I love cities with character, and I love reading books set in them. Regency romances set in London. Science fiction in bizarre domed cities on other planets. Underground cities. Walled cities. Cities held in the arms of gigantic trees. Cities of spidersilk and magical glass. Ancient ruined cities. It’s my urban upbringing, I suppose, continuing to exert a fascinating pull.
Here’s some freewriting I did for Blackburn, the city which is the setting of Out of Shape. I wanted a handle on the city, turning it into a bit player, and solidifying it in my mind as the setting for future stories:
The sun never shone in Blackburn. The tall dark buildings marched shoulder to shoulder, closing ranks against the light. The sky was never seen in Blackburn, either, for the black smog hung low and thick like oily clouds. Occasionally, from the industrial district would come the belch and roar and hiss of fire shooting up tall chimneys; fire that fountained into sparks and quickly died amidst the gloom, and a movement of air would bring the sooty taste of smoke to the lips of the few pedestrians hurrying through the streets, eager to be inside.
The streets of Blackburn belonged to the machines. Trolleys trundled by on tracks; cars swung from cables overhead. Where they came from, where they went, no one knew. Sometimes empty, sometimes full of mysterious boxes and bundles, other times groaning with the weight of rusty iron and snapped cable, they came from the sullen gloom of the outerlands of Blackburn and disappeared into that same eternal night. For most, the machines were a backdrop to life in Blackburn, the clatter of wheels and whine of gears lullabies to Blackburn babies. There were people whose job it was to work with the machinery; soot-smeared cable boys as agile as monkeys; muscled trolley lads and raucous bridge workers. In the depths of Blackburn, down through many levels were more machines, bigger machines that demanded fuel and belched fire and there were operators down there, moving like shadows amidst the fiery furnaces – but polite people did not talk of them.
There were many ways of living in Blackburn, but for the majority, most of the living happened indoors; in apartments as close and hot as ovens, in smoky bars and noisy pubs, each with their doors and shutters closed tight against the bitter-tasting air. Blackburn was a city of darkness on the outside, but every time a door opened, it revealed a glowing orange interior, bright and jewel-like, quickly hidden again. The pedestrians who had been so wary upon the streets, muffled in scarves and coats, heads down and eyes sliding sideways, shed their outer clothing in layers, unfolded their bodies and became merry, laughing raucously. Sometimes a snatch of their laughter, the muffled groans of organ-grinders, the pounding of nailed boots upon bare boards in a jig, would drift out into the silent streets where the machines and their human workers went about their tasks.
Which cities, real or imaginary, your own or someone else’s, are you fascinated by?
That is a great description of Blackburn. I’ve been thinking about this post since you wrote it, trying to think what cities from books stick in my mind… and I come up with nothing. I have favorite book landscapes, but it’s more the scenes that happened in them that I dwell on, not the actual location. I think I’m more fascinated by my own creations, if only because I have to live in them to create them on paper.
That said, cities and the locations are definitely characters in a story. They are so important! I love your Blackburn description because you did exactly that, gave it character. I’d love to read the novel set in this world!
No novels in this world yet, but hopefully a couple of short story sequels. The one story I have set in this world, Out of Shape, is very dear to me. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever written.