared to the experts’ but I was able to talk about Whitehall, the formation of Thorney Island and its development into Westminster and cite a quote from Cassandra in ‘Plague’ about the concentration of power. My favourite contribution, however, related to a different exhumation, that of the remains in Old St Pancras Churchyard, removed to allow for construction of the London Midland Railway. A young Thomas Hardy oversaw the works and composed this piece of jolly doggerel ( which parodies, I think, the first of Wordsworth’s Lucy poems – any Hardy scholars reading this please tell ).

‘We late-lamented, resting here, Are mixed to human jam, And each to each exclaims in fear, ‘I know not which I am!”

The whole of ‘Secrets of Subterranean London’ will be posted on Youtube next week and I will post the link to it here when it is. In the meanwhile I’ll be talking about ‘Plague – A Novel of London’ for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries at 6.30 p.m. GMT on Wednesday 16th December, if anyone is interested in hearing more. It’s another FREE event, but to attend you must register on Eventbrite.

Secrets of Subterranean London

Claret Press is organising an online event which may be of interest to readers of this website. On 11th December, from 7 – 8 in the evening, I will be speaking with Tom Ardill, Curator at the Museum of London and Fiona Lukas, award-winning Blue Badge guide and expert on the London Underground.

Tom curated, with Kate Sumnall, the fascinating 2019 exhibition on London’s ‘Secret Rivers’ at the Museum of London in Docklands, which I blogged about at the time. Did you know, for example, that there is a Tyburn Angling Society, set up to try and ‘restore’ the river so as to fish in it ( an almost impossible task since it has been subsumed into Bazalgette’s wonderful London sewer system, but a charming, if quixotic, idea  )?  He is also a fellow river traveller, having followed the course of the Tyburn, as I did, but taking the southernmost arm, down to Pimlico and he ran it, rather than walked. You can read about his run here. Tom is curator for Paintings, Drawings and other artworks held by the Museum too. Of course, as readers of Plague will know, a Museum of London archaeologist appears at the beginning of the book. He bears no relation to Tom.

The other contributor is Fiona Lukas, an award-winning Blue Badge Guide, (  she was Guide of the Year for the City of Westminster and City of London ) whose speciality is London Underground. She regularly hosts the popular tour The Lure of the Underground ( listen to her podcast about it here ) and is coming with interesting facts aplenty, including about the ghost lines and stations no longer in use. I had used to walk passed the old Aldwych station everyday on my way to work and have come across others, like that at Marble Arch.  There are many other little known LU-owned places, like the Bakerloo Line depot at London Road, south of the river, which features in Plague.

My contribution will be about those bits of subterranean London which feature in the novel, although I expect Tom to have far more knowledge than I about the Tyburn itself. I’ll be touching on Plague Pits, Roman Remains – like the baths at North Audley Street, completely unmarked on the surface, the Great Conduit which runs along Oxford Street and, of course, the Palace of Westminster, with all its idiosyncrasies.

I can’t wait to ask Tom about some of the historical sites and Fiona knows all about the engineering, which is of particular interest to me. We will, doubtless, touch on the brilliant Bazalgette and his sewers. By the way, those who have read Plague will understand the reference to sewers and the ‘sewer walk’ undertaken by some of the main characters, but they may not know that the book contains a small homage to another book in which sewer scenes appear, which was made into an even more famous, not to say iconic, feature film. To find out what this homage is, or make your guess at it, come along and join us on 11th December.

Tickets are, astonishingly, FREE on Eventbrite HERE. It’s already proving very popular. See you there.

For more on Plague and the River Tyburn try        Walking a Book, Walking a River      or   The Book Walk Continues

Bookwalk Out-takes

The recent Bookwalk for Plague has already been the subject of posts here, but these include only a small percentage of photographs taken. We made several digressions and diversions during the day to take photographs of things we liked (which was partly why it was so much fun to do). These reflect the various enthusiasms of myself and my fellow walker, Helen.

First up – bricks. The Victorians were great decorators in brick, something I’ve had several conversations about recently because we’ve just had a face lift for our Victorian house. I now know more about bricks than I ever thought was possible, largely courtesy of David Fairbrother, who oversaw the work, a man who truly loves bricks. On our walk we encountered some excellent examples of Victorian brickwork, like that announcing Grosvenor Works or the decoration on the buildings at the top of Great Smith Street, or, see left, the brickwork on the Marlborough Head public house, North Audley Street (readers of the novel will recognise that street name). The young woman working there was surprised and, I think, rather charmed, by our fruitless search for any indicator that there were Roman baths nearby.

Second, statues of admirable people. There were lots of those – from William Tyndale to Sir Joseph Bazalgette (who has already appeared in the Bookwalk blog ) via a whole procession in Embankment Gardens. Given limited space here, that of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square will represent them all.  She holds aloft her uplifting message ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’.

Third, idiosyncratic peculiarities, based, broadly, around the subject matter of the book. So, a Stop Works sign propped in a doorway of the Norman Shaw buildings on the Embankment ( a former home of the Metropolitan Police and work place of one of the victims in the novel, where he is helping to refurbish the building ).  Colourful chains at the construction site on Davies Street by Bond Street Underground Station, site of the first discovered crime, against said victim.  The vaulted roof of the arches through which one passes from Horseguards Parade into Whitehall (which appears to be numbered, something I’ve not noticed before) and the receding arches within the arches, through which the protesters pass before harassing my heroine.

One of the most eye-catching was what must be one of the smallest public houses in London. Not, perhaps the smallest  that, I believe, is The Dove in Hammersmith, but pretty small nonetheless. We found the four-storey Coach and Horses on the edge of Mayfair, it is still a working pub ( though we didn’t enter, either this or the Marlborough Head, just in case you’re wondering, we were committed book walkers ).  Besides, the No Entry sign outside could have put us off. Other unusual architecture spotted includes Sothebys’ warehouse, found down a back street and what looked like a closed up market hall in Davies Mews.

If you follow me on Facebook you will already know that we finally succumbed to the temptation of a chilled pint of beer, at Cask, a craft beer emporium in Tachbrook Street, Pimlico. So, for those who care about such things, rest assured that your walkers were eventually refreshed and, yes, I’ve noticed that two of these photographs are of hostelries!

For more on the Book walk see    Walking a book, walking a river      The Book Walk continues     and    ‘With an address like that you must be very wealthy’ 

‘Plague’ (Claret Press, 2020) is available for pre-order on Amazon HERE. It is published on 15th September.

Stranger than Fiction II

So this article is a sequel.  I’ve already written about how the plot of ‘Plague’ has coincided with real life, but, astonishingly, the coincidences keep coming! 

There is the recent, real, discovery of hundreds of bodies, skeletons, in a lost medieval sacristy belonging to Westminster Abbey as reported in The Guardian at the weekend. Not, I know, the same as the discovery of a plague pit, with or without modern corpses, but startling nonetheless and an example of how the land around and beneath Westminster, or Thorney Island, still has secrets to divulge. Just as it does in the novel.

But an even closer correlation between ‘Plague’ and what is happening now might be what I can only call the procurement scandals. In the novel large government contracts, worth several billion pounds, are being tendered and, as one of the characters says ‘…the contracts aren’t being awarded in the usual way.’  It’s corruption – the contracts are being given to companies run by associates and accomplices of the villains, who also make money on the stock exchange as the shares of those companies rise in value.  At least in the book the companies in question have the relevant expertise and a track record in providing the types of services being tendered for.

In real life, however, we see huge contracts being awarded to companies with little or no experience or expertise in the field of activity required, but which do have close ties to various individuals in government. The Good Law Project, together with Every Doctor, are pursuing judicial review of the procurement of PPE from three companies, one specialising in pest control, one a confectionery wholesaler and one an opaque private fund owned via a tax haven. The PPE – face masks – sold by the last of these companies, Ayanda Capital, under a contract worth £252m, was found to be unsuitable for use in the NHS (and untested). Yet at least this contract was publicly tendered. The contracts granted to Public First, a company with close ties to Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings, seem not to have been tendered at all and The Good Law Project and a number of non-Tory MPs are seeking judicial review of the awarding of them. They have also begun proceedings against Michael Gove in regard to one of these contracts.  Contrary to government regulations, the contracts themselves have not been published (once granted, contracts are required to be published within thirty days).

As the same ‘Plague’ character, a journalist, says ‘There’s a smell attaching to it. Lots of money involved.’  My main character Cassie is, of course, working on minor procurement contracts at the start of the novel, but she has no enthusiasm for the work. As a former senior civil servant I sympathise with those who are having to deal with the situation now, knowing that the correct procedures aren’t being followed. It seems that Ministers are hiding behind COVID and emergency powers to hand large sums of money to preferred bidders, regardless of said bidders ability to deliver the contracts.

I wonder if there will be a Stranger then Fiction III? What about those share prices? Watch this space? 

For more on ‘Plague’ try       Walking a book, walking a river            The Bookwalk continues          With an address like that you must be very wealthy   

‘With an address like that you must be very wealthy.’

Is the thought of my heroine, Cassie, when told where another character in my novel lives.  Yet, before our Bookwalk took us to look at the enviable address, we had some more medieval ground to cover, specifically the 14th century Jewel Tower. This remnant of the Abbey, which stood next to the Abbey moat, now stands on Abingdon or ‘College’ Green opposite Parliament. It is part of the Palace of Westminster, although set apart from Barry’s Victorian pile and Westminster Hall and it plays a crucial role in Plague.

The Tower, made of Kent rag-stone, stands on ground considerably lower than the ground which surrounds it, a testament to its great age.  It is open to the public, though not at the present moment. We entertained a rather bored-looking set of professional camera men set up in their familiar interviewing place on the Green, by doing our own ‘pieces to camera’ both in front of the Jewel Tower and the Victoria Tower, one of the few parts of the Palace of Westminster not covered in scaffolding or sheeting. Returning to Parliament Square, we went past the Abbey itself and entered Great Smith Street, then Little Smith Street, into that maze of small alleyways with buildings belonging to the Abbey and the Church.

Great College Street was our destination, where Westminster School buildings run into the 14th century boundary wall, and under which the River Tyburn ran. It is on the corner with Barton Street where our desirable residence sits. Here we were fortunate to come across a woman who worked in the next house along, who was charmed by the thought of the neighbouring house appearing in a novel (and we think we made a sale). I hope the occupants of the actual house  are equally charmed.

This collection of streets to the south of Westminster School, running down to Smith Square, are, to my mind, some of the most desirable in London. The fine Georgian town houses sit in quiet, tree-lined streets, yet are close to one of London’s ‘centres’ and the epicentre of establishment power. Many of them are still in private ownership, either as houses or apartments, though there are many school buildings at the north end and the Georgian buildings give way to corporate headquarters and government departments to the south. Marsham Street is lined with government buildings – the Home Office, the Department for Transport, the old DTI building, many of them linked. All lie on the route of the number 88 bus – the ‘Clapham omnibus’ – and we hopped on to it for a few stops to Pimlico, because we were running out of time (and, by now, our feet were hurting). The Pimlico which we currently see, of elegant early Victorian terraces, is predominantly the creation of the property developer Thomas Cubitt in the 1830s. In the novel it is where a supporting character lives, on Tachbrook Street, so named for the Tach Brook which, at this point, ran into the old River Tyburn and thence to the Thames.

We did another piece to camera – three times, as it happened, because of the noise of children playing nearby – and provided some diversion for folk sitting outside a local craft beer pub, which we visited shortly afterwards. This gave us time to look back through the three hundred and twenty photographs and ten pieces to camera which we had shot, before taking the 88 again, this time to Vauxhall and the restaurant where our other halves awaited. The day ended with a most perfect sunset over the Thames and Pimlico.  A really great walk ( over seven miles of it ) and a really great day. My thanks to Helen Hughes for her photography and her company.

Read more about Plague and the Bookwalk at           Walking a book, walking a river…    The Book Walk continues…

‘Plague’ is published by Claret Press on 15th September 2020.