New York! New York!
Cities have always inspired me. While I do love a trip to the countryside – and I am currently living minutes away from the sea – there is something about the bustle and energy of a city that I love. So it’s probably not a surprise that one of the places that inspires my creativity most is perhaps the ultimate city: New York.
I first visited New York over 20 years ago, and – as with most new arrivals – it was love at first sight. New York is one of the few places that always lives up to your expectations. Whatever you think it is, whatever you want it to be, New York won’t disappoint. Every street looks like a movie set; everywhere feels slightly familiar, embedded as it is in our collective cultural consciousness. Walking around New York – and the best way to get around New York is to walk, if you can – gives me a boost like nowhere else on earth, and it always makes me feel more creative.
In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to be a regular visitor. A close friend of mine moved there almost a decade ago and I have another good friend in Brooklyn, so I am blessed with accommodation opportunities – and there is something about staying with someone who lives in a city that makes it feel all the more special, more grounded in real life than being in a hotel or even an Airbnb. I remember ambling over from my friend’s apartment in the early morning to get breakfast in Chelsea Market, sitting with my coffee and my notebook and my English muffin – which looks like no muffin an English person ever ate, FYI – and I would scribble away my ideas and thoughts, sometimes working on a specific project, more often just seeing what the day inspired. (Touristy as this neighbourhood has become, I still have a soft spot for Chelsea Market – it contains one of my favourite bookshops, Posman Books, and is near one of my other New York faves, the High Line, which nowadays gets as busy as a rush hour platform on the tube, but is still an extraordinary place – a great expanse of green above the city streets).
These days, I forgo most of the tourist things, and try to be as much of a New Yorker as I can pretend to be – I spend most of my time sitting in cafes or wandering around whatever area I am staying in. A few years ago, my Chelsea-based friend moved to East Harlem, an area I was unfamiliar with but quickly came to love. So when he was at work, I would often float from café to diner to coffeeshop, reading, writing, people watching, drinking more coffee than can be good for a body. Even if none of my writing turned into a concrete project, I felt energised and inspired, and always came back richer than I left (in spirit, that is, if most definitely not in finances, since my other New York habits are buying lots of books and loading up on cosmetics from Sephora!)
Funnily enough, despite this decades-long love affair, it took me years before I actually wrote about New York. My books have always had a strong sense of location: my romcom Bridesmaid Blues is set in my hometown, Newcastle; my Dark Dates paranormal series is set in Smithfield, the London neighbourhood where I used to work. But as I have expanded the universe the books are set in, including with short stories, I’ve had a chance to bring in other settings (a memorable trip to the Lake District as a teen inspired one short story, the Edinburgh Fringe provided a fun setting for another, while yet another took place in Brighton, where I now live). Vampire in New York – the tale of one wild night out in the city – remains one of my favourite stories, and I smile whenever I read it.
I’ve been reading a lot of books about New York recently – perhaps because it’s looking unlikely I can manage a visit this year. Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City and Bill Hayes’ Insomniac City have both stolen my heart, beautifully evocative tales of life in a city that I love. And perhaps that’s the best thing about New York City – it’s such a part of our shared imagination that you can’t ever really leave it. Even at a distance, it continues to inspire.
Tracey Sinclair is an author and freelance editor and writer. Her books include the romcom The Bridesmaid Blues and the Dark Dates/Cassandra Bick series, the latest of which, Angel Falls, is out now.