Last weekend I attended an author event featuring Ben Aaronovitch, author of the Rivers of London series. Aaronovitch is a big personality who shares some personality traits with his central character – a bone dry sense of humour and a love of his city being just two.
Rather than giving a talk, we’re invited to ask questions, to which we are promised lengthy answers. As good as his word, Aaronovitch answers my question as to where the idea for this series came from by telling us of his past in screenwriting, leading up to how an idea of ‘cops who do magic’ had been rattling around his mind. Then he added: “… and I wondered what it would’ve been like if Hogwarts had been a comprehensive.” I don’t know about you, but that one line had my head filling with ideas …
As a throw-away, he advised potential authors in the audience to write a series – even if only “thematically-linked” – as publishers consider them so much better for building a brand.
In answer to whether he’d sold an option on the series to a film or TV company (he has, although nothing has come of it yet), he told us how novel writing left him feeling freed after the limitations of scriptwriting. As he explained, in a novel, you don’t have to consider the practicality of filming the story, its all in the mind of your reader. He chuckled whilst admitting that his stories would cause a serious headache to anyone making them. Just for starters, all the action takes place in central London. A question followed about whether his central character being mixed race would cause a casting problem. Aaronovitch saw no issues with this aspect (neither did I frankly). He explained further that DC Peter Grant had ‘arrived’ in his mind fully-formed and so formed part of the non-negotiables in his option discussions, as did the ethnicity of other characters.
This led nicely onto Aaronovitch dispensing the following advice to fledgling authors: first that you should spend time and care in deciding what your minimum requirements are, then that you should hold absolutely firm on their non-negotiability. Obviously there are large financial aspect to one’s requirements, but they should also include also how flexible (or not) you would be about changes being made to your work. Lastly, he advised extreme caution warning that options are as often taken up to queer another’s pitch, as for positive reasons.
But then the audience bombshell struck. A question was asked what the Rivers had to do with the story. There was nervous laughter – because if you’d read even book one, you’d know. The laughter grew louder as it became clear that over half the audience have read none of the books and know nothing about them. Aaronovitch handled this turn of events with aplomb and talked in broad terms about the part the Rivers play in the series. He mentioned noticing that one of London’s minor rivers was called Beverley Brook – as he said “a ready made character right there”. Other rivers required him to develop that theme and to find names for their god or goddess. Not a problem, as he apparently collects names from the New Scientist for precisely this sort of task!
Sadly, things descended into farce when a lady in the audience insisted that Aaronovitch tell her his plans for the characters beyond book one – the only one she had read! Although the word “spoiler” was mentioned over and over in the remarkably polite reply, she continued unabated. When another audience member picked Aaronovitch up on an incorrect name of a local feature in one of the books, things were brought to an early close.
Until the downturn, I’d thoroughly enjoyed the event and found Aaronovitch both informative and entertaining. It was decidedly frustrating for those of us who had read all five books, who certainly had more questions to ask and would have appreciated the honest and humourous nature of Aaronovitch’s responses.
By the way, the books are great fun – if you’ve not read them, do! PC Peter Grant is a great central character – he’s a good looking north London lad who just happens to be mixed race. He’s geeky, smart and sarky with a true love of his city and its history. Best of all, he takes it all in his stride – the existence of the supernatural division of the force, the extraordinary characters that he meets in the line of his new duties: fae, goblins, river goddesses, spirits, ghosts, vampires, fairies, actual trolls under the bridge – everything reported to us with his trademark dry humour. Writers do prepare yourself for the rubbish editing – Aaronovitch admits his lack of enthuiasm for this chore!
What do you think about the odd make-up of his audience?
© Debra Carey, 2019
originally posted on 21st April 2015