I’ve been absent from this favourite space of mine for too long, and I’m reminded of the humble tone in the letters I used to write to my grandparents too many weeks after Christmas had passed. “I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner, but thank you for new nightgown, I do like blue.”
Truth be told, I’ve been busy. I’ve just returned from a research trip to London, England, and I am now sorting through the maze of information found there, and hopefully figuring out how to make it into a story.
I went on the trip with my sister and co-author, Tracy Kasaboski (our first collaboration was The Occupied Garden), and my mom and our sister Heidi came along as research assistants.
It was the first time we’d really traveled together just the four of us since our childhoods, and we had an amazing time. The city is a dizzying mix of old and new — you can still find the cramped courts and alleys that will feature in our story, set in late Victorian and Edwardian times, but everywhere you turn there’s something that gives the city a playground quality: the Eye, the Shard, the Millennium Dome. Along with the beautiful bridges that stretch over the Thames, there are cable cars soaring back and forth. At night, the skyline has a neon sparkle.
The last time I was in London was when I was pregnant with N. I didn’t yet know how many of our most treasured books would take us there, but I’ve been thinking about it today, and have compiled a sampling:
Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?
I frightened a mouse under a chair.
N loved this book of old nursery rhymes, with its patchwork imagery and picture-words.
“At last they came to St Paul’s Cathedral, which was built a long time ago by a man with a bird’s name. Wren it was, but he was no relation to Jenny. That is why so many birds live near Sir Christopher Wren’s Cathedral, which also belongs to St Paul, and that is why the Bird Woman lives there too…. All round her flew the birds, circling and leaping and swooping and rising…. They flew round and round the head of the Bird Woman as the children approached, and then, as though to tease her, they suddenly rushed away through the air and sat on the top of St Paul’s, laughing and turning their heads away and pretending they didn’t know her.”
“Sophie and the BFG came at last to a large place full of trees. There was a road running through it, and a lake. There were no people in this place and the BFG stopped for the first time since they had set out from his cave many hours before.
‘What’s the matter?’ Sophie whispered in her under-the-breath voice.
‘I is in a bit of a puddle,’ he said.
‘You’re doing marvellously,’ Sophie whispered.
‘No I isn’t,’ he said. ‘I is now completely boggled. I is lost.’
‘Because we is meant to be in the middle of London and suddenly we is in green pastures.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ Sophie whispered. ‘This is the middle of London. It’s called Hyde Park. I know exactly where we are.'”
It was because I heard father and mother,’ he explained in a low voice, ‘talking about what I was to be when I became a man.’
He was extraordinarily agitated now.
‘I don’t ever want to be a man,’ he said with passion. ‘I want always to be a little boy and to have fun. So I ran away to Kensington Gardens and lived a long time among the fairies.'”
“Ron pressed a tiny silver button on the dashboard. The car around them vanished — and so did they. Harry could feel the seat vibrating beneath him, hear the engine, feel his hands on his knees and his glasses on his nose, but for all he could see, he had become a pair of eyeballs, floating a few feet above the ground in a dingy street full of parked cars.
‘Let’s go,’ said Ron’s voice from his right.
The ground and the dirty buildings on either side fell away, dropping out of sight as the car rose; in seconds, the whole of London lay, smoky and glittering, below them.”
“This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and Narnia first began. In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.”
“They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city rather seemed to spring up about them, and encompass them of its own act. But there they were, in the heart of it; on ‘Change, amongst the merchants; who hurried up and down, and chinked the money in their pockets, and conversed in groups, and looked at their watches, and trifled thoughtfully with their great gold seals; and so forth, as Scrooge had often seen them.”