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Tom Pollock Interview

Tom Pollock’s Tom Pollockdebut YA urban fantasy novel, The City’s Son, was released in 2012 to much acclaim. With the newest addition to his Skyscraper Throne series due out tomorrow in the UK, Tom was nice enough to stop by and tell us a little bit about the book and give us some more insight into this unique series. So without further ado, on with the interview!

Hey Tom! Glad to have you with us. To those reading this, can you give us a run down on your new novel, The Glass Republic in 100 words or less?

A scarred teenager goes through the mirror to search for her sister in a dystopian society where beauty is currency as criminals will kill you for your face. Plus sewer dragons made out of blue fire, because it’s me and I like that kind of thing. It’s an urban fantasy missing person thriller with a dash of romance and a healthy squeeze of weird – kinda “Through the Looking Glass, meets Uglies

Nice! The City’s Son was generally a great success – from being nominated for a Kitschie’s Golden Tentacle, to me having a chat with Adam Roberts about it, it has to have been acclaimed far and wide (I certainly loved it!). Did the success come as a surprise?

City's_SonTo be honest it did a bit. While I was very proud of the book, and you always hope, there’s always a tiny bit of your mind going, “Runaway train ghosts? Glass-skinned streetlamp spirits with electro-magnetic telekinesis? You’re having a laugh, mate.” So I was both relieved and blown away by the reviews.

Also, Adam Roberts and Nick Harkaway and Frances Hardinge are some of my fave authors *ever*. I never expected them to ever read my stuff let alone like it.

And what did you learn from the process? Is there anything you would have done differently?

The process of writing TCS? Loads. I think all new authors are probably on a very steep learning curve their first few books. For me, one of the big lessons was the link between pace, tension and depth of character. The City’s Son shortened and tightened up a lot in the second draft as I focussed on what really mattered to Beth, Fil and Pen.

As to what I’d do differently – there’s one thing in particular that bugs me about that book. I can get inside all my characters’ heads, understand and to some extent sympathise with all their motivations, all except one. He’s a bit part player who’s just vile for plot reasons. He’s not a big part of that first book, but his presence irks me. I wish I’d found another way to do that.

There are some ace creatures in The City’s Son, from the big-bad, Reach, the Crane King, all the way to Doctor Who Weeping Angel-esque Pavement Priests, via the delightful Blankleits and Sodiumites (two sprectra of streetlamp people). The Glass Republic gives us insights into a few more, as well as increasing our knowledge of some old favourites. Where do you get the ideas for them from? And do you have a favourite creation?

Thank you! My faves change pretty much daily. I do love Reach – a crane fingered god of demolition carving himself into the city was one of the founding images of the entire world, so I’m very attached to him. I also have a soft spot for the Sewermanders because let’s be honest, who doesn’t want a pet fart-gas dragon?

As for the ideas, who knows? Living in London helps obviously. London, I think is a city which lends itself very readily to fantastical metaphor.

The City's Son (cover)I found the characters in both books utterly compelling. Both friendships and inevitable romance blossom seemingly without authorial pushing. Did the interrelations between characters happen as naturally as they read? Or was there much more sweat and toil than I’m imagining?

Thank you again. Beth and Pen’s friendship really is the nucleus of the entire trilogy. They’d dig their way out of their own graves to stand beside one another, they’re each other’s first phone call, and that means that they’re very vulnerable to one another too, so they can also hurt each other very deeply. That very intense link between teenage best friends was something I knew I wanted to write about, so I’m really glad it worked for you. The romance was fun to write, and came very naturally, in a sense because it wasn’t in the original plan. I just realised one day while I was writing about Beth and Fil “they totally fancy each other” so I went there.

We fell in love with Beth’s character in The City’s Son, but The Glass Republic is her best friend Pen’s book. The vast majority of the action takes place from her viewpoint. Not only that, but you take us to a whole new world in the bargain. While it works really well, I can’t imagine there wasn’t a lot of risk analysis going on behind the scenes. Was such a radical change of direction something which the publisher or you yourself had problems with?

Not problems, no. I mean it’s a little scary to go so different, especially when The City’s Son had been so well received, but Pen was one of my favourite things in book one, and when I planned out book two it was obvious that the most moving, interesting and true story I could tell for the second act was hers. Once you know that, there really isn’t very much of a choice. Besides, it would feel like a wasted opportunity to just do book one over again.

I can’t interview you without asking about London. Why London? What makes it so special in your eyes that you had to write about it as well as live in it?

I think cities everywhere have a cryptographic quality to them. The hints and scraps of story carried around in their street names and pub signs tease us, get our inner conspiracy-theorist all excited. It’s the same impulse behind psychogeography. Now obviously it’s not unproblematic, taken too far it can descend into rank paranoia, but Urban Fantasy I think shares quite a lot of DNA with conspiracy stories. The appeal and threat of the idea that ‘it’s all around you, in the empty warehouse and the run-down sub station, and you don’t even know.’

If I lived in Berlin or Mumbai I might well have written about them, but I’m a Londoner. That said, there is something about London’s peculiar mix of diversity, chaos and history that makes it particularly fertile earth for story making.

The Glass Republic (cover)We see a totally different side to the city of London in The Glass Republic: London-under-glass. What was it like to have an entire secondary-world culture to invent, having begun the series in a primary-world space?

I knew that where the first book gave you a broad sweep of the world, this one I wanted to dive in deep. You’re right, obviously, in a sense it is a secondary world, but it’s also always been a part of the primary world explored in book one, we just never saw it till now. I wanted London-Under-Glass to unfold from a very compact principle – that of reflections. So buildings that look warped in London’s reflections actually *are* warped in London-Under-Glass, and that’s explained by precipitecture -masonry that gets reflected in the river, churned up by the current, evaporated and rained down again in the mortar cycle, sticking to the buildings and warping them. If I’ve done my job right, it should feel like a natural unfolding of the world of book one.

Finally, the ending of The Glass Republic is quite something. Without spoiling anything, what can you tell us about book 3?

3 things: Fever Streets, the return of some old friends and older enemies, an awful lot of water.

We would like to thank Tom for stopping by and talking with us today. The City’s Son is out now in the US and UK. The Glass Republic is due out tomorrow (August 1st) in the UK and sometime next year in the US. You can learn more about the Skyscraper Throne series on Tom’s website or you can follow him on Twitter.

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4 Comments

  1. Shanothaine says:

    Very cool interview. Pollock looks like a nice guy – I think I just might go get myself a copy of his books! Also, he’s quite dashing! *blush*

    • Overlord says:

      Truly is one of the nicest guys I know… Not only that though, his literary knowledge is pretty much unrivalled on the convention scene and makes for some really interesting conversations.

      Sorry to disappoint, Shan, but he literally got married a couple months back ;D

  2. Charlemagne says:

    Great interview, Max! Also persuaded me to go give his books a serious look; both look awesome! Will definitely be pushing them up the TBR mountain!

  3. […] F-F is lucky enough to be allowed to host an extract of Tom Pollock‘s latest novel in his Skyscraper Throne series, The Glass Republic. Last year, Tom’s […]

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