Debut Interview: Kate Griffin – A Madness of Angels (Orbit)

KateGriffinI’m really excited to bring you an interview with Kate Griffin discussing her debut novel for adults (after writing for children as Catherine Webb), A Madness of Angels. 

I’ve just finished reading A Madness of Angels and have to say that it’s one of the stronger Urban Fantasy stories I’ve read.  You’ve managed to give London such a central role – how does that come from your idea of Urban Fantasy and I guess what attracts you to Urban Fantasy in the first place?

AMadnessofAngelsWell, I’m seriously attracted to London to begin with.  I was born and raised in this city, and my greatest pleasure and most relaxing past-time is walking through it, so London has always had a sense of magic for me.  I’m the kind of person who sneezes whenever I see a blade of grass, and since so much of traditional magic seems based around ancient trees, mystic groves, magical springs, long-lost caves inscribed with dead writings, elves, orcs, goblins, old magics and old ways understood only by the enlightened few, the idea of a newer magic, in which dryads live in sacred lampposts and Gandalf’s staff would always light the way with a sodium-neon glow, appealed to me.  I dislike the concept of magic as long dead, semi-Latinate words mumbled by mystics with insights into ancient ways – it should be something alive and new, full of wonder, rather than dusty and obscure.  The city is full of so many things that appear to me to be magical – graffiti always seems a good example, since the strange painted signs on walls could be as much a mystic ward against evil as a gang sign, for all we know about it.

A Madness of Angels is your first adult novel. Was it a conscious choice  or something that came from the material? And does having an adult audience changed how you approach your writing and sense of audience?

It wasn’t a conscious choice, and it was probably something that came from getting older!  When I was 14, I wrote a book that as a 14 year old I loved.  When I was 16 I regarded the work of a 14 year old with a degree of snottiness – now I am 22 I write for who I am at the moment, and who I am happens to be getting council tax demands!

I love the way you’ve handled magic, though there is a little of the archaic traditional stuff around Matthew Swift feels his magic a lot more – do you think that we’re missing a sense of magic in the world around us?

Depends…. without wanting to sound too corny, I think the whole point about sorcerers and urban magic is not that they’re born with some chromosome that says ‘go fry that villain’, but rather they can look at the world and see absolutely ordinary things with a sense of wonder and appreciation.  I went to university in London, and met so many people who had never lived in the city before, who regarded the smell of it as horrid, the dirt, the crowds, the transport – everything appalled them.  Which is fair enough; but I love the smell of London, adore people-watching in crowded streets, like to think that I’m surrounded by 8 million people, 1 million of whom all seem to be trying to get onto the same bus I’m waiting for.  My mates who hate London can look at a rained on muddy ploughed field in the countryside and sigh with relief and go, ‘isn’t it wonderful’ – I have this reaction to the city, and this is simply because my definition of what is wonderful, and therefore, for me, magical, (in the non-dusty tome sense of the word) is a Londoner’s view.

One of my favourite parts is a speech by the Beggar King on engagement with those around us (page 302) – Is it right to say that being grounded in existence and the human experience are important in A Madness of Angels?

Totally.  Well… not totally.  I am sure that sooner or later we are going to run into characters in urban magic who are off their heads with the thrill of power and magic.  But that’s really the point… in a world in which sorcerers can fight pitched battles underneath Kingsway, there’s really only two ways you can go.  Off your head with power, therefore dangerous and out of control; or grounded and sensible enough to realise that sure, you can invoke the ghosts of a sunken city at will, but it’s not going to get the lid of a tin of beans, is it?  I have a love for heroes and heroines who, when faced with the final showdown don’t stop and think ‘whoops, did I leave the oven on at home?’

This isn’t the last we see of Matthew Swift – are you going to explore more of London in the next one book, The Midnight Mayor or will you be taking Mr Swift out of his comfort zone?

Matthew Swift is lingering in London a while longer… but to say he’s in his comfort zone in The Midnight Mayor would be a downright lie!  Without wanting to give away too much… within 10 pages of The Midnight Mayor it’s probably fair to say that Swift is bewildered and the blue electric angels are livid and their mood does not improve throughout the course of the story.  They are going to get lumbered with something in the Midnight Mayor that they don’t want, and it’s going to stick around, until death do they part.

One final question: If you were to go out for the night with Matthew Swift what sort of night would it be? Would you be dancing the night away?

I think it would involve eating huge amounts of Thai food, walking along the river and possibly, just possibly, using Swift’s sorcerous abilities to break into a playground and have a go on the swings when there weren’t any pesky kids getting in our way.  I don’t think the conversation would much to write home about, but I would probably trust Mr Swift to walk me to my front door and keep me safe in the small hours of the morning.  Yet despite this, and all things considered, I wouldn’t be inviting him in for a cuppa tea, and I would definitely not give him my telephone number.

Thanks Kate. That was brilliant.

See my next post for a review and don’t forget that Kate (along Mike Carey) will be signing in Forbidden Planet, Shaftesbury Ave, London this Thursday (26 March) 6-7pm

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