"Smart, stylish, and as alarming as it is indubitably alluring, Dream London deftly demonstrates that the weird still has a thing or two to prove," I concluded in my review of Tony Ballantyne's new novel — out now from the fine folks at Solaris.
If there was one thing that captivated me about the book — and there wasn't; there were many — it was its setting: an ever-shifting city populated by people who wake up a little different every day. To wit, today on The Speculative Scotsman, the author kindly took some time to explain how he dreamed up Dream London.
In Dream London the city changes a little every night and the people change a little every day.
Much of the book was inspired by my years living in London. During that time I filled notebooks with scenes and ideas for a novel based there, but somehow it never seemed to gel. Then one day a friend recounted an experience in India (the scene on the first page of the book, in fact) and the story fell into place, just like that.
I had the scenes, I had the story, London's narrow streets and eclectic range of styles provided the backdrop, all that was missing now was the atmosphere. I knew the feeling I was trying to convey, so I sat down and tried to put down on paper some of the things that had inspired that feeling within me.
There were many things on the list: a furniture shop in Clitheroe, a children's theme park in North Yorkshire, Belle-Île, off the coast of Brittany, Judith II by Klimt...
Three things, however, stood out — one book, and two pieces of music.
The book first: The Enchanted Wood, by Enid Blyton. Partly because I read it when I was so young and everything is so magical then, but particularly because there is no logic to it. Magic there is magic, it's never explained, it's never consistent, it's always enchanting. I can half remember other stories; the Wishing Chair, green smoke coming from witches cauldrons...
Then there's the music.
Despite featuring his 8th symphony in Capacity, I'm not actually that great a Mahler fan, but there is something very emotive about parts of his music, something that sends my mind wandering into other worlds. The second and third movements of Mahler's Seventh Symphony sound spooky and magical, but magical in an overperfumed, degenerate manner, I played these especially when I was writing the night scenes.
And lastly there is Kate Bush. Years ago I taught sword fencing on a children's camp in America. I remember listening to Lionheart and Never Forever in the middle of forest in Connecticut whilst waiting for groups to arrive. Time seemed to extend there, the rest of the world seemed to recede, and I was left with the impression that the paths back to camp were lengthening and twisting all the while...