Last month I reviewed Our Lady of the Streets, the final book in Tom Pollock’s the Skyscraper Throne series. It’s no secret its one of my favourite series of the past few years and I was both excited to learn how the story was going to end and sad that I would be saying goodbye to Beth and Pen. After I finished the book I had questions and Tom was lovely enough to answer them. The resulting interview is below. Be warned though, it is a spoiler-heavy interview, so if you haven’t read the series – and if not, why on earth not? – and want to remain unspoiled, best not read on!
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Tom Pollock?
A danger to dance floors everywhere.
How would you introduce people to The Skyscraper Throne’s London?
It’s a modern myth of a city: inhabited by runaway train ghosts and glass-skinned streetlamp spirits and crane fingered demolition gods. It’s for anyone who’s ever felt like there might be a bit more to their city than first appears.
In my review for Our Lady of the Streets I argued that the series is more about Beth and Pen’s friendship than anything else. Is that a fair assessment?
Oh, I completely agree. Their friendship is the emotional spine of the books. Put simply, they’re best friends and they love each other. That love might not be sexual, but it is intense, intimate and essentially monogamous – there’s no one else in either of their lives they trust in the same way. Of course they fight and they argue and sometimes they lie to each other in big or small ways, and sometimes they hurt each other, but at the end of the day they’re each other’s first phone call.
In my post for the relevant chapters in the The City’s Son reread, I likened Filius’ death to that of the sacrificial Year King, who sacrificed himself for the good of the land and to make way for the next king. To me the climax of the final series and the epilogue not only echoed Fil’s end, but also enforced that impression. Was this symbolism in your mind at all when you wrote the books or am I overanalysing?
Well first of all, your reading is your reading and it’s as valid as mine is. For me there’s definitely something cyclical going on – Reach after all is slain and reappears time after time in the history of the city. I think I was going for something a bit different with Fil’s ending in City’s Son vs Beth’s ending in Our Lady though. Fil was backed against a wall in City’s Son, all his powers had failed him, and in a sense he was throwing his last card, his broken human body on the gears of the demolition machine to make it stop. Beth on the other hand, although she’s definitely making a similar kind of sacrifice, she’s not just doing it to save the city but (spoiler) to become it. It’s a kind of urban apotheosis.
It’s no secret that while I love Beth, Pen’s story over the course over the trilogy was my favourite. How hard was it to write her story, especially as it concerned Pen’s trauma(s) and the loss of control they both entailed?
In a way, Pen was always the easiest character to write because I feel like she’s the one who’s most like me, we have a lot of psychological traits in common. You’d think that would make it harder to write the (horrible) things she goes through, but I also think it makes it easier to do it better, because I was starting from a position of empathy and sympathy and respect for her.
In your books you’ve created some amazing creatures. I know I’ve never looked at a crane the same after reading The City’s Son. Which urban creature is your favourite?
Everyone seems to have their own favourites, which is awesome. Lots of people like the Sewermanders, because dragons, I guess.
You mention the cranes, and I do like Reach. People often send me pictures of Cranes on Twitter hashtagged #IWillBe, so it’s like I’m being stalked through the internet by my own bad guy. In terms of the one I’m proudest of though, probably the Mirrorstocracy, because the way their whole civilization unfolds from that one basic principle of mirrors and reflection I feel like is pretty neat.
There are definitely stories I’ve yet to tell, Gutterglass’s story would be fun to write, as would any number of tales involving the Chemical Synod. I’m wary of exhausting the setting though. Urban fantasy environments like The Skyscraper Throne’s London work because they’re poised between the mundane and the uncanny, and the more you write in them, the more they lose that latter quality and become familiar and domesticated. Every book in the trilogy engages with that problem differently: in The City’s Son the magic and the monsters existed alongside the everyday, just beyond notice, most of The Glass Republic is set in a world at right-angles to the everyday, which gave me license to go a bit bigger and a bit weirder, while in Our Lady of The Streets, the uncanny invades the everyday, which freed me up to go completely, apocalyptically wild. Telling new stories in this world would probably depend on me continuing to find ways to make it fresh.
What’s next for you? Any definite plans for a new book or even series?
I am working on a new book, at present it has a working title: White Rabbit, Red Wolf. It has a working outline: about teenage twins and spies and kidnapping and conspiracy and neuroscience and dark family secrets. There are also 20,000 words. Working words. When you’re first draft, it’s all provisional, and that’s the fun bit, when anything is possible.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
I’m a giant economics geek: Billions of people making small decisions about what to buy and what to sell shaping the world in massive, profound ways – it fascinates me.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I’m always terribly behind the curve on new releases because I read so slowly, but recent favourites have included Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge, Tigerman by Nick Harkaway and all of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle. I just got City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett in the post too, and it looks fantastic.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
I shelve my books wherever on the shelf, floor, bed or loo cistern I can fit them!
Bio: Tom Pollock is a graduate of the Sussex University Creative Writing Programme, and a member of the London-based writers’ group The T-Party. He has lived everywhere from Scotland to Sumatra, but the peculiar magic of London has always drawn him back.