The Haunting Of Alaizabel Cray
The Haunting Of Alaizabel Cray is a Gothic horror/fantasy about an alternate Victorian London overrun by the wych-kin, daemonic creatures that have rendered the city uninhabitable south of the river, and which stalk the streets after dark. When Thaniel Fox, a young wych-hunter, finds a mad girl wandering the streets in the middle of the night, he is moved by pity to take her home; and in doing so, he becomes embroiled in a plot that reaches into the highest levels of government, and into the darkest depths of the wych-kin’s world.
This book, I think, is where I really found my feet. With Broken Sky I’d tested the waters of the fantasy world and decided I liked them far more than Young Adult fiction. After all, it was what I’d started out to do in the first place. Alaizabel, I think, is written in much more ‘my’ style as I wasn’t playing to any genre in particular, and by now I was confident enough to give myself free rein and experienced enough to not screw it up. So I thought. Unfortunately I got a little overenthusiastic and wrote it waaay too long. I had to cut out about a fifth of the text and eliminate one of the main characters completely to get it into fighting shape; but in the end it got a pretty cracking critical response and won the silver at the Smarties Awards, so I don’t regret a minute of it. It’s gone on to win a bunch of other awards since, including an American Library Association Best Book Of The Year award.
The story came out of the scenery really. I had just moved to London from Leicester (where I’d returned after Uni in Sheffield), and I absolutely hated it. I just couldn’t get on with the Underground, the unbelievable amount of time it took to get anywhere, the sheer size and riotous expense of the place. The dark, perpetually foggy and dangerous city in the book was just an exaggeration of what I felt, and the rest fell out from there. It started as a riff on how much I disliked living in London, mixed in with a bunch of H.P.Lovecraft that I was heavily into at the time, and somewhere along the line it developed subtext, themes and even, dare I say, a message.
I was commissioned to write a movie script for The Haunting Of Alaizabel Cray not so long ago, which at the time of writing is winging its way towards Hollywood. In the process of drafting and redrafting I changed the story around, mostly to make it work better as a movie, partly because I was tired of telling the same story the same way. The heart of it is still there, but the movie, if it ever gets made, will be quite a bit different from the book. That’ll annoy any purists there might be out there.
I relocated from London back to Leicester before The Haunting Of Alaizabel Cray came out, but unbeknownst to me the big city had its claws in by then, and my home seemed kinda boring in comparison. Finally I gave up and moved back to London again. I liked it for a while. I became numb to the bad points and I began to appreciate the good ones. But I still tended to stay north of the river…