The Next Big Thing – ‘This Darkened World’

St Paul's CathedralFollowing on from P G Bell’s Next Big Thing feature, site editor Caleb Woodbridge takes his turn in the hotseat to say what he’s got in the writing pipeline!

What’s the working title of your book?

“This Darkened World”

Where did the idea for the book come from?

When I was in school, I was that awkward kid in the corner always with my nose in a book. If a magic portal had opened up to some other world, I’d have been through it like a flash, even if I had no idea what would happen to me or whether I’d ever come back.

“If a magic portal had opened, I’d have been through it in a flash”

This story grows out of a moment just like that: my main character wants to escape and then suddenly discovers magic and other worlds. But the story then tries to deal with the implications of that properly, to tell an exciting adventure story, but not to romanticise it so that the characters seem physically and psychologically invulnerable. The situation is fantastic, but the characters’ reactions have to be real.

I also wanted something that would deal with what Philip Pullman called the “grand themes of literature” about life and death and so on, which he claimed that children’s literature was engaging with much better than adult literary fiction. First and foremost it’s a discovery of the hidden magical side of our world, and a journey to other worlds beyond, of course. There isn’t a “message” as such, that usually makes for bad storytelling, but hopefully my story has certain ideas and themes that will resonate in the imagintations of the readers.

What genre does the book fall under?

Children’s fantasy – it’s aimed at 12 and up.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

That’s tricky – because the main characters are teenagers, you’d probably be looking for new, young actors to play them. And I’ve deliberately not been too detailed in describing Nicholas and Sophalia’s physical appearance to leave plenty of room for the readers’ imaginations.

“Nicholas meets a girl from another world…”

Lord Melchester could have been played by William Hartnell or Ian Richardson, if they were still around. Samuel L Jackson might make a good Baranduras, the leader of the Knights of Isaram. And Colin Morgan, the actor who plays Merlin, would be great as Marcus, Nicholas’s older brother who ends up in a dark and terrible situation.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of the Book?

When Nicholas meets Sophalia, a girl from another world, they find themselves pursued by dark forces as they try to break the barrier cutting off Earth from the other magical worlds beyond.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m currently seeking an agent for it. It’s finished, though I’m continuing to tinker and redraft each time I send it out. I might consider self-publishing at some stage, but I’ll need to be confident that it’s up to scratch and really the best it can be. I think most writers need the input of an editor for that – I think it’s hard for an author to take an objective enough view of their own work to do that by themselves, though there are other ways of getting that feedback than the traditional route, of course.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I think I was working on it off and on around 3 years, and then several more months redrafting. But some elements and ideas I’ve had for much longer before that.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Well, two of my favourite writers are C S Lewis and Philip Pullman, and Narnia and His Dark Materials – I love stories about travelling to different worlds, and there’s a big element of that in there, as well as the willingness to tackle big questions. I also love stories where the everyday and the fantastic collide, like in Doctor Who, Harry Potter and many of Diana Wynne Jones’s novels.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Hmmm… I think I’ve already answered this with where I got my idea from, and which other books I’d compare it to. I suppose part of what inspires me is reading other great stories and thinking “I want to write something like that”, or “Let’s see if I can do better than that!”

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

“What would happen if we discovered magic really exists?”

One of the big ideas I set out to explore is what would the impact be on our world if we discovered that magic really existed? What would it be like to be one of the people caught up in that discovery?

Although the story is fantasy, it also fundamentally impacts on our world, which happens less often than you might think, especially compared to science fiction. Think of Narnia: the children visit that magical world but it barely intrudes on ours. Even in Harry Potter, supposedly set in our world, you see very little impact of the magic on the Muggle world. If I’d been writing The Deathly Hallows, Voldemort would have marched into central London, turned the Prime Minister into a frog and declared himself ruler of the world on live television, with Death Eaters battling troops and tanks. That’s not the plot of This Darkened World, by the way! But a major London landmark does come off rather badly. Two, come to think of it. There’s no reversion to a safe status quo by the end… which also sets up the possibility of further stories to follow.