Book Lovers, once again, this is for you! Over two years ago, I wrote of my travels to New York City and how it inspired me to redefine my persona as an author. Now, I wish to discuss my travels to another one of the literary centres of the world – London – and how it inspired me in a different way to New York City.
London – The First Book Lover’s Paradise!
In New York I visited the Strand Book Store and the New York Public Library. I spoke of being humbled by the awesome and gargantuan 18 miles of books in the Strand Book Store.
However, my experience in London was much more different and far more inspiring. Instead of just visiting two havens of books, I planned for months before my trip of my visits to many sites. In the end, I saw far too few of the literary havens that YouTube bloggers promised. However, I did not just see a book store and a library. In fact, I did not even enter a library. Rather, I dedicated an entire day to exploring the gems of London.
These are the gems I found…
Of course, being in London, I did not just visit book stores on the day I had planned to – 30 December 2018. I visited numerous book stores on the days preceding and on the days after. Amongst them, I visited a few branches of Foyle’s and Waterstones, as well as Hatchard’s (est. 1797).
I came back with a ton of books, which along with hundreds of my other books, still has no shelf space.
But books aside, these were the most interesting parts of it all.
Seeing so many books inspired me even more to get my novel done. One that had been sitting half-finished for two years. I was also inspired when I saw my name in a book at Foyle’s. A book that I had helped fund to publish a few years ago – Cleverlands by Lucy Crehan. Somehow, even seeing my name in print, not as the author but as one of the many people acknowledged, I was still motivated by that to complete my novel.
Other inspirations found in London were places like the British Museum and a tiny little shop opposite it, Tea and Tattle, selling African and Oriental rare books. Somehow, all of these things – places infused with history and literature – inspired me. Just like in New York City, these places inspired me to become a part of it all, by using that history in my book, and by adding my name to the masses of literary accomplished. Sure, it sounds irrational, but these were life exchanging experiences in that they moved me more than anything.
Apart from the odd sense of inspiration gained from places in New York City and London, I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of walking along the Southbank of the river Thames.
A haven of culture, it was great to see the Christmas market, the stalls selling food and warmed whiskey, and most of all, beneath Waterloo Bridge, the sellers of rare and second-hand books and antique maps and prints. While I bought none of these prize rarities, exploring it all I found a map of India from the 1500s. This was an interesting find as it reaffirmed my knowledge that Europeans at the time were woefully uneducated about the Eastern world. Emphasising Eurocentrism, it reminded me of the fall of Constantinople.
For those unaware, the fall of Constantinople from the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Empire represented a shift of the region’s religion to Islam, and posed a perceived threat to European trade with the East. As a result, the search for new routes to the East was intensified. In this search, and their extreme ignorance regarding the East, people like Christopher Columbus found the Americas (note, not discovered) and called it India. This would lead to a cascade of historical inaccuracies that would shape the present nomenclature of the native peoples of North America and the nation of the West Indies.
This frantic search also led Europeans around the Southern tip of Africa. All these explorations culminated in colonisation, slavery, and the privilege that people of European descent still enjoy today.
Thus, this chance find of a centuries old Indian map, very inaccurate, elicited profound thoughts of the 15th and 16th century worlds. This would come to reflect itself deeply in my novel.
And thus the trip to London proved once more to be more than just a holiday.
I was inspired to write yet another story. A fantasy story that challenges the Eurocentric tropes of the traditional fantasy genre. Tropes such as the good West vs the evil East, the fair skinned civilised peoples vs the dark skinned barbaric peoples, and strong parallels with Christianity.
This would result in the idea to create a fantasy world with a queer person of colour as the protagonist, navigating a world parallel to our own in that its nations have history of colonialism and slavery – histories which would come to intimately determine the protagonist’s struggles.
This is an idea that I will share in a future post.
But, telling a bit about it here represents more how incredible my journey was.
In London, I also had the pleasure of seeing two plays.
The first was a production of Matilda showing at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End. This was a fun show that took me back to the original movie and my initial exploration of the writings of one of my favourite authors and inspirers – Roald Dahl.
Here is a picture of the beautiful set.
The other play was a brilliant performance of Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre. Starring as Antony was none other than Ralph Fiennes. And starring as Cleopatra was the extremely talented Sophie Okonedo who delivered a performance that stole the show with her strength and wilful portrayal of the infamous Cleopatra.
Here is a picture of that set, alas a simple one as I could not capture one as the play progressed.
Both plays had been my first time to a theatre – barring one production of Othello which I had seen while in school – and exceeded all my expectations. They left me feeling that my trip of London had been complete with nothing in want.
My trip to London far exceeded the one to America. As small as the UK is, it contains far more rarities and enjoyable experiences. Some, no doubt the result of the British Empire’s cruel rule on people around the world, but still enjoyable in that it provides a very authentic appreciation for history and privilege.