Monday, July 21, 2014

Dateline London: A Literary Investigation

Today Diana Chambers joins us from London where she's been on the trail of the new literary benches. Of course, now that I know they'll be for sale to benefit charity, I want one...

Nothing like a mission to focus your jet-lagged brain. When Mystery Playground asked me to investigate the book benches of London I had not a clue what they were. To ferret out the mystery, we had to pound the hot (yes!) city streets and riverside paths. It was a grueling mission, but someone had to do it.

We also learned that Londoners are just the kindest, most patient and welcoming people. Some knew of our literary treasure hunt. Others didn't. So we were able to share the word about the National Literacy Trust's summer program to promote literacy and art. This October the benches will be auctioned to raise funds for their work. I especially loved the whimsy and accessibility of these creations, loved seeing people read on them, children play on them.

There are four routes: the City, Greenwich, Bloomsbury, and Thames Trails. We took the latter two and discovered another side of London, from brick ruins to hidden green squares, a secondhand book market under Waterloo Bridge, and the amazing British library. 

Some of the benches are secrets. One I found in the basement of Stanford's Travel Books -- appropriately, Around the World in 80 Days (The front of the bench is above, the back below). But only because I could not bypass a bookshop established in 1863.   

Our investigation led us along the Thames Riverside Trail. Here we found Paddington Bear.

Then we got lost, wandering cobbled lanes where ancient foundations are incorporated in old brick walls, now reimagined as art galleries and caf├ęs. Turning a corner we came upon Mr. Will Shakespeare himself in a nice view spot of the Thames and London Bridge with the Old Globe behind him.

See the old Globe theater in the back? It's really a new Old Globe but it's still cool. 

As I am blogging for Mystery Playground, I couldn't resist this shot of Blackfriars Bridge where a former Vatican banker was found hanging in a still unsolved crime. Mafia? Embezzlement? 

Plot-lines spinning through my mind, we continued west across the river to the Bloomsbury Trail, named for the famed literary neighborhood around London University. We began at the wondrous British Library where we spotted perhaps the first book bench.

Then we wandered about in search of one of the wonderful park squares dotting London, where Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway has pride of place near the old entrance gate.

Our investigation next led to another square -- and Sherlock Holmes.

Across the bay was Hercule Poirot and The Greenshore Folly by Agatha Christie. When I posted a photo of the bench on Twitter I got a great response and via Twitter met the Artist Mandii Pope, a talented London-based New Zealander.

Mandii also did the Narnia bench and shared with me those images as well of ones of her at work in her studio.

Mandi Pope also painted the fabulous Narnia Bench
For all we may rant about social media, she and I both marveled about its ability to connect people. She has been so busy that mine were the first images of her work she'd seen in public.

I could go on about the delights of London, the joy of seeing Billy Elliot, so moving with music by Elton John, the people's hospitality and good humor (humour), the energy.

The city is in the midst of yet another rebirth and I am so grateful to Deb Lacy for sending me on this mission.

Diana Chambers was born with a book in one hand and a passport in the other. She writes romantic intrigues that have led her from Paris to far corners of Asia. Her first Nick Daley spy thriller, Stinger, opens near the Khyber Pass as the CIA officer becomes entangled in a triangle with a San Francisco journalist and an elusive Afghan leader, her former lover. The blowback of these events returns Nick to D.C. where in The Company She Keeps, he recruits a a new agent, Evelyn "E" Walker, and sends her into a world of danger from the grand boulevards of Europe to the Grand Bazaar of Tehran.

Diana is blogging on "Europe by Train" at her website via Postcards.

Stinger is now available as an audiobook, narrated by Charles Kahlenberg, released by Audible. Also at iTunes and Amazon.


  1. Diana - Thank you for a great post. What a wonderful way to see London.

    1. Fabulous assignment, Deb. Thanks so much. Still following. Now in Budapest.

  2. They're all so beautiful. I want the Jeeves & Wooster one!

    1. We'll have to start figuring out how to ship them from London - HA!

  3. I can't decide which one I want more, would it be too greedy to say all of them?

  4. Proceeds for the Literacy Trust, Kim. Good cause:-) I'll take Mary Poppins. Just found her on Twitter. She's in my feed.