As any well weathered traveler will tell you, it’s usually best to abide by the rules of the places you find yourself in. But when the first rule is that no one living should be there, abandoning all hope may be the least of your concerns.
When eleven year old Millie finds herself stepping through the dark and onto a strange-looking train, there’s not an awful lot she can do. Without her parents and the comfort of familiar surroundings, Millie is left to ask strangers for help. But the other passengers are silent and sorrowful, looking anywhere but at her – and they won’t tell her the name of the next stop…
It’s hard to believe really, but this novel (my first, completed, honest to god finished novel) has taken me over a decade to write. It started life as short story in my first semester at university and by the end of the term I was pretty damn sure the bloody thing was cursed.
I’d written it after getting stuck on the tube for over an hour. It had been a lovely, hot summer’s day and I’d decided to meet up with a friend and go mooch about in St. James’ Park (she went to South Bank, while I was way out in Kingston). Well, that ended up being a mistake. The train was packed full of people who I’m sure all had the same sort of idea, and that was fine. Things were a little muggy but it wasn’t exactly far from Waterloo.
And then the train had jerked to a stop, there was a tired but polite announcement about some sort of delay and after twenty minutes I had come to the conclusion that actually, nope – it wasn’t fine. I was in hell. A hot, sweaty, tourist filled hell.
So I’d written a short piece in the first person about a badass train conductor in a trench coat who ferried souls to hell Charon style. I thought it was cool, a little self-serving maybe but I’d managed to write all about hell without once mentioning it by name. There was no fire, no brimstone, no wailing lost souls. It was bleak and old and made of stone and sorrow, but it was as far from Dante as I could get.
Anyway, the first time I was called to read it out for the rest of my seminar group the fire alarm had gone off and by the time we were let back in the hour was up. I’d been nervous as hell and running on adrenaline but I’d figured, ah well, another week to work on it. No worries.
The second time I got called up I’d opened my mouth to read the first line and promptly had a nose bleed. I got blood all over the carpet. It currently stands as the second most embarrassing experience of my life and to be honest I doubt it’ll ever get dethroned.
The third time my tutor decided not to take any chances. He had smiled, walked over and plucked the paper from my hands. He announced that it would probably be safer if he read it, and there had been a few scattered chuckles before we got down to business.
In the end, it had gone down well enough. I submitted it a few drafts later and it got me a B. But I was never really very happy with it, and for years after I would get it out now and then and have another bash at it. The nameless protagonist became more of an anti-hero, a man working for the underworld not because he was damned, but because he’d chosen to be there. I would set it aside for months and then something else would come out of the blue. My mysterious man in black’s name was Aidan, but he wasn’t my main character.
She ended up being called Millie and she wasn’t impressed by hell at all.
I’d always loved a good ordinary girl in an extraordinary world’ story, and I felt very stupid that I hadn’t realised what I’d been missing earlier. Millie was my way in; my Alice, my Lucy, my Dorothy. Only she was ten, and kind of annoyed.
But after finding her everything else had started to come together and eventually even Nathaniel made an appearance; a flighty, unreliable sort of angel – Aidan’s counterpart in the world Above. The three of them were going on a no holes barred tour of the very worst place most people could imagine, the good times were set to roll.
It still took me another two years to get everything down though. It even made a brief appearance on this very blog – but I’d pushed that boat out far too soon, and in doing so it had sprung so many plot hole shaped leaks I quickly steered it back to port.
And that’s where it has stayed, until now. Now, it has something I’d never really believed I’d see. A front cover (all credit of which goes to vikncharlie over on Fiverr, her work was exceptional and she was great to work with).
With any luck, by next week the prologue will be up over on JukePop and after ten years, I’d really appreciated it if you checked out my version of a dark fantasy style portal quest.