Suzanne McLeod - Magical London Article

Author of the Urban Fantasy Series
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Magical London

Copyright © Suzanne McLeod 2009

London has always fascinated me. I was born there and I love spending time in the city; either visiting friends, being a culture vulture at one of its many museums, or indulging in some retail therapy, and of course researching for my stories. And there’s a lot to research since London’s history goes back for over 2000 years, to Boadicea and the Romans, who called it Londinium.

One of the foremost capital cities of the world, London is a busy, bustling place teeming with over seven million people of such varying ethnicities that if you could listen to them all at once, you might hear more than 300 different languages. Which is why Genny Taylor, a sidhe and the main character in my books, and all the other supernatural beings: fae, witches, vampires, goblins, and trolls in Genny’s version of London feel right at home there.

With such a melting pot of cultures, London has all sorts of entertainment available. There are hundreds of pubs (the Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden is said to be one of the oldest dating back to Tudor times); restaurants offering every cuisine; award winning plays in theatreland and the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe; and world film premiers in Leicester Square where fans can meet the stars on the Red Carpet. In Genny’s London, the vampires have built on this tradition and converted a cinema in Leicester Square into a hot new (money- and blood-spinning) nightclub where human fang-fans can (safely) get up close and personal with the A-list vampires.

London also has wonderfully diverse sights like the fabulous Notting Hill carnival, the bright lights of Soho, the colourful lanterns of Chinatown, the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the quintessentially English red double-decker buses and the ubiquitous black hackney cabs. Of course, in Genny’s London, you could see all this, and watch pixies mischievously trying to animate the bronze lions in Trafalgar Square, goblins working as cleaners on the Underground, trolls policing the city’s streets, or even discover Tower Bridge is out of order because gremlins have hexed its engine rooms.

But along with all the bustle and people, London is one of the greenest cities in the world, with two-thirds of the capital covered in green space and water. There are secluded garden squares (perfect homes for garden faeries), city farms, parks, heaths, commons – Wimbledon Common is where Finn, a satyr, and Genny’s boss (and more she hopes) lives with the rest of his herd – and the eight magnificent Royal Parks; some where Red and Fallow Deer still roam freely as they did when Henry VIII was on the Throne; and some where naiads can be seen cavorting in the many lakes and water features.

Some of London’s most iconic places are the four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (a sanctity for the local dryad population); the site that comprises Westminster Palace (better known as the Houses of Parliament), Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church (where the sovereign is crowned); and lastly the historical and beautiful maritime settlement of Greenwich on the Greenwich Meridian (° longitude). Ironically, Genny calls Greenwich the heart of the mean times, since in her London, the area has long been a vampire ghetto (known colloquially as Sucker Town) full of blood-pubs, guarded by goblins, and the haunt of vampire-junkies.

While London is chock full of history, it also has its more modern attractions like the London Eye, (built to celebrate the Millennium) and from the top of the Eye, the view over London and along the River Thames is absolutely amazing.  Of course, I had to use such an eye-catching (apologies for the pun) structure in my first book, so The Sweet Scent of Blood starts with the picture of a hot, leather-clad vampire posing for the vampires’ celebrity calendar, and behind him the London Eye is silhouetted against a night sky lit with exploding fireworks. Unfortunately the vampire is accused of murder, and Genny gets the unwanted, and dangerous job of proving him innocent.

Another wonderful place to visit is Southwark with its beautiful gothic cathedral, parts of which date back to around 1300, and which overlooks the famous Borough Market, a food lover’s paradise. And nearby is London Bridge, under which is the new London Bridge Experience where actors recreate the Great Fire of London; the gruesome stories of Sweeny Todd’s barber shop and Jack the Ripper; and tourists with stout hearts can visit the spooky tombs deep beneath the River Thames in the bridge’s foundations. In my second book, The  Cold Kiss of Death, Genny has to survey the ghosts of the Great Plague (1666) in the tombs; a job which proves more problematic than expected.

Then there’s my favourite: Covent Garden. It has the Royal Opera House (home to the English National Opera and the English National Ballet), St Paul's Church with its quiet, sheltered garden, and a marvellous mix of eateries, museums, theatres, street entertainers, exclusive designer shops, and markets full of antiques, and beautiful handmade crafts. Covent Garden is also where Genny lives, where has their office, and where you can buy ready-made spells from the Witches’ Market. If you know where to look, of course.

But there’s more to the city than just the mundane and my imagination, London is full of real myths, legends and magic.

The aforementioned Tower of London is one of the most haunted buildings in Britain (hardly surprising with its violent history of beheadings, murders, and hangings). Another legend is the Black Dog (a portent of death and disaster) that haunts the site of the old Newgate jail, now the Central Criminal Court; the dog is the ghost of a scholar accused of witchcraft, who was killed by his fellow inmates. In 2004 a "witch bottle" was unearthed in Greenwich, (witch bottles were buried to reverse malicious spells in the 16th century) the bottle contained bent pins, a nail-pierced leather "heart", fingernail clippings, and brimstone. Makes you wonder who was more worrisome, the witch or their victim, doesn’t it? And London has many more such supernatural tales, so if I’ve encouraged you to visit this wonderful city, I wish you have a magical time.

Magical London originally published as Übersinnliches London in Love Letters Magazine - September 2009

Übersinnliches London can now be read here in German.

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