Hello from London, where I am traveling. I love to read about England–my undergrad and much of my graduate study was in Victorian novel. Dickens, Thackeray, Collins, the Brontés. Many of my favorite books in childhood were set here, too. I always felt that if only I were to come to a large house or an old cottage English countryside, I would find a wardrobe or strange creature in a nearby sandpit and everything would be jolly adventures thereafter.
That’s not quite true now that I am here, but I’ve been reading Jonathan Stroud’s The Amulet of the Samarkand–on audio actually, the performance is great–and it has affected my sense of the city and its possibilities. If you haven’t read it, it’s set in a version of London where magicians and their apprentices gain most of the power by summoning demons of various kinds and levels of power. A good part of the novel is the first-person narration from a demon’s point of view.
Bartimaeus scurries around London reluctantly under the command of one young apprentice, resentfully transforming himself into various shapes and committing crimes. The novel is making me feel as if there might be magical imps and monsters on another plane of existence. Riding the tube–perhaps a djinn is sitting next to me. In the café. In the theater.
In any case, Amulet of the Samarkand is an excellent read if you are experimenting with writing from unusual points of view, or from alternating points of view. Likewise, if you are interested in magical world-building.
Another London children’s book I read fairly recently is The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. It was one of the first novels (now there seem to be many) with narrators/protagonists who have Asperger’s or something like it. Dowd uses her unusual first-person perspective to great effect, and the London setting is very vivid. I thought about that book a lot when I rode the Eye–you go up the giant ferris wheel in pods with about 20 other people, and it is this strange half-hour where anything that happens inside is private to the rest of the world (although people in the neighboring pods can see you).
Travel experiences can shape your fiction, but of course fiction can also shape your travel experiences. Below, a short reading list for you Anglophiles.
Victorian college favorites:
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronté
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronté
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
The Amulet of the Samarkand byJonathan Stroud
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd