Wednesday 3 December 2014

Mind the Gap: The Novel & the Art of Travel

Two days ago, my debut novel was published by Harper Collins. Entitled Mind the Gap, it's a fast-paced adventure novel spanning continents and worlds.

To give you some of its location-hopping flavour, here's the official blurb:

Darius Ibrahim is not having a good week.

He's been threatened by a knife-wielding maniac on a London train, interrogated by a mysterious warrior woman beneath the city's streets, pursued by a military death squad in Melbourne, had his new girlfriend kidnapped and held hostage in Prague, and been captured and taken to another world.

And it's barely been three days since his life started to fall to pieces.

On top of all this, he's developed a bizarre ability that allows him to teleport in quite unusual circumstances - an ability that several deadly enemies will do anything to gain control of.

In a desperate struggle involving alternate worlds, Egyptian mythology, ancient prophecy, malevolent felines, underground railway stations and the power of dreams, can Darius long survive the arrival of his newfound power?

It's great to see it finally out there under the umbrella of a major publisher.

An interesting fact is that I started writing this book over ten years ago, during my final, unloved, salaried office job. To keep myself sane, I wrote 500 words a day at work, and emailed them home to myself.

By the time I visited Wellington, New Zealand for a holiday late in 2003, I'd written 15,000 words or so. In NZ I wrote a good chunk more, and it became inevitable that I'd actually finish writing the whole damn thing.

There's a lot of travel in the book, and it inevitably reflects the places I'd travelled to by the time I started writing it.

So Darius, the hero, starts off in London. In fact he's riding the London Underground the first time we see him, and the Tube and other underground railways play a major role in the plot.

The Tube fascinated me from the first time I rode on it. Dating right back to the 1860s, it seems to be a vast creature with a personality all its own - and a subtle air of mystery in its subterranean tiled passages.

He then pitches up unexpectedly (read the book to find out how) in Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne is my adopted home town of 16 years now, a city I love passionately.

It was an absolute delight to include some of its attractions - its trams, its alleyway bars, its majestic State Library - as part of Darius' only relatively quiet interlude.

He next appears in Prague. In 2014 that's a city I haven't visited for 21 years; but back in 2003 it was relatively fresh in my memory and I had fun placing spy-like intrigue, a kidnapping and a dramatic chase scene among its beautiful cityscape of elegant spires.

Our hero is then snatched away to Terra, a parallel version of Earth in which magic is an everyday part of life. The city he ends up in, Kahe-Ra, is a parallel version of Cairo, in which I lived for two years in the 1990s while teaching English.

The parallel name borrows from the Arabic name for the Egyptian capital, El Qahirah, and hints at the name of the ancient sun god Ra. Egyptian gods feature significantly in the plot, as it turns out.

Terra's Bubastis takes the same name as its Earthly counterpart (now an excavation site), which was a centre of worship for the cat-headed god Bast. She is also key to the plot, much more so than Ra.

Rome features later in the book, as does its Terra parallel Eternus (a play on the "Eternal City" nickname). I'd visited there only two years before commencing the book, so memories of its piazzas and ancient monuments were fresh in my mind. As was a cat refuge set among old broken pillars, something I couldn't resist adding to the story.

It was a lot of fun slotting my fictional characters into those oh-so-real streets I'd visited in the years before, and a chance to relay the cities' distinctive charms to the reader.

I only became a travel writer in 2004, so there are a great many new places I could include in a sequel. For plot purposes they should ideally be cities with underground railway systems, so that could take in the likes of Warsaw, Berlin, Shanghai, Montreal, New York, Los Angeles and Sydney.

Sydney's defiantly retro Museum station keeps asking to be placed in the sequel each time I pass through it (as I did a few hours ago on the way to Sydney Airport).

But so does Kings Cross station. Yes, Kings Cross has potential. Time will tell.

Mind the Gap is available from your favourite ebook retailer for a mere $2.99. You can find more information and download links by clicking here.

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