Saturday, 14 May 2016

Literary London

London is a positive melting pot of literary delights. Since I moved to the big smoke as a culture-loving-lit-nerd three years ago, I have discovered some fantastically literary things to see and do. Some are well known, others are a little more off the beaten track. Possibly the best thing about London is its literary history and how much this has been written into its very core. From blue plaques to gravestones, from bookshops to pubs, London's literary history is everywhere you turn, very much alive and breathing.

Whether you live in London, are visiting for the first time or coming back for the tenth, there is always something new to discover. If it's a literary discovery you're after, how about trying these:

Highgate Cemetery
Now, wandering among tombstones in a graveyard might not be the first thing that comes to mind when I talk about the literary excitements London has to offer, but bear with me. As well as being the final resting place for many an author, Highgate has also featured in a number of novels. It was Tracy Chevalier's Falling Angels and Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry which first put Highgate on my radar, and it doesn't disappoint. In an interesting take on celeb spotting, it's wonderful to lose yourself in the cemetery, bowing your head to likes of Douglas Adams, Alan Sillitoe and, let us not forget, George Eliot. Highgate is a place of subtle contradictions; it's both gothic and romantic, neglected and well maintained, modern and antique.

Literary Pub Crawl
A year or so ago my sister found an advert for a literary pub crawl happening in London. Obviously this combines two of my favourite things - literature and pubs - so there was no way we weren't going to go. Run by a London-based theatre company, the crawl starts in Fitzrovia and wends its way, with various stopping points, through to Soho. The tour leader is often the late Charles Dickens, although I hear the late Virginia Woolf makes an appearance now and again. The areas around Fitzrovia have a rich literary history and if you're the sort of person who like to go to places frequented by your idols, then this crawl is a must.

Plaque Spotting in Bloomsbury
Last summer I searched the internet for the locations of various blue plaques around Bloomsbury. I then plotted those locations on to a map and set off, with my long suffering boyfriend in tow, to visit the houses that some of my favourite writers, artists and thinkers had lived in. Bloomsbury is full of blue plaques so you can pretty much just wander and come across a multitude, but it's also really easy to create your own little route and stand outside the houses of writers such as Woolf, Sayers, Holtby and Brittain. Get some comfy shoes, a sunny day, and a camera for all those 'Woolf was ere' selfies.

Persephone Books
Without a shadow of a doubt Persephone Books is my favourite bookshop in the whole of London, if not the UK. They're also my favourite publishers so I guess that's inevitable. Walking into the bookshop is like walking into the front room of your bookish best friend. The decor is fantastic, the piles of books everywhere make my heart flip, and the staff are knowledgeable, friendly and always there to give a recommendation. My latest purchases there were a result of recommendations (Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins and Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski) and were so good that I intend to go back and ask what I should pick next. Somewhat dangerously I now work around the corner from the shop so I can often be found wandering past, having a browse or grabbing the latest biannually to read in the park.

[insert author here]'s London 
You're probably beginning to see a theme of walking and exploring here. Although there are tons of wonderfully literary museums and locations in London (check back for part two!), I will always prefer just wandering, seeing what I can stumble across and exploring blindly. My wanderings have been responsible for so many serendipitous discoveries and I would always recommend it as the number one way to experience London. Something I do occasionally is research the London my favourite authors would have known, for example Woolf's London or Wilkie's London. Once I have a few locations to aim for I'll then just walk the streets. You never know, an assuming street could have hidden treasures. My next author-inspired excursion will be a nighttime walk a la Charles Dickens.

Where are your favourite literary spots in London and beyond?

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