Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Interview with Tom Pollock, author of THE CITY'S SON

US Book Cover
I am delighted to welcome to the Inkpot Tom Pollock, who is the author of THE CITY'S SON, the first in a stunningly imaginative YA urban fantasy trilogy.  Released in the UK on 2nd August 2012, it will be unleashed on the United States on 8th September 2012.

THE CITY'S SON follows 16-year-old graffiti artist Beth, who accidentally discovers a hidden side to London that's filled with train spirits and glass-skinned dancers and a ragged crown prince, Filius Viae, who's being forced into confronting an ancient enemy intent on destroying everything and everyone in his path ...

In this interview, my questions are in bold and Tom's answers are in italics.

Hi, Tom, and welcome to the Inkpot!

What I love most about THE CITY'S SON is the fact that it's an urban fantasy where the city informs and contributes to the story.  When you started writing it, did you know that London was going to be a main focus to the story or was it something that evolved?

Looking back on it now, London was always the foundational element.  Like a lot of Londoners, I have a whole complex of emotions for the city that go a bit beyond what you might ordinarily feel for brick and glass and concrete.  I love the place, I'm in awe of it, and a little scared of it, even after 24 years of living there.  I wanted to populate London with creatures and characters that would make sense of those emotions.

So are you a pantser or an outliner?

I'm a bit of both.  I start out by outlining, then I get over excited by the ideas in the outline, so I start before I'm really ready.  Then I go off the rails, I scream at the cursed manuscript I cry, I comfort myself with cookies and I go back to outlining.
Reach's cranes ...

You have so many fantastic creatures that draw on London's landscape and architecture, e.g. the Scaffwolves, Reach's cranes, the Railwraiths and my favourites, the Sodiumites, did you always have those creatures in your head or did you write a scene knowing that you needed to put something there but you needed to work out the specifics?

I'm glad you like the Sodiumites!  One of the ideas I was playing with was extraordinary explanations for everyday phenomena.  Sort of a 'just-so story' method of monster creation, but urban.  So instead of 'How the Elephant got its Trunk' it's 'How the Streetlamp got it's Spark'.  I spent a while wandering around London squinting at phone cables until they looked like giant spider's web strands, that sort of thing.  Once I felt I had a critical mass of ideas that felt like they were part of one continuous mythology, I started writing and then more came to me as I went.  The Mirrorstocracy for example, were a late addition, but they really come into their own in book 2.

Of all the creatures and characters in your book, which one is your favourite and why?

My favourite supernatural creature is probably Gutterglass, a sort of spirit of garbage who manifest both male and female bodies made of trash and animated by rats and pigeons.  My original concept for Glas was kind of a joke: 'garbage with abandonment issues' but it fed into what (I hope) is an interesting rounded character.  Also weird.  I like weird.

Tom Pollock (from his website)
There are three main point of view characters in the book - Beth, Filius and Pen - each of whom is exposed to or explains different aspects of Filius's world.  Structurally how do you approach that and what do you do to make sure that each voice is distinct without compromising their story?

Keeping Fil's voice distinct was easy, since he's inside the world and knows most of what he's looking at, he has very different mental touchstones which crop up in his voice to the other two.  All of this led me to put him in the first person, because I liked the estranging effect of dropping the reader up close into the strangest mind, who has all this off hand familiarity with these bizarre things.

Pen and Beth are best friends, so their voices were going to share some common elements, but they're very different characters.  Beth's brash, rash and has a tendency to charge in, screw up, and then find some way to put everything back together after she's broken it.  Pen's a much more considered, and kinder character, her struggle is a lot more internal, but she quietly undertakes what I think of as the book's most heroic acts.

I'm interested in how you set about creating and developing Pen, who's a Muslim girl from  quite a traditional family and whether there were any cultural considerations that you had to keep in mind?

Oh, lots.  But the main thing was that Pen be Pen and not just a cipher for her demographics.  Her family aren't actually that traditional, and Pen's relationship to her religion and culture is complicated, a mix of the input from her folks and her (more strict) grandparents and the sometimes countervailing influences she picks up at school and from TV and from Beth and other places.  She believes in Allah, but she isn't really sure what that means for her.  She goes to Friday prayers sometimes.  She covers her hair, but she's practically obsessive about keeping her make up perfect.  She's kind of sold on the practical benefits of an arranged marriage, but she's a romantic too and reads (and writes) love poetry.

Like any teenager, she tries to keep aspects of her life secret from her parents, but really, her parents basically know, and are willing to let her crack on as long as it's kept subtle and no one has to have awkward conversations to justify themselves to Grandma.

UK book cover
There are some really dark moments in the book - I mean, really dark - but there's also a lot of humour.  How do you go about trying to balance that?

By trying really hard?  I think the darker you go (and you're right, bits of this are pitch black) the more critical the relief provided by the laughs becomes.  Also, the darkest situations are often the most absurd ones, so the two kind of naturally go together anyway.

THE CITY'S SON is the first in a trilogy.  Can you give us a hint of what to expect in the sequel?

Sure, it's called THE GLASS REPUBLIC, Pen steps into the lead role.  A big chunk of it takes place in London-Under-Glass, the city behind London's mirrors.  It's about beauty and rebellion and luck and giant brick-feathered birds and very heavy weather.

I honestly can't wait - definitely on my Wish List for 2013.  Thank you so much for taking the time to visit us at The Inkpot!

THE CITY'S SON is available for pre-order now from Amazon USBarnes & Noble and all good independent book stores.

THE CITY'S SON is available to purchase now from Amazon UKWaterstonesFoyles and all good independent book stores.

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