The Hungerford Bookshop is an independent bookshop situated in a listed building in the picturesque high street. The quirky shop is stacked high with all the kinds of books I like to read and it’s all too easy to lose an hour or two browsing the stock. In the basement is an antiquarian and second-hand department carrying over 4,000 titles.
For me the shop is sheer book heaven but if that wasn’t enough the owners, Emma and Alex Milne-White, regularly arrange interesting book-related events and talks by well known authors. Sadly, I’m not one of those (yet!) but I was delighted when Emma invited me, together with Tessa Harris who also writes historical novels, to talk at an event about our passion for history.
We met in the Azuza Coffee Shop adjacent to the Hungerford Bookshop. This narrow-fronted shop gives no clue to the lovely glass atrium at the rear of the building, built into the space between a brick and flint wall and an ancient timber-framed house. This made the perfect backdrop for me to talk about the C17th houses of Restoration London before the Great Fire of 1666.
Tessa and I discussed about what inspired our love of history and the different ways that we research, while those in the audience sipped a glass of wine. We agreed that it was the small details of how people lived that fascinated us and gave a richness and depth to our writing.
I talked about my visit to Fulham Palace and how important that was for me to picture it clearly in my mind before I began to write The Painter’s Apprentice, since so much of the book is set there. I passed around copies of old plans and maps that had fired my imagination, read snippets from Culpeper’s Complete Physician and from Pepys Diaries, both amusing and serious, and presented a batch of home-made jumbals complete with a recipe dating from 1638.
Tessa described how she first found inspiration for her novel, The Anatomist’s Apprentice, at The Tate Modern where she saw the skeleton of an Irish giant. She read from The Reluctant Surgeon, a biography of John Hunter, that is a rich source of information for her novels.
Tessa and I both read passages from our novels and the evening ended with a lively question and answer session and a book signing.Tweet