Happy Sunday morning all! Today, we’re taking a trip to Dulwich, with Alice Castle, to look at the setting for her upcoming novel, Death in Dulwich, released this very month, and available for pre-order now…
It’s lovely to be here, Jennifer, thanks so much for hosting me. I hope you’re ready for a stroll in the London suburbs this Sunday because we’re off to Dulwich, the setting for my novel, Death in Dulwich, and my home until quite recently.
For those who don’t know it, Dulwich Village is a little gem nestling in south east London, with a beautiful park, as well as the world class Dulwich Picture Gallery, and three top-ranking private secondary schools, which have churned out a fair few writers over the years.
All-boys Dulwich College educated PG Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler, while the novelist Anita Brookner went to James Alleyn’s Girls’ School and C S Forrester and Sir V S Prichett went to Alleyn’s just across the road. As well as schooling all these writers, Dulwich was the birthplace of Enid Blyton and Dickens used to pop over for a drink at the Crown and Greyhound pub, still going strong and known to locals as ‘the Dog’.
What is it that attracts writers to Dulwich? Well, considering it’s only ten minutes from London Bridge by train, it’s both quiet and green. Even though the South Circular snarls across one corner of the place, the centre of Dulwich hasn’t been engulfed, like neighbouring suburbs, by tower blocks and chain stores. When I decided to write a murder mystery, I was inspired by this village feel. I wanted to write a contemporary novel, dealing with gritty themes in a big city, yet place it here in a spot where everyone knows each other’s business. To me, it was a neat way to update the traditional cosy crime story, giving that sense of community we all yearn for, which can shade so quickly into claustrophobia. I’ve been thrilled to get an early review describing Death in Dulwich as a ‘modern twist on Miss Marple’ – exactly what I’d been aiming to achieve, though I think Agatha Christie might have frowned at some of my darker undercurrents!
According to Wikipedia, the name ‘Dulwich’ may mean ‘damp meadow where dill grows,’ though the only evidence I’ve seen of the herb has been a light sprinkling over pricey fish dishes in the rather nice restaurants of Lordship Lane. The first few houses here were documented in 967AD, but it wasn’t until Edward Alleyn bought the manor for £4,900 in 1605 that Dulwich really started to grow. Alleyn was the foremost actor of the Elizabethan age, the equivalent of an Olivier, performing in the plays of Shakespeare and Marlowe. His wealth came from the stage, from his second marriage to the poet John Donne’s daughter, Constance – and from his ownership of a string of wildly successful bear pits and brothels. These were not in Dulwich, needless to say, but nearer to the site of the Globe Theatre, close to the river in Southwark.
Nowadays there is a theatre at Alleyn’s School, and a local amateur dramatic society in Norwood, but Dulwich is more famous for its art. The Dulwich Picture Gallery, the first public gallery in the UK, is 200 years old this year.
The beautifully austere building, designed by Sir John Soane, is home to a Rembrandt, a few Gainsboroughs, a Tiepolo and a Canaletto, and holds temporary exhibitions as well. It is also the lightly fictionalised setting for my second murder mystery, The Girl in the Gallery, to be published next year. Starring my single mother heroine, Beth Haldane, the novel will take a closer look at some of the dilemmas facing today’s parents and the pressures the digital age puts on their children. Once again, I’ll be putting this charming, but chilling, corner of south London under the spotlight. I hope you’ll join me in Dulwich.
Alice Castle was a national newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph before becoming a novelist. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, was a European best-seller which sold out in two weeks.
Alice is currently working on the sequel to Death in Dulwich, The Girl in the Gallery. The second instalment in the London Murder Mystery series, it will be published by Crooked Cat next year.
Alice is also a top mummy blogger, writing DD’s Diary at www.dulwichdivorcee.com.
She lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.