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Interview with Tom Pollock, author of The City’s Son

26 July 2012 | London Calling

From Charles Dickens to Iain Sinclair, Monica Ali to Philip Reeve, the city of London has been the central character in hundreds of great books. The City’s Son, from Tom Pollock, is no exception. The highly anticipated debut is already being tipped as one of 2012’s best releases, with bloggers and critics describing it as “an impeccably dark parable” set in a “a wildly inventive portrait of a London”.

We caught up with Mr. Pollock for a few questions about London in literature, and what it’s like to be a young writer in the city.

London Calling: Why is London so interesting to writers?

Tom Pollock: What strikes me in a lot depictions of London, from Iain Sinclair’s to (the very thinly veiled ones) in Terry Pratchett, is the affection for the city’s chaos. London’s been a major port and immigration hub for more than two millennia; it’s a place where anyone and anything could smash headlong into each other, and those collisions generate stories.  Architecturally, London, unlike Paris, never submitted to a grand plan, and unlike New York, the city’s not on a grid. It’s messy and organic and tangled; frequently ugly and astonishing. That makes it a very flexible metaphor.

Of course, lots of other world cities fit this description too, and London still gets more than its fair share of page time. A couple of centuries of Anglophone cultural export is probably behind that.

LC: What books would you recommend as essential London reading - books that really capture the city?

TP: Oh, many. On the non-fiction side, Peter Ackroyd’s London: A Biography is exhaustive and justifiably obvious. Stephen Smith’s Underground London is almost as good as walking through the city’s sewers in the best way.

Fiction: I shall surprise no-one by plumping for a bit of Urban Fantasy, but I’m going for King Rat by China Mieville, rather than the more obvious Neverwhere. Much as I love the latter, Mieville’s setting of motorway overpasses, bus shelters and empty playgrounds chimed more with my experiences growing up than Gaiman’s phenomenal phantasmagorical tube-map hop.

LC: As a London-based writer, where are your favourite places to get work done?

I do pretty much all my writing at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank. It’s light and airy. It has plug sockets, and as a bonus, internet access flaky enough to guarantee that I’ll concentrate on the book.

LC: Where are the best places for writers to go to hang out, pick up tips, meet the experts, etc?

TP: There are almost always talks, signings and literary events going down around Charing Cross road, either in Foyles or Blackwells or just round the corner in Forbidden Planet. Also, there are a bunch of salons and live reading events in pubs and clubs around the city  - Bookslam, Bookjam, Literary Death Match, the Book Stops Here. They’re all good fun, the writers are generally approachable and the audiences tend to be riddled with publishing folk.

LC: What London landmarks have inspired you?

TP: It’s a little overexposed, but I do love Battersea Power Station, It’s like a modern industrial castle, and it’s just up the end of our road. One of the early scenes from the last book was a friendly Thames monster, made from river sludge with Chelsea bridge for its dorsal armour, clamping its jaws around one of the chimneys and so providing an escape route for our heroes. I confess I cut it out, but I still really like the Power Station.

LC: In literary circles, you’re well-known for having a bit of a sweet tooth. When you’re taking a break from work and on the prowl for something sugary, where’s your favourite destination?

TP: It’s true, I may look like an ordinary man to you, but to an ice cream shop I look like a plague of locusts. There’s a place called Gino’s just off of the Strand which does a caramel gelato that I swear will kill me one day.

 

The City’s Son by Tom Pollock, released 2 August 2012 from Jo Fletcher Books.

Tom Pollock is joined by Will Hill, James Dawson and others at Blackwells Charing Cross' Young Adult Fiction Day on 18 August, starting at 2 pm.

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