Taking Your Characters Downriver

Water is a constant in a changing world. Writers often use water, along with busy flows of people, as real-world settings.

I would like to be able to say I was born on the world’s most famous river, a gently rocking houseboat moored near Richmond Lock. Alas, my birth place was a rented top half of a house on a main road in Isleworth, but I hope I can still claim to be a daughter of Old Father Thames. Due to the lack of a garden I spent the first six years of my life being walked by the river and across Richmond Lock to play in Old Deer Park.

When I go to London my feet still automatically lead me straight out of Waterloo to the Thames. You can ride on the London Eye giant wheel and gaze down at Westminster; go to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall; walk along the river or across the Jubilee Bridges, alongside rattling trains on their way to Charing Cross Station. Plenty of scope for writers and London features in some of my own novels and short stories.

Public Domain

Public Domain

As we strolled along the river I wondered where musicians, writers, filmmakers and artists would be without rivers and bridges. The Millennium Footbridge near the Tate Modern has appeared in numerous books, television programmes and films, as has London Bridge and the iconic Tower Bridge. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens is set on the Thames, and although a lot has changed since then, at low tide you can still walk on the mud, perhaps pick up a fragment of clay pipe and get a feel for Dickensian riverside. Areas like the Thames somehow remain the same whilst seeing so many changes; a perfect setting for a story that will resonate beyond the time in which it is set. Daytrippers to Thanet used to steam down the Thames and I wish we still could. I have heard it said that where the Thames becomes tidal at Teddington Lock, that is where the true river ends, but I have also been told that you are at the mouth of the Thames at Margate. Writers have no need for a geographical debate, they are just seemingly drawn to water; rivers and bridges, harbours and sea. Water is a constant in a changing world.

Busy places are a gift to authors; our characters can make secret assignations or escape from dangerous individuals into the crowds. Anybody from anywhere could be in these well-known places, so the plot is believable. Waterloo Station, the busiest station in England by passenger numbers, features in all my novels; with the vast departures board flickering constantly. What reader can challenge the destination and train times for a fictional person? Next time you are out and about, strolling across a bridge or rushing to catch your train, remember, the people you brush shoulders with may be fictional.

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Janet loves writing novels, short stories and blogging. Her favourite theme is how ordinary people cope when strange things happen to them.

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