THE MOONLIGHT MARKET
It must be an illusion, he thought. Sometimes things appear to us just because we want them to – or so his father had always said. But there was nothing wrong with his eyes, or with the lens of his camera, through which the arch of Old London Bridge appeared like the prow of a lighted ship pushing through the shadows. With the moonrise, something was happening. Something that emerged from the night like a developing photograph. Two more figures joined the first. Then two more; then another two; all of them passing through the arch onto the bridge, which seemed now to shine with a silvery light, like a flickering black-and-white movie projected against the buildings. Now Tom could hear voices, too – the cries of market traders – and see the shapes of market stalls rising against the bronze-dark sky.
Have you ever felt as if you were not quite a part of this world? As if the reality you knew were only a shadow of something else, waiting to reveal itself, like a photographic negative? Have you ever been in love – a love beyond doubt, beyond question? A love that feels impossibly old, though her face is that of a stranger?
Tom Argent is a photographer. Orphaned, lonely, lost in his work, he has no intention of falling in love. And yet, love finds him in the shape of beautiful Vanessa, who lives a dangerous double life in the heart of London’s King’s Cross. Tom’s pursuit of Vanessa leads him to discover an alternate world, hiding in plain sight among the streets and rooftops of London; a world unseen by common folk and inhabited by strange and colourful beings, in which two warring factions – one nocturnal, one in the light – wage war for the sake of a long-lost love and a Prince of sun and starlight…
This story has been around for awhile. A snapshot of it exists in Honeycomb, and there are nods in it to Orfeia and to my other novellas. It stands alone, and yet it is very much part of my Honeycomb world, a world in which magic co-exists alongside our reality, and sometimes crosses over. It’s also the first love story I’ve ever written: although there are love stories in some of my other books, this book places the romance solidly in the foreground of the action. It’s an exploration of first love, last love and all the spaces in between; a story of magic, both traditional and everyday; and of how we perceive the world around us; its hidden perils; its secrets. It’s also the first time I’ve written like this in an urban location: even Orfeia only began its journey in modern-day London. But magic can reveal itself in unexpected places, and this story came to me on a Tube train to King’s Cross, where my son I chanced to see a moth against the window. Butterflies and moths adapt to suit their surroundings: in cities, they develop a camouflage that reflects an urban environment. What if magical beings did the same? What if the beings we call fairies were governed by the same principle?
And so I wrote this story; first as a novella, and then, at my editor’s request, as a full-length novel. It’s set in a London of many layers; past, present, mythic, mundane. It’s about our perception of what is real; the illusions we cherish and those we reject; the things we hide even from ourselves; the magic and the science. And it’s about the stories we tell; their quiet power to change our world. But most of all, it’s about love: new love; old love; unrequited love; predatory love; the love of a person for their world. A love that endures, and goes beyond race, or age, or gender. Love is the engine that drives this tale, and love travelled with me all the way. On one level, it’s a fairytale. On another, it’s an exploration of myth, and perception, and memory. Take from it what you need, but consider this: in a world in which butterflies exist, why would you find it so difficult to believe in fairies?
You said the Silken Folk weren’t fairies. What are they, then?
They’re a representation of what the Fae used to mean, before the Victorians made them small. They are part of our collective unconsciousness, a manifestation of the profound unease that exists between the natural world and its exploitation by humans. That’s why they’re unsettling, vicious and wild; a reminder of how quickly we can lose control of the world we think we have conquered.
What’s the appeal of fairytales?
I think of them as the secret language of the human unconscious: metaphors that nevertheless hide powerful truths. Fairytales are how we articulate the things we don’t admit to ourselves; our hopes, our fears, our damage, our desire. Much like the world I depict in this book, they show the reality behind what we see; the truth behind the illusion. And I think people would like to believe in something beyond the world they know; the possibility of magic; true love; the hope that our monsters can be overcome.
This isn’t a book for kids, then?
It’s a book for anyone who wants to read it. I don’t believe we ever outgrow the things we really care about; and if you liked fairytales as a child, you might enjoy this one. But it wasn’t written with children in mind. It’s dark in places, and violent, and although some children have no problem with dark and challenging imagery, it might be worth checking it out before letting them loose on it…
Why choose photography as the medium through which to reveal the secret world of the Silken Folk?
Not just photography: film. There’s something magical about film; the process; the transformations; the happy accidents; the rich and varied history. Tom Argent is in many ways a typical human; mostly blind to the wonder of the world around him. But when he sees it on film, it acquires an unexpected magic. I think a lot of art is like that.
Tell me about Tom Argent. Is his character based on anyone?
In many ways, he’s a version of me. He’s independent; likes being on his own; and his sole passion is taking photographs in a medium he already knows to be unfashionable and time-consuming. But there’s a strong, hidden streak of romanticism in him too, of which he is quite unaware until events drag him out of his comfort zone. And although he’s slow on the uptake, he means well; which makes him one of the good guys.
What about the other characters? Which ones are your favourites?
I really enjoyed creating the cast of characters in this book. But the one I had most fun with was Charissa, the girl of the Midnight Folk: she’s wonderfully snarky and outspoken, and has no fear of anyone. But she too has a secret side, although she seldom shows it, and a defiant attitude in the face of authority that I can fully relate to.
Humans in general aren’t portrayed in a great light in this story. Why?
The Silken Folk call them the Sightless Ones, or sometimes just the Folk, and they generally view them with contempt. In this story, supernatural beings suffer from the same prejudices as humans, and make a lot of the same mistakes; but humans wield the power in this world, and Silken Folk are in a small, and somewhat oppressed minority. That makes a difference: and explains their lack of concern for the humans around them, who they see as a source of nourishment, and not as individuals.
Wait, these fairies are vampires?
Not quite: but they do feed on the life energy – or quintessence – of sentient beings, which they call nectar. Most of the time their human victims are unaware of this, and recover quickly from the experience, putting it down to a sudden malaise, or a momentary lapse of memory. When it comes to one of their own kind, however, they are very much less forgiving.
Tell me about these two factions: the Daylight Folk and the Midnight Folk.
My original concept for these was based around butterflies and moths. The Midnight Folk are nocturnal, and mostly pass unseen by day. The Daylight Folk are conspicuous for their bright colours and exuberance. But neither are what they appear to be. Their feud is very old, and they have almost forgotten its origin. But the intensity of their hatred remains: the Montagues and the Capulets, relocated to King’s Cross.
About that. Why King’s Cross? Your other tales of the Silken Folk are mostly set in rural surroundings.
I like the juxtaposition of the fantastic and the mundane. I mostly live in the countryside, and I’m always struck at how much wildlife I see close up in London, and how well it has adapted to suit its urban surroundings. Basically I wanted my fairies to be Peaky Blinders, rather than A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And I’m fascinated by the immense variety of what you can find around King’s Cross: the communities on the canals; the new high-rise buildings; the station; the parks; the history.
Are you planning another story about these characters?
I might, if there’s an interest. I’ve grown very fond of Tom, and Spider, and Charissa, and their friends. I sense there might be another story in their future, that is, if people want one…