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Courtesy of Henry Eliot
Courtesy of Henry Eliot
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An Interview with London A to Z Co-Author Henry Eliot

Picture of Hal Swindall
Updated: 4 January 2017
Writer, lecturer and tour guide Henry Eliot talks about his unique guide to London (which is upcoming from Penguin this summer) and his multifaceted website, Curiocity. Eliot and his co-author Matthew Lloyd-Rose developed their guide after their long collaboration on a print magazine of that name, which offers unusual ways to get the most out of visiting England’s storied capital.

What inspired you to create a London A to Z guide? Aren’t there already enough London guides?

I have recently co-written a book about London called CURIOCITY: An Alternative A to Z of London with Matt Lloyd-Rose, an old friend and long-time collaborator. It will be published in the UK by Penguin Books in August 2016.

It has grown out of a printed, folded magazine called Curiocity, which Matt and I co-founded and run together. We had the idea of creating a magazine about London in 2009 during a walk through an ancient oak wood in southeast London. We wanted to create something that would capture the mad spirit of London and direct people to the city’s stranger side.

There are lots of London guides, but luckily, London provides constantly replenishing material and there are endless ways to curate it. We present alternative ways to imagine, interact with and experience the city in a style that is different to anything else on the shelves.
Courtesy of Henry Eliot.

What makes London A to Z unique? How can it specially help users?

The twenty-six chapters in our book are structured thematically and alphabetically. These themes provide an organising principle and illuminate different aspects of the city. Chapters include Congestion, Eros, Knowledge, Monopoly and Strand. Each chapter begins with an essayistic survey of various interpretations of the subject, leading to a lively exploration of the theme presented through maps, lists, tips, itineraries and illustrations.

The book offers recommendations for cultural activities, food and entertainment – as many guides do – but also goes further than that, suggesting ways for readers to interact with the underlying systems and social functions of the city. We have also worked with a team of 14 illustrators, who have created hundreds of original images that will be a major feature throughout the book.

Is London A to Z interactive? Either way, how do users interface with it and apply it?

The book contains thousands of suggestions for things to do in London. Some are highly practical, some are tongue-in-cheek, some are thrilling, some are mundane — but all of them reveal a different aspect of the city. We hope that readers will be inspired to take the recommendations and use them to explore sides of the city they didn’t previously know.

How about your other London project, Curiocity? What kinds of activities do you do, and what kinds of people join?

Before we started work on this book-length guide, we produced six printed issues of Curiocity over five years. Alongside the magazine, we brought together hundreds of Londoners at our events, which included film screenings, unusual walks and esoteric talks. We have been commissioned to create bespoke events, including a London cheese walk for Google, a William Morris pilgrimage for the National Trust, a John Keats walk up the River Fleet for the City of London, and a literary treasure hunt for Waterstones.
Courtesy of Henry Eliot

You describe Curiocity as a ‘map-magazine’. How does it work?

Each issue of Curiocity is a tactile, origami magazine with maps and articles weaving unpredictably across its folds. It requires real physical engagement — sometimes you need to fold it in a certain way to read a full article. Each issue is themed around a central map and a different aspect of London. Collaborating with various map artists, we have created a star chart of London, a map of London’s fictions, a vision of the city as a dissected human body, a pilgrim’s map, a map of ghost motorways, and a zoo map. Back issues are available through our website.

Would you invite people in other cities around the world, like Paris or Tokyo, to create their own Curiocity branches?

We have not looked into turning Curiocity into a franchise as yet, but we would be delighted to talk to anyone who might be a suitable collaborator. There are many cities that are rich enough to support a similar treatment — New York, Paris, Berlin, Istanbul and Tokyo, to name just a few.

What would you like to say about other projects of yours?

I have devised literary events around the UK and led guided walks through London for the National Trust, Google, the City of London, City Lit and Cheese at Leadenhall Market. I have lectured on Geoffrey Chaucer on the London Eye, and written for Newsweek, The Guardian and Time Out. I am writing a novel about a medieval map of paradise.