I recently did a telephone interview with Westender Magazine and it got me thinking about the subject of setting in ‘The Ghost of Helen Addison’.
The interviewer, Lorraine, asked me about the significance of Glasgow’s West End in the book, and I realised that it was of critical importance to both its ambience but more significantly to its lead character, Leo Moran. Most of the action in the book takes place at the fictional Loch Dhonn, and I will write a separate blog post on that soon, but two significant sections are set in Glasgow.
The ambience of Glasgow’s West End has always affected me, ever since as a child when we would visit family there. It is a wonderfully grand place with its towering apartment buildings, mighty churches and bridges, leafy parks and riverbanks, and overgrown backstreets and rear lanes. It is such as well-preserved area that it matches the glorious anachronism that is Leo Moran; he could not exist anywhere else in the world. Moreover, there is real architectural beauty to the place, which chimes with Leo’s aesthetic sense. There is also a melancholy gloominess which characterises the West End, particularly in late autumn and winter, and this matches Leo’s oftentimes gloomy outlook.
Leo resides in Spring Gardens, a place of ‘august, soot-stained Victorian tenements’. While Loch Dhonn is a fictionalised version of Loch Awe (fictionalised in order to permit me to move certain geographical items around to suit the plot), Spring Gardens is in fact a real residential street in Glasgow, and I know precisely the flat in which Leo lives, surrounded by his antiques and treasures. However, it hasn’t been called Spring Gardens since Edwardian times (a prize of a Blue Riband biscuit for whoever can identify the street’s current name!) I spent ages trying to identify a suitable location for Leo’s abode. It had to be a magnificent, top-floor apartment with a good view over the West End, and notably it had to sit on a landing on its own.
Leo’s apartment was comfortable, secluded and filled with his beloved things. He loved his flat. It was his den, his inner sanctum, his own private Dalmatia. Whenever he closed that front door and turned the latch he was left in glorious solitude; no one could bother him or hurt him. He loved the fact that his rooms were located in an end attic of the tenement, which itself was on elevated ground, affording some of the best views of the River Kelvin and the West End, upon which he could gaze down unobserved.
Nothing real-life seemed to fit the bill for what I had in my mind’s eye. Eventually, I just decided to leave it as entirely fictional, but something about this dissatisfied me. Then, just before the deadline for my edited manuscript’s final submission to the publisher, I came up with the perfect real-life apartment. As chance would have it, it had recently been sold, and the floorplan was still available to view on the estate agent’s website. And it matched almost precisely the floorplan I had sketched out for Leo’s flat!
Incidentally, I spent several pages describing the ornate interior of Leo’s flat, but my editor Alison very sensibly culled my self-indulgence. Still, it was great fun writing that up at the time.