Coming full circle

I’m just putting the finishing touches to my new novel Strange Air – a historical ghost story set in Upper Norwood, which will be published in the coming weeks. The novel tells the true story of the Victorian Civil Engineer Thomas Webster Rammell, who was a tireless advocate of air-powered city railways as a safer, cleaner and more reliable alternative to those – like the Metropolitan – that were propelled by steam. For reasons that will become clear, Rammell’s story is intimately interwoven with the history and fate of the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, making it impossible to tell one tale without also recounting the other.

One of my remaining tasks is to touch up and double-check some of the book’s historical detail, particularly regarding the interior of the Crystal Palace as it was in its heyday. This in turn has led me back onto the internet – and into Upper Norwood library – rummaging through illustrations and photographs of the second (Sydenham) Crystal Palace.

And my goodness: what a joyful way to while away the hours / procrastinate as I contemplate a pile of editorial changes. I mean, just look at this:

Or indeed this:

Beautiful and intriguing all by themselves, the pictures are even more absorbing when you consider what the park is now – an eerie patchwork of half-forgotten schemes and dreams. Admittedly, I’m no great adventurer, but I can imagine few places where the immense contrast between past and present is so great and so tantalisingly documented; where the longing to go back in time, to see it all as it was, is so acute.

As you can tell, this latest bout of research has re-kindled in me the intense, melancholy buzz that fired me to write Strange Air in the first place. I am, in the best possible sense, ending where I began. And that’s not only satisfying, but also inspiring – so much so, that I’d quite happily go round and write the whole thing again, if only my editor thought it necessary. Alas, no such drastic overhaul is required, meaning I’ll just have to crack on and write a whole new ‘Crystal Palace’ novel instead.

In the meantime, click here to be kept up-to-date about Strange Air.

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Posted on April 8, 2013, in Books, Crystal Palace, Nostalgia and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Interesting article. I would hardly call CP Park a wasteland though, it’s a beautiful park throughout.

    • Yes – on reflection, wasteland might be a bit excessive… It’s more a question of its hotchpotch nature, I think, with chunks of old memories (aquarium, water tower bases, concert bowl, racing track, amputated statues…) poking through the surface. Totally in agreement about its beauty though, both in terms of aesthetics and atmosphere. I love it dearly – hence the novel!

  2. Yeah, good idea! Maybe this one could have a female protagonist. You could call it ‘Anerley.’
    I can see the potential for a west end musical already…

    • Ha ha! Believe me, the thought has crossed my mind. I’m sure there’s some magic lurking in Anerley somewhere… Something set on the old canal, maybe?

  3. Vanessa McDonald

    This is great news to find that you are writing about my (many times) great uncle. All the research I’ve done on thomas webster rammell before hasn’t come to much so I look forward to reading strange air.

  4. I used to mess around in the old railway tunnel saw a victorian ladies shoe once.

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