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!


Pilgrim Jake said...

Alan garner- such a great old classic all of his eerie books for children. Reminds me of holdstocks mythago woods. For an old Aussie there are many old English tv shows that have left indelible marks too-
The stones, shadows etc - there is nothing quite like the unsettling spookiness from stories that need to infer their horror because they have no budget to show it.
It's a lovely breakdown of influence Ben

Harlequin said...

"The Edwardian tone, the palpable sense of menace, the silence - now who does that remind me of...."

Anonymous said...

More please. I;m enjoying seeing the books that have influenced you - there's a few I've already read (like Roofworld. Love that book. A lot.) and more that will be going on the giant list of books that I think I might like and I really should write down somewhere so that I can have an idea of what to get next when I am looking for something to read. And Yay for having a genre (urban fantasy) for the type of books I quite like.

David T said...

Edward Gorey was a wonderful oddball, walking the streets of New York in high-topped sneakers (trainers, over here) and a full length fur coat. Not unlike his Doubtful Guest, in fact.

Now that I've found your books, when I look at maps of London (and I do love maps!), even on Google, it's astounding how many rivers and traces of rivers there are. The Fleet and Tyburn may have gone underground, but that family is a hugely extended one.
On BBC4 you mentioned Ackroyd's "London:the Biography." Was that discovered before or after you started the books? It's a marvelous history.