Where London Began
It must unfold like a half-remembered legend
When you’re denied interactive activity with others and have no face-to-face conversations or see no new sights, how do you keep ideas fresh?
Perhaps by looking into the London of the imagination, of China Miéville, Ben Aaronovitch, LaVie Tidar and Kim Newman. London is a springboard for myths. As I’m about to be even more tethered at home for the next three to six months I’m planning to continue on a big project, an adventure set in early London.
When I ran the outline of ‘The Foot on the Crown’ past author Jake Arnott he asked me to explain its religious background, and I was unable to answer him because I had studiously avoided understanding Dark Age religion. As we talked I saw that he would take a deeply researched approach whereas I would fly high to the borders of fantasy, closer in tone to TE White’s ‘The Once and Future King’.
I read up on the theosophy of the time and found it uninteresting – to me at least. I had already evolved my idea, which would be more like a fable than a history, a story discerned from stitches in an unreliable tapestry.
The trouble is, this once again places me in between genres, not quite fantasy, not quite historical adventure. If I have a young protagonist, does that automatically kill an adult readership? I read the adventures of the Borribles and Alan Garner and Little, Big and young King Arthur and Ursula LeGuin all at around fourteen. After that I preferred a light dusting of the fantastical in books by marvellous and too often overlooked authors like Graham Joyce.
I know that the tale I want to tell is about the refounding of London after the Roman departure, but I don’t want it to be realistic. It must unfold like a half-remembered and over-embellished legend. I can do this because so little is still known about the Dark Ages. We think the Londoners who remained after the Roman departure occupied old villas but eventually became too scared of living in the ruins, and moved outside the city walls. But we really don’t know the truth. I’ve read a dozen research books on the subject and am still none the wiser.
The story should have the classical structure of a legend. But I’d quite like to include flying machines. If anyone remembers my ‘Tales of Britannica Castle’, well, that’s the root of it.
Hm. When I first discussed this with the artist Keith Page he excitedly drew sketches, which made me think that the fantastical approach would be more appropriate. TE White was working with a known legend, of course; he had the bones of the King Arthur story to provide him with structure. I don’t have that, but I’ll take a run at it.
With everything now assembled around a central theme, the unchanging nature of the city’s spirit, I’ll be starting the second draft in the next few weeks. We’ll see what happens. If there are any fantasy writers out there with tips, bring ’em on. I’m not going anywhere so I’d better get started…