Sunday, 6 February 2011

Every City is Political

J’s got this saying: “Every purchase is political.” It’s particularly effective at stopping me in my tracks when intent upon buying – I dunno, a new suit for example, or anything made of plastic. Or hiring a cleaner, investing in private health care or expanding my portfolio of stocks and shares. OK I’m kidding. But as a mantra it’s as good as any and it helps keep things firmly in perspective in a world obsessed with consumption.
Now - over the last week I’ve been dipping in and out of 'City of Dreams and Nightmare' by Ian Whates. In it, a fantasy city called ‘The City of a Hundred Rows’ is brilliantly rendered. As the blurb puts it, the city is “a vast, multi-tiered metropolis. The poor live in the City Below and demons are said to dwell in the Upper Heights.”
Now that’s a bit of a bummer for an unpublished writer like me.
Because my WIP is set in a fantasy city called Highlions. And it’s a vast, multi-tiered metropolis, funnily enough. The poor scrape a living in the Lower Circle, the rich breathe the sweeter, cleaner air of the Upper Circle.
Why, I ask myself, are these two imaginary cities so similar? Because like every purchase, every city is political. When we create a fictional society within which our characters operate, we build a political statement whether we intend to or not. As two characters converse for the first time the reader makes a million subtle judgements about relative status and power. Take those characters into the streets and describe the houses, the drainage system, the traffic, the smell, and there’s your political statement as clear as if it were your very own bullet-pointed, glossy manifesto.
My three-tiered city is nothing more than a feebly-veiled attack on a class system which punishes the poor; and my boys Sleepwell and Fly – victims of this inequitable regime, naturally – will fight their way upwards to ‘stick it to the man’. It’s lazily done on my behalf, I think – and stands no chance of being a fresh and interesting world for a pair of jaded eyes trawling a slush-pile.
It’s time to tear it up and design it again.
Before I start, though, I’ll need a new drawing board. And some really smart new pens – a nice desklamp, a bottle of good wine... Hmm. Political purchases, all of them.


  1. A brave decision but yes, sometimes we have to slaughter our 'babies'.I'm sure there'll be much you can keep. Is it 'just' the setting you're reworking? All the best with it whatever.

  2. Anne - just the city, I think. Ever been to Sienna? I'm going to use that as a starting point, I think.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. All human interaction is political, all that changes is whether it's a big P or a little p. Interesting post, and surely very frustrating for you.

  4. Yeah - frustrating. But better to learn this now than never. Cheers for your visit! Enjoyed your last post too; the cab-ride with the colleague. Great stuff.