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Literary Locations of Once A Monster with Robert Dinsdale – London’s Rivers

  • Submitted: 20th September 2023

Literary Locations of Once A Monster

Very excited to have Robert Dinsdale on TheBookTrail today!! Author of many fine books including Once a Monster which is published tomorrow!! Oh come with us on the most magical of booktrails!

London bound but with a difference….

BookTrail locations in Once a Monster

Literary Locations of Once A Monster 

Robert Dinsdale…over to you…..

The past, as they say, is a foreign country.

BookTrail locations in Once a Monster

robert dinsdaleI have always been drawn to novels set in 19th century London. Call it an English thing: for people brought up on Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and the other Victorian greats, there’s something about the landscape of London in the 1800s that feels as much of a national myth as the wild west does to citizens of the United States. But it was moving to London in the early 2000s and living there for the next ten years that really solidified my sense of wonder in the city.

Getting lost in novels that recreate a London of the past is one thing (and there are so many that I love: The Crimson Petal and the White, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock), but wandering the city that exists now and seeing, in the corner of your eye, the city that used to be is an altogether different feeling.

It was in moments like this that my new novel, Once a Monster, was born.

BookTrail locations in Once a Monster

Ratcliffe Highway today

Once a Monster opens as winter approaches in the year 1861. A young mudlark, foraging in the tidal mud flats of the Thames as it turns through Ratcliffe, comes across the body of a bestial man, his body a lattice of scars, a great Labyrinth tattooed across his back, his matted hair covering calcified patches that give the impression of horns. Perhaps, we begin to think, this may be something more than a man. Somehow, his story is linked with the Minotaur of ancient Knossos. Somehow, Minotaur and man might be the very same.

BookTrail locations in Once a Monster

Ratcliffe highway – buildings look like ones from the 1800s

What follows is an odyssey through a London only half-familiar to modern eyes, a London overgrown and subsumed by what came after, a London built up of districts, landmarks and grand architecture that would be wholly unfamiliar to us now – but which were, to the Londoners of the era, as iconic as the London Eye, the Gherkin, the Shard.

BookTrail locations in Once a Monster

London’s Lost Rivers

BookTrail locations in Once a Monster

River Fleet

To look at London now, you might think it a city that grew up around a singular river, the Thames cutting its way east towards the sea. Yet the truth is, not so long ago, London was a city of islands, criss-crossed by multiple rivers and their tributaries. The River Fleet is perhaps the most well-known, giving its name to Fleet Street – but, once, the rivers Tyburn (famous for its salmon), Walbrook, Effra, Westbourne cut their channels through the city.

 

BookTrail locations in Once a Monster

Things changed, as they always do, with the city’s growing population – when these rivers became clogged and polluted by sewage and other waste. In this, their fate was sealed: by the time of Once a Monster, London has resolved to fix its sewage problem once and for all, and the grand engineer Joseph Bazelgette has designed a modern sewer system that will involve burying many of London’s rivers and turning them into subterranean conduits for the city’s waste. It’s a labyrinthine system that still survives to this day – and that sense of them being ‘labyrinthine’ would be particularly inspiring when writing my novel.

The banks of the river beside Ratcliffe highway today

BookTrail locations in Once a Monster

Most of London’s rivers really are lost to the casual observer now, but they still chart their courses through the culverts and pipes laid down beneath the city – but vestiges of the Fleet can still be seen above ground in Hampstead, and the borders of many of London’s modern districts are dictated by the banks of the rivers that flowed there many generations ago.

 

Tomorrow…..we leave the river and head up to the shadowy streets……

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass:  Once a Monster

Twitter: @Robert_Dinsdale

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