You might not think that researching a crime novel would lead a writer to Peter Pan.
But while researching my new crime novel, LUCIFER FALLS, the trail definitively ended with the boy who never grew up.
A crucial scene of my novel takes place in Saint Christopher’s Chapel in the Great Ormond Street Hospital and, once I was there, well – his fingerprints were all over it.
The Great Ormond Street Hospital is the largest centre for child heart surgery in Britain. It has been a trail-blazer in many areas of paediatric medicine – in 1962, staff there developed the first heart and lung bypass machine for children, and with the help of popular children’s author, Roald Dahl, they also developed an improved shunt valve for children with hydrocephalus.
The hospital itself was founded in 1852, with just ten beds, and was the first to provide in-hospital care just for children in England. Since then, patrons have included Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens and Princess Diana.
But it was the astonishing St Christopher’s Chapel that caught my eye.
It was designed by Edward Barry, son of the man who designed the Houses of Parliament. He donated his services to the project in memory of one of his own children, who had died in infancy.
It was built in an elaborate Franco-Italianate style, with a terrazzo floor designed by Antonio Salviati, who used the pavement in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice as his inspiration.
As it was intended to provide a place of prayer for the families of sick children, many of its details keep to that theme. The stained glass in the chapel, for instance, depicts the Nativity and Jesus’s childhood.
But what really sets the chapel apart is the row of teddy bears and other soft toys on a ledge behind the altar, left behind by families of sick children, and known as the “Teddy Bear Choir”. Unfortunately, the day we visited, the teddy bears had been removed for cleaning. I guess some of them have been cuddling up there for a very long time.
There is also a prayer tree where prayers can be left for sick children at the hospital.
The chapel is both moving and astonishing at the same time.
And the connection to Peter Pan?
John Barrie, the author of the book and the play, had supported the hospital for many years. In 1929 he was asked to sit on a committee to help raise much-needed funds. He declined, but said he might be able to help in another way. Two months later, the board was stunned to discover that Barrie had donated the royalties from his Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street.
His only caveat was that the amount raised for the hospital never be revealed. The Board has honoured that promise.
Whatever the final figure, it was an extravagant gift.
The House of Lords sprinkled more fairy dust on it in 1988, when it voted for a special clause to be inserted in the Copyright Designs & Patents Act, that would allow the hospital the right to those royalties in perpetuity.
And the connection to the crime world? The chapel figures in a keynote scene in my new novel, LUCIFER FALLS, which has just been published in London by Little, Brown.
You can get it in your local bookstore anywhere in the UK and Commonwealth. In the US you can order online or get a Kindle copy from Amazon.
Until then, stay young.
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Love great crime stories?
“Lucifer Falls effortlessly merges a shocking serial murderer novel with a police procedural dripping with authenticity.
Packed full of characters you genuinely care about, when DI Charlie George, a richly drawn North London cop, goes toe-to-toe with the deranged killer I didn’t read the last few chapters, I devoured them.
An absolute triumph.” – M.W. Craven, bestselling author of ‘The Puppet Show’ and ‘Body Breaker’ … continue reading