Archway with Words

Archway with Words

Event: Heather Reyes and Penny Hancock in discussion at Archway with Words 

Location: Archway Methodist Church

Report by Malcolm Burgess

Just as Baker Street was the perfect location for Sherlock Holmes, so a road in London’s Archway was tailor-made for a novel by Heather Reyes, Miranda Road.

The real Miranda Road is only minutes away from where she and Richard and Judy Book Club crime writer, Penny Hancock, were discussing place and voice at the launch event of the brilliantly varied Archway with Words book festival at the weekend. Both writers were born in London and their feel for two contrasting areas of the capital was very much in evidence.

Penny chose to go back to her childhood roots in Blackheath and Greenwich for her atmospheric Thames-side location. The river’s sometimes malevolent presence is perfect for her highly-charged psychological thriller, Tideline. For Heather, it was a case of choosing a district she’d known well in the 70s and 80s – the key period of the novel – though she still went exploring with map and camera to pinpoint exactly where single mother, Georgina, would struggle to bring up her ‘spirited’ daughter, Eloisa. Archway is a subtle but distinct presence in Miranda Road, offering a carnival of eccentric characters who weave in and out of the nitty gritty daily issues of education and earning a living, as well as the broader historical and political sweep of the story.

Miranda Road by Heather Reyes

Archway: ‘a subtle but distinct presence in Miranda Road‘.

The edge of nightmare

Penny’s novels use the psychological thriller to explore serious moral issues, taking her characters up to the edge of nightmare – and sometimes beyond. In Tideline, a woman finds herself led into kidnapping a teenager who reminds her strongly of her first love, while A Trick of the Mind involves us in the guilt of a hit and run accident. Starting with situations that might not be entirely beyond the one’s own possible experience is a sure-fire way to draw the reader in. The writing is tense and involving, very much in the upper reaches of the genre, both in subject matter and style.

Heather explained Miranda Road‘s genesis from a published short story whose characters wouldn’t leave her alone until she allowed them to tell their whole story in their own voices (it’s written in the alternating voices of mother and daughter). The humorous, lyrical, and fairly gentle surface of the book floats on much darker currents of war and violence and, said Heather, shows how, in the course of our search for happiness, ‘it’s so hard to free ourselves from our personal and collective histories’.

Putting on two very different writers together was a bold move and it provided some fascinating contrasts – but also similarities: story, and the way you tell it, is the key, no matter what you’re writing about.

There was time for book buying (the lovely Owl Bookshop services the festival) and signing, and for audience members to chat with the writers individually – residents of Miranda Road were among the audience.

By Malcolm Burgess

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