London by night - not for the faint hearted

On location: Or how I found myself lurking around London by night

The thriller I’ve been working on is the first London-set script I’ve written in a long time. I wanted to write something as pared-down, tight and, well, thrilling, as possible.

I also wanted it to be something of a love letter to London – the city I’ve lived in for a long time now. I know lots of London, but I wanted to experience parts I’d not been to before – and I wanted to do justice to the locations I chose for the script. The dark corners, the forgotten parts – the bits left behind by the relentless drive of gentrification.

One of the themes that emerged in the script while writing it was the idea of a city changing, and how the characters need to adapt to the changing landscape. So for the first time, I threw myself wholeheartedly into location research. Unfortunately, that often meant hanging around some of the less desirable parts of London late at night. Plus ça change.

Spooky location

Because of this script, I’ve found myself hanging around in Hyde and Green Parks late at night, on my own – and walking the back-alleys of everywhere from Mayfair to the less salubrious Peckham and Lewisham, sometimes in the driving rain, all in the name of research.

‘Know what you write’?

So was it worth it? In a word, yes. At the time, standing on my own in the dark, taking photos, I felt I’d slightly lost sight of what I was doing this for. The slightly funny looks I received on occasion were also worth it (unless I find a photofit of myself up in the Post Office as a wanted mysterious ‘lurker’). The real benefit of location research came later when I sat down to redraft the script.

I found that the experiences I’d had – good, bad, more than  slightly bizarre on occasion – added more colour to the script, and my sense of the story, than I could have ever predicted.

I always remember one of my tutors during my Screenwriting MA constantly saying it wasn’t so much ‘write what you know’, but rather ‘know what you write’. It’s far more important to go out and do proper research than it is to simply delve into your own personal experiences for inspiration and story. Finding things out for yourself, and having unique experiences is priceless when it comes to writing.

Even the encounters with other people while I was out and about helped to add colour and tone (he added, pretentiously) to the writing – and having workshopped the script extensively with my writing group and others, I can attest to this script having more positive feedback for its tone and atmosphere than any other before it.

So what are you waiting for, location-hunter? Night is falling, and it’s time to take to the streets! (unless you’re writing a follow up to Mamma Mia, in which case, it’s time for you to book a lovely holiday. You lucky thing). My next project: a pool-set romance in Cabo San Lucas.

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