I have been fascinated by the English language as far as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is me being around five, going down the stairs and asking my mum to teach me the name of fruits in English. My mum spoke English and I admired her for it, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Already in primary school I always asked for English books so I could teach myself. I remember one of them had a chapter about the monuments and that’s when I learnt about Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the Buckingham Palace… back then these seemed like stuff of legend I could only see on pages of books.
Fast forward 15 years, I won an Erasmus scholarship to London. It was the same year I won the scholarship to Japan, so one could say 2012 was an all around good year in my life. (2022, don’t you feel inspired? Pleeease?) I studied English in theoretically the best university of Hungary, but we had so few places we could go… we had one English speaking university you could choose in BA (Limerick) and one English speaking university for MA. Well, that happened to be the University of Roehampton. It was in London. They had Creative Writing. They had the effing National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature! My eyes tear up just from the memory of how much I fell in love with all that. But I knew we would be so many to battle for the few places. The odds seemed defo not in my favour.
But I decided to trust fate.
And I got it.
The first thing I saw as I arrived to London was a double decker advertising an exhibition about Pre-Raphaelite painters, my absolute favourites. I think I cried. (Yeah, I cry a lot.) Because it seemed that the city was going out of the way to welcome me. My landlady was the sweetest person on earth. She made me feel like home. She was like an English mum to me.
I met someone in London: my ex-husband. Even if our relationship is now behind us, he was the most important person in my life for a while. It is thanks to him that I’m in France now and I love my life here. I discovered a lot of things thanks to him and I like to pay credit where credit is due.
I also attended a class that changed my life: Writing London. It was a class not originally in my timetable, but the professor was kind enough that he allowed me to spectate. It is here that I wrote the scene that later grew out to be the beginning of Londemonium. (Then I stopped going to class because I preferred to hang out with my boyfriend. People, don’t do that!)
The moment my scholarship was coming to an end, I wanted to come back for a Master’s. But I didn’t have the money (and I had no one who would pay my tuition fees for me…)
So I decided to bite the bullet, grow up, return to Budapest and get a soul-killing corporate job because that’s what you do with a humanities degree if you don’t want to starve.
I hated it. Well most of. I made friends with some of the colleagues, even with some of the clients and I managed to find weird moments of magic in this drab existence. But…
Our office was next to a university. I saw students when I came to work. I ate my lunch in the park where they hung out.
And I remember one day I had the thought “Fuck it, I’m going back to back to Roehampton!” Once the decision was made it felt so evident, it felt so right. I blew all the money I had earned on it. I blew money I didn’t even have. I arrived to London with money enough for two months rent and food… so I had to find a job ASAP. And I did. In a theatre that was half way between home and university, where I worked part-time but could take extra hours if I needed money…
I think the universe just saw my audacity and said you know what, let’s give this girl what she wants.
Now as an “adult” , well and adulter adult who often worries about financial stability and responsibilities I think back and stand in awe at my young self’s courage, the unwavering faith with which she reached for her dreams. I look at myself and I feel not strong enough. But the knowledge that I once dared to do it, even better, that I managed to pull it off, it gives me faith.
Living in London taught me a lot. Not just about the English language, but about English life, the English mind.
My very first novel that I wrote in Hungarian was set in the UK, but I had no idea how things really were. Living there gave me the red brick houses, the chimneys of the Battersea Power Station, the way you almost hear “Wimboudon” when they say “Wimbledon” in the bus… Those tiny details you can’t now from another country. Those tiny details you probably don’t notice when you have spent your whole life there.
London plays an important part in Londemonium, as even the title suggests. I put in all the things I like in the city.
The Shard – it dominates the landscape thrusting into the sky. I made it the office of Hell’s CEO, Luke Seyton.
The Natural History Museuem – because I love it with all my heart, the more we have from it, the better.
Albert Bridge – that connects our earthly plane with the infernal one
Camden Town – where Bone has his tatoo parlour (If someone gets tatooed in the FLU, they go to him.)
Westminster Cathedral – not the Abbey, the Cathedral because I find it underrated
When I write about a city, I go for the less obvious things. Not the common features everybody knows, but the little secrets you only discover if you’re a friend. Or a lover.
The Legends of the Mona has a part set in London and it features my best invention, the magically hacked Oyster card that remains topped up with credit forever. (If you ever commuted in London, you will know it is expensive AF. As a poor student I dreamt about such a card…)
Despite the name Glasgow, My Love is also mostly set in London, more precisely Putney. It was an area where I hung out a lot because it was the end of my bus line. Anna, the protagonist has a book launch in the Waterstones in Piccadilly. It is a wonderfully huge building that has wifi and a toilet I have often profited from 😀
Also, it is my own dream to have a book launch there.
Dreamless, my totalitarian-Victorian fantasy is set in an alternate London that is drab and hopeless. I have Vambery, the Queen’s mysterious engineer reside in Guild Hall and although it is a made-up universe, that London too bears all my very real impressions.
Let’s not forget about Macchiatos. It’s set in Streatham and Blue lives in Pullman’s Court because that’s where my only friend from my MA days lived. I found them by chance and they saved me from loneliness and made me feel at home. We had dinner every Saturday night and played boardgames together. It might sound mundane but it was the light of my life for a whole year. These memories also made their way into the story.
You’re waiting for the bus a few minutes away from your house in Putney. You like the name, it sounds like popping bubble wrap and mango chutney. A favourite sin of yours; gooey orange meltdown. You live in a semi-detached house with a garden. There is something lazily calming in the uniformity of the houses, like belonging to the same family. Except that the first few evenings when you arrived home giddy with tiredness, you kept trying to force the neighbour’s door open with your keys. But then you got used to it as you got used to everything. <GML>
But as the cab crawls over Putney Bridge, your stomach starts to shrink. This was the first place Otto kissed you. He was English politeness impersonate. You were standing under one of those huge, ornate street lamps, you were saying your goodbyes, a habit of yours. You rented a room in Fulham, he lived in the same house you live now in Putney, that’s why the bridge seemed such a great place to say goodbyes. You found it deeply symbolic and filled pages and pages of your cheap notebook with poems about the magic of bridges and the pull of Otto’s eyes. <GML>
The Panopticon was the highest building in Great Britain and, according to the Loudwhisperers, even in Europe. Its huge triangle perched in the middle of Southwark, towering above the houses of toothless sailors and charming whores.
From the first floor one could see the whole of the district; the daily lives of people peeped through slanted windows, the bustle of traffic, the pulsing of the city. If you climbed higher still, you could see the city with the muddy ribbon of the Thames, the squares of houses and the blinding white building of Bedlam.
If you rose even further to the level of the private chambers of the Queen, they say you were so high you could see the whole empire.
Finally, if you were lucky and mad enough to ascend to the very top, you could see the entire world. <Dreamless>