Eight questions for crime fiction writer Lev D. Lewis...
1. Tell me a little about yourself...
I was born and raised in Croydon, way down south (in London terms). For a while I lived in some pretty grand addresses in the centre; the grandest being The Outer Circle, Regent’s Park (although that was a hall of residence so probably doesn’t count) and New Cavendish Street, W1, but then I returned to Croydon and have been there ever since, living in the shadow of the Croydon Television Transmitter.
My ‘second home’ is Bloomsbury. I’ve never actually lived there, but have spent a lot of time there. It’s the area I know best outside of south London and, if money was no object, I’d buy a little pied-à-terre on one of its Georgian squares.
2. Describe London in three words...
Home. History. Redevelopment.
3. How has London influenced your writing?
Well, London carries a big responsibility (on the ‘nurture’ side of the ‘nurture/nature’ equation) for making me whatever I am today, therefore, London has also made me whatever writer I am today – its influences are particularly strong in Jellyfish where my private investigator, Frank Bale, is born in south London and works on a case that takes him to both Croydon and Bloomsbury (they do say write about what you know!).
4. What are your favourite books and films that are set in London?
You mean beside Jellyfish! Well, there’s The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi. It’s actually set in Bromley but the Croydon/Bromley border was just up the road from me in Crystal Palace, and I shared a very similar teenage life to the hero; dog racing at the Catford Stadium (no longer extant); bands at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon (now closed but, hopefully, only for a few years).
Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. Set in Earl’s Court in 1939, tellingly evokes the boarding houses and drinking dens of the pre-war period.
London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd. Okay, a bit of a cheat this one; I’ve only read part of it, but it’s my favourite ‘to be finished’ book and, although factual, reads like fascinating, multi-layered fiction.
On the film front, I find The Long Good Friday chillingly prophetic on plans to redevelop Docklands (funnily enough, The Isle of Dogs and the Canary Wharf Tower feature in the denouement of Jellyfish), whether, in real life, gangsters were involved, you have to decide for yourself.
5. Which London shops am I likely to find you in?
Other than the Pound Stretcher and Aldi . . . In fact, I’m a lousy shopper; I’ve only been into one central London shop in the past 5 years: James Smith & Sons on New Oxford Street. It’s like a fantasy retailer, an Aladdin’s Cave, full of umbrellas and walking sticks. If you ever feel the need to grip something as you stroll and have a couple of hundred quid to spare, it’s for you. I went there to buy ferrules, which didn’t break the bank.
6. Tell me an interesting London fact I might not know...
I’m sure there’s nothing I can tell about central London that you don’t know already. And if I can, it probably means that it’s not true, but I’ve been told that the lengthy passageway in Bloomsbury, leading along the top of Coram’s Fields, was used in the last century by the Soviets as a dead letter drop. Today, what’s definitely true is that near it's Brunswick Square-end exists the smallest piece (probably) of public art in London: a life-size painted bronze sculpture of a baby’s mitten ('Baby Things, Mitten'; Tracey Emin).
7. What drives you mad about London?
Traffic blocking the roads, tourists blocking the pavements (though, of course, I don’t mean people going on your guided walks).
8. Taxi, tube, two wheels or toes?
Generally, none of the above. You’ve left out driving and buses (I know it will destroy your alliteration) and, unique to Croydon, trams (which won’t).
I tend to use a combination of all three for travelling in south London (I admit to being a hypocrite and driving despite my gripe about traffic in my previous answer) and driving and tube for going about more centrally, although I avoid the tube if I can in the rush hour – which is now more like three hours and seems to be increasing in duration by the day!
A little more about Jellyfish...
When Frank Bale was a lawyer, he wore Savile Row suits. Now he has holes in his trousers and serves papers for other, successful, lawyers. Life is bleak but he is kept going by a Philip Marlowe obsession and a longing to prove himself.
When a student winds up dead, he gets the chance to investigate a real crime, relying on advice found in an old Tradecraft Manual and the sayings of his nan. But neither the manual nor his nan nor Marlowe prepare him for handling the slimiest of London’s underbelly, jellyfish, who hit back first with fists, then with golf clubs and finally with guns.
Can Frank stay alive long enough to find the killer – and get the girl?
Buy Jellyfish from Amazon UK
Official website: www.levdlewis.com
Many thanks to Lev D. Lewis for his time and for providing the images that appear in this post.