I grew up in a small town, and went to college in an even smaller town. But during my junior year I spent a semester studying English literature and theater in London.
It was the first time I ever lived in a big city. I lived in Bloomsbury, the home of Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Charles Darwin, and the the British Museum. I read Dickens, Woolf, Austen, and wrote a play inspired by the Tube and various Cathedrals. I went to the theater regularly, saw Joseph Fiennes, Nicole Kidman, George Wendt, Tom Stoppard. And every day I discovered more of London. For me, it had a magic to it, as if anything was possible in the city that had already seen so much of art and history.
Last February, all of my dreams about London were reinforced when I was invited to Foyles Bookstore in London for the Undiscovered Voices launch party. An excerpt of my novel was being published, numerous editors and agents were eager to meet me. And I wouldn't have wished it to happen anywhere in the world other than London.
This past weekend, the twelve of us who won a place in Undiscovered Voices 2010 had a reunion get-together. I savor every opportunity I have to visit London, but this one was especially magical.
I arrived early to give myself time to enjoy London. I took the Tube to Embankment and walked across the Hungerford Bridge. From there I walked along the Thames, bumping elbows with all the tourists. A trumpeter and percussionist were playing Zydeco music. An acrobatics group was performing somersaults and twists around the top of the National Theatre. I could see St. Paul's in the distance, I passed the Tate Modern. Our group had decided to meet at the Globe Theatre's pub, The Swan, as it seemed suitably literary.
And when I arrived I was met with hugs, kisses, talks of writing, publishing, agents. The last time we met we were busy, stressed, and encouraged not to talk to each other (but rather the industry people who were there to see us). So it was wonderful to actually get to know each other, share our war stories, and also our celebrations. Some of the group is being published this year and next. Some have agents, but haven't yet received publishing contracts. All of us are writing, revising, dreaming.
I have to say, especially when London holds so much promise for me, at moments the day was a little hard. I wished I had a book coming out, a cover to share, an agent to read my drafts. But I couldn't be happier for my friends, and they couldn't have been more encouraging.
This won't be my last visit to London (strangely I'll be going twice in the next two weeks!), but I may be returning to the US this autumn (my life is still very up in the air at the moment). So I intend to relish my time in London as much as possible.
On the way back, I walked a bit out of my way with some of my friends from the UV group. I passed the Millennium Bridge (which I've always loved, and really enjoyed seeing destroyed in sixth Harry Potter movie). Then we wound our way into Southwark, full of narrow Dickensian-like streets, a touristy Prison Museum, a reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake's ship (and several kids dressed as pirates waiting to board). While my friends ran off to catch trains home, I explored Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market, both new to me. Then I looked at my watch, couldn't believe how late it already was, and hurried to the nearest tube to catch my own train back to Bristol.
I know I'll return to London in my life. Not just in the next two weeks, but whenever I have the opportunity, no matter where in the world I end up. And someday I hope I'll be a published author and be able to say thank you. Perhaps enjoy some champagne in my old stomping ground.
*UPDATED: Nick Cross at Notes from the Slushpile has blogged about Undiscovered Voices 2010, our reunion, and the beginnings of our exciting writing careers*