I was at Foyles in London on Saturday night for a panel called Invisible Cities. It was a discussion on cities and the fantastic, with Tom Pollock and Kate Griffin (with Tom Hunter as moderator), and which was hosted by The Kitschies and Kraken Rum.
I haven’t enjoyed a panel discussion so much in ages. Tom and Kat were on superb form, and we had some proper debate going on, whilst being thoroughly grounded in genre sensibilities. We covered all sorts of subjects about how we each approach writing cities, our relationship with urban spaces, cities as inspiration, what cities can represent, how they’re great at presenting a wide cast of potential characters, tensions, plots and so on. As you can see – a pretty wide-ranging talk. My slant was, pretty much, trying to prove that cities didn’t really exist on one level (I’m not sure whether or not I got away with it) as well as championing the non-city. And right at the start, Tom Hunter very kindly revealed my dislike of London to the audience made up largely of Londoners, but I think I smoothed that over…
There were some really interesting questions that the audience brought up, one of which I never felt got answered properly, so I’m highlighting it here. One man asked about working class characters in fantasy fiction, and why they were notably absent. What I think he was actually getting at was – and this is probably with regards to real world cities – why there is little interest in genuine social realism. To a large extent, I do agree with him – there is a particular M. John Harrison-esque kitchen-sink grunge fantasy that doesn’t really get done all that much these days, especially one that engages with social issues. I didn’t really have a satisfactory answer to that. Perhaps it’s a niche within a niche, or perhaps class is very different these days in Britain. Maybe it’s done in short fiction? Anyway, my lack of a satisfactory answer niggled me.
Other than that, great to see new faces, as well as more familiar ones – and lovely to have a panel like this outside of a convention. Thanks to all who came.