by Carol Cooper
As a student, I had some very specific goals. I wanted to write a novel, and I wanted to live in Hampstead. Who wouldn’t want to be there with all the cool people, the smart shops, and the fabulous views? The snag was that I hadn’t a penny at the time, and I knew nothing about life worth committing to print.
After years of practising medicine, and writing articles and books, I finally made it to NW3 nearly ten years ago. Hampstead has proved as delightful to live in as I’d imagined. It has also brought me inspiration.
The area’s rich literary heritage, from John Keats to Ben Macintyre, is a spur to creativity. But just strolling around can bring ideas. I trudged up Rosslyn Hill on a particularly hot day in 2013, right at the start of the heatwave. That was the trigger for my novel Hampstead Fever.
The Hampstead Butcher and Providore is within my means now, as long as I don’t go mad. My thoughts then turned to a fictional character, like a struggling freelance journalist. What if she lived near South End Green, say, and agonised over every month’s rent, suffering pangs of envy each time she walked around Hampstead village?
To me, the epitome of the village centre is Flask Walk, with its quirky shops and unique character. It’s a great place to shop, to browse, to eat, or to drink. With the beginnings of a plot already in my head, I reckoned one of my fictional characters would love to work in a restaurant kitchen there.
Hampstead Heath is one of the most tranquil and scenic places to be, to rest a while, and to draw inspiration, as I’ve done on many occasions, just sitting contemplating. My children have well and truly grown up, so I no longer take them for long walks or to the playground.
But the heath would be a frequent destination for the young mum in my novel, as well as for the recently dumped character who tries to pull herself together instead of sitting at home, crying into a box of tissues.
Research is the bugbear of many authors. In my case, it was no hardship as it was all on my doorstep. One positive spin-off is that I got to know the area better. I particular love St John-at-Hampstead in Church Row, and the sense of history in its graveyards.
The title Hampstead Fever reflects the fact that my characters’ emotions boil over that one hot summer. But there’s also a medical twist, and a connection with Pond Street. While the Royal Free Hospital doesn’t feature as such in my novel, its predecessor on that site was called the Hampstead Fever Hospital. It opened in 1870 and many of the patients had smallpox or other infectious diseases.
Hampstead has its lesser known gems, like the orchard at Fenton House. Another National Trust property is at 2 Willow Road. It’s the former home of architect Erno Goldfinger, and an innovative 1930s building that holds many treasures. As a leading light of the modernist movement, Goldfinger was behind some of London’s most controversial tower blocks.
Hampstead author Ian Fleming then borrowed the surname for one of his most famous villains. And that gave me another idea. As for my book cover, no prizes for guessing it features one of Hampstead Heath’s ponds.
Carol Cooper’s second novel, Hampstead Fever (Hardwick Press, £7.99) is available in paperback in most bookshops, including Daunt Books where the novel was launched. From March 30, you can also find it in many WH Smith travel shops. E-book versions are also available.
ISBN 978 0 9954514 0 7
Carol Cooper is a doctor and journalist with a string of books to her name including an award-winning textbook of medicine. Her latest novel, Hampstead Fever, is a contemporary tale of North London life. WH Smith has just picked it for a prestigious promotion in its travel bookshops.
Carol Cooper on Twitter @DrCarolCooper
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