Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Urban Fantasy is dead – What?

 

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I feel an attack of slottishness coming on. Slottishness is when the book you’re submitting is the wrong genre for the current climate. You’ve learned, painfully resuscitating the trampled corpse of the novel you wrote for everybody, anybody and their little dog, to give it a category in the submission letter so the agent knows what they’re dealing with beyond the fact your naked longing is clogging their in-box, along with the other 500 hopefuls (that’s about one month’s worth of unsolicited submissions for a good agent).

It is very tempting to force what you’ve written into a popular slot, a literary sluttishness that comes to all of us. My breaking point came with a direct submission for an 80,000-word urban fantasy which was rejected because the publisher wasn’t taking urban fantasy. The reason being

Urban Fantasy is dead.

“I submit my urban fantasy … complete at 83,000 words …”

No, don’t hack the corpse around. It’s gross – and unnecessary. This living, breathing piece of writing, hewn from your pulsing viscera, is what it is. The genre is just the label put around its wrist to distinguish it for the purposes of assessing, financing, producing and selling a book.

For the purposes of identification between SF/F/YA/litfic I’m fielding The Story Dolly. It has bendy arms, depending on the label on its wrist.

YA (Young Adult)

Still alive and kicking ass, any book where a young-adult protagonist bursts through the door, bleeding from cuts to their head, face and torso from an attack by: apocalyptic gangs, contemporary gangs; vampires; dystopian police states; spaceships.

Literary

The gaps in the ring-fencing around this one are growing but broadly, any book where the protagonist comes through the door emotionally or mentally bleeding from attack by bad relationships or angst. Deep-mined metaphors are OK, but actual elves/zombies/time travellers, you’re in genre territory, however cast-iron your lit cred.

Sci-Fi

Sci-Fi escapes all gravitational pulls and takes you with it. Yes, I’m a fan.

Fantasy (trad/hard core)

Protagonist bursts through the door, pursued by orcs/something with a sword.

Fantasy (contemporary)

Protagonist bursts through door, pursued by pterodactyls that have climbed out of wheelie bins.

Did you see what I did there? OK, so I don’t have pterodactyls, I have south-London tattooists re-writing themselves and other people into a meta-punk dimension, but it is

NOT urban fantasy.

Oh no, it’s contemporary fantasy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


UF or Hokusai’s Manga

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The sun’s come out and you may have something better to do than burble around with me on this one. It was a very interesting Twitter with Amy Boggs @notjustanyboggs about UF. We may have been exchanging meta-level parries on the subject of Unpacking Felines, a growing problem in space-saving households relying on vacuum packing stuff to put under the bed but I think it was about Urban Fantasy as a genre. I’m sure Amy won’t mind if I repeat her scrumptious one-liner.

Genre is genderless.

That sums up anything I was thinking of saying about UF and gender bias. I certainly hope so, but anyway, the one-liner always rules.

Moving onto how stretchy UF is, it seems to have all the benefits of other ambiguous, shelf-shifting genres. It is genre reflecting faithfully where it comes from. UF with major cred from ultimate genre writers like China Miéville’s The City and The City pitches up and authors who live mainly in LitFic, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, take second homes. Some authors lived there before it had a name; I have a personal theory that the best writer of urban fantasy EVER was Muriel Spark. These houses are recognisably smarter, they have more dosh spent on them than the rest of the neighbourhood but basically, UF, like parts of south London, is open to interpretation.

Hokusai created The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. He also drew manga, rambling excursions into his visual imagination like the hairy-finned mermaid and even-hairier fish. UF offers the same freedom, over 100 years’ later, to write what you want to write. So far, UF isn’t worth enforcing planning regs over.

Yet.

 


London Urban Fantasy

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I knew I’d seen it, here is proof of the existence of London Urban Fantasy from Jo Fletcher Books, @JoFletcherBooks. Quite rightly, grabbing people by the arm, Twitter-wise and dragging them over to point out The City’s Son by Tom Pollock alongside WILL SELF and NEIL GAIMAN. I’m an ex-typesetter, if I’ve broken out the bold formatting that means my excitement has overcome my professional ethics. I’m excited for Tom Pollock, who took great care in signing my copy (although we weren’t, as the background suggests, in a detritus-filled roof gutter at the time).

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But mainly I’m excited as a writer to look at a designated bookshelf in Waterstones with Will Self, Tom Pollock and Neil Gaiman on it that my book would fit on. So I’m feeling slottish again, my book wants to strut its stuff in front of a bookshelf like this with a friend nearby, exhorting, “Work it … wooorkkk it” as the sound of Richard Gere knackering his clutch filters in from the road outside.

Or shelvish, which is the same thing but with Lionel Bloom and pointed ears.


London, true dat

It’s been a fortnight since I went to hear China Miéville – the Boss – on ‘Visions of London’. I should have waited for the transcript*, but I know what I heard and it had an awkward question mark on it. I couldn’t wait to decide whether I was there under false pretences. China Miéville is my Boss, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the ultimate blasphemy of turning up among the faithful and being totally faithless.

What bothered me was the question about people jumping on a bandwagon. I know there are bookshelves called simply “London” where urban fantasy sits alongside history, guidebooks, social satire, litfic, everything about the amorphous mass of London-ness. I know because I’ve just seen a picture of one on Twitter. At some point, though, the idea came up that has had me thinking hard for a fortnight.

It was about urban fantasy cashing in on the new bookshelf and setting the new book in London, although your writer’s fifth stomach resides in Dorking because, hey, it’s going to be a while before there’s a bookshelf in major bookstores labelled

Dorking

Since I’ve got hold of a copy of China Miéville’s completely fictionless, political polemic London’s Overthrow I’ve been even more worried about my London urban fantasy.

Is it true dat? China Miéville’s most “London” fiction he said, is Kraken, and although I’ve still got some digging to do, I was struck by how “London” the characters were. I recognized them not only by a resemblance to relatives who were Londoners, but the grin on the violence, the humorous take on the impossible, beautiful and appalling though it can be. And in Kraken it mostly is. The London of London’s Overthrow is there in Kraken which means although Miéville was kind about the authors jumping on the urban London fantasy bandwagon, he’s a true believer.

I don’t need the credentials of background, length of time living in London, but I do have to have reasons for setting an urban fantasy in London greater than a bookshelf.

If it wasn’t the Worst Crime, next time I might take the advice of someone in the queue for book signing a fortnight ago and ask China Miéville when I reach him to, please, read my book. Is it a London-based urban fantasy for a really, really good reason?

* If any of this turns out to be me making things up when the transcript arrives, it’ll change.