Six weird things that happen to York in books

Photograph © Craig Nagy on flickr
6 Mar 2014 @ 11.19 am
| News


mix-six-logo-rightIt’s World Book Day (March 6) and across York children are dressing up as their favourite fictional characters to celebrate the joy of reading.

Of course our city regularly features in fiction. Robinson Crusoe set off on his adventures from York.

What has been called the first modern novel Tristram Shandy, was published here – and the book credited with inventing the historical romance novel, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe is also partly set in the city.

It’s no surprise that writers are regularly inspired by our gothic streets. The York Authors group is a great place to start if you’re looking for books with local character.

Meanwhile here are some of the oddest episodes to happen in York in fiction old and new…

The university gets blown up

Where were you James?
Where were you James?

The book Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver (2011)

What happens: James Bond fails to stop terrorists detonating a car bomb which destroys “Yorkshire Bradford University”

Bond books are legendary for their exotic locations, and in his take on the 007 franchise US crime writer Deaver selects York as one of them.

The campus bomb is the last in a series of threats posed by an Irish enforcer named Niall Dunne. Bond has to uncover the reason behind the planned York attack in a matter of hours. Why York? Will he succeed or will the bomb detonate? (Spoiler: it goes off).

Sample prose Bond happened to glance at a clock on the wall. It was nearly 8am in York. He had just over two and a half hours to find out where the bomb was planted.

The Minster comes to life

Look lively chaps! Minster statues… Photograph © Allan Harris on flickr
Look lively chaps! Minster statues… Photograph © Allan Harris on flickr

The book Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is the first novel by British writer Susanna Clark (2004. A BBC adaptation has been filming in and around the Minster.

What happens: It is the 19th century and the magic that once existed has returned with Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norell. Mr Norell practices his magic on the statues on York Minster to make them move and speak, which inspires other people to start to use their supernatural powers again.

Sample prose At seven o’clock upon the Tuesday evening the upper room in the Olde Starre Inn in Stonegate was crowded. The news which Mr Honeyfoot and Mr Segundus had brought seemed to have brought out all the gentlemen in the city who had ever peeped into a book of magic – and York was still, after its own fashion, one of the most magical cities in England; perhaps only the King’s city of Newcastle could boast more magicians.

Vampires live in Bishopthorpe

Photograph © Craig Nagy on flickr
Photograph © Craig Nagy on flickr

The book The Radleys by Matt Haig (2011)

What happens: They seem like a normal family, the Radleys. Dad Peter works at a medical clinic, wife Helen looks after their Bishopthorpe home, and teenagers Rowan and Clara are just doing teenagery things. Oh, and occasional murdering people.

It turns out that the Radleys are not so normal at all. As the cover line on York writer Matt Haig‘s book states, “Families, sometimes they’re a bloody nightmare…” This new twist on the vampire genre which was due to be made into a movie by BBC films.

Sample prose He has cut himself shaving. He watches the blood glistening on his damp, oiled skin. Beautiful. Deep red. He dabs it, studies the smear it has made on his finger and his heart quickens. The finger moves closer and closer to his mouth…

Clockwork monsters attack

The book The Clockwork Prince, second of a trilogy called The Infernal Devices by US based sci fi and fantasy writer Cassandra Clare (2011).

What happens: These bestselling young adult titles are a Victorian prequel to the Mortal Instruments series featuring books like City Of Bones, which was made into a movie with Lily Collins last year. They tell the story of the Shadowhunters, angel warriors who fight demons.

Most of the action takes place in London but the good guys travel north to a records depositary, the York Institute, to investigate a double murder. While in York they are attacked by a clockwork monster, but fend it off with a stick.

Author Cassandra Clare has revealed that the York Institute is based on Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate.

“There is a huge famous cathedral in York, Yorkminster, but I deliberately picked Trinity because from the street, you would hardly know it was there,” she writes on her blog.

Sample prose It was like London, Tessa thought, but on a reduced scale; even the stores they passed – a butcher’s, a draper’s – seemed smaller. The pedestrians, mostly men, who hurried by, chins dug into their collars to block the light rain that had begun to fall, were not as fashionably dressed: they looked country, like the farmers who came into Manhattan…

The Scots invade

Alec Salmond yesterday. Only kidding, it's Mel as Will
Alex Salmond yesterday. Only kidding, it’s Mel as Will

The book Technically speaking, it’s actually an epic poem, Acts And Deeds Of The Illustrious And Valiant Champion Sir William Wallace, written by a minstrel named Blind Harry (1488)

What happens: York is invaded by William Wallace, aka Braveheart, aka Mel Gibson. Cue much sacking and burning. In fact the face painted warrior never did invade York so this is a bit of an embellishment on Blind Harry’s part.

Wallace was fighting for Scottish independence. At least that’s an issue long settled.

Sample prose Thre days befor thar had him folowed fyve, The quhilk was bound, or ellis to loss thair lyff: The erl off York bad thaim so gret gardoun, At thai be thyft hecht to put Wallace doun.

Gripping, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Nordic Noir is invented

A flooded, floodlit Guildhall. Photograph © Allan Harris on flickr
A flooded, floodlit Guildhall. Photograph © Allan Harris on flickr

The book The Meanest Flood by John Baker (2003)

What happens Dead bodies always pile up in John Baker’s murder mysteries. In his sixth book featuring detective Sam Turner, the twist is they’re all his ex wives.

Set against the backdrop of the 2000 floods, the book also sees Sam head over to Oslo in a vain attempt to save the life of another ex wife. So this York author can also claim to be an early exponent of Nordic Noir.

Sample prose The occupant of this house had no worries. She didn’t imagine that someone would wish to enter her home and harm her. She slept soundly. She slept as soundly at night as she did during the day. Her life was a dream.

Do you have any favourite York fiction moments? Let us know…