Finding unexpected communities for story settings

Wharf News

Phil: It’s Crimbo time and in an effort to get festive and find some prezzies, I took a trip down to London.

Our capital is a place that divides opinion. Personally, I love it but mostly because I don’t live there. As an occasional tourist I get to wander around marvelling at sights that are new to me, often without having to be at a particular place at any specific time.

Anyway, I ended up over in the city, specifically Canary Wharf. I know it’s not a normal tourist hotspot but if old buildings along docksides fascinate you, it’s worth a run out along the Docklands Light Railway for a nose. Being Saturday, the piazza surrounding the offices were quiet but I did spot this newspaper in a free paper holder. I’m a bit of a connoisseur of local press so grabbed a copy which a couple of days later I sat down to read.

When I did, I got a surprise. Canary Wharf and its imediate environs aren’t just home to a migrant red-braces clad banking population. There is a real community there. A mixed community of normal people and kids and even pensioners and even some who don’t wear achingly trendy casual clothes or a Saville Row suit. A good example is on page 3 where we have a nativity play performed on the Isle  of Dogs with animals  from Mudchute Farm.

I’ll be honest and say that this wasn’t what I’d expected. A quick trip through the Museum of London Docklands suggested that most “real” people had been displaced by those who could afford multi-million pound apartments. These sort of people tended to exist at work, within their beautifully appointed “cave” and perhaps at one or two of the better sort of restaurants in the immediate area. They feel no affiliation to wherever they live, it’s just convenience.

It appears I was wrong.

Anyway, as far as writing goes, unless you are working on one of those solar-system spanning epic sci-fi novels, it makes sense to base your story in a small area or at least a limited group of people. That way you can crack on with the story without having to explain where the action is taking place all the time. Soap operas are set in a street or a square for this reason.

Tripping over the Wharf makes me wonder if this community wouldn’t make a great location. You have a conflict of locals and incommers, not unlike the town and gown conflicts in Oxford. Limited geography makes research east. A day spent in the shadow of Canary Wharf would probably provide all you need. A little longer might give you a feel for the people who live there.

I feel like a Victorian explorer who has been trekking through the jungle. I’ve discovered there IS life up the Tames. Now I just need to write about it!

If you fancy keeping up with the local news from London Docklands: www.wharf.co.uk

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