I’ve lived in London all my life, and there isn’t another city in the world where I’d rather be. The history, architecture, diversity and yes, even the weather, are all reasons I love being here. We moan about the rain, we moan about the cold, and yet when the thermometer went over thirty degrees on seven consecutive days last summer, we thought the world was coming to an end. So, we moaned about that too, as is our prerogative as Londoners.
But it was on a particularly dreary morning in January last year that I sat at my desk with, unusually, a few hours to myself. I’d met all my deadlines (working as a freelance journalist). I’d battled against the traffic (another thorn in a Londoner’s side) on my daily battle to get the children to school. I’d smugly done the weekly food shop, and the house was tidy, albeit not quite enough for a visitor to drop by.
I started to write a prologue for a book that, up until that moment, I’d had no intention of writing. Of course, I’ve always dreamed of being an author and was adamant that one day I really would do something about it. After all, how can you envy a life you’ve never attempted to have? But it was something for the bucket list; when the children were grown-up, when I had more time when I had a beach hut overlooking a stormy sea on the Scottish Highlands…
But as many obstacles as I put in my own way, and for all the excuses I used to justify my procrastination, it turned out that, in reality, there was nothing to stop me from just getting on with it. At home.
So, armed with the vaguest of ideas, I began to write, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. I could hear my characters so loudly that they kept me awake, and every time I closed my eyes, their images seemed to be indelibly printed on the inside of my eyelids. As much as I tried to picture them on a paradise island (just in case it was made into a movie!), they refused to be anywhere other than in London.
“Write about what you know,” they say, and I know London like the back of my hand. Though it wasn’t until I really started to think about it, that I realized quite how apt my hometown is for the setting of a thriller. Our capital city holds the key to so many creepy, villainous and downright gruesome stories that it lends itself perfectly. From our king chopping off his wife’s head, to Sweeney Todd, dismembering his barber-salon customers and putting their entrails into Miss Lovett’s pies, there are centuries of inspiration to draw on. Even the innocuous sounding village of Blackheath, where Emily and Adam live, holds a grisly secret. For it is believed that the plague victims of the 17th century are buried under the open grassland. On sunny afternoons, I’d sit on this very heath, armed with my iPad (on which I wrote The Other Woman), trying to focus on the words on the screen instead of wondering what lay beneath me.
What we’re very good at here is keeping a stiff-upper-lip; giving off the impression that everything is fine, when underneath we’re all at sea. That’s how I wanted to present the characters in The Other Woman, and the best place to observe how that’s done is by traveling around my beloved city on a double-decker bus!
On every street corner, there is a priceless snapshot of other peoples’ lives and I’d imagine the juxtaposition between their real life and the one they presented to everyone else. Was the suited man running across Oxford Circus, looking at his watch, late for a business meeting or a date with his mistress? Were the couple kissing in the shadow of Nelson’s Column holding each other for the last time? Was the young woman dragging a screaming child through Hyde Park its harassed mother or its kidnapper? Okay, so maybe my imagination was running away with itself, but none of us know what’s really going on in someone’s mind. And that’s what is so interesting about psychological thrillers because you can really explore the inner workings of the most innocent-looking individuals.
With my head brimming with new ideas, character nuances, and dastardly plotlines, I would jump off at The Strand and walk across Waterloo Bridge. It’s one of my favorite vantage points on the River Thames and the gateway to the Southbank Centre, where I love to sit and write. I find myself a spot by the window and can happily while away the whole day. It was from here that I came up with the scene in The Savoy, the famous hotel on the opposite side of the river.
That beach hut may well have been the dream, but being in London; immersing myself in city life and living amongst its people, gave me the story of The Other Woman. Without it, I doubt I’d ever have written a book at all.
Founded by Reese Witherspoon, Hello Sunshine is a media brand anchored in storytelling, creating and discovering content that celebrates women and puts them at the center of the story. Each month, Reese chooses a story she loves and announces it as her pick. Follow along on @reesesbookclubxhellosunshine on Instagram and Facebook to learn more.