Good morning! And welcome to the first Sunday Sojourn of 2017, where we’re exploring a city I hated as a child, but am enjoying more and more as I visit more regularly, and discover new places – good old London Town, with our guide for the day, Rumer Haven.
Thank you for inviting me here, Jennifer!
Today, I journey no farther than my own backyard—London, England. This city is loaded with hauntingly beautiful and beautifully haunted sites. I had always wanted to write a ghost story, but it wasn’t until I moved to the UK from the US several years ago that I found myself surrounded with inspiration. As a result, my latest novel, What the Clocks Know, takes place in several London locations that I love to frequent.
Here are my top 5:
1. Brompton Cemetery
“Who is Charlotte? The name on a local gravestone could relate to Margot’s dreams and the grey woman weeping at the window,” quoth the book summary, and yep, Charlotte is real. The life I’ve created for her is only a figment of my imagination, but I took my character’s name directly off of a gravestone at Brompton Cemetery and decided to send my protagonist Margot there, too, for a few key scenes. I’ve since learned that Beatrix Potter also used to take names for her Peter Rabbit characters from this graveyard’s headstones. One of London’s “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries from the Victorian era, Brompton has some notable residents resting in peace there, like the renowned suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. It once housed the grave of Sioux Chief Long Wolf as well, who passed away while touring with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (his remains were repatriated to North America, however, over a century later in the late 1990s).
Brompton was one of the random spots I visited on my first full day after moving to London. I stumbled upon it purely on accident, yet it’s been my favorite, most peaceful place ever since. So imagine my delight when the Friends of Brompton Cemetery allowed fellow paranormal author Shani Struthers and me to host a book signing there last autumn!
2. The Troubadour Cafe
The Troubadour is an iconic establishment renowned for its music scene. It’s the first place where Bob Dylan ever performed in London and has also seen the likes of Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Elvis Costello. Founded in the 1950s as part of London’s coffee house revival, one can only imagine the creative and intellectual minds that have converged here over the decades, and I personally find it a wonderfully cozy place to read and write with a cup of coffee or glass of wine. I just had to send my Margot there as well for one of the book’s scenes.
3. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
While not mentioned by name in the book, this is the old pub that Margot marvels was rebuilt in 1667 after London’s Great Fire of 1666. With cellars dating back centuries even before that, this quintessential pub is tucked just off the beaten path of Sweeney Todd’s Fleet Street. Charles Dickens was a regular there, and it’ll always be one of my top London favorites. When Margot runs into a friend near St. Paul’s Cathedral, I send them to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for warm lunch, ale, and shelter from the rain.
4. Camden Catacombs
Granted, I’ve only seen pictures of this subterranean secret on the Internet, but I’ve visited the street-level Camden Stables Market many times. The “Catacombs” were actually underground stables, as horses were needed for the railways and towing barges along the canal. As they can easily flood, these tunnels are closed to the public, so I could only let my imagination wander down there with Margot. But if you go to the nearby Proud Camden club, you can have a private party in one of the stables there! An edgy art and music mecca, this neighborhood was home to Amy Winehouse and has a vibrant day and night scene. It’s also the namesake of the fictional Camden Court apartment building in my debut novel, Seven for a Secret, which is set in Chicago.
5. Churches: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Chapel Royal, St. George’s Chapel
I’m making this a three-in-one deal, as none of these churches are settings of actual scenes in the book. However, they all do appear in Margot’s journal entries as she chronicles her experiences in and around London.
St. Paul’s readily becomes a beacon of sorts to her, standing tall and benevolently in the city’s center atop Ludgate Hill. Three centuries old, Christopher Wren’s English Baroque masterpiece boasts an iconic dome, miraculously survived the Blitz, and has hosted such notable events as Prince Charles’s and Lady Diana’s wedding and Sir Winston Churchill’s and Margaret Thatcher’s funerals. In her journal, Margot writes about going to a debate there, which is based on a series of such that I attended myself soon after moving to London—a fascinating exploration of religion, science, and human identity that saw me through a tumultuous time of transition. As Margot writes: “Amazing to listen to while gawking at that massive dome overhead and all the intricate mosaics, sculptures, and paintings. A surreal kind of solitude even in a room filled with people. The intellectual, the faithful, the curious.”
The Chapel Royal is located within Hampton Court Palace, which itself is located just outside London near Wimbledon and was Henry VIII’s favorite palace. Margot visits here early on and writes about the unique oval above the altar, a symbol of rebirth in place of the conventional cross. “And buried beneath the altar,” she observes, “are the organs of one of Henry’s wives, Jane Seymour (who died soon after giving birth to a male heir) because it was believed the soul resides in our innards.”
St. George’s Chapel is located at Windsor Castle, residence of the current Queen Elizabeth. The lovely, ornately carved wooden balcony over the altar was built for Catherine of Aragon, and the queen’s parents and other royalty are buried at this chapel—including Princess Charlotte, whose 19th-century monument appears to Margot in a dream. I first saw this sculpture when touring out-of-town friends through Windsor and was so struck by its dark, dramatic beauty that I pulled out a pen and paper on the spot to scribble some thoughts that would later factor into the book. As Margot writes, “The body beneath ivory cloth, mourners at her feet, her spirit rising and angels cradling ‘the infant in holy arms’ . . . Here was a woman who died in childbirth in the early 19th century, no less mortal in her royalty.”
Much like me, Margot muses, “In this city, you’re constantly confronted with your mortality, be it the old buildings or tombs blatantly piled up in every cathedral. . . . I walk by and through these places and see the people striding around on streets of dirt, not asphalt, or riding in carriages, not cars.” The intersection of past and present is a dominant theme in my stories, and after living, touring, and writing in London for eight years, I don’t see any such inspiration running out any time soon. With layer upon layer of history and culture, this city is one new discovery after another. These are only a few of my favorite discoveries so far, but I hope you’ll visit these places, too, someday–if not in person, then in What the Clocks Know!
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Rumer Haven is probably the most social recluse you could ever meet. When she’s not babbling her fool head off among friends and family, she’s pacified with a good story that she’s reading, writing, or revising—or binge-watching something on Netflix. A former teacher hailing from Chicago, she presently lives in London with her husband and probably a ghost or two. Rumer has always had a penchant for the past and paranormal, which inspires her writing to explore dimensions of time, love, and the soul. She debuted in 2014 with the paranormal past-present novel Seven for a Secret, and What the Clocks Know is her newest release. Rumer is presently writing a paranormal short-story collection, as well as a 1920s cozy mystery due for release in 2017.