One of the most exciting things about writing fiction is the power to create worlds.
At the moment Humphrey is visiting Jack in Durham, where Jack is an undergraduate. I have only visited Durham once and loved it, arriving by rail which is the right thing to do. There is a long curve and then, suddenly, on your right, you see the ancient cathedral and the castle on their outcrop of rock, which from the train appears to be in the shape of a gigantic ship. Around it loops the River Wear, which in places is like a deep ravine.
The Durham in Humphrey and Jack is very like the city in my memories of that trip almost a decade ago. I changed the name of the pub in the Market Square because Humphrey takes violent objection to it; on the other hand, the two restaurants in this chapter have kept their names because I have eaten in their ‘real world’ equivalents and can recommend them. The real Durham and the virtual Durham of my novel coincide and overlap in so many ways that you could easily mistake the one for the other.
Not so with Radcestershire, where most of the rest of the novel is set. The county exists in the midlands of a fictive England. It has a rugged coastline, so it can’t be Lincolnshire really. Nor can it be anywhere else on the Ordnance Survey map, though it’s real enough in my head. The city of Radcester itself (pron. Radster) is a shimmering amalgam of many places. Its hybrid cathedral, with the incongruous geodesic dome perched on top, might have some genetic relationship with Blackburn Cathedral, which acquired a hideous concrete corona in the sixties. The University, where the Archaeology Department is in the basement of the Arts Faculty building and History of Art at the rarefied top, might owe something to Leicester University. The underground library is entirely my own invention and ought to win some kind of architectural award. My city’s pubs might call to mind The Eagle in Cambridge, The Dog and Bone in Lincoln and the late lamented Porcupine in London SE9. The flat bits of Radcestershire’s coastline, where Humphrey goes for a contemplative paddle, might suggest Sutton-on-Sea, and the more dramatic stretches, West Wales. Humphrey’s garden is not unlike the blackbird-thronged garden where I am writing this.
I want this parallel world to be as real to you as the one where you’re drinking tea or watching television. However, Radcester doesn’t completely exist yet. I am willing it into creation through the (slow) travel of my fingers over the keyboard and look forward to having you believe in it in the not too distant future.
The worlds I made in my novel Martin are complete. I enjoyed creating Quex Quay, Morte Bay, Quadrant Regis and Vexhaven so much that I have used that part of my virtual England again in a short story called The Pier, coming your way soon. It is a poignant love story featuring an elderly couple.
You see, if you use your power to create worlds, you have to populate them – even if not for long.