I love cities. From the sprawling metropolis of London, to the picture perfect heart of Durham, to the relaxed comforts of Norwich, I’ve lived in some of the most contrasting British cities, and loved them all.
I love them as settings to write in as well. I think the reasons for that are the same reasons I love them as places to live – it’s the potential. In a city you can always find something new. Whether it’s a dusty secondhand bookshop down a street you never wandered before, a real ale rock bar hiding round the back of a chain pub, or some slither of history preserved between a shopping centre and an office block.
You can usually find what you want as well. The large populations of cities, and the people travelling in from all around, mean they can support specialists – oriental supermarkets, comic shops, novelty tearooms, jazz bars, and a hundred other things too specialised to survive in even a decent sized town. Museums? Check. Libraries? Check. Galleries? Check. In the same half mile of Manchester I can browse back issues of Batman and balls of double knit wool, then go drink coffee while Victorian art.
These same things that make cities great in life make them great for writing – you never know what you might find, but you can always find what you want. In a city you can throw in the crazy and the extreme, and whatever niche you need filled in your story, you’ll find a way. They also make great settings for odd characters, people who might seem out of place elsewhere – an astrologer, a steam mechanic, a smuggler of dragon eggs, they each have a few other settings where they might be found, but they can live shoulder to shoulder in a city. And yet, if you need to make them uncomfortable, challenge them with something unfamiliar, just have them take a wrong turn and within two streets they can be in the dreaded district of the existentialist spiders.
Sure, not every story fits best in a city. But as sources of inspiration, as places to write, and as places to write about, I’ll always love cities.