Today I am delighted to welcome back for his second guest Commentary post, the very fine Paul Cornell. As most of you will know Paul has written some of the more emotionally satisfying episodes of the new Doctor Who, in addition to writing for numerous other programmes such as Holby City, a pilot of his own, Pulse (which I still think the BBC missed a trick with by not following up on it with a series), numerous books and in recent years he has carved himself a reputation with comics fans for his work which has included writing for 2000 AD, Marvel and DC, where he has brought his own, unique spin to, among others, Captain Britain, Widsom, Action Comics, Knight & Squire, Stormwatch, Fantastic Four, Batman & Robin and his current (and fascinating take on UFO mythology) Saucer Country.
Somehow he’s also found time to return to one of his great loves, novel writing, and I am very glad he has. I’ve enjoyed Paul’s earlier SF novels such as Something More and was pleased when he said he was returning to his prose writing. The first book, London Falling, is due to be published by Tor UK on December 6th; it’s an engrossing mixture of the police procedural with very dark fantasy elements and a touch of psychogeography and the nature of myth and reality added in as our down-to-earth London coppers find a major investigation leading them into a dark side of the city that they didn’t know existed and yet they have to deal with it if they are to uphold justice and protect their citizens, even though they are totally out of their depth. I’ll post more on the book later, but for now I’ll just say it is a deeply compelling work, both as a gripping thriller and also for the way Paul explores the nature of reality, folklore, place, history, magic and identity. Here’s Paul to tell us more about London Falling:
Many years ago, fed up with how my career was going, I came up with three New Year’s resolutions, a list of my aspirations. They were: a single issue of an American comic; my own TV series; a new novel from a major publisher. The last of those was very much the most important to me, because I want to establish myself as first and foremost a novelist. And I’m pleased to say that on December 6th I’ll have ticked off that resolution, with the release of my first urban fantasy novel, London Falling.
London Falling is about a small team of modern undercover Metropolitan Police officers who, in the course of a failing investigation, accidentally gain the power to see the dark magic and monsters of the metropolis, and, having freaked out for a while, finally decide to use real police methods against them. I call it ‘The Bill do Buffy’, and ‘an intelligent thriller’. It’s designed to crack along at speed, but also to have some weight to it. That combination of pop with meaning is my favourite blend in so many things, and it feels good to have had such a decent crack at it here. There’s loads of wry copper wit along the way, but there’s high emotion, a sense of threat and consequences, I hope. This isn’t whimsical. The police research I’ve done to give it that sense of being grounded has introduced me to a lot of really interesting police and intelligence analysts, many of them SFF fans. If something in the book seems extraordinary, one of them has probably done it.
I’ve written the novel with the aim of establishing something in the mode of a series of crime novels, rather than a fantasy trilogy. This case concludes in this volume, but elements of the backstory continue into the next, so each book is satisfying in itself, but the world gets bigger every time. If I’m being coy about what they’re actually dealing with, it’s for fear of spoilers; the nature of the menace is something the team discover as they go along.
The four main characters (actually, a fifth comes to be just as important, but that isn’t clear until the end) have become, while writing London Falling and its sequel, very dear to me. DI James Quill, from an old time police family, who’d like to kick down doors like his Dad did, but is actually a high functioning modern copper; DS Tony Costain, a dangerous bastard, but our dangerous bastard, who’s been undercover in gang life so long he’s found he prefers to work that way; DC Kevin Sefton, a hard nut boxer on a journey of mystical discovery; Lisa Ross, the driven intelligence analyst, a genius in pursuit of revenge for her own past. They’re all part of me, a sort of musical instrument, between them, that I can use to talk about anything I want to concerning the modern world. Costain’s continual desire to find a way to do the right thing when the wrong thing will get him there more quickly is something I feel very much in tune with. I like to think this lot have human failing and human heroism in equal measure, and that they feel like real coppers too.
My problem is always to try and get all the different audiences I write for to look at the same thing, to stop being a jack of all trades and focus, and I think this novel does that. If you liked my Doctor Who work, in the TV episodes or the books, you’ll find the same voice here, I think. If you liked Demon Knights, Action Comics, Saucer Country or Captain Britain, here’s the same sort of character work. It’s the same moment for me as (though I wouldn’t claim a comparison with) when George R.R. Martin decided to leave TV to do something significant in books again. (And George actually did give me a lovely quote, as did Ben Aaronovitch, Kim Newman, Seanan McGuire and so many others. That was a particularly wonderful experience, finding that so many people enjoyed what I’m written.) I’m determined not to blow it, and I don’t think I have.
While London Falling is definitely an urban fantasy, there’s also an SF element to it, I think. Because my team, being police, don’t accept magic at face value. They’re determined to analyse every aspect of it, down to what it might actually be and how it happens. So we don’t have, for instance, werewolves and vampires, we have lots of different manifestations of the occult history of London that, in the end, come from the same central difference between the reality of the book and our own, a difference that the reader will uncover as the characters do. If you like the idea of using an Ops Board to locate a terrifying something by unravelling its motive, means and opportunity, this is the book for you. And I think that sometimes gives it a feel close to the classic SF ‘problem solving’ story. But on top of that is the emotional connection between these characters, those they love, and each other, and their sense of lost terror at what they’ve ended up amongst. Ben Aaronovitch called this ‘a survival novel’, and I think that’s accurate. It’s about the conflict between doing your duty, saving other people and running for your life.
As we speak, I’m just coming to the end of writing the first draft of the sequel, which expands the world greatly, and pushes my lead characters even harder. (There’s also a celebrity appearance, someone popping up, with their agreement, ‘as themselves’, in what I think is both a meaningful contribution and a bit of a first.) I continue to find that these books let me provide cliffhangers, twists and all the stuff I most enjoy at the same time as letting me deliver a certain anger at how the world is now. I hope you lot out there will enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.
FPI would like to thank Paul for taking the time to talk to us about his new book. London Falling is published by Tor UK in December (and I believe the US edition is due in the spring), and I highly recommend it. You can read the first chapter on the Tor site here and you can see Paul reading from some other chapters, recorded at Eastercon, here. You can keep up to date with Paul on his blog and his Twitter stream.