10 Books to Keep No Matter What

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A church near us is having a rummage sale. A flyer was put in our letter box asking for any donations, so I decided to go through my collection of books and see if there were any I didn’t need any longer.

That sounds almost sacrilegious: of course I need books! But lately I have managed to fill six bookcases, and some of them I know I’ll never read again, so it’s better that other people get the chance to read them than they just take up room on my bookshelves. There is some sanity in these things to cling to.

So I spent a day going through my books and seeing which ones I could bear to part with, and which I knew I would never desert. It was a great day, not painful at all, but certainly full of memories as I pulled volume after volume off the shelves, flicked through them, and recalled what I did and didn’t like about them.

The decision became not which ones do I donate, but which do I keep? So I made that my benchmark.

I won’t tell you which ones I donated – rather, the interesting question became why I wanted to keep certain books. What is it about them that makes me want to hang onto them?

So in no particular order, just as they came off the shelves, here are a few I decided to keep, and the reasons why:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

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This one was easy. It’s actually the first four instalments of his trilogy (and if you don’t understand that reference, it’s probably because you haven’t read them). But I always figured the first one was the best. After all, Earth is destroyed in the first few chapters, and towards the end our hero discovers the answer to life, the universe and everything. That’s an enormous task for one average-length book. Funny, very witty, and also deeply wise, this book has always been a favourite of mine. Adams managed to turn conventional science-fiction on its head and created something quite unique. His quirky insights to the human condition, in particular the absurdity of our never-ending quest for meaning in a meaningless universe, are inspirational far beyond his original intentions.

Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

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This is a very misunderstood book. Let’s face it, it isn’t exactly easy to read, and Melville breaks off the narrative a lot to digress on aspects of whaling that frankly have nothing to do with the plot. In some ways it’s the great American novel, in others it’s a handbook on whaling. Whole chapters are devoted to stream-of-consciousness musings by the characters, of whom there are a multitude. Melville makes errors too, patently declaring that a whale is a fish – even arguing the point at length. But the narrative, when it’s there, is tremendous. The last hundred or so pages bowl along madly. I’ve read this book a couple of times at least, and it’s one of those amazing stories in which you find different things with each read. Just don’t expect it to flow from A to B like a conventional novel – the deliberate, almost continuous, narrative collapse disallows that.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass , Lewis Carroll.

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Two separate books, often confused as one, and often confused as to content as well. Hollywood consistently seems to mix the books up, placing characters from one into the other and playing with the order of events. The dream adventures of a seven-year old girl have bewitched people for over a hundred years. What is so fascinating about these books? They are far from being the total nonsense they are often taken for. Experts have determined that mathematical concepts are contained in Wonderland’s chapters, and of course Looking-Glass is based on a chess game. I myself have used these books as inspiration for my horror/fantasy series The Jabberwocky Book. They remain as timeless as they are haunting. There is something about Alice’s adventures that touch deeply hidden parts of the human psyche. Or something. Maybe it’s just magic.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte.

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Come on, I have to mention this one, even though I am a guy. But it’s a girl’s book, I hear you declare. It’s a romance, isn’t it? Boy meets girl sort of stuff. Yes, it is. And then there’s the rest. Betrayal, violence, the supernatural, storms aplenty and not a single bit of bodice-ripping.  It’s a powerful tale of two families torn apart by the incursion of the Other, which is a Gothic concept Mary Shelley demonstrated so well in Frankenstein. Something from outside intrudes into the natural order of things and tears it apart. The tragic tale of Cathy and Heathcliff has repercussions for us all. This was Emily Bronte’s only book – she was much less productive than either of her sisters. But in my opinion this is the book that outshines the others.  Emily was one strange puppy if this is what was going on in her head.

Where Eagles Dare, Alistair MacLean.

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All right then, here’s a boy’s book. In World War II a brave bunch of British (and one American) commandos infiltrate the headquarters of the Nazi Alpenkorps in the heart of Germany to rescue a captured American General. Or do they? Is there something else going on? If I was ever to write a book about how to write a thriller, this is the example I would base it on. Absolutely gripping from the first page to the last, with many twists and turns that will have your head snapping. And the movie was good too. Nazis are great to use as an enemy – no reader will take offence. I’ve read this one a number of times, and even though not knowing the real nature of the commandos’ mission is the key to the surprise element of the book, it’s still great to read even when you do know it. It’s just that good.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

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This book has its faults. It’s a bit…well, gooey. The nice people are really nice and the bad people are really bad and there’s an underlying Christian overtone that rankles (if an overtone can be said to underlie something – not a good description, I guess).  But I love the story anyway for its unusual and even daring experimentation. And any author who has the courage to literally begin a book with the words ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ deserves respect. The tale of Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin rescuing Meg’s father from the clutches of an oversized pulsating brain from another planet could have been really, really trite. But L’Engle does it really well, despite the gooiness. I have to say the subsequent books in the series were nowhere near as good, which is a great pity since this one is a gem – a sticky one, but a gem.

The Oxford English Dictionary

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It comes in many forms, and is also available in CD form or online. all of which is good. I’m not trying to promote the Oxford over any other language’s dictionaries, of course, it’s just that English is the only language I know. This book certainly has all the words, even if it is a bit light on plot. I confess to reading dictionaries for fun. That is, dipping into them and finding out new words. I use it a lot when writing too, of course. It’s a pity that a lot of people don’t use this book more often than they do. As a teacher, I encourage my students to use it, but many don’t even seem to consider doing so. Which is a shame.

Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone, Mervyn Peake.

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I’m putting three books together on this one, which is a cheat, but I did it with little Alice above, and these books do need to be considered as a whole, even though the third one was left unfinished when Mervyn Peake died. To me, Peake was an incredible influence. I was captivated by Titus Groan when I first read it as a teenager. Writing with an artist’s eye, Peake’s descriptions of setting and people were second to none. And the convoluted, Gothic plot about the mad castle of Gormenghast and its madder inhabitants resonates with me profoundly. Only…I don’t know why. As an unfinished work, it of course lacks cohesion. There are unfinished sub-plots, extraneous characters and many unanswered questions. But there is no denying the trilogy’s power.

The Night Land, William Hope Hodgson,

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Another weird work that I have found very influential. And another flawed one, like the Gormenghast series and A Wrinkle in Time. But aren’t all books flawed in some way? Nothing is perfect. This is a spectacular vision of a dark – literally – and immensely remote future of an Earth after the Sun has died. Hodgson was a horror writer of some note during his lifetime, but his works haven’t resonated well with modern audiences. This is a shame, because the imaginative journey in this one is staggering. Very long, over 200,000 words, with basically just two characters, one of whom isn’t in the first half of the book. And chilling. Very, very scary. It’s a pity Hodgson was killed in the First World War – he could have done so much more with a mind like his.

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

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I wouldn’t want to be accused of only adding English-speaking authors here. This was another much-loved book from my youth. The tale of a double-murder from the point of view of the murderer himself is a great picture of a man who isn’t innately bad, but who is forced to extremes for the purposes of survival. And of course, the redemption at the end, just so everyone goes home in a good mood. I had to read it in translation, of course, but it was a good translation, and there’s nothing wrong with reading a good translation.

 

There are so many other books I could have added, but these were just some I sorted through for the jumble sale. None of these are going there. They will remain on my shelves for as long as I’m around, and maybe after.

 

You will, of course, have your own list, and that’s good too. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone’s own list of books they will never get rid of.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

Get that Cat off the Desk! Obstacles to Writing.

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Since I started writing professionally, I’ve discovered a number of obstacles to the process. That doesn’t seem quite fair. All work has its obstacles of course – in fact, every aspect of life does. Do you have a household where it seems to take forever to get the kids out of bed, feed them breakfast, find school books, make lunches and get them out of the house on time? Think of all the obstacles that get in your way just doing that.

And when you get to work, there are obstacles all around. Fellow workers, the boss, deadlines, customers. I used to be a teacher, and I sometimes felt that students were a big obstacle to teaching. Some students, that is. Most are wonderful. But we always seem to remember the obstacles, not the easy things.

Writing is the same. There are numerous obstacles to the apparently simple task of taking 26 letters and a few punctuation marks and putting them down in an order that makes some kind of sense or beauty.

‘Hey, you’re a writer!’ people say. ‘That must be great! On your bum all day, nothing to worry about. Easy! I don’t have time for it, of course, too busy.’

Writing is great, of course. But if they only knew. I copped this when I was a teacher, too. ‘You’re a teacher? Wow, it must be great to knock off at three o’clock each day and have all those holidays.’ Sometimes, that comment is made jealously, sometimes with a hint of superiority. ‘Oh – you’re a teacher! Well, some of us have real jobs.’

I get that as a writer, too. ‘You’re a writer. I see. But what do you do for a living?’

Obstacles come in many forms. Think what you do for a job, and think what gets in your way.

Just to set the record straight, then, here are some things that are obstacles to being a writer. I’m not trying to say my job is harder than any other. I’m just saying.

(1) The Cat. The first obstacle, for me, is shown in the picture at the top of this post. His name is Humphrey. He’s a Rag Doll cat, and he likes to sit on my desk. Not just sit anywhere, mind you, but next to the fan on my laptop because it’s nice and warm there. He’s always done this, as you can see when I had another office.

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I don’t mind most of the time. Occasionally he lies his tail on the keyboard but is happy when I shift it off. It’s when he decides to move and steps on the keyboard that I get a bit miffed. After all, there I am writing something exciting (I mostly write science-fiction and horror, so there can be lots of exciting bits) and something like this will appear on the page:

“Three bullets hit the policeman. Agnes still had enough sense to ghfyfhtccccggggkgpqsn…”

Did you notice where the cat stepped on the keyboard? If you did, then my writing is better than I thought. Of course, Humphrey’s wandering across my workspace means I have to go and correct his attempt to contribute to the story.

(2) Other commitments are another obstacle. I’d love to spend all my day writing. I really would. But I need to eat. And have clothes on my back. And blog. And interact in meaningful ways with other humans. All those things matter. And that means I can’t write. So dealing with the rest of life effectively means finding the time to work and go shopping and all those other things.

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I usually write early in the mornings as that is when I am most alert and also when I have the time. I work in the afternoons and evenings. So putting in a few hours in the mornings just after breakfast is when I can get most done. Routine is vital when you’re a writer. But the world keeps butting in.

(3) Ideas.

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When I talk to other writers (or when I chat online with them, since most writers are busy writing and don’t have the time to actually step out into the sunlight) some of them are full of ideas. They have notebooks full of ideas. They have stories building up inside them waiting to get a chance to appear on paper.

I don’t.

I’m a man of few ideas. I kind of hope they are good ones, but they aren’t there jostling for space in my cranium. I usually get inspired with a story when I least expect it. It will then consume me until I do something about it. But it’s usually the only one there. I have a very small waiting room.

I wish I had more creative ideas. But I don’t. So sometimes there are days when I sit there wondering what I’m supposed to be typing, and nothing comes. Which leads me to:

(4) Blockage. There is a thing apparently called Writer’s Block. I’ve never had it. Not in the form that most writers mean, that is. Once I start typing, stuff usually flows more or less smoothly. I don’t do much planning. I’ll have a scene mapped out in broad terms in my head and then I’ll start writing and make it up as I go. That leads to the next scene. I used to be a professional actor, so I try to put myself in the part of the characters in the scene, and have a pretty good visual idea of it in my mind, like a film. I just write down what’s happening in the film.

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But sometimes, I get what I call blockage, and that’s when the scene doesn’t work. The characters aren’t co-operating. One of them doesn’t want to play, or the film is too boring. Then I sigh and have a cup of coffee and shoo Humphrey off the desk and go and edit another scene so as to make sure I’m doing something useful.

(5) So while we’re on the topic:  Editing. Of course, any writer worth their salt should have their book professionally edited. Not that professional editors are any better at it, but they are someone different. As a teacher, I would instruct students how to edit their work (or proof-read it, to use the pedagogical term) and one of the best ways to proof-read something is to have someone else do it.

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But what I’m talking about here is the editing after the first draft. It’s vital to have a first draft, to write anything at all in order to have words on paper or screen so they can be manipulated and coaxed into something resembling a readable document. But reading that first draft can be painful. I’ve read enough student essay first drafts to know what I’m talking about here.

Students aren’t into proof-reading or editing. I believe this is for either one of two reasons. One, they think their words are superb, their grammar flawless, their written expression worthy of the Pulitzer Prize, and nothing could possibly improve what is positively Shakespearian in emotional content and Hemingwayesque in pithiness and impact. Or two, they know it’s a pile of rubbish and are too ashamed to read their own work.

I fall into the second category. I hate reading my first drafts. They suck.

So, there are some of the obstacles to writing. Cats, other things to do, ideas, blockage and editing. Even editing this blog will be a chore for me.

We all have obstacles, as I said, making our lives either hard or, at the least, interesting. Some are challenges. Others are just annoying, or even prevent us from completing what we need to do.

Writing is a great job. I love it. Words are fun to play with. But we have to overcome those obstacles. That makes the challenge something special.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Jack the Ripper’s Sister was Inspiring

The moment has come. I am about to submit my new  novel, The Red King, to my publisher, Permuted Press. http://www.permutedpress.com.

Every writer faces this moment, when the new manuscript sails off. It’s a weird time. And really, I have Jack the Ripper’s sister to thank. Whoever she was. If he even had one. Because she helped create the book, in an indirect way.

In my diary is the date I started writing it. It was almost exactly a year ago. On the 17 April 2013 I started the first few paragraphs. Actually, back then it was a very different animal. Back then, it was going to be a novella. I pictured 35,000 to 40,000 words, tops. Now, a year later, and it’s the first book of a trilogy. Things happen like that. On 4 November 2014, I finished the first draft. Since then, I’ve been editing, and working on the second book, An Unkindness of Ravens.

The whole thing was originally inspired by a picture.

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This cracked me up. I don’t know who drew it, and I apologise for posting it here if they didn’t want it to be. But the picture arrived on my Facebook page at an appropriate time, and just seemed to strike a chord. What if Dorothy and Alice met and discussed their adventures? Where would that lead?

I’ve always loved the Alice in Wonderland books and the Oz series by L. Frank Baum. In 2010 I directed a school production of the William Brown/Charlie Smalls musical The Wiz.

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So I guess I sort of had the characters in my mind when I started on a novella about Jack the Ripper’s sister. I was doing research on the Ripper and when this cartoon arrived I thought, what if Alice and Dorothy went on the hunt for him. Jack the Ripper’s sister got nowhere, but it was the inspiration for what was to become The Red King.

Then, things got moving as I started to write. The Ripper became the Red King, a minor character from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. I devised an excuse for Alice and Dorothy to meet and started what I thought would be under 50,000 words. I threw in  the son of Inspector Lestrade from the Sherlock Holmes stories as another character as I needed a policeman, and I was sure Conan Doyle wouldn’t mind mixing it with Carroll and Baum. (The man did believe in fairies, after all.)

Well, 50,000 words later and I realised, since the story wasn’t finished, that I had a full-length novel on my hands. I started to write that with the idea of self-publishing it. Then I got wind that Permuted Press were on the hunt for new writers so I sent off a pitch to them and was offered a five-book contract, three of which are to be The Red King series.

So now I’m busier than ever thrashing out three books and thoroughly enjoying myself.

Only now, I’m finished the first one,  it’s a bit like being a parent. My child is leaving home. The first of three children in rapid succession. I’m proud, and a little nervous. I wonder if I’ve done the right thing, tried all I could. Will I think of something else to put n while writing the rest of the series and need to have included some foreshadowing in the first book? I don’t want to have some fantastic idea and find it’s too late to include it.

I only recently worked out how the story ends. That’s the thing with writing. You never know what’s going to happen, and half the fun is finding out as you go what happens to these characters you invented. I tutor English, and recently I was helping a year 8 girl write a story for homework. We came up with an idea and she put her character into terrible danger facing a wild, ravenous wolf. Her mother came in at one point and the girl was all caught up in composing the story and said excitedly, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next!” And it was all up to her as to what did happen! It was so cool to see her excitement, and share in it. She actually found what she thought would be a chore to be something thrilling.

That’s why being a writer is hard work, but ultimately so rewarding. Emotionally, you are there with the characters, you share their danger, you make it up as you go. Maybe you work from an outline, but the details fill themselves in as the writing takes place, and sometimes new paths appear, awaiting exploration.

So I’m about to hit the “Send” button and dispatch The Red King to its fate. Who knows how it will turn out? Two more books to go in the series, and only one of those is almost complete. The third, The Looking-Glass War, exists only as a few ideas and a fond hope at the moment.

I never did finish the story about Jack the Ripper’s sister. But she helped me find a new story, a bigger one. Maybe she will have her own story one day. I hope so, she sounds like quite a girl.

When I’ve finished this one, maybe I’ll sit down with her and hear what else she has to say.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com.

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Them’s Writing Words

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I write in the mornings. I have to: I work in the afternoons and evenings. But I think I’d write in the mornings anyway, given that my mind is then fresh and I have some kind of enthusiasm going for me.

Now I have book contracts out there, I have deadlines. And meeting the deadline is what turns things into a need to churn out a certain number of words a day. I often hear other writers say how many words they do per day: 2,000, 3,000 – even one who boasted she’d done 22,000 in one weekend. Some do 20,000 words a week. Some can churn out a novel in six weeks.

I set myself at 1,000 words a day for five days a week. After 1,000 words my brain starts to scream at me to stop the pain, although the most I did once was 4,000 in one sitting. My first book, ‘Days of Iron’, too me ten years to write. It’s still due for another edit. It could be better.

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Nicholas Monsarrat, author of ‘The Tribe That Lost Its Head’ and ‘The Master Mariner’, wrote 600 words a day. He did this after consuming two beers for breakfast. R. F. Delderfield wrote 23 pages a day. Georges Simenon, 20 pages. Jack London, between 1,000 and 1500 per day; Stephen King, 2,000. It took J. R. R. Tolkein eleven years to write ‘The Lord of the Rings’, which is a hefty 670,000 words. That works out to 245 words a day.

Every writer has their goal of words per day. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter, as long as the thing gets done.

Apart from words per day, writers have their own schedules for drafting, research, editing. I tend to research as I go. My current series, ‘The Jabberwocky Book’, (https://www.facebook.com/writerproctor) needs a lot of research as it’s set in London in 1901. While I’ve been to London, I wasn’t there in 1901. A lot has changed. In the first novel of the series, ‘The Red King’, there is a scene set in a hansom cab – an action scene involving an escape from kidnappers. My heroine (Dorothy Gale from ‘The Wizard of Oz’) fights off an attacker while the cab barrels along the road late at night. Only thing was, some of the things she did to escape were not possible in a hansom cab. I had to research about the design of cabs in order to re-write the scene. The second book, ‘An Unkindness of Ravens’, is set in New York. I have to research carefully as to what buildings were in existence back then.

Research is vital. I read a book recently in which the hero reads ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce. Problem is, the book was set in the Nineteenth Century and ‘Ulysses’ was first published in 1922. Readers will pick up things like that. So, I research as I go. I’ll write something and then stop to do research when the story goes in a certain direction.

Editing is another thing writers have to plan for. I edit my books several times over, changing things a lot the first few times, not so much in the end. And I still find things I wish to change even after the book is out. Getting friends to read what you’ve written and giving advice is another essential thing, although sometimes they take too long.

So, writing is hard work, and the results are not guaranteed. But, of course, we continue to do it. Simply because we have to.

So I write in the mornings and work in the evenings. It’s a good life. I allow myself Sundays off, sometimes. Often I’m doing research or whatever, or trying out other ideas. Or writing a poem.

So, back to the grind. I haven’t done my 1,000 words yet. And I need to research a few things about cathedrals.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

The Red King Characters 1

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I’m writing a book series, ‘The Jabberwocky Book’ about the grown-up adventures of Alice Liddell from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and Dorothy Gale from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, fighting supernatural forces in Edwardian London.

The first volume is titled ‘The Red King’ and is due out later this year.

The second is ‘An Unkindness of Ravens’, and the third will be ‘The Looking-Glass War’.

All three will be horror/fantasy adventures of the two girls – with Alice all grown up and married. They are assisted by the son of Inspector Lestrade from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

I thought I would introduce you to some of the characters from the book. Today, we have our two chief protagonists, Alice and Dorothy.

Alice is now 45 years old, married and living a respectable life in London society. Unfortunately, her dreams won’t let her forget the fantastic adventures she had as a little girl. Except now, they are nightmares.

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Dorothy is still just a teenager, fresh from two adventures in the Land of Oz, but realising that Edwardian society in England can be just as peculiar and dangerous to a simple farm girl from Kansas.

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Look for more about the series in later posts.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Alice in Wonderland v The Red King

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I am in the process of writing a new horror/fantasy series, The Jabberwocky Book. It’s a mash-up featuring Alice Liddell from Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz.

London is being stalked by a supernatural serial killer from Alice’s past, the Red King she met in Looking-Glass Land (Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There). Only our intrepid heroines can stop him, aided by the son of Inspector Lestrade from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Reaction to the first book, The Red King, has been very positive. I am now writing the second in the series, titled An Unkindness of Ravens. The third volume, tying up the whole story, is to be called The Looking-Glass War.

I thought I might publish the first two chapters of The Red King here, to give a taste of what is to come.

The Red King should be out later this year. Keep watching!

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The Queen is dead.

 Long live the King.

The Red King smiled at his wife’s corpse as her blood made a widening pool on the floor. A good kill: he had spared the Queen too much suffering, just a quick thrust through her heart with the Bandersnatch knife. Best to do the deed quickly; he at least owed her that.

Through the tower window, from out of the Forest of Forget, came the clash of metal and the thud of battle-horses’ hooves as the Knights hurried towards the castle.
Curse them! They would know the Red Queen was dead; all the Land would tremble at her passing. The animals in the forest would know, the creatures on the river would know, as would the people in the towns scattered across the chessboard fields. But he was ahead of them all. His escape was ready.
He left the corpse where it was, crossed the room to a thick tapestry on one wall and quickly pulled it aside. Behind was a disused fireplace with a mirror hung above it. A shiver passed through him as the temperature in the room suddenly dropped. He gripped the edges of the Looking-Glass, long crooked fingers wrapped far around the wooden frame, and stared at his reflection for a moment, smiling. He had been asleep too long – for an age and more. This was a good day, the best day. No more sharing the throne, no more chess game. No more Queen.
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, waiting for the last few seconds of the last ten years to run out. The timing was so delicate, so fine…
Under his fingers, the Looking-Glass’s wooden frame shivered for a moment, and was still. The sign.
The King opened his eyes and looked deeply into the mirror. His reflection blurred and faded, colours swirled and shifted, coalesced again to form the drawing room of a comfortable house. His image was nowhere to be seen; the glass reflected neither the throne room, nor the tapestries on the walls. The Looking-Glass’s surface was cold, very cold – there were only a few moments to act. The other side of the mirror waited, but it would not wait for long.
Something behind him – a bright flash of light? He turned his head, but there was no one else alive in the room. Three loud explosions like thunder, in quick succession, filled the air around him. Then silence.
He tensed, suddenly afraid. Had the Knights arrived already? Were they pounding the castle with cannons? But no, that was not possible; the sounds must have been in his head. It was nerves; fear; adrenalin from the murder of his wife playing tricks on him. Fear was irrational, something felt by weaklings, not Kings.
He smiled and faced the Looking-Glass again. It was time to pass through…
Yet still he paused: was this right? Was it the way? While the Knights were in the forest surrounding the castle all was safe, for there they could not remember anything. The trees sucked away memory, drinking it through their roots, using it to confound those wandering beneath them. Even their own names were lost. But when the Knights eventually emerged from beneath the brooding trees they would remember their quest. Then mercy would remain the one thing still forgotten.
He glanced back again at the body of the Queen, at her open, staring eyes: so blue, so deeply, brightly blue – he had never noticed their lustre before. But she was quite dead. Yes, escape through the Looking-Glass was the right thing to do, the only thing. There was no ruling the Land now. The Knights would see the deed and rip out his heart for what had been done to the Queen.

But they would be too late: the Looking-Glass was ready, and once the King passed through, the Knights could not follow. Let the silly creatures hunt all they liked. Now, he was free, and ready to begin again.
He used a chair to climb onto the mantelpiece of the large fireplace over which the Looking-Glass hung, took a deep breath, and stepped through. A moment of darkness as realities collided, a moment of disorientation as his body adjusted to being in a new universe, and he was there. No problem at all – a child could do it.
Once, long ago, a child had.
A room in a house surrounded him now instead of the castle. Richly furnished, with dark blue wallpaper; a fireplace filled with black, cold ashes; a heavy panelled door, ornately carved. Early dawn peeked through the curtains. So this was the world on the other side of the Looking-Glass. The King climbed down from the mantelpiece.
Sudden weakness hit him. His legs were unable to support his weight. Somehow, form and substance vanished here. He grabbed the corner of the fireplace and rocked slightly. An effect of the transition between worlds, perhaps. Life-force drained away.

He looked at his hands. They were transparent. He was becoming a ghost, fading away to nothing. Panic hit him. He turned back to the Looking-Glass, but it was already too late; its power was gone in the transference. There was no return that way, not yet, not until the power built up again in ten years’ time.
The King’s body faded, washed out, until just a shadow remained, an outline of darkness on the carpet, the wan sunlight through the window the only illumination to give any sign of his reality. Was this how forms existed in the other world? It was not right, not the way it should be.
Suddenly, the door opened. He swung to face it, white teeth bared in a snarl, one hand reaching for the Bandersnatch knife in his belt. But his scowl turned to open-mouthed astonishment.
It was her! Older, taller, but there was no mistake – the same long blond hair, the same pale face: the girl in his dreams, the Yellow Child, the one who had dared to become a queen. She stopped with one hand on the doorknob, the other hand holding a lighted candle, looking into the room.
The King drew the knife silently from its sheath, but it, too, was merely a thing of shadow. The blade that just a few minutes ago had sliced between the ribs of the Red Queen could do this woman no harm. He groped backwards towards a small table on which a heavy vase sat, but his hand went through it. Like the rest of him, like the knife, it was as insubstantial as a wraith’s.
The woman stood, peering into the room, the candle held high. Then she saw his faint ghostly outline, made more definite by the candlelight. She could see him: a dim, blurred shape. But there was enough form yet left to define the face and the robes and the crown on his head. They were familiar, coming back to her memory after many years.
Their eyes met for a fraction of a second, and she nodded slowly.
‘You,’ she mouthed silently, and glanced at the drawn knife in his hand. But still she did not move or try to protect herself.
He screamed, a howl of anger and frustration and defiance, but no sound reached the woman. His mist-like body could not distort the air enough to be heard. The Yellow Child just stood and glared back at his mutely howling face. He rushed towards her, and at the last moment she flinched, holding the candle up between them. As his face came close to hers, he took on a more solid form. There was a moment when he might have been corporeal enough to grab her, to ask what was happening, why he was a ghost…

…Alice woke, body twisted under the bedclothes, one arm held up as if to ward off a blow. The bedroom was in darkness, just a thin stream of moonlight leaking through the thick curtains. On the dressing table, a clock ticked loudly: four o’clock in the morning.
She sat up as the last shreds of the nightmare fell away, ran a hand through her long blonde hair and sighed out a breath. Then she rose and crossed to the window. The curtains were slightly drawn. Outside, London lay in the quiet of dawn, still asleep, unaware. Alice remembered her vision.
He was here, the Red King. But why? Why, after all these years, could the Land not remain just a dream? The time was right: ten years. Ten years since the Looking-Glass had last spat out something from the ragged edges of the mind…
Softly, in the darkness of the bedroom, Alice began to cry.

2

There were new worlds everywhere, Dorothy Gale decided. New worlds to go with a new century.
Most strange were the worlds next door, the ones that lay only a few days’ travel away. You didn’t arrive by riding a cyclone or even falling down a rabbit hole, but by boarding a ship and spending a few uneventful days at sea. She stood outside Waterloo railway station and stared about her at the swarm of London, capital of the Old World: as far from Kansas as it was possible to be, she reckoned, without actually going back again. Wonders were nothing new, of course, but even the Emerald City’s grandeur had a rival in this seething metropolis.
Dorothy was used to arriving in a new land unceremoniously, dumped there with no resources; the last time had been by shipwreck with only a hen for company. But this was somehow more disconcerting, arriving with a suitcase borrowed from her cousin and a few other pieces of luggage that Aunt Em had insisted she would need. The train journey from Kansas to New York, the voyage across the Atlantic, another rail trip from Dover where the great ocean liner had docked: it had been an interesting four weeks. But it was not how she was used to travelling at all. Even though it was the way everyone else travelled – the way, indeed, one was meant to travel – it somehow felt wrong.
‘Miss Gale?’
A tall man stood beside her. He was middle-aged, dressed in pin-striped trousers and black jacket, a thin moustache across his upper lip which literally looked like it had been drawn there. She backed away from him a step or two, hugging her handbag close to her chest.
‘I am Cartwright,’ said the man. He attempted to smile, but in Cartwright’s case this was never more than a sucking in of his upper lip so that his moustache disappeared. He nodded self-consciously. ‘Mrs Hargreaves’ butler. I presume you are Miss Dorothy Gale?’
Dorothy nodded. She had never met a butler before: not, at least, a private one to an English person. She had seen pictures of them, and had noticed several valets and maids travelling with their employers on the ship. But a real-life butler who actually came to pick her up at the station – that was another new experience in this new world.
For his part, Cartwright surveyed the young girl dubiously. He was not an expert on young girls, or females of any sort for that matter. The girl’s freckles and bright expression indicated nothing to his mind other than a fairly gormless naivety. The plain blue travelling dress likewise hinted at simple tastes and modest means. The red braids – well, best just to ignore them completely.
‘It is my duty to escort you to Mrs Hargreaves’ home,’ said Cartwright, sallying forth despite his doubts. ‘She sends her apologies that she is unable to meet you in person, and that you had to find your own way from Dover.’
‘Thank you, Mr Cartwright.’ Dorothy found her voice at last, and performed a curtsey.
‘Please, Miss Gale, call me Cartwright. No “mister” is needed.’ The girl was from America, after all. Kansas, apparently. From what he had heard of the place, they had no sense of class at all, no bearing, as his father would have said. Kansas was part of the Corn Belt, whatever that was. Full of farmers, no doubt, all decked out in overalls with pitchforks in their gnarled but honest hands. It sounded ghastly. He performed his sucked-in smile again, the moustache re-appearing afterwards like a moist caterpillar. ‘And I assure you that it is not necessary to curtsey to me.’
‘I didn’t know if I should do that,’ she said. ‘You bein’ my first butler an’ all.’
He sighed patiently. ‘You’re a guest. A curtsey is inappropriate.’ He turned to her suitcase. ‘Is this your luggage? Permit me to obtain the services of a boy who can assist us with that. And we’ll need a growler.’
‘A what?’
‘A cab big enough to take your luggage. The omnibus will be too crowded. Please wait here.’ He strode off, leaving a faint whiff of moral indignation in the air.
A few minutes later he returned with a small but brawny lad in tow and a Clarence cab drawn up ready to receive them. The boy helped the cabbie to load Dorothy’s luggage onto the growler and took the coin Cartwright handed him.
They rattled along in silence for a while, Cartwright staring out of the window with all the aloofness Dorothy had heard they should possess. She shuffled her feet and fidgeted with her purse. Eventually she could stand it no longer.
‘Have you been workin’ with Mrs Hargreaves long?’ she asked.
There was a moment’s pause as Cartwright considered the dangers of entering into idle conversation with a guest.
‘Two years,’ he replied eventually. ‘Mister Hargreaves was good enough to take me in. Now, please refrain from talking. I’ve been asked to acquaint you with certain rules before you meet my employer. So be patient and listen attentively.’
Dorothy had briefly been to school, where she had learned the basics of reading and writing, until Uncle Henry could no longer afford to send her. The teacher had acted just like Cartwright, and said the same sort of things. It had annoyed her then, too.
The butler reached into a breast pocket and extracted a carefully folded piece of paper and a pencil. Dorothy could see lines of meticulous script. Cartwright cleared his throat.
‘Number one,’ he read. ‘On no account –.’
‘Excuse me,’ said Dorothy politely, ‘but are these Mrs Hargreaves’ rules?’
The child would apparently continue to ask questions, despite his enjoinment to sit still and be quiet. How odd. ‘Not all of them. Some are mine. Number one –.’
‘Which ones are yours and which are hers?’
‘Number one. On no account are you to enter the cellar.’ He made a small, neat tick next to that item on the list. ‘Number two –.’
‘Why would I want to go into the cellar?’
They crossed the Thames on Westminster Bridge and headed for Trafalgar Square, then onto Mayfair. Some rows of houses on either side momentarily distracted Dorothy, who gazed out at the identical buildings, all attached to each other, surrounded by high steel railings. What a strange way to live. And so little grass or trees anywhere. Again she thought with a touch of nostalgia about the tiny one-roomed farmhouse she used to share with her Aunt and Uncle. That was odd – she had never felt sentimental about that rickety old shack before. It was far away now, of course, carried off by a tornado.
‘Number two…’
But Dorothy was only half listening as she continued to look at the city passing by. There were quite a few rules Cartwright was reading out, mostly about her not going to places in Mrs Hargreaves’ house that Cartwright did not want her going, times of meals and so forth. It sounded like an enormous house. After the first dozen mundane regulations, however, there were a couple more peculiar ones.
‘Number thirteen,’ said Cartwright, turning the page over. ‘On no account are you to play chess or cards, or request to do so. Do you have any chess sets or cards in your luggage?’
‘Don’t play either of them. Uncle Henry plays cards occasionally, but Aunt Em gets mad if she finds out. She reckons he loses too much money.’
‘I am not interested in your family’s distractions. I am interested in you.’
‘I can understand Mrs Hargreaves not likin’ cards or chess. But why can’t I play ’em if I want to?’
Answering foolish questions was none of Cartwright’s concern, particularly questions to which he did not know the answer. Mrs Hargreaves had forbidden chess and cards – that was reason enough in that weird household. He ticked number thirteen a little more firmly than the others.
‘Number fourteen. Mrs Hargreaves serves tea at four-fifteen each Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon. You will be prompt in attendance as Darjeeling is not pleasant lukewarm. Besides, she often has ladies in attendance who don’t like waiting for guests.’
Dorothy refrained from asking what Darjeeling was.
He double-checked both sides of the paper, made sure that each item on the list had a tick beside it, folded it and slipped it back into his pocket. Another job done. ‘Any questions?’ he asked.
‘I’m allowed to ask questions now?’ she asked.
‘Of course.’
‘In that case, Mr Cartwright, I don’t have any.’
The butler sighed heavily and gazed out of the window for the first time since the journey began, sucking in his moustache thoughtfully. Then he let it out again with a dull pop of wet lips. Dorothy only just prevented herself from laughing.
The rest of the ride continued in silence.