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[GUEST POST] Tony Ballantyne on How DREAM LONDON Was Inspired by Real London

Tony Ballantyne is the author of Twisted Metal, Blood and Iron and the Recursion series, as well as many short stories. His first SF sale was “The Sixth VNM” which appeared in Interzone #138. Since then he has had short stories appear in magazines and anthologies worldwide. Tony has also written romantic fiction and satirical pieces for various magazines such as Private Eye. Recursion, his first novel, was published by Tor UK in 2004. He has been nominated for the BSFA and Philip K Dick awards. His latest novel, Dream London is out this week from Solaris.

DREAM LONDON Was Inspired by Real London

by Tony Ballantyne

In Dream London the city is constantly changing. Buildings are growing, gardens are shrinking, paths are changing course. Everything is familiar and yet different at the same time. Dream London was partly inspired by the fabulous eclecticism of London, by the sheer variety of everything. I managed to get all my nightmare inspirations into Dream London in another blog on this tour, here are some of the inspirations for the nice bits…

1) The Woolwich Ferry

Just a short bus ride from where I used to live, the Woolwich Ferry (or ferries to be more precise) runs between North Woolwich and Woolwich.

The ferry is free, which is always a pleasant surprise. Riding on one is a little bit like heading off to France on your holidays. There’s something about crossing water in this fashion that makes you feel as if you’re travelling to another land, even if it is only to another part of London.

A friend of mine works with disabled children. She told me how once a year the ferries used to ride down to Southend and back, taking parties of children for a day out. Who could possibly object to that?

2) Plashet Park

I think that every little park is a lovely find. There is something very prim about English parks, something faintly authoritarian that says /this is how proper countryside should behave/. When I grew up, the uniformed park keeper was something to rebel against in children’s comics, this despite the fact I don’t think I’d ever seen one. Plashet Park was always a little rebellious The South Indians and Sri Lankans that lived in the surrounding streets fed pieces of chapatti to the ducks, bringing a little of a more inclusive world into one of the great Victorian inventions.

3) The Cemetery Walks

I’ve always done a lot of hill walking. When you live in a big city and you don’t have a car or the time to get away, you walk where you can. If that means walking through nature trails laid through large overgrown Victorian cemetries, then so be it. The weather is always different on those walks, by the way. You get snow when there is mild sunshine out in the real world. Honestly, I’ve seen it.

4) The top deck of an old Routemaster Number 15 bus.

I used to ride this bus home. The end of the route used to lie just past my house in East Ham, so I could fall asleep and not run the risk of waking up in Elm Park. Even better, the bus rode down Fleet Street, which looks like London imagined by Hollywood, past St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge, through Aldgate near to Brick Lane and then down the Barking Road. Honestly, a man who is tired of the old Number 15 route is tired of life.

5) Putney Bridge Underground Station

Because it’s not underground, it’s about thirty feet up in the air. Everything about it is so small, like a train set where some young child has gathered together buildings built to different scales.

Actually, the whole of the London Underground is wonderful. I say that as someone who no longer has to commute on it everyday (when I used to say something quite different). But, come on! The fact that it exists, the fact you descend underground and come up somewhere completely different, the architecture, the sans serif font, that map… Familiarity means you forget just how strange the Underground is. If you’ve grown up with it, it looks normal, but trust me, if, like me, you come to London from somewhere else it looks positively otherworldly.

Incidentally, when I forgot a book whilst travelling, I would memorise the stations on the District Line, in order. Stop me in a bar sometime and see how many I can remember.

2 Comments on [GUEST POST] Tony Ballantyne on How DREAM LONDON Was Inspired by Real London

  1. Tony: I read your first interzone story when I was a subscriber, and picked up on it right away. Been a fan since then, will have to check this book out!

    For me London visions, the view from the balcony/terrace at the members bar, tate modern. Looking back across the millenium bridge to St Pauls, which is almost always framed by the Crane-like cranes of the ever-under-construction square mile and the boxy modern buildings along the river.

    Here is my poor attempt to snap that view.

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