Un Lun Dun

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(314)

China Miéville, Macmillan, £12.99

What inspired acclaimed fantasy writer China MiÃville to write his first book aimed at a younger audience? Socialist Review sent 11 year old Rebecca Kaur to find out about the hidden world of Un Lun Dun.

In your book we meet monsters like the Binjas - rubbish bins that do karate - what gave you the ideas for these characters? Are any of the characters based on real people?

I think of strange monsters and characters all the time. So it's really a case of which of them I don't use!

It's not really fair to make characters that are too similar to real people. I tend to take little aspects of people I know and things they might do and mix them together. Also the book is intended as a homage to a lot of books I read and loved as a younger reader. So my characters are based on invented characters and mixtures of them as much as real ones.

Books like the Alice stories, by Lewis Carroll, and Joan Aiken's series, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, with Dido Twight, who was a big heroine of mine then and now. I wanted to make my heroines in the lineage of the great young readers' heroines in fiction.

Has the book got an environmental theme?

I don't like the word theme - it makes it sound like the story is the second most important thing. I would rather think in terms of ideas. There are definitely environmental ideas in there. But if you insist on making the story persuade people you're going to make a bad story, and you're not going to do a good job of persuading anyone of anything.

But there are ideas about the use and abuse of pollution and production. No one ever believes me, but it is absolutely true that those ideas came after the ideas for the monsters.

One of the big baddies is a malevolent smog and people think, "OK, he wants to write a book about ecology so he's created a big bad pollution monster." In fact it happened exactly the other way around. I was trying to think of a cool monster and I thought, "How about an intelligent cloud of poisoned smoke? That would be really good!" Then I thought, "Hang on, if I do that it raises some ideas about pollution that I could put in there."

What about the rubbish?

I just remember growing up in London and you're always surrounded by rubbish. I remember thinking that rubbish was really interesting and cool, particularly after a storm. You walk about and all over the street there are broken umbrellas lying around.

There's nothing in the world that looks like a wet, broken umbrella. They look incredibly creepy because they're such strange shapes. They have these metal bones and dark fabric skin, like some kind of weird animal. It's almost like various animals we recognise but not quite - a cross between a spider, a bat or a rat that looks really strange and scary.

Although obviously having to live in rubbish in the real world is horrible, it doesn't mean I don't love rubbish as an image, and pictures of rubbish. On that level the book is almost in praise of rubbish.

Did you do the drawings?

When I submitted the book they said, "We're going to get this illustrated," and I very nervously said that I had done some illustrations. I've always drawn, but never professionally. But they liked them, so I did illustrations all the way through. But I deliberately didn't draw any of the main characters. I didn't want to force the reader to share my mental images of the characters.

I hoped to give the readers space to have their own ideas.

Will you write more books for young people?

I would love to. I was very nervous when I started, but then I loved it. I'll always want to write the more specifically adult stuff as well, but having started doing this I think it's something I'd like to keep doing for the rest of my life.


Rebecca's review

I really liked the book. It's a story about two girls who end up in Un Lun Dun by mistake. It is a city underneath London. All the rubbish from the streets ends up down there and some of the people and creatures end up wearing it. There are lots of interesting characters-half ghost boy Hemi, the milk carton Curdle and the rubbish bins that do karate called Binjas.

Un Lun Dun is about to go to war - waged by the Smog. The two girls' destiny is to help the Un Lun Duners win the war. The story is about the other side of London and about the environment and it has some great monsters. The illustrations were brilliant and really went well with the story, especially the Binjas.