The Rooftop Bookclub

The Rooftop Bookclub

Event: The Rooftop Bookclub: Spring Thrills 

Venue: Carmelite House 

Report by Eleanor Baggley 

The Rooftop Bookclub seems to be becoming a permanent fixture in Headline’s event calendar and for good reason. These events are brilliantly organised, hugely popular (getting a ticket feels like you’re entering some higher realm of literary appreciation where book clubs trend on twitter), and feature the crème de la crème of contemporary authors. What’s not to love?

This latest installment was brought to crime fiction lovers by Headline’s Crime Files team and featured six of their authors, both established and debut.

The first half of the evening was host to a panel entitled ‘Sense of Place: Region as Character’. Authors Elly Griffiths, Claire McGowan and J. S. Law made up the panel chaired by Jake Kerridge, the Daily Telegraph’s crime reviewer. The discussion kept up an excellent momentum and moved from a look at place and the power of setting, through to an exploration of place as character.

J.S. Law’s debut novel, Tenacity, is the ultimate locked room mystery, where the room is a submarine. Law used his own experience working on submarines to guide and influence his writing and also to create such a closed and claustrophobic atmosphere.

This idea of writing what you know and are familiar with added an interesting layer to the discussion of place and was commented on by all three panelists.

McGowan talked of the ‘freedom of having a made up place’, whereas Griffiths ‘enjoyed the challenge of writing about a real place’.

After a break for wine, nibbles and a quick photo opportunity of the London skyline, we were brought back to the second panel of the evening. This panel, exploring ‘London: Past and Present’, was chaired by author, journalist and Times reviewer Antonia Senior and she was joined by Sarah Hilary, Janet Ellis and Antonia Hodgson.

Layers of London

The setting of the evening became very apt during this discussion as we could see the smoking rooftops, St Paul’s dome and the wonders of the Southbank in the distance. It’s hard to imagine any kind of past London from that vantage point, but both Janet Ellis and Sarah Hilary reminded us of the layers of London and the ‘footprints of those who’ve been before’ underneath the pavements.

All three writers talked of the sense of anonymity that surrounds and engulfs London. This anonymity draws in the disenfranchised and means that people from all walks of life can exist so close to one another. For Hodgson it is both ‘reassuring and distressing’ to see how similar modern life is to the London of the past. This was echoed by Ellis, who put it simply as ‘they were us’.

I thoroughly enjoyed the panel’s musings on London, their London and how London figures in their novels. It was fascinating to see so many differences in conceptions of the city, but also so many similarities. For Ellis it is important to ‘trust your imagination’ rather than feeling a sense of responsibility to ‘real’ London, and Hilary suggested that in writing the ‘important thing is the story and the momentum’. Whilst London plays a significant role in these novels, it is clear that the London that’s written is one person’s London. As Hilary puts it, ‘it is a playground’.

This was the second time that I had attended the Rooftop Bookclub and I doubt that it will be the last. I very much look forward to the next line up of authors for another fantastic night of insightful discussions, intriguing discoveries and literary enthusiasm. Can I request, perhaps, a night of historical fiction?

Report by Eleanor Baggley

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