Leytonstone by Stephen Volk – Book Review

In 2013 the Hothouse joined the actor Peter Cushing as he attempted to resolve a case of child abuse while dealing with his own grief following the death of his beloved wife Helen, in Stephen Volk’s novella Whitstable. Having spent a good deal of my early teens on the Kent coast I found Volk’s evocation of early 70s Whitstable and its environs remarkably faithful. leytonstone-front-cover-with-titles Whitstable is the first part of a trilogy featuring people drawn from the darker side of cinema. curiously the second novella in the series, Leytonstone, also features a place familiar to the Hothouse editor, the east London suburb of Leytonstone. However Volk’s Leytonstone takes place in the early 1900s rather than the time when I used to reside there in the early 1980s. The subject of the novella is a seven-year old Fred the son of the local greengrocer. We know him today as Sir Alfred Hitchcock. The story kicks off with an event that Hitch enjoyed retelling to his admirers. When the young Fred was seven his father colluded with a local police officer to have him locked in a police cell to ‘find out what happens to naughty boys’. The event was to prove a turning point in the young fellows life. Already compulsively obsessed with railway timetables, bus maps and shipping charts and now afraid of policemen, Fred diverts his efforts into pulling off  and getting away with a disturbing crime. Along the way are nods to some of his more famous movies. Girls are peeped at through a hole in the toilet wall just as Norman Bates does in Psycho and in a scene reminiscent of Rear Window Fred spies on Olga Butterworth, the girl with the yellow hair  (another obsession) in her bedroom.

Leytonstone tube mural showing shower scene from Psycho
Leytonstone tube mosaic showing Hitch directing shower scene from Psycho

Volk masterfully evokes Fred’s east London world complete with stern Victorian father, loving mother and strict Jesuit education. The novella has a very different dynamic to Whitstable looking at an event that shapes the life and career of young Fred rather than a personality  like Whitstable’s Cushing whose story is very much directed by his on-screen career.

One of the Leytonstone tube ststion murals showing a youg Hitch outside his father's shop
One of the Leytonstone tube station mosaics showing a young Hitch outside his father’s shop

A fabulous read I give Leytonstone a 666/666 STEPHEN VOLK is best known as the writer of TV’s notorious Halloween “hoax” Ghostwatch, starring Michael Parkinson, which caused outraged viewers to jam the switchboards and even raised questions in Parliament. He also created the ITV drama series Afterlife and the feature film The Awakening starring Rebecca Hall and Dominic West, and has worked with directors William Friedkin and Ken Russell. Leytonstone is available in Paperback and as an eBook from: Spectral Press.

Should you find yourself in London pay a visit to Leytonstone tube station (Central Line) to take in the mosaics featuring scenes from some of Hitch’s best known films. Excuse the phot0s I was using a tiny digital camera and oh yes, do have a pint at the Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel.

Big thanks to Simon Marshall-Jones of Spectral Press for all his help.

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