Ten of the Most Unusual Places in Fiction
Years ago, I had lunch with some friends in a London restaurant. It was in a courtyard near Holborn, a strange cobbled yard with a stranger name: Bleeding Heart Yard. When I got home, I Googled the location and found that, in the seventeenth-century, a woman called Elizabeth Hatton (of Hatton Garden fame) was murdered there. Her still-bleeding heart was found on the cobbles. Another version has Elizabeth dancing with the devil until she drops dead at his feet. A poet called Richard Barham immortalised the scene:
Of poor Lady Hatton, it’s needless to say,
No traces have ever been found to this day,
Of the terrible dancer who whisk’d her away;
But out in the court-yard—and just in that part
Where the pump stands—lay bleeding A LARGE HUMAN HEART!
I just knew I had to set a book there. Bleeding Heart Yard, the story of a politician with a deadly secret, comes out in the US on November 15th 2022.
It got me thinking about other strange place names in fiction. Here are ten of my favourites:
New Grub Street by George Gissing
In the eighteenth century Grub Street was famous for being the home of ‘hack writers’, journalists on the margins of literary London. The street had disappeared by 1891, when Gissing wrote this book, but the scandal and corruption remain.
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
This bestselling novel by Louise Doughty, about a scientist who has a reckless affair, was made into highly successful TV series starring Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin. Apple Tree Yard is a real place, a dark alleyway near the Houses of Parliament, perfect for clandestine meetings.
Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins
Magpie Lane is a narrow street in central Oxford threading its way between the historic colleges. It’s also the setting for Lucy Atkins’ atmospheric book about a little girl who mysteriously disappears. Felicity claimed to be able to see ghosts but does her abduction have a more prosaic explanation, one linked to her nanny, Dee?
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
This depression-era novel is set on a street lined with sardine canneries. One of those books where the setting engages with all the senses…
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwen
The Dorset coast is the setting for this exquisite novella by Booker-prize-winning Ian McEwen. The beautiful natural backdrop contrasts with the sterile central relationship.
The Hollows by Mark Edwards
British author Mark Edwards excels at spooky settings and situations. This book is set in the fictional Hollow Falls, a cabin resort near Maine, once the scene of a double killing. But why are the wind-chimes echoing through the trees and who are the masked figures that appear and disappear?
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
The setting is an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street, but this novel is anything but ordinary: a multi-layered, shape-twisting story that even involves a talking cat.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Did ever a house have a more sinister address than Cold Comfort in the village of Howling? Stella Gibbons’ classic comic novel satirises rural melodrama and give us some of the most unforgettable characters in literature, including Aunt Ada Doom, Seth Starkadder and the Church of the Quivering Brethren.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
At the centre of this classic novel is a long-running legal case, Jarndyce vs Jarndyce. Bleak House is the Hertfordshire home of the Jarndyce family, but it’s thought to owe its origins to the house where Dickens used to stay in Broadstairs, on the Kent coast. Dickens also wrote about Bleeding Heart Yard in Little Dorrit.
I couldn’t end without including the TV home of Jessica Fletcher, played by the wonderful, recently-departed Angela Lansbury. Cabot Cove is a fictional fishing village in Maine where novelist Jessica investigates a quite incredible number of suspicious deaths. Experts that have calculated that, if the town existed in reality, it would be the murder capital of the world, with a rate of 149 per 100,000 people.
About Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths:
When Cassie Fitzgerald was at school in the late 90s, she and her friends killed a fellow student. Almost twenty years later, Cassie is a happily married mother who loves her job—as a police officer. She closely guards the secret she has all but erased from her memory.
One day her husband finally persuades her to go to a school reunion. Cassie catches up with her high-achieving old friends from the Manor Park School—among them two politicians, a rock star, and a famous actress. But then, shockingly, one of them, Garfield Rice, is found dead in the school bathroom, supposedly from a drug overdose. As Garfield was an eminent—and controversial—MP and the investigation is high profile, it’s headed by Cassie’s new boss, DI Harbinder Kaur, freshly promoted and newly arrived in London. The trouble is, Cassie can’t shake the feeling that one of them has killed again.
Is Cassie right, or was Garfield murdered by one of his political cronies? It’s in Cassie’s interest to skew the investigation so that it looks like it has nothing to do with Manor Park and she seems to be succeeding.
Until someone else from the reunion is found dead in Bleeding Heart Yard.