Four years ago I wrote a review of Black Arts by debut YA writers Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil. Black Arts was billed as the first of The Books of Pandemonium, but then book 2 never materialised. Truth be told, I had given up hope of ever seeing it, but then, out of the blue a couple of months ago I spotted the authors tweeting about their new book. Devil's Blood was published a few days ago, and it was well worth the wait and I am delighted to welcome Prentice and Weil to The Book Zone today as part of the Black Arts and Devil's Blood blog tour, to tell us about the Devils of London.
Prentice & Weil on The Devils of London
Our devils were born out of desperation and despair. In two years we’d written three drafts of our book Black Arts. Although it had its good bits, the story was still ungainly, overlong and not flying at all. Following the savage and wise advice of our new editor Simon Mason we trashed the whole lot, keeping only a few chapters and characters. It was a mightily bleak spot.
We walked and walked, talking through our fresh start. We had discovered that one of the problems about writing a book with both magic and time travel is that it gets a little complicated. Magic works in books when it seems natural and easy. The minute that you have to launch into convoluted explanations about method and mechanics, you tend to lose the reader’s interest. We went round and round in circles trying to simplify our system. But nothing worked – that is until we went for a fateful walk down the Regent’s Park Canal.
I can remember the exact spot where everything changed. It was on the odd, graffiti-covered stretch between Broadway Market and Victoria Park. Jon and I were discussing Dr Dee – and how he had believed he was summoning devils and angels when he did magic.
‘What if we used that?’ A simple suggestion. We both looked at each other – and suddenly, just like that, we were flying again. The greatest joy of writing as a team is when an idea starts soaring and lifts you both up with it. The miles disappeared with our talking.
‘What if all magic was done with devils? You summon them and then they do what you want. That’s how magic works!’
‘What if some devils got lost?’
‘What if some devils got forgotten? What if London was full of them?’
‘What if the devils left behind in hell want revenge?’
In that walk, the whole thing (more or less) fell into place. It’s hard not to believe that a devil of inspiration wasn’t buried somewhere beneath our feet, granting us a sweet moment of clarity. The walking definitely played a part, but so too does the city where you walk – and that is the essence of our idea.
You must know some places that make you feel a certain way. Some of these are obvious: a ruined castle, a forest path, the secret corner in your gran’s greenhouse. But others are more hidden and subtle – but no less powerful. Cities are full of these places. Especially London, where the ancient city hides in plain sight.
There are buried devils everywhere. Alan Moore, Ian Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd have all written compellingly about the city’s psychogeography. But that really is a complicated word for a very simple thing. The paths that we take through life affect us. Your environment shapes you and your experience. All we’ve done is spice that common truth with a little pinch of Hellfire.
The funny thing was that when we went hunting for lost devils we hardly had to look. Dig a little beneath the streets and their history and you can find them yourself. Black Dog really was a ghost that haunted Newgate Prison. The spirit that we call Lud has had many names over the years, and the London Stone, where Lud lives, can be visited today. It sits, at pavement level, embedded in the wall of a bank in the City. Smithfield has been drenched in blood for millennia: Druids held rituals there, Romans held executions, medieval Londoners made it their slaughterhouse (and in a few days time we’ll have a book launch there too. Let’s hope it’s not too bloody!) Wherever we looked we found details that made it seem like we were discovering a truth rather than making things up.
Of course we took liberties, and I don’t expect you to believe that there is a giant leech sitting beneath Smithfield market. All the same, next time that you are out and about in the city where you live, close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine all the lives that have passed along the street where you are walking now. Their treasure and their trash is buried beneath you, layer after layer after layer. When you open your eyes again, try not to feel dizzy, because you are looking straight down into the abyss.
Author’s Note: We have been exploring the devils of London in our tumblr: http://londondevils.tumblr.com/. Go there to find some more devils that we have dug up while tramping around the city. The pictures in the article are sketched using Alkahest-infused goggles.