Parajunkee’s View Welcomes Tom Pollock, author of The City’s Son from Flux.
A longtime fan of science fiction and fantasy, Tom Pollock has spectacularly failed to grow out of his obsession with things that don’t, in the strictest sense of the word, exist. He has his master of fine arts degree from Sussex University and also holds a master’s degree in philosophy and economics from Edinburgh University. Pollock works for a global shipping firm based in London. His travels have taken him everywhere from Scotland to Sumatra, but the peculiar magic of London has always drawn him back.
Genres are like drinks. It’s possible to take them neat, and with a very, very pure, very good exemplar, that can be best way to enjoy them, but far more often they come mixed with one another. Some mixes: Paranormal Romance, say, or Literary Thriller are so ubiquitous that we almost forget they’re composed of more than one genre, we think of them as one thing, a little like a gin and tonic. Others, like China Mieville’s recent Dieselpunk/postmodern/Post-apocalyptic/monsterhunt/adventure YA Railsea have an ingredients list as long and precise as that martini variant Bond orders in Quantum of Solace just to get the name of all the film’s drinks sponsors in, and are no less delicious for it.
You might think I’m stretching this simile so thin you can see through it, but that’s the thing about similes, the thinner you stretch them, sometimes the more revealing they are, so I’ll keep going.
Another thing about genres is, like drinks, their flavours have natural affinities. Sci-fi and mystery go together as beautifully as rum and coke, so do fantasy and historical, and for my money one of the best genre one-two punches (see what I did there?) around is YA mixed with Urban Fantasy.
Before we continue, a quick definition of terms (because sometimes the labelling on the genre bottles can be vague and you can think you’re buying vodka when you’re actually getting motor spirit). UF, as far as I’m concerned is anything that mixes element of magic with our own, real present world. Equally, YA to me is a genre, defined like any other by the content of the book rather that the age of its readers – teenaged protagonists, coming of age themes, you know the drill.
These two genres are star-crossed. They’re gin and vermouth, tequila and lime. They balance and complement each other’s notes perfectly. YA more than anything else for me, is a genre defined by a narrative of self-discovery, more than that self-constitution. The protagonist makes themselves through their choices, and they’re never the same again. These are stories of entering adulthood: a world at once familiar and alien, frightening and thrilling, a world you’ve seen every day of your life but have never experienced anything like.
Now, what about that doesn’t sound like a description of Urban Fantasy? Magic in the mundane, thrilling in the familiar? From His Dark Materials to The Replacement to my own The City’s Son setting, story and character have a chance to reinforce and counterpoint each other, thanks to the mixing of YA and UF.
Here’s an example from Patrick Ness’s staggering A Monster Calls: A boy is coming to grips with his mother’s terminal illness, getting to grips with death at close quarters for the first time – that’s a YA narrative. At the same time, he’s visited every night by a terrifying, truth-telling walking tree monster from the hill across from his house. This echo of the way his mum’s disease has made his entire once-safe world as dark, threatening and confusing as a child’s nightmare is pure Urban Fantasy, working with the YA in perfect tandem.
In The City’s Son, every street my characters walk down is both familiar, and full of monsters, challenges and wonders and the people they have to become to handle that, they can never stop being. They’ll never see, or be in, the world in the same way again.
Bartender, make mine a YA urban fantasy, with a twist.
Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Filius, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Filius opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen—where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze.
But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Filius’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Filius raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.