I wonder how many readers recognise the location shown in the photo below (and yes, that’s me looking out from the balcony).
It’s the Cuypers Library, in the beautiful Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. My wife and I love the museum, and have been there several times — Amsterdam is also one of our favourite cities.
Spoiler alert: the Cuypers Library is one of the (later) settings in CHANGER, and I thought it might be interesting to talk a little bit about how I chose where the book’s various scenes take place.
I’ve always loved libraries, and the dramatic spiral staircase of this one lodged in my mind the first time I saw it. There are two entrances — one at the Library’s ground level, and another on an upper gallery — and the staircase dominates the view either way. There’s an airy, open feel to the place, despite the visitor being surrounded by four storeys of bookshelves, but at the lower levels there’s also the reassuring ambience of any such library in the world: the cosy, whispering, wood-and-paper cocoon of a temple to literature. It’s evocative, it’s in the middle of the amazing city of Amsterdam, and it feels very safe and refined.
That’s what makes it such great place for a shoot-out… and the use of an unnatural ability, with potentially devastating consequences.
I do apologise for fictionally putting a few bullet holes in the shelving (I hope I didn’t damage any valuable books), but the sharp-eyed reader will note that my Cuypers Library isn’t quite the Cuypers Library either. It was necessary to make a few judicious adjustments, as authors allow themselves to do, so that it’d be a better setting from a dramatic point of view.
You’ll perhaps notice that my characters have a little more room to play with, and that the central area’s layout isn’t quite so open-plan. There are also some additional items of furniture along the upper balconies that have a role in the relevant scenes, but which you won’t find in the real Library (though they were in my own local library, where I grew up).
Almost every setting in CHANGER is a real place that I’ve visited, even if I have occasionally tweaked, twisted, rearranged, and even transported them to entirely different cities or countries. That’s part of the fun of writing fiction; you can composite disparate elements into more interesting or useful new places, or make truer (and more dramatically satisfying) versions of real locations.
I can highly recommend a visit to the Rijksmuseum, and I also hope that you’ll discover just why our heroes had reason to visit it in the first place, by reading CHANGER.
I’ll be delving into more of the settings, characters, and backstory of the KESTREL series in future articles. If you’d like to get an occasional newsletter about my books and some behind-the-scenes extras, you can sign up here.
Thanks for reading.