Listen to a Londoner: Kirsty Allison

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Kirsty Allison
Image by Kelli Ali

Novelist, film producer, fashionista, rock n’ roll queen, journalist, Ibiza party girl, teacher, DJ, editor, stylist, poet, traveller and, most importantly, born and bred Londoner, this is Kirsty Allison…

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years? Anything in particular you miss?
KA: I used to frequent a goth club called the William Morris in Wimbledon, I drank snakebite and black, and pretended to be an art student before I became one.  I was thirteen or fourteen.  I’d like to take a time machine back to those times, and have a talk with myself.  London will always have speakeasys and people trying to fight the powers that they think restrict them, it’s the nature of British culture, thankfully, like the city itself, it’s all about contrasts.  The best advice I got at primary school was being told to look up – at buildings…there’s more sky around London than there used to be – rooftop bars, penthouses, I like feeling elevated, rather than suppressed by the towering infernos of our city, although they inspire me.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: Which area of London are you most familiar with? Write us a mini-poem about why it rocks.
KA: Shoreditch, is my bitch, She’s the devil to my itch, Roaming there, my artistic lair, Makes my teenage dreams fall fair.  The seen it all before they were twelve year olds, or the enthusiastic old boys and girls, We’re hunting for where we lost our souls, and this is where I like to roll.

LLO: You’ve challenged yourself to wear a different outfit every day for a year. If you were to do it again next year, which five London shops would you hit first to build up your wardrobe?
KA: I’d drop by Fiona Doran’s (aka Mrs Jones) Emporium on St John’s Street. She’s an alma mater who’s guided me like a lady with a lamp in her dress for years.  Beatrix Ong has recently opened a shop in Sloane Street, she knocks class and sex into heels.  I collect Alexander McQueen, so it’s hard to think of a wardrobe without some of his original pieces.  The Vivienne Westwood shop at World’s End features clothes she’s sewn herself.  The Shop below Maison Bertaux in Soho is great, and I love Kokon Tozai.  Off Broadway rocks, set up by the divine Donna Kernan.  Concept stores like http://www.ln-cc.com and Dover Street Market…I could go on…Liberty’s is a pleasure to shop in…whoops, how many was that?!

Image by Gaynor Perry

LLO: Ambit just featured an excerpt from your first novel Medicine and you made the cover! You’ve got three sentences to sell your book. Ready, go…
KA: So tough to compress a work into a small space, but, it’s set in 90’s Shoreditch in an exclusive scene where fashion and music industry myths are accepted as truth.  It’s rock n roll to the max, following the downward social adventures of a fashion designer who starts managing a band, Chernobyl, fronted by a male model.  As their fate becomes stardom, she travels from Ibiza to Paris and a world tour, letting her fashion designs become increasingly bonkers.  It’s a funny tale which makes people cry.  I’ve been working on it for 15 years…

LLO: You’ve been a celebrity stylist and a model, coming across some influential names in the fashion industry. Which up-and-coming London-based designers should we keep an eye on?
KA: Louise Amstrup. Holly Fulton. Elliot Atkinson. James Long. SD Yohans.

LO: Best London discovery?
KA: Churches and graveyards are always good value.

LLO: I’m in London for one night and want to veer off the tourist trail for some food and drink. Any fabulous recommendations?
KA: I like La Trompette in Chiswick, I’ve taken my mum there.  The Seven Stars, off Fleet Street behind the law courts is entertaining, it’s proper characterful landlady stuff.  If you want to keep it cheap, C&R on Rupert Court does a good Singapore Laksa, and follow it with a few drinks at The Coach & Horses in Soho, where every table has served me as an office.  Cay Tre on Old Street is always busy, but if you like Vietnamese it never disappoints.  Lemonia on Regents Park Road.  Wholefoods Market is a palace.  Cecconi’s is proper Jackie Collins territory.  A curry in Southall. There are always new places everywhere.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: In the late 90s, you were DJ-ing internationally with the likes of Kris Needs, Irvine Welsh and Howard Marks including a residency at Manumission Motel in Ibiza. Where’s your favourite place in London to party the weekend away?
KA: The party is where you’re at.  Aside from that, The Sanctum Hotel in Soho is cool.  Quintessentially is fun.  The lure of a private member’s bar is something I fall victim to but I love a decent bass, and there are so many warehouse parties going on again, it’s easy to get lost partying.

LLO: Tantric Tourists is one of your latest creative projects. Tell is a bit about what inspired it. Any London screenings or events scheduled?
KA: Tantric Tourists follows a self-proclaimed guru as she escorts 10 American students on a quest for enlightenment across India.  It’s a comedy road movie.  The director, Alexander Snelling, and I first met the guru, Laurie Handlers, in India where she was “whirling on the beach”.  We did a test shoot at a workshop she was hosting in Primrose Hill and cracked up at the rushes.  It was too good a story to turn down.

It goes on limited release from Valentine’s Day.  The DVD is available with a discount by becoming a fan on Facebook.  More info: www.tantrictourists.com

LLO: Do you have a favourite London-based book or a great bookshop to recommend – one of those cosy ones with the slightly musty basement smell or great in-house coffee shop?
KA: This is mainstream but I used to like Borders, they had chairs, it was an easy place to get lost in. Waterstones in Piccadilly does a good job, as does Foyles (if only the Westfield rates weren’t so high they’d still have a second floor).  There are many indie shops doing a great job. Broadway Books is hitting the mark. And my local library has a cafe in it, long may it last.  The Daunts in Marylebone is great because it has all these wonderful wooden bannisters, and they are so excellent at travel books.  Judd Street Books is lovely for art books and oddities, towards Bloomsbury from Kings Cross.  The Oxfam bookshops are always great.  The customer service in Hatchards is good. I love a good bookshop, I clear my head by walking through them, flicking through those who manage to hold their fort on the shelves.  The Espresso Machine is a concept I’m excited about – it’s so called because in the time of a coffee you can order whatever book you desire in whatever paper you choose – so if I wanted Lolita in baby pink, Bob the Paedo is my uncle…(almost) any bookshop or library is serving the future of England a favour.

Image by Laurence Tarquin Von Thomas

Thanks Kirsty!

For more on Kirsty’s fascinating life, lookie here: www.kirstyallison.com

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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Listen to a Londoner: Gail Haslam

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Gail Haslam

Gail Haslam is a writer, editor and blogger who also tries to fit in crafty endeavours when she has time, or the supplies threaten to take over the house again. At the moment she’s a social media consultant for a chocolate company, and does realise how lucky she is.

LLO: How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
GH: I’m originally from Ireland. Almost straight after university I travelled around Australia for a year and then thought I’d spend six weeks in London, until Christmas. That was thirteen years ago, almost to the day.

LLO: One of the main topics on your blog, One Million Gold Stars, is food. Where are a few good places in London to pick up ingredients if you’re looking for something unusual?
GH: I’ve been cooking a lot of Mexican food lately and I’ve been buying all my dried chipotles and ancho chiles from Casa Mexico in Bethnal Green.  They also do a fine line in Mexican pottery and Day of the Dead dolls, if you’re so inclined.
I’m a bit intimidated by the packed-to-the-rafters Vietnamese supermarkets on Mare St but Uyen from Fernandez and Leluu has volunteered to take me shopping and show me what’s what.

My boyfriend and I share the cooking in our house, but my favourite hobby is baking. I’m always on the lookout for supplies and tools. The Make Lounge, a creative workshop centre in Islington, carries ‘essentials’ like edible glitter and good quality paste food colourings.

LLO: I’m in London for one night only and need a good food and drink recommendation away from the tourist trail. Where would you send me?
GH: If you can get a table, I’d try Namo on Victoria Park Road and try the Ga hap la chanh – steamed chicken in lime leaves with ginger and lemon. So simple yet so good.  Then on to Hemingway, further up Victoria Park Road towards Mare St.  Enjoy a tipple while marvelling at the taxidermy.

LLO: If you’re out and about on a rainy winter day, where’s your favourite place to pop in and cosy up with a warm drink?
GH: I’ve a long standing affection for the the Cafe in Foyles on Charing Cross Road and fond memories of their hot chocolate. I’m lucky to have a great selection of cafes locally – the Pavilion in Victoria Park and a new addition, Amandine. Not only do they source ingredients like eggs from the Deli Downstairs, a few doors down, they even grow some of their own ingredients.

LLO: When you’re looking for a bit of Irish food or culture in London, where do you go?
GH: Ah – I’d have to admit that it’s not something I’ve ever looked for – too many other cuisines to explore here. I did have excellent soda bread at Corrigan’s recently (laced with molasses for a very defined sweetness) and it’s one of the things I do miss from home.

LLO: If you’ve had a long day so you’re not in the mood to bake, but you’re craving something sweet, where’s your favourite London bakery?
GH: Arianna Halshaw is probably my favourite baker.  I’ve always ordered cupcakes and her infamous Rice Krispies marshmallow directly from her but I understand she’s now supplying cupcakes to The Espresso Room.  Otherwise I’m rather partial to a cupcake from Ella’s Bakehouse in Covent Garden. Peanut Butter please.

LLO: What has been your most unusual eating experience in London?
GH: The ‘March Madness, April Fools’ themed night at Trail Of Our Bread, a local supperclub.  It involved rabbit, absinthe jelly and the best surprise birthday cake I’ve ever had. It was shaped like a flowerpot, complete with crumbled Oreo “soil”. 

LLO:Which area of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best part about it?
GH: East London, I’ve lived around here for ten years, gradually drifting from Shoreditch to Bow to Victoria Park. I love the park itself, and the fact that you can head out one gate and make your way to the Counter Cafe after a wander around Hackney Wick, or head around the perimeter and down the canal to visit Broadway market. Or venture right into the east side of the park and go and visit the deer. (Yes, really).

LLO: Tell us about a memorable moment that could only have happened in London.
GH: On Millennium Eve, we stood on Victoria Embankment, directly opposite the Oxo Tower and watched fireworks going off over three bridges, up and down the river. It was beautiful.

LLO: Best London discovery you think other people should know about?
GH: Wilton’s Music Hall.  It’s the oldest operating music hall in the world, and it’s run by a very small but incredibly dedicated team who are determined to preserve this atmospheric, magical building for generations to come. As well as reviving old style vaudeville, it also stages productions for other larger theatres as well as live music and also acts as a film location.  Visit for one of their monthly free cinema nights, to see archive footage of London through the ages.

Thanks Gail!

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Listen to a Londoner: Kerry Hiatt

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Kerry Hiatt

Writer, relationship guru, alfresco sex junkie and sometimes basset hound thief, Kerry Hiatt talks to The Little London Observationist.

LLO: As well as being signed with Penguin and plenty of other work, you’ve written for The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, LOOK and Psychologies and have made a freelance writing career work for you. Any dream clients?
KH: I have an amazing client list. I started writing for the national press when I was 18 and that had always been my dream. With every passing week there’s always another exciting client though. For example, this week, I’ve signed a contract to write a sexy, new board game.

LLO: What’s your favourite unique London discovery?
KH: You would think that I’d seen it all having lived here my whole life but that’s the most amazing thing about London, you can never see it all. One of the great things about editing www.getupandout.com is the plethora of new experiences we discover as a team. Just recently, I’ve tried out performing live stand up comedy, burlesque and zoo keeping in the city; all of which I would absolutely consider as a new career. Although, as my mother constantly reminds me, we’re from a family of travelers so if I were to do a career change, I’d likely end up working in a circus, which sort of combines all three doesn’t it?

LLO: You met your husband in Greenwich. Give us a great Greenwich date idea.
KH: Greenwich is so full of history and culture, I adore it. One of my favourite things to do is evening star gazing from The Royal Observatory. You snuggle up under blankets, sip hot chocolate and watch the incredible night sky. I spend most of my time trying to steal other peoples’ dogs in Greenwich Park though and Joe often has to come and drag me away. If he’d just let me have a basset hound it would save him a whole lot of trouble …

LLO: Your recent Time Out Magazine article on alfresco sex got a lot of attention. Can you share three of the best places to take it outdoors without getting caught?
KH: I love sex. It’s a very natural thing and people feeling inhibited is just silly. Having sex outdoors is a wonderful, primal feeling. Yes the article in Time Out caused a stir but I’ve also received tons of e-mails from couples who have tried it and loved it. As long as you’re safe and discreet of course. Greenwich Park has many a secluded spot to throw down a blanket, a bottle of wine and your three pack of Durex as does St. James Park by night. Personally, I’m keen on those occasional blacked out phone boxes you find around the city. If you see one, go for it.

LLO: As the editor of the newly launched site “Get Up and Out”, tell us what it’s all about and why we should visit immediately.
KH: www.getupandout.com is fab. It’s something that started off as a small blog because I just couldn’t fit all of the amazing date ideas I had into my features in Time Out. Within a month, it’s grown to huge proportions and we’re very proud. It encourages people to shrug off tired and traditional dating. You know, say au revoir to cruising along the River Thames by moonlight – everyone has done it already … twice. And those BOGOF cinema tickets for your local VUE? It’s dull. for a first or second date. Instead, we provide our readers with a plethora of quirk-a-licious date ideas as well as fashion, food and relationship advice. It’s very much a community blog.

LLO: Best thing about living in your postcode?
KH: Greenwich Market. I love how I can whiz over there on a Saturday morning, pick up freshly ground coffee beans (Jack Daniels flavour, natch), warm churros for breakfast and something completely original to wear for the evening. There’s something very special about the camaraderie of the market too. I’ve lived here on and off all my life so it’s lovely to walk into a bar and say hello to familiar faces.

LLO: One of your specialities is writing about relationships. Give us three favourite quirky date ideas for Londoners looking for something out of the ordinary.
KH: There are LOADS of things. Three of my favourites include The Italian Job Experience with smallcarBIGCITY, where you and your date don blue boiler suits, stash gold in the back of a mini and navigate your driver through the twisty backstreets of London to get away from the law. Circus Space also offer circus skills workshops for couples; juggling, unicycling and all that malarky. It’s so much fun, trust me. Simon Drake’s House of Magic is great for the ‘seen it done it’ type too. It’s a secret mansion house in London with haunted cellars, an enchanted garden, fortune tellers and magicians. He does occasionally public nights with drinks and dinner and they are crazy weird.

LLO: One of your loves is karaoke. Where’s the coolest karaoke bar round town?
KH: Without a doubt, it has to be Lucky Voice, which has venues in Soho and Islington. With its bubbly, Japanese kitsch party atmosphere, we often book a private karaoke room for two hours and invite friends down with us. The jukebox is easy to use (there’s even an ‘I’m Thirsty’ button, which sees your drink orders delivered at speed) and every room is equipped with a fancy dress box chock full of 70s sparkles, 80s mullets and, of course, the classic 90s shell suit. Perfect.

LLO: Give us a few ideas from recent book on your favourite childhood literary haunts around the capital.
KH: It’s still top secret but this city is a literary goldmine. Charles Dickens, 101 Dalmations, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Harry Potter are just a few covered in the book.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what changes have you noticed most over the years? Anything you miss?
KH: London gets more and more exiting as the years roll by so I never feel too nostalgic. I do miss the old pie and mash shops that once littered the streets of the south; they seem to be disappearing. The only thing I truly miss though is busking with my Great Grandfather, Edwin. My family immigrated from Ireland after the war and he made his living by playing the accordion on the streets of London as well as other things. We would go to Portobello Market on Sundays and I’d sit on his case while he played. It’s one of the best memories to have. My love for London started young!

Thanks Kerry!

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Listen to a Londoner: Michele Gorman

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Michele Gorman, 43

Michele Gorman is an American writer, and now a card-carrying Brit, who has made London her home. Her debut novel, Single in the City, charts the misadventures of 26-year-old American Hannah who, upon moving to London, blunders her way through life and love amidst a population who doesn’t always see the funny side of her cultural misunderstandings.

LLO: Give us the basic details first – How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
MG:
I’ve been here 12 years, and am in fact now a card-carrying Brit. I moved from Chicago, but was raised in the Northeast, in a rural town in Massachusetts. I came to London because I followed my heart. My then-boyfriend was transferred from the States and I figured it’d be fun to live in a new city. I was right!

LLO: Interesting that you decided to write a book called “Single in the City” when you personally moved to London for love. What inspired the idea?
MG:
The story is definitely fictional, since, as you rightly point out, I was very much attached when I moved here, and for many years afterwards. So the idea didn’t come from being single myself. Actually it was born out of spite. My background is in literary fiction rather than chick-lit, and I’d just picked up my first chick-lit book, which I thought was terrible. Yet it was a best-seller. I knew I could write something better than that, and my expat experiences were such natural fodder that the book practically wrote itself. I knew Hannah had to be single because the story is a comedy, and a single girl’s misadventures are ripe for humour (though not always to her!).

LLO: Which aspects of British culture baffled you most when you first arrived?
MG:
Just about everything was baffling, from the British approach to getting what they want (and never directly saying what it is that they want), to daily routines like getting on the bus or ordering a sandwich. I quite like to cook, and translating the names for ingredients from American to English took some time (and I’m still not sure what treacle is).

I used to find queuing odd, but now find myself gravitating toward them and standing patiently. My family says I’ve become ‘too civilised’ for America now. I guess that’s the natural result of having to share a little island with 60 million people.

LLO: Share a little story about a challenge you’ve had to overcome as an expat.
MG:
If I had a pound for every time a Brit has said to me ‘But you’re not like most Americans.’ I wouldn’t need to work. Overcoming the stereotype of a ‘typical’ American has been a constant challenge. Part of what they think of as typical about us is that we tend to see our time in the UK as temporary.

The Brits I’ve met over the years have generally been reluctant to make friends with expats if they don’t think we’re going to stick around for the long haul. Many have told me that they don’t want to invest in friendship if that friend is just going to leave, and this has been one of the biggest hurdles against making British friends. It took more than four years before I was invited to my first proper English house party, despite having several English men and women that I counted as acquaintances. I knew I’d finally convinced them that I planned to stay when I got that invitation! And we’re still friends today.

LLO: What do you love most about your adopted city and is there anything besides family and friends you’re missing from the States that you can’t find here?
MG:
There is a gentleness about London that is surprising for a big city. What it may lack in efficiency it more than makes up for in peacefulness away from the crowds. Even in frenetic central London you need only to step down a side street to find quiet neighbourhoods, cafes, little independent shops and green squares.

It used to be the case that American products were hard to come by. Like many of us, I imported certain goods like my favourite deodorant, Tollhouse morsels and corn syrup for baking. Going into a Walmart when back in the States was unbearably exciting and my suitcases came back laden with useful gadgets. Now though, most baking and food products are available (if not in the shops then online), as are those useful gadgets. Plus Mom still regularly sends packages of things I don’t realize I need until I see them. Those plastic bags you attach to a Hoover to shrink wrap clothes and bedding are an excellent case in point; how have we lived without them in London’s tiny flats?

I do miss having access to plentiful, cheap or free live music. Coming from Chicago where hundreds of bands played each weekend in bars and pubs across the city, it was an adjustment to realize that you have to book ahead for everything here.

LLO: You’ve written for UK Cosmo, Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, Guardian, Evening Standard, etc. How did you build up your reputation as a writer having started from scratch as an expat? Any advice for others in the same boat?
MG:
All of my articles have come off the back of the publicity for Single in the City. I have a great PR through Penguin who has arranged all of that. But if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have that kind of help I’d have approached the newspapers and magazines myself. If you’re new here, go into the newsagent and write down the titles you see. And don’t discount the tabloids, though be prepared to write from a salacious angle. The editors on all these publications have to fill them each week/month and are always looking for articles (though they don’t often pay for them, so it’s not generally a lucrative career). Also, blog sites are really great for writers because they are always looking for good content.

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
MG:
The Southbank. It’s perfect for a stroll along the river, for having a coffee or drink, or popping in for a free concert/exhibit/reading. There are also of course amazing performances on all the time, and it’s easy to walk back across the bridge into Covent Garden.

LLO: I’ve got one night in London. Recommend the best place to go for dinner and drinks.
MG:
It depends on what kind of experience you’re after. If you want upscale, have a drink at the bar at the Sanderson Hotel (50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG). It’s beautiful and funky inside, and has a great all-season courtyard that is very cool, trendy and a bit romantic. Then go to Hakkasan (8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD) for mouth-watering, very interesting Chinese.

For a more casual experience start with drinks at the The White Horse (1-3 Parsons Green, SW6 4UL), then dinner at the always chaotic and friendly Sale e Pepe, for good Italian (9-15 Pavilion Road, SW1X 0HD).

LLO: Have you developed any amusing British tendencies in the past 12 years that you’d like to share?
MG:
I queue. I tut and mutter under my breath when someone jumps in front, but rarely say anything anymore. I walk on the left instead of the right and find myself getting cross when others try walking on the right. And I now ask ‘Are you all right?’. It’s official. I’m British.

LLO: What are you working on now?
MG:
If Single in the City sells well, then I’m ready to write a follow-up.

I’m also writing a book for an older audience. It’s still chick-lit, but the heroine is 39. She doesn’t have ‘issues’ though, no cheating spouse, big behind, social life-crimping children or ticking biological clock. She’s single, well-adjusted and independent, optimistic and enthusiastic about her future. I don’t see much of this kind of writing, despite all of the real-world women like this that I know. So I’m writing one for them.

If you’d like to buy a copy of Michele’s book, Single in the City, head over to Amazon.
For more about Michele and her work, visit her website: www.michelegorman.co.uk
Follow her tweets @expatdiaries or show some support by joining the Single in the City group on Facebook.

Thanks Michele!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Marsha Moore

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new volunteers.

Marsha Moore, 36

A native Canadian, Marsha has lived and worked in London for the past six years. Her first book, 24 Hours London (Prospera Publishing 2009), was inspired by her love for her adopted city.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how did you end up in London and how long have you been in this fabulous city?
MM:
I’m from Canada originally. I came to London six years ago as a teacher, met my husband here, got married and stayed! I miss Canada but London is home to me now. As a full-time writer, it’s got a fantastic literary scene and I’ve been able to meet and network with lots of other writers.

LLO: As the author of 24 Hours London and 24 Hours Paris, which city do you prefer and why?
MM:
Paris is such a beautiful city that you can’t help but be stunned by how perfectly groomed it appears to be. It reminds me of entering my mother’s room as a child – you’re fascinated by everything but afraid to touch it unless you somehow mess it up. London is greyer, less appealing visually, and less ordered, but you feel somehow like you can dig in and get your hands dirty. So I have to say – as much as I like Paris – I love living in London.

LLO: I’ve got 24 hours to kill in London and want to get off the tourist track. What do you suggest?
MM:
While it’s not exactly secret, wandering along the Thames on the  Southbank – preferably in good weather – is one of my favourite things to do. You’ve got the British Film Institute, The National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall and the Tate Modern all within a kilometer, as well as brilliant views over the river! London’s markets also can’t be missed – try Spitalfields and Columbia Road on a Sunday for flowers to frou frou (and don’t miss out Brick Lane along the way), and Borough Market for food. In the north of the city is Hampstead Heath, where you can wander through the trees, fly a kite and take a dip in a pond…and forget you’re in a mega-metropolis!

LLO: What’s your favourite late-night London venue/activity?
MM:
The energy in Soho is so amazing I could soak it up all night! The buzz of the streets, the swarms of crowds outside West End theatres… for me, it’s what London is all about. There are loads of great spots in Soho but I like LAB for drinks, Pulcinella for pizza and Balans for late-night (or early morning!) dinners. The Curzon also has midnight cinema once a month, where you can chill out and watch films until morning.

LLO: Where in London do you go for new inspiration if writer’s block strikes?
MM:
London has so many great green spaces and I always find a wander through them clears my head! I love the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, in particular – there’s nothing better than grabbing a coffee at the Lido and watching the boats drift up and down. But my favourite writing spot is my office, where I can stare out the window for hours watching the double-deckers storm by and absorbing the rhythm of the street.

LLO: Favourite bookshop in the capital and why?
MM:
London’s bursting with brilliant bookshops – John Sandoe and Foyles, to name a few – but my favourite has to be Daunt. Enter here and you feel like you’ve entered a shrine to the printed word! Books are arranged by country –  you can seek out your interest and browse the novels, non-fiction and guides with awe. The store also has branches in Holland Park, Chelsea, Belsize Park and Hampstead, but it is the Marylebone store – located in an original Edwardian bookstore – that is truly amazing.

LLO: What’s the best part about living in your postcode?
MM:
I live in Kensington, and I love it! It has brash new shops and restaurants mixed with small independent ones that look like they’ve been around for ages. Pubs are tucked away off busy pavements, and elegant terraced houses with private squares line the streets. You get a sense of what the city must have been like a hundred years ago. You’re also close to Kensington Gardens – where you can lounge by the gazebo in the summer and listen to music – and Holland Park, with its wonderful peacocks.

LLO: Best London discovery while working on your book?
MM:
I’ve found out so many great things about the city while working on the book that it’s hard to narrow it down! But one of my favourite locations is Lower Marsh Street, close to Waterloo. I’d been to the station so many times, but I had no idea this small street – full of gems like I Knit London (where you can drink beer and knit) and Scooterworks (a café in a former repair shop) – existed!

LLO: Which London-based writers do you most admire?
MM:
Tough question!  I am massive fan of chick lit (I have my own chick-lit novel being published next year), and London has provided a great setting for many chick-lit novels. Helen Fielding, the author of Bridget Jones’ Diary, used to live in Notting Hill. Sophie Kinsella, who lives just outside of London, is also one of my favourites. I love to see the city through the eyes of their main characters.

LLO: Most unusual restaurant or pub you’ve come across that’s worth a visit?
MM:
Definitely has to be Ye Olde Mitre! Walk down Hatton Garden and between numbers 8 and 10, you’ll come to an arched entryway into an alley with a sign stating ‘Ye Olde Mitre 1546’. Enter the alley and you’ll see a pub many locals have yet to discover. Although the current building only dates back to the eighteenth century, the pub has existed since 1547 when it was built to serve the servants of the nearby Palace of the Bishops of Ely. The trunk of a cherry tree has been preserved in the corner of the bar, and legend has it that Elizabeth I danced the maypole around it!

Thanks Marsha!

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