Friday, 27 February 2009
Author Interview! Kate Griffin
It wasn't so long ago that I read and Reviewed Kate Griffin's 'A Madness of Angels' which turned out to be a very early contender for my favourite urban fantasy novel of 2009. I'm weighing it up against Mike Carey's 'Thicker than Water' right now to see which one wins...
Having read the book, I had some questions for Kate and she was kind enough to answer. Here's what Kate had to say...
Hi Kate. Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions, I really appreciate it.
Before we even talk about the book lets clear up a little mystery. The cover of ‘A Madness of Angels’ says that you’re Kate Griffin but Amazon tells me that you are in fact Catherine Webb, author of the ‘Horatio Lyle’ books. Are you more than one person?
I was born Catherine Webb; but since I started writing children's books as Catherine Webb back when the earth was young, and am now writing more adult fantasy, it turns out that I am also, simultaneously, Kate Griffin, my more mature incarnation! Honestly, it freaks me out a bit too. I am waiting with baited breath for the day I am thrown out of my own lecture for impersonating Kate Griffin when I clearly lack appropriate identification.
What was it like to make the transition from writing ‘Young Adult’ literature to ‘Adult’ literature? Was there a transition at all?
Well, sadly, I've been getting old. The council tax bill has flopped onto my doorstep, my Dad bought a bonsai tree when I moved out, and I have been informed that the age of responsibility is upon me. Which, plus side, made transitioning from writing young adult to adult much more easy, since I was kinda headed that way anyway! I still love writing young adult stuff, as it's hugely entertaining and fun to do, but adult writing was always kinda going to be on the cards.
If you had to pick one audience to write for exclusively would it be ‘Young Adult’ or Adult’ literature?
Argh! Um. I don't know. Um. I guess thinking long term it'd probably have to be adult, just because I'm not getting any younger. On the other hand, writing just for adult might keep me from getting any younger, so maybe I should head for young adult just to keep in the practice of youthful glee... um... can I have notice of that question?
London appears to have had a great influence on your work so far, was there anything else that formed the inspiration for ‘A Madness of Angels’?
Tonnes of stuff! I'm not entirely sure what, but I have the definite sneaky feeling that amazing things have been slowly sneaking into my field of vision and being quietly filed at the back of my brain for a rainy day. Tom Lehrer once said 'plagiarise! But always be sure to call it 'research'....' Which isn't just sound academic advice, but it's probably fair to say that every writer, if not everyone just generally, is constantly seeing stuff and not consciously making a note of it, but which will later come back to bite you. Reading a lot of books, watching a lot of films and so on have been major influences I guess, without really meaning it, but otherwise, I'm not sure where to begin...
I was asked to explain the concept of ‘Urban Magic’ to one of my readers. I didn’t do so well and I know that you’ll do a lot better! So, what is ‘Urban Magic’?
Ever since the days of Tolkein, there has been the assumption in fantasy writing that magic is about ancient mysteries, spells recited in Latin-esque derivatives, lost artefacts, unlocked secrets and unspeakable evils locked away by... my favourite word... 'ancients'. These mysterious, long-lost, dead forces from which all mystic power flows. Attached to this, there's also another assumption that magic is somehow a natural thing, invoked by druids and wizards with a thing for the alignment of the stars overhead.
Urban magic takes all this and turns it on its head. Magic isn't about an ancient lost mystery; it's a thing derived from life and the way life is lived. Since these days, 80% of the UK lives in a city, it is therefore logical that magic itself begins to reflect the environment around it. An urban Gandalf when he summons his magic light, will not summon a light the colour of moonlight; rather it is sodium-orange, the colour seen far more in the city than the moon ever is. An urban vampire will chose their supper very carefully from medically certified, Type-O blood, and be very sure to have a good NHS dentist. No longer do you summon ivy from the earth to tangle your enemies; you summon wires from concrete. No longer to you recite spells in mystic dead languages, the magic words of power are the words on the back of a travelcard, or the language used to send a text message.
This is a long explanation, I apologise. If I had to be succinct, I guess I would say that urban magic works on the premise that magic is created by life. And life, these days, is about the underground, the buses, the street lamps, the smell of Chinese take away and the footsteps you half-thought you could hear behind you in the empty car park, but which are gone when you look again.
For the benefit of readers who haven’t read the reviews yet, tell us what ‘A Madness of Angels’ is all about and why we should be reading it. Bonus points are on offer if you can do it in ten words or less...
Sorcery, vengeance, telephones, the London Underground and blue electric angels...
For me, life in London currently consists of the daily commute and eight hours in front of a desk. Tell me three places that I can visit, in London, which capture the spirit of ‘A Madness of Angels’ for you...
The River Thames, seen from Waterloo Bridge at night.
The alleys and streets between Liverpool Street to Guildhall on a dead, dead Sunday afternoon in the heart of the city, when no one else is moving and you can walk down the middle of the roads.
Canary Wharf on a Saturday when the sun is going down.
My review of ‘A Madness of Angels’ had only been up for day before someone mentioned a sequel due in September. What can you tell us about ‘The Midnight Mayor’?
The Midnight Mayor continues the story of Matthew Swift... without wanting to spoil too much, it involves a telephone call that he really shouldn't have answered and which will change his life forever, a pair of missing shoes, some very angry spectres with a penchant for heavy metal, the oldest and nastiest protectors that the city has and what they do when the sun goes down, and the unforeseen and unwise consequences of stealing the wrong women's hat.
Matthew Swift’s travels took him all over London but he always seemed to manage to avoid Lewisham. As a resident of Lewisham I can understand why he never visited (it’s not a particularly magical place) but I was a little sad that we got left out... Is there any chance that you can write in a quick Lewisham visit in a future book?
I should say in Swift's defence that he was violently sick in Streatham! But yes, as a north Londoner, South of the river is a strange and foreign place... however, now that I have actually visited Lewisham I will admit that it has its own magic... it's just not necessarily a very nice one...
That's a good point, I know exactly what you mean!
And finally, as the writer of an urban fantasy set in a major world city what would you say is the golden rule to follow for anyone who wants to do the same thing?