Joining us today is Tom Pollack, author of THE CITY’S SON (available on September 8th 2012 by Flux), the first book in The Skyscraper Throne series. He’s sharing about the Just-So City, a fictional London city teeming with monsters and magic.
The City is Alive
The city is alive. It watches and it listens and it stalks and it hunts. Its rooftops, train tracks and sewers all crawl with hidden magic.
That’s the basic principal behind the world of The City’s Son, and as much as I love stories about vampires and angels, those canonical urban fantasy creatures just weren’t urban enough. I needed new societies, new bestiaries, a whole new mythology. I wanted a sense of London as I see it, a thorn-bush tangle of streets and lives. To get it, I used a load of different techniques. Here are a few of the most fun:
The Just-So City.
You know Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories? How the Elephant got its trunk, How the Leopard got its Spots and so on? They’re myth-making by reverse induction. You start with an observed trait, and you work backwards to a made-up but (hopefully) cool story for how they got there. I love this technique because that explanatory structure lends even the most bonkers stories an air of credibility. They use the things you see every day as evidence.
For The City’s Son, I worked up magical rationales for commonplace urban events. Railwraiths, for example, are the immortal and ephemeral animating spirits of the trains. You know how, when you’re on a train, it will sometimes stop on the tracks for no apparent reason? That’s because it’s Railwraith has gotten loose, stampeding across the tracks on lightening-shod hooves, causing chaos and howling in its steam whistle voice. I mean, it’s obvious, right?
The Bad Pun Principle
I spend a lot of my time dreaming up fantasy creatures, and there seems to be a pattern emerging. The worse the wordplay, the better the beast. Once again, I’m a million miles from the first person to do this. The groan-worthy pun has been a tentpole of teratology for years, just look at the Night’s Bridge (Knightsbridge, geddit?) in Neil Gaiman’s landmark UF Neverwhere. One of the most fun characters to write in The City’s Son was Gutterglass – a trash spirit who builds a new body every day from bits of the city’s rubbish. Because there are no physical constraints to what the spirit can manifest, sometimes that body is male, and sometimes female, and ‘Glas’s gender is fluid too. The original concept behind this was a pun, ‘Rubbish with abandonment issues’, but taking that idea seriously gave me not only a nice bit of weirdness, but also the beginnings of a character who became integral to the story.
Hey! That looks just like…
Of course, when one’s manufacturing monsters, there’s no substitute for just getting out and about. I spent months exploring London, peering suspiciously at it out of the corners of my eyes, looking for vaguely monstrous things. You should try it, it’s fun, a bit like cloud watching, only with more trespassing and running away from guard dogs.
Anyway, one of the things I noticed was that the phone cables that ran between the houses and branched out from poles in the streets looked like strands in a giant web. And from there the concept snowballed. What does every web need? Spiders. What could spiders that spin phone webs eat? Voices. So… We’ve got giant spiders made out of telecoms signals who hunt your voice through the phone lines and can gobble it up so you can never speak again? Pretty much. Good-oh.
Real myth builds up over centuries. It’s shaped by thousands of tongues and filtered and twisted by the preconceptions of thousands of pairs of ears. It’s vast and messy and beautiful and tangled and contested, just like London. Hopefully, by drawing its concepts from so many different sources, The City’s Son has a little of that about it, just a surface glimmer of it, like a pavement after rain.
Tom is a long-time fan of science fiction and fantasy, and has failed spectacularly to grow out of his obsession with things that don’t, in the strictest sense of the word, exist. He studied Philosophy and Economics at Edinburgh University. He now lives and works in London helping to build very big ships. The City’s Son is his first novel.
Available on September 8th 2012 by Flux
Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen.
But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind.
The City’s Son is the first book of The Skyscraper Throne: a story about family,friends and monsters, and how you can’t always tell which is which.
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