An island in London inspired me to write a book. Well, that and the idea of killing a flatmate I lived with for a while. Perhaps that came first. The killing, then the running away to an island.
The book ended up being set on another island, in a very different part of England. This other is real, too, although I’ve never seen it. I spent a huge amount of time on it though, on the page and in my head.
Other books are set there, too.
The island in London that inspired me is in Victoria Park. It’s the one reserved for wildlife that you see as you enter the park from the Old Ford Road side. Forget the re-sculpted one with the rude red pagoda that you can actually walk on. This was pre-clean up, when the park provided a physical manifestation of the mess inside my head.
On Sunday mornings, in the generic sort of life I once lived in East London, I would pause and regard that island. Hungover and often very guilty, I’d briefly entertain the fantasy of living on it. I’d take a tent, I imagined; wade out at night, live amongst the geese, ducks, herons and trees. I’d wonder how long I’d last.
Afterwards, I’d walk along the canal with a person I would disappoint in every way. I’d make promises to myself, and to that person, that I would fail to keep.
That place still features in my life. Whenever I come back to our ruddy little English island, I live within its orbit. It is different, and I am too.
My desire to kill that flatmate was converted into fiction. I poured all the rage out like hot bile and it cooled into a scene.
A while later, on a street not far from the island in Victoria Park, the man in question asked me what my book was about. I could tell he already knew.
The island that part of the book is set on is in Coniston Water in the Lake District. I think I was wrong to say I’ve never seen it; I must have, once, because I’ve driven past that lake. Can the memory of being a child, sitting in the back of a car and promising to buy it for my grandmother, possibly be real?
I can’t remember it though, not as it truly is. On maps and in pictures it is shaped like a comet, fading out into a rocky tail. Its trees sprout from it like a tuft of pubic hair.
Wildcat Island, in the other books.
Donald Campbell died beside it. His last words were:
‘Straightening up now on track… I’m getting a lot of bloody row in here… I can’t see anything… I’ve got the bows up… I’m going… oh…’
I was listening to the radio one day, before I wrote the book. The presenter said that Peel Island’s pub had lost its landlord, and needed another one. It was an important tradition that there was a landlord in the pub, and that person was always known as the King of Peel.
Of course, there is no pub on Peel Island. For years I thought I must have imagined the story. Writing this, however, has revealed to me the existence of Piel Island.
Islands within islands within islands.
No one lives on Peel Island, Coniston Water. A character called John tried to for a while, but he didn’t last very long.
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