Friday 29 June 2012

Monday 25 June 2012

Off On Book Tour

I'm off to flog the book around the country (or at least those bits that Gollancz will stump up to send me to) so meanwhile here is a thoughtful piece on just how hard working your London author is.

'Hampstead wasn't good enough for you was it? You had to go poncing off to Barnsley!'

Saturday 23 June 2012

Charing Cross, London in 1 week's time

When? 30th of June - 2 PM
Where? Blackwell's Bookshop, Charing Cross Road
What? Me and Paul Cornell, 3 rounds - victory by fall or submission (or tea).
Why? Top help preserve Charing Cross as a centre for specialist bookselling.
Why? Because if we don't fight to maintain our cultural distinctiveness we will end up wearing ugly implants and talking with a strange reverb effect. Say no to assimilation by the Borg! Say yes to retail diversity in the high street.

Friday 22 June 2012

Covent Garden in 1 Week

When: 29th June at 12:30
Where: Waterstones Covent Garden

Garrick Street
What: Signing, refreshment and cake!
Why? You need a reason for cake?

Character Songs: Zach

Zachary Palmer

Thursday 21 June 2012

Brighton in 1 Week!

Then I rush down from Nottingham to the partake in the bathing opportunities of Sin City itself.

When? 7:30 PM  28th June
Where? Waterstones Brighton
Waterstones (Clock Tower)
71-74 North Street
What? A Bit of Chat, a bit of signing...
Why? Because it's there...

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Nottingham in 1 Week!

In the final leg of my whirlwind tour of points north (alas no Scotland this year) I shall be heading for a town synonymous with injustice, tax avoidance and robbery with violence - although that was the 12th Century - Nottingham.

When? 7:00 PM June 27th
Where? Nottingham Waterstones

1-5 Bridlesmith Gate
What? Signing, chatting and generally making myself agreeable.
Why? Because somebody has to do it.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Birmingham and Manchester in 1 week

At last Gollancz are letting me loose on the industrial powerhouses that made Britain great - Birmingham, so big and so round and full of joie de vivre and Manchester so solid, so real and so stuffed full of invention that it's a wonder that it's inhabitants don't explode.

When? 26th June at 12:30
Where? Waterstones New Street
128 New Street
B2 4DB
What? Signing, chatting and schmoozing!
Why? Because these books ain't going to sell themselves!

And then as if that wasn't enough...

When? that very same day at 1900 hours!
Where? Waterstones Deansgate
91 Deansgate
M3 2BW
What?  For talking, schmoozing and signing!
Why? Because... Manchester.

Monday 18 June 2012

At Last The Truth! The Back Of The Lorry...

Where All The Ideas Were Nicked From
The Influences on Magic Cops Rivers of London
Here are a selection of my stock answers to the number one question I get asked:
Where do your ideas come from?
I buy them on the internet.
Tell me more about this thing you earth people call ideas?
Ideas? I've got your ideas RIGHT HERE!

This is a continuation of the blog started here and continued here.

First the Fallacy of the Media Specific Influence
A common mistake amongst critics and commentators is to narrowly attribute influence primarily within the media of the work they are looking at. Thus novels are usually cited as the influence for novels, films for films and graphic novels for graphic novels. This is, of course, a total absurdity - a writer is no more constricted in his influences than anybody else. Rivers of London was as much influenced by Ars Magica, a role playing game, as it was by any single work of fiction.

Second the Fallacy of the Most Similar Influence
Another mistake is to rank influences by how similar they are to the finished work. Thus it's often assumed that The Dresden Files, Neverwhere and the Felix Castor novels were strong influences whereas I actually came across them once Rivers of London was already conceptually developed. Some of the strongest influences came from works far outside the Urban Fantasy genre.

Third the Fallacy of the Three Part List
Sometimes I can't think of a third thing.

Is there any chance of us moving on to some influences at any point?
Okay, okay. In no particular order here are some of the main influences on the Rivers of London series.

If your mansion house needs haunting just call Rentaghost... (1976)

For those of you raised in a cultural wasteland or born after the fall of the Berlin Wall Rentaghost was a BBC Children's series about a company which hired out ghosts to people that might need one. Its influence lies in the casual way the fantastic is treated by both the ordinary people running the company and the ghosts who make up its staff. There's also the technological and social culture clash humour of some of the ghosts as they try to cope with the modern world. The theme song is one of the worst ear worms ever composed which is why I haven't included it in this blog.

Jerry Cornelius
 It was a world ruled these days by the gun, the guitar, and the needle, sexier than sex... (1969)

Michael Moorcock's hipster agent of Entropy Jerry Cornelius exerts an insidious influence over the Rivers of London books, so subtle is it that it wasn't until I picked up my copy of The Final Programme that I realised its extent. Sometimes when I'm turning one of my books over in my mind I catch a glimpse of a figure in harlequin's motley capering through the dust sheeted rooms of my memory. I can't say for sure whether J.C. was a direct inspiration for Punch's role in Rivers of London but I strongly suspect he's responsible for blowing the head off the Hare Krishna guy.

The Doubtful Guest
It joined them at breakfast and presently ate, all the syrup and toast, and part of the plate. (1957)

This was one of those books that impinged upon my childhood by dint of lying around the house and then exerting a strange fascination on me when I was barely able to read. This is something we may lose as books shift into the electronic cloud - that wet afternoon discovery that intrigues despite our inability to understand it. Edward Gorey's Doubtful Guest radiates a wonderful melancholy humour as the Doubtful Guest imposes itself on a grand Edwardian family whose good manners prevent them from throwing it out. The Edwardian tone, the palpable sense of menace, the silence - now who does that remind me of....

The author realised that a quote would have to wait until he unpacked his copy from that pile of boxes...

Christopher Fowler's 1988 novel is probably the first modern Urban Fantasy novel that I read that didn't involve Vampires moping around Paris. The authors detailed description of a secret society living in parallel with our own is an obvious influence but unique, I think, in that it takes place at roof level rather than under ground. I found Fowler's next novel, Rune, less satisfying perhaps because I'm less interested in horror than fantasy but having recently discovered his blog I think I may have been missing out.

Mona Lisa Overdrive
Here it seemed the very fabric of things, as if the city were a single growth of stone and brick, uncounted strata of message and meaning, age upon age, generated over the centuries to the dictates of some now all but unreadable DNA of commerce and empire. (1988)

There's a whole London sequence in the third of William Gibson's sprawl trilogy that has stuck with me ever since I read it. I like the sense of bustle, of an alien city giving up secrets, of its exoticism - made all the more sweeter because it's talking about my home town. That snow smothered landscape returned to me when London got its first proper snow in years and fed through into several sequences in Whispers Under Ground.

Daylight slants like a razor cutting the buildings in half. In the top half I see looking faces and it's not easy to tell which are people, which the work of stonemasons. Below is shadow where any blasé thing takes place: clarinets and lovemaking, fists and the sorrowful women. (1992)

Toni Morrison's novel is set in Chicago just after the First World War but its roots lie in the tangled history of the characters as they form part of the great Black migration from the south. Like Mona Lisa Overdrive this book is an influence through the subtle arts of mood, phrase and metre.

The Owl Service
"No. It's something trying to get out, the scratching's a bit louder each night..." (1967)

Alan Garner weaves layer upon layer into this tale of old myth reiterating itself through the lives of three children on holiday in a Welsh valley. Garner gradually allows information from the past to seep into his narrative so that like a man asleep in a sinking boat we wake from a troubling dream to find ourselves half drowned already. I've tried to take two things away from the Owl Service and Alan Garner's other work, the notion that you can leave things unsaid and unarticulated and that the readers will respond to them subconsciously and that it's better, where possible, to use real myths and real names.

This post has got way longer than I planned for so tune in next week for At Last The Truth! We're Going To Need A Bigger Truck!

Bath in 1 week

I shall be reading, signing, chatting, schmoozing and generally making myself agreeable.

Monday 25th of June at 19:45

Topping & Company Booksellers of Bath
The Paragon
Telephone: (01225) 428111

Sunday 17 June 2012

Open Book

I'm on BBC Radio 4 at 16:00 Today (Sunday 17th June)

Literary London Special. How London has inspired writing and writers across the centuries.

Recorded in A Room for London, the creative / living space in the shape of a boat on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank of the Thames, Open Book explores the impact the city has had on literature - from Chaucer and Dickens to Martin Amis and Peter Ackroyd; the themes it evokes and why it creates such a diverse backdrop to novels. Mariella Frostrup is joined by novelists who've all been charmed by London - Will Self, Amanda Craig, Dreda Say Mitchell and Ben Aaronovitch.

Although I've got to say describing Will Self as being charmed by London is a bit disingenuous. It was a really interesting experience and I'm hoping that they edit out the weird incoherent warbling sounds I make on occasion.

Saturday 16 June 2012

Forbidden Planet in 1 Weeks Time

When: Saturday 23 June 2012 16:00 - 17:00
Where: London Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR
What: BEN AARONOVITCH will be signing the third novel in his superbly entertaining supernatural crime series WHISPERS UNDER GROUND at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore on Saturday 23rd June from 4 – 5pm. 
How: brought to you through the magic of real life.

And even more: I shall be reading from an exclusive short story 'The Home Crowd Advantage'

Friday 15 June 2012

Guildford in 1 week!

An Evening with Ben Aaronovitch 
Another 'evening with' am I supposed to wear a jacket, a tie - will people want me to be witty? I've become so alarmed that I've started working up a routine.God knows what it's going to be like.

Friday, 22 June 2012, 7:00PM
Tickets are £4 and available by visiting or calling the bookshop.
Meet one of our favourite authors, Ben Aaronovitch. The former Dr Who scriptwriter will be talking about the third book in his amazing fantasy-meets-crime series, WHISPERS UNDERGROUND, followed by a signing. If you can't make the event but would like a signed copy of any of Ben's books please get in touch and we will be happy to organise this for you.
Further details: 01483 536366

Character Songs: Lady Ty

Cecily Tyburn Thames

Thursday 14 June 2012

Piccadilly in 1 week time

An Evening with Ben Aaronovitch
They just told me I was to turn up and sign some books, nobody said anything about an evening.For that I need candles, cake, some wine at least....

Thursday, 21 June 2012, 6:30PM
Tickets £5 / £3 Waterstones Loyalty Cardholders, available in store or via

The author of the Sunday Times best-selling ‘Rivers of London’ and ‘Moon over Soho’ & scriptwriter of several Doctor Who episodes, will be discussing the eagerly awaited next instalment in the adventures of rookie London copper turned magician Peter Grant ‘Whispers Under Ground’.

Further details: 020 7851 2400

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Currently Reading...well not reading exactly....

...more using as a reference book and a source of inspiration.

At Home by Bill Bryson
This is the sort of usefully erudite books that tells you stuff you didn't know about ordinary things that you didn't know there was anything to know about. Every page should spark an idea from all but the most fanatic literary modernist. I particularly liked the deadliness of stairs, the shocking conclusion of the 1851 church survey in Britain(1) and the tangled history of the Great Exhibition.

City of Sin by Catherine Arnold
I haven't started this yet but I'm hoping it will set me off down the road to Southwark with the right amount of bear baiting, prostitution and substance abuse.

(1) It found that less than half the population had attended church at all and of those that did less than 20% went to an Anglican Church.

Monday 11 June 2012

At Last The Truth! The Curiously Unavoidable Harry Potter

Last week I blogged about Magic Cops the TV concept that laid the foundations for Rivers of London but there were other projects that contributed to the final book. I say contributed but what I really mean is cannibalised because if there's one thing I hate more than celery it's a good bit of writing going to waste.

A habit I, and I suspect other writers(1), have is idly playing with ideas. Often you're on a bus or a train or a walk and you have an idea which you then prod or invert or try to hammer into the wrong shaped hole. Often your not planning to do anything serious with it it's a more a form of mental exercise(2). Occasionally one of these idle thoughts will join up with another idea or accrete substance in the same manner a small child accretes dirt and suspiciously old boiled sweets. One of these metaphorically sticky children started with the idea of 'what if there was a Comprehensive(3) version of Hogwarts(4)'. This project never even had a working title as such it always existed in my mind as...

The Harry Potter Goes To Comprehensive School...thingy

The basic story idea, such as it was, followed a posh guy, who I'm going to call James, whose father is done for embezzlement and is taken out of his posh life and forced to live in his granny's council flat in East London. Once there a social worker turns up and says he has to go to a special school which turns out to be a state day school catering to the magically gifted. You can tell this is a basic TV idea because it's made out of clichés bolted together.

What Magic School (well I've got to call it something) did generate were a number of ideas that made it into Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho.

The first concerns the social worker who arrives to tell James he has to go to school, I made her an authoritative Nigerian woman but because this was a story about magic I wanted to give her an unconventional background. That's when I decided that she was the spirit of a small river in Nigeria who had emigrated to the UK and having found the Thames abandoned by its native spirits had moved into that niche. The parallel to the many immigrant groups who moved into London and took over small businesses, corner shops and food outlets is obvious(5). She moved over into Magic Cops relatively unchanged but when I came to write her in the book she became a proper Mama Benz(6) -  grander and much more formidable. This was because in the book I wasn't constrained by casting limits (TV executives get nervous if there are more than 3 non-white characters in a series) and once you have Lady Ty, Fleet, Effra and Beverley Brook Mama herself becomes the matriarch of a large and powerful family.

More surprisingly was the effect on Nightingale's background. In Magic School the headmaster had once been the head of a posh boarding school where the British wizarding elite sent their sons to be raised to take their place in the magical establishment. Only World War Two had destroyed that generation and left him mourning a 'lost' Britain. Some of those characteristics were eventually blended into Nightingale's background and a scene where the Headmaster takes James to the old school, now defunct, and shows him the wall of the honoured dead turns up in Moon Over Soho.

Now some of you are thinking, Magic Cops, Magic School you were seriously on a magic jag back in 2005 but these were not the only speculative projects I was working on at the time. There was Arthur Returns in which King Arthur wakes up in modern times; A Lethal Education which was a putative YA project which could be best described as Len Deighton for kids; Burning Cross a thriller about a serial killer who targets the white elite in a Southern Town during the 1960s; Primate City Blues a short story that I swear I will get round to writing about a bug (think Starship Troopers) detective sent to investigate why a colony is getting weird; Owen the Librarian a swashbuckling fantasy in which our hero is kidnapped by flying pirates and used in their quest for a macguffin; Space Princess which was my attempt to cash in on Disney's obsession with high schools and teenage princesses(7) and finally The Nerd which was my autistic detective show.

On top of that there were all the other notions that bounced around in my brain during that period, some of it fruitful most of it... less so. And that brings us neatly to :- One of the questions in a recent German email interview I had recently was: What do you reply when people say that Constable Peter Grant was a Sherlock Homes in the costume of Harry Potter?

My answer to that question and questions of a similar ilk is: you guys need to get out more! Next week we shall have a look at where the ideas come from in an instalment I like to call: At Last The Truth! The Back Of The Lorry.

(1) You never know with writers though so it's best to add some caveats when making generalisations.
(2) That is to say 'procrastination'.
(3) A Comprehensive is a non selective state school and is where most British people go to school - although not all to the same school... that would silly... obviously.
(4) Inverting an idea like that is always a fun first thing to do it's like upending a shoplifter - you never know what's going to drop out of their pockets.
(5) When I was at school you went to the Chinese chippy, there were four within walking distance of my house and my favourite was the Sun Do who did chips covered in barbecue sauce. Last time I looked the chip shops were all run by Kurds but it might have changed again by now.
(6) Mama Benz is a West African term for successful market women and traders - the Benz part comes from their supposed penchant for buying Mercedes.
(7) My favourite line from that came near the end;
Teenage Protagonist: It's all right for you you're like Queen of the Galaxy.
Space Princess: The Empire's only three percent of the inhabited galaxy, that less than eleven hundred planets and barely sixty three trillion citizens. When are you people going to learn to put things in perspective.

Friday 8 June 2012

Character Songs: Stephanopoulos

Detective Inspector Miriam Stephanopoulos

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Website Update

I've had my website updated, it's been simplified to make updating easier and therefore more frequent. I've consolidated the blog to blogspot because I'm too lazy to port everything over. When you want to get back to the Folly you just follow the River Goddess.

Monday 4 June 2012

At Last The Truth! Where the Story Really Starts

It is an epic tale of one man's quest to feed his family(1) and restart his career no matter what the odds. It all starts back in the far of days of 2005 when I still thought I had a career in scriptwriting(2). There will be spoilers for both Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho so if you're spoiler averse look away now....

Magic Cops - Does what it says on the tin.
Memory is the weirdest thing. For the longest time I thought that I'd got the initial idea from an early Sci Fi Channel promo for The Dresden Files TV series. But looking at my diary the other day I saw that I was working on the idea as far back as 2005. In fact I a couple of sample scenes written and the start of an outline blue tacked to my walls. Since the series didn't air until 2007 I've had to go rummaging around in the carelessly stuffed spare room of my memory and my best reconstruction is simply this...

Prime Suspect meets Ars Magica - now there's a pitch you couldn't make to a British producer. In this version Peter was a black woman with Jamaican parents but Lesley and Nightingale were pretty much how they ended up in the books. There was going to be a whole team of wizards in the classic ensemble cop show style including a new age witch and someone practising a Non-European tradition from China or India.

At one point I toyed with the the idea of Simone (Peter as was) discovering or, more precisely, being afflicted by an ancestral spirit - that bit was strongly influenced by Due South particularly the episode where Constable Fraser opens his cupboard to find that his dead father and a bunch of Native Canadian elders have taken it over as a sweat lodge. I liked that intrusion of the fantastic into the mundane - I also liked Fraser's matter-of-fact acceptance of the situation.

When I start a project I often find myself with a few scenes or sequences that are, for want of a better term, vivid. Moments of narrative in which I can almost see, taste and smell what's going on. It's easy enough to take a concept, turn it into a pitch and then mechanically spin it out into a plot but unless you have these brilliant beads to hang on that thread you can never be sure the book, series or film is going to live. Magic Cops had several such moments right from the start - some of which survived all the way to Rivers of London.

Moshi Moshi
Simone trying to take a witness statement from a ghost while guarding a crime scene. Not in Covent Garden, because producers hate central London locations, but in Worship Street near Liverpool Street Station. This scene, even down to the "Pisst, guv, I saw the whole thing," line was consistent all the way through to Rivers of London.

Another survivor was Nightingale 'recruiting' Simone in a Japanese restaurant - although the restaurant in question was the Moshi Moshi in Liverpool Street Station. 

You can't see it from the picture but the Moshi Moshi is essentially a Sushi Bar inside a transparent perspex box suspended ten metres above the platforms of Liverpool Street station. If you can imagine Paul McGann in there talking about ghosts and werewolves to a black Londoner with the 19th Century roof vaulting overhead while thousands of commuters stream past oblivious to the strangeness - then you can imagine why I thought that was a visually arresting scene(3).

While not a set piece another thing that survived all the way to Rivers of London was Lesley May as golden girl and apple of the police forces' eye. In fact not changing Lesley to male when I switched Simone would lead to some very interesting meta-thematic confusion amongst my editors and many of my readers. 

While Magic Cops is definitely the seed that led to Rivers of London its roots spread out further to another project which I will discuss in next week's exciting(4) instalment 'The Curiously Unavoidable Harry Potter.'

(1) Well just the Evil Monster Boy really but trust me - that was expensive enough.
(2) My career had been effectively dead since 1997 but it's amazing how far you can go on hope and a stubborn refusal to face reality. 
(3) If you can't then you're probably a gibbon.
(4) Well probably not exciting per se but me at least.