We are delighted to host a guest post by P.G. Bell, author of The Train to Impossible Places (see our review here).
In this blog post, P.G. Bell discusses the inspiration behind the crew of trolls that run the train in his book, which started as a bedtime story for his son.
A Train Full of Trolls
I've spoken quite a bit about Suzy, the main character of The Train To Impossible Places, on this blog tour already, but I've hardly mentioned the rest of the train's crew. Or the train itself, come to that. Why did I choose to throw poor Suzy into such a strange adventure?
It's basically my son's fault. When he asked me to make up a bedtime story for him, I was forced to improvise, and throw in as many of his favourite ingredients as I could think of in an effort to hold his attention.
He loved trains at the time, so that was a no-brainer. My mind went instantly to the Polar Express, the granddaddy of magic trains, idling patiently on a snowy suburban street, waiting for its passenger. A magical image, certainly, but a bit well-mannered and sedate for my liking. But how could I make it more interesting?
By having the train crash in through the front of the house, of course!
From that moment on, the ideas just snowballed: if the train crashes through the house, then it follows that the crew aren't in complete control of it. What if their enthusiasm is greater than their ability? That's instantly exciting. It promises danger, speed, and a few jokes for good measure. But who are the crew?
I briefly considered making them fairies, but dropped the idea almost instantly. Fairies just didn't have the physicality to be operating heavy machinery. Then I hit upon wizards - that had far more potential! A group of hapless wizards, like the Unseen University professors in the Discworld novels. Now I was getting somewhere. I had the tone of the characters, but I still wanted something more interesting than wizards...
Trolls are good and earthy. Whether they're the gigantic, slow-witted carnivorous kind found in Tolkien, or the smaller, friendlier mystics of Norse myth (and Disney's Frozen), there's a simple practicality to them that appealed to me. They're lumpy and warty, and strange, and they slotted right into the story as though they'd always been there.
Except Ursel, the train's firewoman. In a nod to Pratchett, I made her an orangutan in the original bedtime story. Then she was a baboon in my first written draft, but she still didn't feel quite right. Should I change her to a giant beaver? Some sort of flamingo? A robot?
"You should make her a bear," said my wife, half way through reading the manuscript. And of course she was right.
So I finally had my main character and my crew in place. They've already been through a lot, and I've just finished the latest draft of their second adventure. I hope they'll have many more together.
Many thanks to Peter for sharing this guest blog post with us and publicist Fritha at Usborne for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Do check out the other stops on the blog tour too!