What Next?

So, we’ve had the Plague Book walk and the Plague Blog Tour ( which finished on Friday ) and both have been fun to do and, I hope, brought the book to the attention of the book-buying public, or at least that section of it which exists on-line. This is the first time a book of mine has been part of a Blog Tour and it’s been an interesting and enjoyable experience. Emma from Damp Pebbles, a crime and horror specialist blog tour organiser, has been helpful and professional throughout, marshalling the book bloggers to produce and reveal their reviews day after day.

And the book got some lovely reviews, all five or four stars. It was so interesting reading what people made of it and there were some new insights too, which even this author hadn’t thought about. For example, thank you Karen Cole for pointing out just how often Cassie self-sabotages.  There is also some anticipation around Oracle, the next in the series ( many of the bloggers said they would like to review that one as well ).

In the absence of a physical launch and book shop signings, I’ve spoken about the book and the writing of it on radio and Youtube ( you can hear/see those interviews and events, if you’ve a mind to, on the Events page of this web-site ). There is more of this planned, with recordings and uploading to Youtube ( to both the Claret Press channel and my own ). For example, at some point before Christmas there will be a discussion with various experts on London and its history.

There is a virtual and an actual Plague Book Walk in the offing, though I’m not sure how many members of the public would pay to come on either ( David, a London Walks specialist, thinks there may be people who would ). I have other events, interviews and talks, lined up and another twitter ‘giveaway’ too at the end of October.

Sales figures, Amazon’s vicissitudes notwithstanding, are healthy my publisher tells me, though she hasn’t had the Amazon figures yet. So, for this unknown writer’s debut crime novel, all is well.  Claret was pitching Plague, amongst other of their books, to literary agencies specialising in translations at last week’s virtual Frankfurt Book Fair and is talking to audio book specialists in the USA too.

Talking of audio, the latest review of Plague on Netgalley and Goodreads includes a playlist – what to listen to while reading it. I confess that these songs are unknown to me, though the titles sound appropriate. Thank you Jessica Haider! 

Hiding Tonight by Alex Turner
Knives Out by Radiohead
No Light, No Light by Florence + the Machine
Way down We Go by KALEO
Glory and Gore by Lorde
Lost River by Murder by Death
Blue Moon by Chromatics

If readers would like to read more about the Plague Book walk try     Walking a Book, Walking a River                    The Book walk continues                With an address like that…              Bookwalk Out-takes              Plague in Clapham        or about the Blogtour  try             Plague on Tour

Plague in Clapham

One area which features in Plague but which was not covered by our recent bookwalk is SW4, or Clapham, where I happen to live. It is here that the heroine, Cassandra Fortune, has her flat, where she lives with her cat, Spiggott. Like so much of Clapham this would have been built by Victorian and Edwardian pattern builders, so named because they used a template, or several, when constructing street after street during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. I have placed the flat in a fictitious road within the little maze of roads off Clapham Common South Side, where the buildings are often elegant purpose built maisonettes.

One of the good things about living in Clapham – and there are many – is that most of the streets are leafy, retaining their trees even after the ridiculous insurance company purges of the early part of this century. Cassie’s road is a ‘tree-lined street of Victorian terraces’.  She has roses growing up the side of her bay window at the front and a small garden, mostly side return, at the back, with raised beds and french doors from the bedroom and the kitchen leading out on to it ( maybe something like this, right ). It is over the back fence that her neighbour hands her the roses and gift which have been delivered on Sunday morning in the novel.

Another of the aforementioned good things is Clapham Common, which sits in the middle of the Clapham area. It is a photograph of the Common and the ferris wheel of a travelling circus encamped there which alerts Cassie to a newspaper photographer having been snooping around. The photograph left was taken on 1st October 2020.

Clapham Common is also one of the three Clapham Tube stations, the others being Clapham South and Clapham North (and we have the Junction too, we’re well connected – this is beginning to sound like an advert for Clapham). At each of them are circular, pillbox style structures which mark the presence of the deep shelters, constructed during the second World War to house civilians during air raids. There were originally ten of these planned across London, though only eight were ever sunk, three of them in Clapham close to the Northern line.  Cassie notes the one next to Clapham Common tube station as Daljit, Sergeant Patel, drives her to the Golden Square crime scene. The image above is of the deep shelter at Clapham South, which was used, in the 1950s, to house those migrants arriving from Empire on the HMS Windrush and other similar, later, ships.

Clapham Common

Clapham is not, of course, the only part of south London which has a part in Plague, even if most of the action takes place in Westminster. The second victim is found at a London Underground depot off London Road in Lambeth and his high rise flat, in Elephant and Castle, is where Cassie and Detective Inspector Andrew Rowlands go to interview his grieving, pregnant partner. It is from her twelfth floor windows that they see this panorama. ‘Northwards sunlight sparkled on the Shard and the towers of the City and, to the east, the chunky skyscrapers of Canary Wharf jostled for space on the Isle of Dogs. To the south east Cassie could see Crystal Palace Hill rising, bedecked by strings of terraced streets, to the high transmitter mast at its summit.’

For more about Plague and London try           Walking a Book, Walking a River             The Book Walk Continues                ‘With an address like that, you must be very wealthy’                    Book Walk Out-takes

Plague On Tour

First a Book Walk for Plague, now a Book Tour!

The Plague Book walk was a real walk, though largely done for publicity purposes and, it seems, it may have gained an after life of its own. The photo-montages have generated interest and the video is still in production. What’s more, London Walks, the guided walks company, is suggesting that I conduct real, guided walks of the book for members of the paying public. Footprints of London is doing one such of the locations in Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson as part of a Literary Festival, and that book’s set in the past. So it must be possible to do one about Plague, which, after all, is set in contemporary London. I have already written a Plaguewalk leaflet which will, once it’s been tested, be posted on this web-site.

I might begin with a virtual walk – I went on one such at the weekend around parts of Kensington, at the invitation of David Tucker, its guide, who wears his comprehensive knowledge of London and his erudition lightly. It was great fun. Watch this space for developments.

The Plague Book Tour, or, more correctly, Blog Tour, will be underway before then, running from 28th September to 9th October. Organised by crime/horror specialist damppebbles.com, it includes a book blogger a day for twelve days, reading, reviewing and, I hope, discussing Plague on social media. Anyone who follows #booktwitter or #bookstagram will recognise some, if not all, of the names of the book bloggers involved. I’m looking forward to seeing what Karen, David and Maria, Angi, Sharron, IG, Nicola, Emma, Maddy, Sharon, Vikkie, Chelle and Lesley think about Plague and its cast of characters. Starts Monday.

Yes, they are mostly female, but I have had some amazing reviews from male readers already  (check out Amazon or Goodreads), as well as some wonderful endorsements from fellow crime and thriller writers, like V.B.Grey, and crime specialists like Jacky Collins, aka ‘Dr Noir’. People like the book!

Of course, a traditional ‘book tour’ of book shops and reading groups isn’t possible because of COVID, but, these days, folk are so social media focussed that a ‘blog tour’ would probably have happened in any event. This one certainly ranges across the country in terms of where the bloggers are actually located. From the Isle of Skye to Kent and from East Anglia to the West Country. That would have been a book tour and a half!  I would have made some interesting train journeys.

E-space is where most of the advertising will be focussed too, though there isn’t very much of that. Claret Press isn’t an admirer of Amazon ads, nor those of Facebook, having used them, without any great success, in the past. So we’re going with tightly focused ads, using specialist agencies, via twitter.  The usual journals, like the Crime Writers Association ‘Case Notes’ and Newsletter will, we hope, also attract the attention of crime fiction loving readers.  

For more about Plague and especially the Book Walk why not try     Walking a book, walking a river                The book walk continues                   With an address like that…  

Algorithm Agony

I am a debut published author, hooray! My book is getting five star reviews, hooray! Some fellow writers (who really know what they’re doing) have said very nice things about my book, hooray! The publicity strategy is kicking in and the interviews, blog tour, advertising is falling into place, hooray!

BUT, and it’s a big but, Amazon, one of the two big online retailers of books, is showing my title as ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’.  All that publicity, all those reviews and, when the potential reader goes to the Amazon site, it seems that they can’t buy a paperback copy of the book.

Now the first thing to say is that they can!  As the ‘New’ and ‘Used’ options show – the Amazon messages are contradictory – click ‘Buy’ and a purchaser is taken to the usual screens. The book is available. Yet I fear that the immediate message – that it is not – will mean that many potential purchasers are dissuaded from buying it. I am a new author after all,  this is my first crime thriller, I don’t have a track record to rely on, why take a chance on someone whose new book isn’t even in stock?

My newness turns out to be part of the problem. The other, big part, is a result of COVID ( ironic for a book entitled ‘Plague’ ).  As my previous post, Publication Day!! said, September has been a bumper month for book releases, because all those books which would have been released in spring but were deferred because of COVID are now coming out. Yet Amazon, the largest online book retailer, has only so many warehouses (though they are building more). So the warehouses are full and there are yet more books. How do they decide which books should be kept in stock?

First, they decide that no book should be stored in these over-crowded warehouse for more than 48 hours, so only the quick sellers will find house room ( a tough, if logical, commercial decision ). Second, Amazon turn to their tried and trusted method of making decisions about products – an algorithm. The algorithm is predictive and it determines which books are likely to sell quickly i.e. for which there is greatest demand.

Which is where my being a debut novelist counts against Plague.  I’m not an established name, with legions of fans awaiting my book’s release, nor a well-known celebrity who commands name recognition and therefore drives sales.  My publisher, Claret Press, is a small indie, which doesn’t have the budget for a massive sales pitch and stormtrooper publicists and this counts against Plague too. The clever algorithm is never going to choose to stock Plague over many of those other books. So ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ appears, even though the book is available.

This is the algorithmic Catch-22.  However popular my book might be, it’s never going to get the chance to become so. It’s new and by an unknown author and, however hard I, and Claret Press, work, it’s unlikely to impress that algorithm.

BUT all is not lost! The ebook is still shown as available, so people can buy that, at least. One can also get this message out MY BOOK IS AVAILABLE WHATEVER AMAZON SAYS. People are buying the paperback. It’s there to be bought.

Mine is not, of course, the only book in this Catch-22, there are lots of others. There is, apparently, a meeting next Tuesday between small publishers and Amazon to try and sort this out.  Watch this space. In the meanwhile, please tell everyone you know who might enjoy a snappy and topical crime thriller to BUY THIS BOOK. One thing the algorithm recognises is sales.

Publication Day!!

Yes, it’s happening today, 15th September!  And I’m getting some excellent feedback and reviews! So pleased, after all the hard work.

Not, perhaps, the best month to publish as it turns out – there were 600 books published on September 3rd alone!  Many were deferred from earlier in the year, the ‘Spring release’, if you will, because of COVID. Writers publishing this year are already being affectionately referred to as ‘Plague Authors’.

There will be no launch party or even an in-person signing – COVID prevents.  Instead, having just returned from Spain, I am, very appropriately given the title of my book, in quarantine.

There is however, a reason why ‘Plague’ is being published now, specifically on 15th September. Not because September is an amazing month, even if it is, (my birthday is in September) or because it’s equinoctal, or because it’s the ‘Autumn release’ as far as publishers are concerned, out in time for Christmas. Rather because September is when the events of the novel take place. September 2020 was the original timing.

Since the arrival of COVID, however, references to 2020 have been removed. Were ‘Plague’ to be taking place now I would have to do a major rewrite to incorporate COVID and some, at least, of the events of the novel almost certainly wouldn’t take place.  Given that the editing phase of the book was concluded in April, when we had just entered lock down and no one knew what was going to happen, this wasn’t an option.  Hence the removal of the year.

September is still the month, however, because the plot is month specific. Usually, the Houses of Parliament rise in July for the summer recess and return in late August/early September, but only for a short while, as, traditionally, the Party Conferences take place in October, so everything closes down again a month or so after it opened up. It is in this narrow window of less than a month that the events of ‘Plague’ take place. 

This year they returned on 1st September but will not close as usual.  Like all physical gatherings, even relatively small ones (the ‘rule of six’) the conferences have been cancelled and activity will take place online.  Given the imminent shenanigans in the Palace of Westminster in regard to the UK Internal Markets Bill, they may not take place at all. The current Parliamentary schedule currently shows PMQs and Private Members Bills proceeding throughout October, but little else.

In the novel it is the imminent early closure of the Palace, for the Conferences, (and major works) which sets the time limit for solving the case. The first arrest is made for a crime committed on 10th September and the day – and night – of 15th has a particular significance (early readers of the book will know this).  Hence the publication date of 15th September.

Unfortunately, COVID has derailed all attempts to, roughly, synchronise the events of the novel with the Parliamentary timetable. Admittedly, this is a very minor inconvenience compared to other impacts of COVID, so I can’t really complain.  The best laid plans… 

‘Plague’ is published TODAY, on 15th September for reasons now largely redundant. Get your copy here.

Read more about ‘Plague’           Walking a book, walking a river       The Book walk continues      Stranger than Fiction II

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   

Engagement with readers – what they told us

Now that publication day for ‘Plague’ approaches (just under three weeks to go ) it seems an appropriate time to recap on how the book got where it is. I began writing it in 2018 at the behest of  Claret Press, a small independent publishers. This took just over a year and a half. When re-writing and revising I engaged with a number of book clubs around the country as well as with members of the writer’s group to which I belong in south London, to take their views. In addition, as part of my research, I have consulted a number of experts – a micro-biologist, a retired policeman and several people who work, or worked, in the Palace of Westminster.

I have also, for the first time, made it available on a pre-publication review site, in this instance, NetGalley. ‘Plague’ has been up on NetGalley for almost four months now and it has been an interesting experience, for both myself and my publisher.  NetGalley isn’t cheap, at almost £500 for a six month listing, together with inclusion of the book in one of its specialist Newsletters to approximately 35,000 members.  For that you

  • can test out aspects of the book, like the cover and the blurb
  • see what readers, existing and new NetGalley members, think of the novel and
  • get reviews which are then placed on book blogs, bookstagram accounts and other social media and, one hopes, transferred onto Amazon, when the book is published.

There are, as you would expect, lots of stats (and I’m a stats nerd). So, ‘Plague’ has been clicked to read 332 times, as just over 1,800 people have taken a quick look at the cover and blurb (that’s an engagement rate of 18.5%, or just under 1 in 5 ).  I don’t know if that’s good, bad or indifferent.  Of these 47% said it was the blurb which prompted them to request to read the book, 27% the cover, 15% the author and 11% the existing ‘buzz’.  So, brownie points for the blurb.

There is a voting button as regards the cover and, unfortunately, the original cover prompted one third negative responses to two third positives. This has prompted my publisher to change the book’s cover and to add a tag-line (see original cover right).

The book has, thus far, received 43 pieces of written feedback (few in comparison with more famous authors). These are mostly reviews, which break down, in terms of star rating as

  • 5 stars                      23
  • 4 stars                        8
  • 3 stars                        4
  • 2 stars                        4
  • 1 star                            1

That’s a pretty positive result overall and one can’t please all of the people all of the time, but what the reviews have said has been as informative as the markings and have lead to changes being made. Not to the text itself, aside from one or two typos, but rather to the whole package of the book.

A number of reviewers read the blurb, looked at the cover and downloaded the text clearly expecting something other than what’s in my book.  Their expectations centred on it being a ‘government conspiracy’ novel, possibly in regard to some form of bio-weapon (hence ‘Plague’). I don’t know how that expectation was raised, but it clearly was for a number of people and that had to be addressed. I want to sell books, but I don’t want to disappoint readers, which will happen if they buy it thinking it is something other than it actually is.

So, a minor re-write of the blurb was in order and the inclusion of a tag-line on the cover which left no doubt about the concept of the book. This, see image above, reads ‘Power is a deadly contagion’ and has the added benefit of steering would-be readers away from the assumption that the book is a COVID or pandemic novel. It isn’t, though it does contain a plague panic.

So, was NetGalley useful?  I would say, ‘Yes’, but then so were my conversations with readers outside of NetGalley. Has it built ‘buzz’?  Difficult to say. In conversations with winners of a recent Twitter Giveaway more than one winner said that they had ‘heard about’ this book, ‘months ago’. That must, in part, be down to NetGalley.

For more about ‘Plague’ see   ‘Walking a book, walking a river’        ‘The Bookwalk continues‘     ‘With an address like that you must be very wealthy‘  and ‘Stranger than Fiction

‘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.

The Book Walk continues….

Walking the locations of a book has some unique challenges, but with Plague (Claret Press, 2020) it was relatively easy, because the ‘lost’ River Tyburn provided a, somewhat sketchy, but traceable, route-map. As my previous post described, ( Walking a book, walking a river… ) Helen, my friend and photographer, and I walked from Bond Street tube station, the place where readers of the novel first meet Cassie, its heroine, to the outlets of the various arms of the Tyburn into the River Thames.  The earlier article took us as far as the memorial to Sir Joseph Bazalgette, engineer extraordinaire, on his Victoria Embankment.

We had taken a rest outside Buckingham Palace before crossing St James’ Park, always a haven of calm (now with pelicans). Thence to Queen Anne’s Gate and Old Queen Street and that warren of Georgian streets just south of the park. It is there that Plague locates the private club to which several of its characters belong. This is really medieval London, with its narrow alleyways and twisting streets. The course of the old Tyburn follows present day Tothill Street, now lined with government departments (an important factor in the book), until it reaches Parliament Square at Broad Sanctuary, so called because Sanctuary Tower used to stand there.

Now this space is occupied by the majestic Methodist Central Hall and the rather less impressive Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Readers of the novel will know that it is there where Cassie first meets a number of interesting characters. Given that the temperature on Thursday was up in the thirties at this point we made a quick detour to buy water, before filming a brief piece to camera in Parliament Square.

We were now on old Thorney Island, that small hillock amidst the original Thames marshes which became the centre of power, first of a province, then of a nation, then, eventually, of an empire. Unfortunately ( or fortunately, given the theme of Plague ), the Palace of Westminster, a key location for the novel, is, for the present, a building site, shrouded in scaffolding. But before we ventured into the buildings around the Palace, we had to visit another key location not so far from Parliament Square.

Since 2016 New Scotland Yard has been housed in the Curtis Green building on the Victoria Embankment, the Metropolitan Police Service having moved from its previous home on Victoria Street.  This means it sits next to the Norman Shaw Buildings, an earlier home of Scotland Yard and very close to where Whitehall Steps would have been in Tudor times and earlier, near where the northern-most arm of the Tyburn ran into the Thames. The incident room in Plague is located on the fifth floor overlooking the Thames.

Time to capture the landmarks, including the chariot of Boudicca next to Westminster Bridge, within which, sewer records tell us, lies an entrance to the sewers below Westminster Palace itself.  Then a quick saunter up Whitehall, where some of the older government departments – the Treasury, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office – are housed. Cassie’s boss, the Permanent Secretary, has rooms in Admiralty House, as does his boss, the Deputy Prime Minister.  This is not an ongoing position, the current government does not have it, though previous administrations have, when the post was occupied by Nick Clegg, MP and, earlier, John Prescott MP.

At the top of Whitehall is Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, where the Admiral stands, guarded by lions, in front of the National Gallery. We did not walk so far, but reversed our course and went to explore the medieval streets around Westminster Abbey. These will be the subject of my next post.

For more about Plague see     Plague – Stranger than Fiction      and     The Plague Story Continues….