Wednesday 23 May 2012

The City & The City & Those Other Places Who's Names Escapes Me

Medieval Novgorod
This Monday I sat down to a round table  discussion about London based urban fantasy with China Mieville, Suzanne McLeod and Kate Griffin.

Our talk turned, as all such conversations eventually do, to the comparative demographics of medieval cities. I threw, with misplaced confidence, some shaky and unsubstantiated figures around to hoots of derision from Suzanne and China and a raised eyebrow from Kate. 

To make amends I have spent whole minutes looking up data on the internet to get some figures which, if not necessarily accurate, at least sound vaguely plausible. 

London had an estimated population of 40,000 during the 14th Century, the next largest English city was York (12,100), followed by Bristol (10,000), Coventry (8,000) and Norwich (6,600)(1). By comparison modern Chipping Norton, until quite recently the UK's de facto capital, has a population of just under 6,000.

Paris, by comparison, was a mere 110,000 strong but I think we can put this down to Gallic exaggeration and say no more about it. Medieval Novgorod, which I had got into my head as much bigger is listed at only 30,000. 12th Century Constantinople had a population of 400,000 which is more like what I think of as a city. Baghdad had everyone beat in the high middle ages(2) by having a population of 1.2 million people. Chang'an during the Tang dynasty is said to be even bigger which is just typical of the Chinese and their competitive one-upmanship. Interestingly the larger cities of Medieval Nigeria are thought to have been in the 40-50,000 people range.

Suzanne McLeod is famous for her series in which she attempts to stuff every single urban fantasy trope into London and then invent a stack of new and exciting tropes of her own. 

Her latest; The Shifting Price of Prey is out in June 12th in the UK. I have an advanced copy and you don't - so there!

China Mieville has been voted the SFF writer most likely to win a Man Booker prize(3). I was tempted, during the round table, to insert a plastic tube into his head and siphon off some of them brains.

He has a new YA out called Railsea which proves that what children really want is weird and terrifying.

Kate Griffin writes what I like to think of as transcendental urban fantasy in which she sets out to prove that not only are things not what they seem to be but even stranger you could think possible. I remember cursing as I shelved her books in my section at Waterstones - I really wish I'd thought of some of those ideas.

Her latest book in the Matthew Swift series (which started with A Madness of Angels) called The Minority Council is out now - so you have no excuse not to own a copy.

(1) Manchester at that time had a population of twelve and one half a goat.
(2) High as opposed to the Low or Stinking middle ages.
(3) Well voted by me anyway.


Unknown said...

A lofty gathering. Madness of Angels is in our 'random free books pile' in the office, so I'll pinch it forthwith.

Um. And then buy Griffin's other books, obviously.

Jane L Hodson said...

Griffin is *wonderful*. Great ideas, great structure, beautifully crafted sentences. I put off buying The Minority Council for a few weeks because I was concerned she couldn't maintain the standard. But then I cracked and actually I think it's her strongest to date.