Sleepless in the Barbican

Novelist Lou Morgan tells us why she has set her latest work – a horror story – in and around the Barbican, reckoning the Estate is as much a character in the book as the main protagonists in the story.

When I tell people that I set a Young Adult novel in and around the Barbican, they tend to look at me like I’ve grown an extra head. “But… why?” usually follows. That’s the thing I don’t get: I mean… why wouldn’t I?

The Barbican and I go back a long way. My parents’ first flat was in Breton House. I rented a studio in John Trundle for eighteen months, and when my parents moved back to London permanently, they lived halfway up Lauderdale Tower. You could almost imagine the dome of St Paul’s being close enough to touch from their bedroom.

I’ve spent hours browsing in the library and I’ve got sunburned on the terrace on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve seen films in the Centre, played ping-pong here and know that the one thing you never do is trust the yellow line.

I know what it’s like to live here.

So, again… why wouldn’t I set a book in the Barbican?

Deserted Barbican walkways can feel a little spooky.

Deserted Barbican walkways can feel a little spooky.

But Sleepless isn’t just a YA novel: it’s a horror novel – and the job of a horror novel is to make the safe feel unsafe. However much I might love the Barbican, it’s given me my fair share of the jitters over the years. There was the time I walked the whole way round the Highwalk and saw no-one. There was the time I was convinced I could hear someone just behind me in the walkway next to Lauderdale – only to realise it was the sound of my own footsteps bouncing off the concrete. Like most urban spaces, it’s possible to feel quite alone here… despite (or maybe because of) the flats overlooking you at every turn.

While the Barbican is the backdrop, the real story of Sleepless is about the group of friends who live here and who are facing the very real horror of the biggest exams of their lives. It’s about what that pressure does to them, their friendship and what lengths they’ll go to in order to succeed.

What happens to them might be fiction… but the place it happens most certainly isn’t. The Barbican is more than just wallpaper: it’s a character in the book, just as much as the people. Which, with a place like this – an island in the middle of the City and the city, from the towers to lake and the grass in the gardens – is exactly how it should be.

Don’t go to sleep! With their wealthy parents and expensive homes in the exclusive Barbican complex at the heart of the City of London, Izzy Whedon and her friends at The Clerkenwell School seem like they have it all… but success comes at a price. As the pressure of the upcoming exams gets too much, Izzy and the others resort to taking a “study drug” they find on the internet – and by the time they realise there are side effects, it’s already too late. When one of the group disappears, the others discover the horrifying truth behind their miracle pills. Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, they learn there’s only one way out: to stay awake until the drugs are out of their systems. If, that is, they can last that long…

Don’t go to sleep!  With their wealthy parents and expensive homes in the exclusive Barbican complex at the heart of the City of London, Izzy Whedon and her friends at The Clerkenwell School seem like they have it all… but success comes at a price.  As the pressure of the upcoming exams gets too much, Izzy and the others resort to taking a “study drug” they find on the internet – and by the time they realise there are side effects, it’s already too late. When one of the group disappears, the others discover the horrifying truth behind their miracle pills.  Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, they learn there’s only one way out: to stay awake until the drugs are out of their systems. If, that is, they can last that long…

SLEEPLESS is published by Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Press. Available in ebook format from early summer and in paperback from September.

Lou Morgan is a short story writer and the British Fantasy Award-nominated author of the BLOOD AND FEATHERS urban fantasy series, and SLEEPLESS. She tweets at @LouMorgan.