LonCon3 Friday – The Urban Fantasy: London panel…

Having read Hellblazer in my late teens it never occurred to me that the adventures of, for example, a modern day wizard would be something considered fresh and innovative; enter Jim Butcher and his Chicago-based wizard Harry Dresden, now around a decade on and a Sunday Times – as well as a New York Times – bestseller. And he’s not the only one to have success on the urban fantasy scene, a genre very much alive and ever more so in modern day London.

So what is UF and what’s going down behind the scenes in the big city? With Gollancz’s Gillian Redfearn moderating five authors discuss: Tony Ballantyne (author of Dream London and others), MaryAnn Johanson (critic and author, who came over to London from NYC three years ago and has yet to leave), Suzanne McLeod (author of Spellcrackers.com), Tom Pollock (author of the Skyscraper Throne trilogy), and Russell Smith (Author of the Grenshall Manor chronicles).The moderator opens by asking them ‘What is urban fantasy to you?’

It must have at least something of our world, Susan McLeod shares and Mary-Ann Johanson agrees: it’s about the use of the real city, and the author making it ‘alive and haunting’. Tom Pollock continues the thread talking of how cities have their own personality and, given that London is both London and all the old towns and villages that grew together to form it, there’s a great deal of personality to explore in our big city.

So what is it about cities? Russell Smith expresses a sense of authorial spirituality here and later, saying that there are more stories than there are authors to tell them. But, of all cities, what is so special about London? It’s the juxtaposition of the historic and the modern, says Mary-Ann Johanson – that and all the places in which things could be hidden. We move on to its multicultural aspect, London being a melting pot of people from all over but who, collectively, bring a flavour to the area in which they live. It’s noted that its multicultural nature has been the case since the city was called Londinium.

Dream London
pbcover
Sweet Smell of Blood
The City's Son Could the authors write an urban fantasy elsewhere and where would they like to? Berlin, says Tom Pollock without hesitation, to do so being an ambition of his (it’s an apt choice, the city having been infused with years of turmoil, of the Second World War and then the Cold War, division and being united and is still a city very much in the process of becoming). For Suzanne McLeod it’s Edinburgh, a selection met with the vocal approval of the panel. Russell Smith likewise has his answer ready: ‘Unquestionably Barcelona’.Then we’re into the discussion of whether you could write an urban fantasy in a city or place without the depth of history common to such cities. Perhaps this sort of question is a red rag to a writer, and maybe any creative: can something be written if…? Yes, yes and thrice yes. (In fact Jim Butcher’s non-urban fantasy series, the Codex Alera, seems rather too random compared to the well developed Dresden Files until you realise that he wrote them as a ‘bet’ with just that in mind. A good writer can turn anything into a good book, was along the lines of what he’s supposed to have said and, when his friend challenged him on this: give me two elements. All right – Pokemon and the Roman Empire.)
Oblivion Storm

But yes, you can write an urban fantasy in a city without history, the panel agrees: the apparent conflict of such a lack will bring its own solution – and doubtless something new to the genre.

 

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Check out more Urban Fantasy including Tom Pollock’s concluding volume of The Skyscraper Throne on our Jan-Jun 15 Urban Fantasy Page here!