EIBF 2017 with Ben Aaronovitch

Rachel visited the Edinburgh International Book Festival on a drizzly Wednesday evening:

“You know what I like about fantasy and sci-fi writers? The good ones, that is? Their literary worlds are generally so detailed, so fascinating and so compelling that there are always questions to ask about them and the answers are (nearly always!) interesting and well-thought-out.

This is good, because Ben Aaronovitch’s (author of the fantastic Peter Grant/River of London series which combines police procedure with magic) approach to an author talk is to make it an extended Q&A, thereby saving him the (self-proclaimed) agony of sticking rigidly to one topic. He also tends to ramble, in an informative sort of way. Questions included (and I paraphrase):

How do you balance exposition and story? (With difficulty – basically, avoid exposition until you can’t. When you really have to, make it funny so that no one notices it)

Why he found himself drawn to rivers and goddesses (“I don’t think I am, really…”)

Will Peter (the main character) visit/wreak havoc anywhere else in the UK? (Maybe – the problem is that wherever Peter goes, Ben has to go first and since he can’t drive, that means public transport. Herefordshire from London, it turns out, is less accessible than Edinburgh)

What he reads when he’s writing (It’s more what he doesn’t read – no space operas! He does read lots of crime novels, particularly bad ones so that he’s inspired to do it better)

How he got so much richness of detail into his world (It had been bubbling in his mind for years so when it was finally put down on paper it all came out at once, “like a log jam”)

All this, plus tangential meandering through how much he loves the comic series of the books (much less work – no need to create atmosphere when the artist can do it for you!) and his love for librarians.

Four reasons why Aaronovitch is one of my favourite authors:

He answers the questions he is asked! Has anyone else noticed how rare this is? So often, a question is asked but the answer given just does not match up! The person who was asked the question isn’t sure of the ‘right’ answer, so they twist it to talk about whatever they want. Historians and politicians are generally the worst offenders, I find.

His writing advice was genuinely helpful, but also very honest, warning us gently that what worked for him may not work for anybody else. My favourite piece of advice was that we should all avoid, like the plague, “As you know, Bob…” i.e. never have a character explain something to another character what they both already know!

He is very funny, in both his writing and real life. I was in stitches for much of the hour-long session, as was everyone round me. Dry wit, sarcasm and nerdy references makes up much of his humour, which suits me just fine!

The books themselves are also hilarious (for the same reason), but they are also extremely clever. The plots twist and turn, the London sewer system is a miracle of engineering and you certainly never thought (SPOILER) that it was the unicorn whodunnit in book 5. Peter himself is full of surprises (just like a real person, oh my gosh!) who gets distracted by fascinating details and can recognise 30-something different types of brickbond.

If you haven’t read the books yet but would like to, they’re listed below – available from Blackwell’s, Waterstones and independent bookshops in the UK, Barnes & Noble and Powell’s in the US and Angus & Robertson Bookworld in Australia.”


Rivers of London 9780575097582

Moon Over Soho 9780575097629

Whispers Underground 9780575097667

Broken Homes 9780575132481

Foxglove Summer 9780575132528

The Hanging Tree 9780575132573

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