Hampstead's spooky streets are a draw for writer

PUBLISHED: 14:11 18 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:37 07 September 2010

The gothic mansions of historic Hampstead provided the inspiration for John Harris Dunning s tale of a young magician battling dark forces, he tells Bridget Galton HAMPSTEAD S historic streets inspired writer John Harris Dunning to create a scary gothic

The gothic mansions of historic Hampstead provided the inspiration for John Harris Dunning's tale of a young magician battling dark forces, he tells Bridget Galton

HAMPSTEAD'S historic streets inspired writer John Harris Dunning to create a scary gothic fantasy about a young magician battling dark forces from another world.

Salem Brownstone: All Along The Watchtowers (Walker Books, £15) is a graphic novel illustrated by Nikhil Singh that has won fans from comic book veteran Alan Moore to film directors Harmony Korine and the late Anthony Minghella.

When young Salem is bequeathed a grand Victorian mansion by his estranged father, he discovers his late parent's old magic paraphernalia, meets a contortionist and is attacked by supernatural forces in the basement before falling in with the circus folk camped outside. He then embarks on a weird, dark adventure to stop the evil spirits from destroying humanity.

South African-born journalist Dunning, who has lived in Hampstead for a decade, says the area was just one of his inspirations.

"I have a big love of high Victoriana, HP Lovecraft, Sherlock Holmes, Alice In Wonderland and Victorian illusionists. But I was also inspired by Hampstead which

I think is the spookiest neighbourhood in London," says the 35-year-old.

"There is a house in the Frognal area that is almost exactly like the house that Salem inherits. Nikhil is also obsessed with this area and has drawn inspiration in his illustrations."

Dunning says growing up in South Africa he read about London in novels and picture books.

"It was about as real to me as Atlantis or Krypton. I had a very Victorian fantastical view of London but when I moved to Hampstead and saw its gothic mansions and historic streets, I found everything I had fantasised about.

"As time goes on, I find more and more to back that up. In (Bram Stoker's) Dracula, his coffin is sent to Hampstead, (Wilkie Collins') The Woman In White is partly set on Hampstead Heath, (children's illustrator) Arthur Rackham, who inspired the look of Salem Brownstone, had his studio here and Tim Burton, whose films influence this story, also lives here."

Dunning read only comic books until he was 13, especially British ones such as 2000Ad.

"For me, novels will always come second to comic books,"

he says.

"There is a move to encourage libraries and schools to stock more because they are such an easy, stimulating read and a great way to get children into books.

"In the past, there was a lot of snobbery around comic books - they have been thought of as a subversive medium. But that perception is changing."

Salem Brownstone borrows visual inspiration from film noir and Dunning says that creating comic books is inevitably a careful balance between images and words.

"You need to collaborate closely with the artist and be in the same place imaginatively. It all starts with the writing, the characters and plot, from that the artwork comes, but you don't have to put millions of words on every page. In novels, every description has to be written down but in comic books, a whole page can be just a moment looking at someone's face."

Dunning and Singh worked on the book sporadically for seven years, building a Facebook following before publishing.

It's aimed at ages 12 up but Dunning says it can be read by eight to 80-year-olds.

"I would have read this book at eight because I didn't want to understand everything I

was reading. It was about understanding the gist then

going away to find out what it

all means.


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