Ben Aaronovitch's first original novel, Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot to those in the US) has been making the rounds of late. It is a bestseller in the UK and I can see why (LBR review here). This fun-filled tale of a magical London is certainly one of the better Urban Fantasy books I've read and it's engaging plot holds appeal for a broad audience. Having been so taken by his novel, I decided to contact Aaronovitch to ask him a few questions. What you will find bellow is the result of this exchange. Enjoy.


LEC Book Reviews: You have been writing/participating in genre work for many years now - how would you describe this long-lasting relationship you have with the genre and where did it come from?

Ben Aaronovitch: I actually classify so called Literary fiction as a genre in of itself and I’m not very happy with the use of ‘genre’ to describe any work that doesn’t get reviewed in Times Literary Supplement. However that’s a completely different discussion and one I never have while sober. I’m going to assume by genre you mean SF and/or Crime.

I’m a science fiction (small f) fan my reading history follows exactly the trajectory you’d expect for someone of my age and background. Between 10-12 I exhausted my local library’s store of Andre Norton and Heinlein juveniles and I was sucked into the world of ‘adult’ SF. There followed a period of indiscriminate reading in which I had a vast appetite but little discrimination – the jewels amongst the rest being Anne MacCaffrey, PKD, Moorcock, LeGuin, Azimov, Clark et al. This being the early to mid-seventies. On the fantasy side there was Tolkein, more Norton, Sprague La Camp and Allan Garner. In the late 1970s you get the great flood of Fantasy and SF and I discovered the joys of William Gibson, Alfred Bester and Octavia Butler. By the time I was a working writer I had branched out into crime with Ed McBain, PD James, Elmore Leonard etc and having my disbelief pleasantly suspended by Cherryh, Bujold and Donaldson. In the meantime Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett arrived to keep my moral up.

During the long night of my career a whole host of good writers appeared and galvanized my enjoyment of SF and Crime leading me into the answer for the next question…

LBR: Most of your previous work has been television scripts and tie-in novels. What pushed you to develop your own original story for Rivers of London and how was the writing process for it different?

BA: The original concept under the working title of Magic Cops was for TV series much like those I see are currently being developed in the US. Then the Dresden Files came out and didn’t do well so I shelved that idea. But no good idea stays shelved so was constantly adding ‘notes’ to it so to speak until one day, while shelving other authors at the book shop, I thought ‘fuck it’ I’ll write my own novel – how hard can it be. Writing isn’t hard exactly, it’s like building something very large and complicated, it’s time consuming, difficult, you don’t know if its going to work until it’s finished and hugely rewarding when you finished.

LBR: I mentioned it in my review, but I was not the only one - your descriptions of London are very detailed and evocative. You also come from and live in London. How important was it for you to use it as the setting for your book?

BA: I am that most unfashionable thing a London ‘patriot’ I love my city warts and all and the book can be seen as a love letter to the Metropolis.

LBR: In Rivers of London you’ve very purposefully kept a lot of the mythology, Chief Inspector Nightingale’s past and how the magic he and Peter Grant use functions clouded in mystery. Do you ever plan on revealing more about these things to the readers?

BA: Things will be revealed as Peter learns about them. It’s important to remember that there’s no modern theory of magic and so it’s rather as if physics had reached the 21st century without relativity or quantum theory (let alone a theory that unifies both). You can do a lot of stuff through trial and error but you don’t know why it works.

LBR: Urban fantasy is very much about the blend between the realistic or the plausible and the fantastic, and your book is no exception. How did you go about keeping the balance between the two? How difficult was it integrating the more fantastical elements of the book with the very realistic-looking setting of modern London?

BA: I didn’t even think about it. You need to plausibly maintain the maskerade (or start writing a different kind of book) and you need to at least hint as to how these forces are integrated into history. I did find that the more grounded I could make the police stuff the easier it was to fit the magic in.

LBR: How do you feel about all the comparisons being made between Rivers of London and other renowned works of a similar style?

BA: It’s flattering really.

LBR: From what I gather, Rivers of London has been selling well. Really well, actually, as it was on The Bookseller’s Top Ten Bestsellers recently (and then the Sunday Times Bestseller list). Did you ever expect the book to be so successful?

BA: All authors secretly in their heart of hearts expect their work to go to the top of the charts and stay there forever but my realistic side expected good sales but nothing like as good as what I got in the UK. Now it’s early days in the US so we shall have to wait and see.

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