Thursday, 24 May 2012

In the Footsteps of the Ripper

 1888: A Jack the Ripper Novel is available to buy now from Amazon!

After a magnificent ten days in Brighton, I am back home in Bristol and ready to start regularly updating my blog again.

For this posting, I thought I'd step away from my novel again and write about something a bit different; my experience of going on a Ripper walking tour of Whitechapel.

There seem to be countless Ripper walks taking place in the East End, but the one I chose seemed to be the most comprehensive, and as soon as it began, I was certain I had made the right choice. Our tour guide, Lindsay was both entertaining and incredibly informative (she had spent the previous summer researching Sir. William Gull for an upcoming book she was due to publish.)

Three things struck me on the tour. Firstly, fascination with Jack the Ripper remains at an all time high. Our tour group, which was probably near thirty in number was far from the only such party walking the cobbles that evening. In fact, I counted no fewer than five other Ripper tours. It was my hope that the guides would be involved in some form of turf war between each other over prime locations, but sadly, a respectful alliance between each company had been nurtured and no such petty rivalries were to be witnessed.

The infamy of Jack the Ripper is hard to underestimate. For lack of a better word, this unknown killer has become one of Victorian England's greatest celebrities. It's hard to identify precisely why this is. There have been bloodier serial killers throughout history and certainly ones which have claimed more victims. But it cannot be denied that the mystery of an unsolved crime from one of the most vibrant and fascinating eras and in one of the grandest cities of the world, will forever entrance those (like me) who have a taste for the sinister and unexplained.

Ripper Chill at the Frying Pan
The second thing I was struck by, is what I hope I have managed to bring to my book, and this is how a mastery of storytelling can completely invigorate a well worn tale and breathe new life into it.

My first experience of "Ripper chill" - a term used to describe the giddy sensation of reaching through history (that I invented just now) came about when we were standing outside an Indian restaurant when our tour guide revealed that the location of that eatery had once been "The Frying Pan" - a pub in which Toby Baxter met Polly Nichols, enjoyed his first glass of gin and attempted a drunken bout of oral sex with a prostitute on the very spot we were standing.

The essence of storytelling is creating a world for your audience which feels inhabitable. Our tour guide had an incredible knack for wallpapering a Victorian London over the new builds and 1960's architectural monstrosities to such a degree that it felt as though the past was still shadowing the present, and we were truly walking in the footsteps of the Ripper.

The third and perhaps most personal experience for me, was the jaw-dropping revelation that one of the (very minor) characters who appears in the final chapter of my novel, is actually still alive (and no, she isn't 124 years old!) This revelation was enough to make me gasp. The past can seem so far away that to discover that someone from my tale still exists was almost terrifying to hear.

Moreover, her mother is one of the central characters of the book. Moments such as that, remind me just what a responsibility a writer has to the truth.

In closing, should you find yourself in Whitechapel of an evening, I cannot recommend a Ripper tour more earnestly. To peel away the façades of the district to reveal the history beneath it, is a rare treat and an experience to be treasured.

Yours truly,
Charlie Revelle-Smith.

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