London-based author Louise Candlish tells The Resident why she invents areas, such as the fictitious leafy suburb Lime Park, in the books she writes. Her latest novel, The Sudden Departure of the Frasers, is out later this month
It’s likely you’ve never heard of the South London suburb of Lime Park. It is famous for its old art school, now a restaurant called Canvas, where crab foam and grated bottarga are on the menu. It has a small park with a Lottery-funded glass-and-timber café and banks of daffodils and poppies. Everyone wants to live on one of the streets that back onto the park and Lime Park Road is the one to go for according to Metro, which lists the area as one of the top ten hotspots for families in London. In fact, number 40 is on the market for a surprisingly realistic asking price. So realistic you’d be forgiven for wondering if there was a catch.
Lime Park is, of course, fictitious. I invented it as the setting for my new novel The Sudden Departure of the Frasers. The question is why? When you consider the beautiful and characterful neighbourhoods we have in south London, why make one up? I can stroll around Barnes or Putney or Wimbledon or Battersea and collect local detail to my heart’s content.
The answer is: once bitten twice shy. I’ve used real neighbourhoods before and it’s got me into a spot of bother.
I once set a book in Dulwich village: The Double Life of Anna Day. I was young and blithe-spirited and I thought the denizens of Dulwich would understand that the protagonist’s views on their home were not necessarily my own.
‘Well, if they’re not yours, whose are they?’ Andrew asked when I complained about the complaints.
‘They’re Anna Day’s. Duh.’
Anyway, Dulwich wanted to meet the author who had suggested its streets were thronged with snobs, conservatives and the medically sedated. I was invited to the Dulwich Picture Gallery for a Q&A.
‘Who is Meredith based on?’ (Meredith is one of the aforementioned snobs.)
‘The road you say Meredith lives on doesn’t have houses like the one she lives in, so where does she really live?’
‘Why was the girl in the bookshop rude? The staff there are always so polite.’
The people of Dulwich were lovely; well-mannered folks with proper values. That was why it was such fun to send the hell-raising Anna Day into their midst. But there was hurt on some of those gentle faces that evening and what I took away from the experience was that it’s all too easy to offend, even in fiction. (Recently, I was surprised by how unhappy I was to read in a novel that my own street was ‘whore-strung’. I felt indignant on the street’s behalf and worried, briefly, about property prices.)
In Lime Park there are no strings of whores. True, there are some rather unseemly goings on – not all Lime Park wives are as strictly adherent to their marriage vows as their husbands might hope. But trust me when I say that any resemblance to real persons – or postcodes – is purely coincidental.