London figures large in my life. It is where I was born, it is where I have always worked and even though I now live in Kent, I live close enough that I can be back in the heart of the city within twenty minutes. Some of my favourite authors such as Peter Ackroyd, Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch have all written books that have engaged me primarily because they were set in London. While embracing the present, they have been able to pierce the veil and see into the city beneath the surface with its almost forgotten ghosts, and gods who struggle to maintain a foothold in the modern world.
So when it came to writing my first novel Gape, there was nowhere else that I could really think of setting it. Of course large parts are set in Hell and in other supernatural settings, but my home city had to play the biggest part. Like all major cities, London is magnificent, beautiful and endearing while at the same time managing to be terrifying, ugly and unwelcoming. And with the endless possibilities of its subterranean world, it’s the perfect backdrop for a horror story.
Starting off in the unremarkable suburb of Bromley (the birthplace of HG Wells), the story moves through the metropolis but for the most part avoids the usual tourist landmarks with which many authors love to colour their stories. Other than setting sections of the action on the roof of one of the capital’s most infamously ugly constructions, the specific locations weren’t important. I just needed to impart the feel of the city and the cold distractedness of its denizens. Indeed, the story had to be set in a place where the citizens were so used to the extraordinary that for the most part they are only interested in capturing the strange events that befall them, through the screens of their mobile phones. Walking around London, one does get the impression that if a demon appeared in the middle of the West End, people would fumble for their phones before they even thought about screaming in panic.
The city has been the scene of so many awesome (in the literal sense) events. It has seen several cataclysmic conflagrations, riots on its streets and explosions beneath them, and it has had repeated visits from various forms of pestilence and plague. In fact stories persist to this day that several sections of the Tube system had to be diverted during construction in order not to disturb any of the many ‘plague pits’ or mass graves beneath the city. And, if you are at a loose end in the East End, on most nights you can take part in one of the many walks that follow in the footsteps of Jack the Ripper.
London is the perfect home for a horror story and also a powerful metaphor for the human condition itself, with all of its contradictions and dichotomies, with its lovers and killers, heroes and villains and its angels and demons – any of whom might be sitting next to you on the next commute into town.
Perhaps this is why Londoners are known for their aloofness and lack of eye-contact. They just never know who or what they might be sharing a bus ride with. And, in this regard, perhaps Gape might serve more as a tourist guide than as a pure work of fiction…
Author Aiden Truss:
Aiden Truss is a forty one year-old geek who still thinks that he’s twenty-one. Despite never having grown up, he’s now been married for twenty four years and has two sons who have grown up against all odds to be strangely well adjusted.
Aiden spends his time flitting between high and low culture: he holds an MA in Cultural and Critical Studies and can often be seen stalking the galleries and museums of London, but also likes watching WWE, listening to heavy metal music, collecting comic books and playing classic video games.
Aiden lives in Kent, England and Gape is his first novel.