London Calling, was recently published in the 20th February edition of Strange Horizons. And of my recent stories it's one of my favourites.
One reason for this, I guess, is its central image: a young woman riding London across the landscape of southern England. It's a picture that popped into my head one night when I was completely out of it with swine flu. As a general rule, I always try to use anything that comes to me like that. Dream-stuff is first rate primordial subconscious writer-shit and you ignore it at your peril.
Another reason is that it's about London, the place I was born, spent my formative years in and (subsequently) most of my working life. It's plumbed into my sense of who I am at a molecular level. (Bombing around the city with your grandma on the top deck of a double decker with a Red Bus Rover ticket in your pocket will do that to you.) Back then, as now, it was a city alive with all the danger and wonder of any metropolis, but also for the most part it's always been a place defined by its own (slightly wary) tolerance.
All this came back to me as I was re-reading this story and I found myself thinking about the differences between the current political climate and the one that I wrote it in. Just twelve months ago, for example, Britain was still destined to remain part of the EU and President Trump was nothing more than a punchline in a Simpsons episode. Despite that, some reaction to the toxic waste that must have been poisoning the zeitgeist back then, seems to have materialised here.
Firstly, given London's newly found status as the home of that acme of right-wing hatred: 'the metropolitan liberal elite' it now seems perfectly reasonable for it to want to bugger off to the sea at the first chance it gets. (I like to think that the shore it's so keen to visit is surely the nearest point to mainland Europe that it can reach).
Secondly, is the sense in which London, once awake, becomes as much a thing of wonder as it is a cause of fear. The city is deserted by the multitudes who are frightened of the changes taking place within it, but embraced by those who recognise its potential for renewal and who rush to colonise it. (Don't tell Farage et al. but this is a city chock full of migrants and all the better for it).
Finally, is the idea of London as a magical and diverse refuge. Even before it wakes, the city provides a place for its central character, Ingrid, to try and forget her past. Ultimately though, it exchanges the anonymity and nothingness she's after for a new found sense of belonging and community amongst the dead skyscrapers and deserted docklands.
Is this a daft and romanticised notion of what London (and any city for that matter) can offer?
Well. Yes, probably.
But I, for one, don't see anything wrong with that.