When I started writing In Loving Memory I knew I wanted to center the story around the little terraced house in Balham where Charlie’s grandmother, Betty Singleton (later Lewis), lived, and where Charlie’s mother, Jackie Lewis (later Duran), grew up.
I have very vivid memories of my own grandmother’s house, which isn’t in Balham at all – but it is in south London, nearest tube station Tooting Broadway, two stations south of Balham on the Northern Line. So when you’re reading about Betty’s house, you are in fact, reading about my Nana’s house.
Two things about my Nana’s house: it was likely built before 1930, and it was very small. It had the standard (and very common) layout of many terraced houses from that era: two downstairs reception rooms, a tiny galley kitchen, a front hallway with a steep staircase leading upstairs, two reasonably sized bedrooms on the second floor, a third miniscule “box bedroom” over the stairs, and a loo that had an original cistern up high near the ceiling, with a chain that you yanked on to make it flush (I still remember my mother’s reference to flushing the toilet – it was always “pull the chain.”).
The house still exists – I’ve seen it on Google and on property websites – although it’s been renovated inside and out, and its little overgrown front garden has been paved over to make a parking spot for its owner’s car. I have no idea what the back garden looks like: my memories are of an overgrown jungle with fishponds that ceased to have fish when I was about 3. There was no Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden – at least not when my grandparents lived there. (They moved into the house after the war). The previous owners might well have had one. So I made that part up.
Here’s a picture of the house before the changes, enhanced a little with some quick photoshoppery to make the front door and the outside trim the same colour of green that I remember.
And here are the floor plans for the inside. You’ll have to imagine the furniture as you read the novel, but you can at least see how the rooms were arranged.
As for the air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden, if you have no idea what an Anderson shelter was, here’s a drawing of what one of them would have looked like.
The source for this diagram is http://www.bigginhill-history.co.uk/andersonwhatis.htm
If you go to that website you can read more about each section of the shelter by clicking on their picture.
Here are a couple of pictures of people posing outside their shelters, taken during World War Two:
The sources for these two photos are http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/world_war2/air_raids/ and http://www.andersonshelters.org.uk/index.html
And finally, here’s a photo of what it was probably like inside – this is a mockup from a museum display here http://forums.airshows.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=67519
The house my mum and her family lived in during the war did, of course, have an air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden. My mum tells me it was far less comfortable than this, and usually quite damp and cold. My grandfather was an ARP warden and worked overnight during the Blitz. My grandmother had three children – she occupied one bed against the wall with her youngest daughter, while my mum and her brother shared the other bed on the opposite side. My mum has added that there was rarely any sleep on those nights when the bombs were dropping.
In Loving Memory will be released on July 26 by Diversion Books (paperback and ebook).