A few years ago, after a day of wandering around numerous shops in central London, I sought refuge in a pub close to Covent Garden. While my better half, Helen, continued with the retail therapy, I began jotting down some notes on the various characters we’d encountered during our browsing.
As I did so, I reflected on the manner in which London possesses so many different faces: the political hub of the nation, the financial centre, the home of pomp and ceremony, celebrity restaurants and high-end dining, exclusive boutiques and famous stores, cockney heritage and the spirit of the Blitz, nightclubs and all-night bars, markets and street entertainers, red buses and tourist attractions, and so on… What if there were other Londons, less apparent, more difficult to find? Londons that brush alongside the city we know without quite intersecting, hidden from view by the facets we’re so familiar with that catch the light and sparkle.
That was the moment Chris was born; an individual who can sense the places where other versions of London come closest to what we know, who is able to step across into these other realities. Chris is a fixer, a solver of problems, utilising his (almost) unique talent to find objects and sometimes people that have fallen between the cracks and become lost between worlds, putting folk in touch with those who can help them, even when they don’t realise it themselves.
Those notes, jotted down while sipping a pint or two of Young’s Special, became a story called “Knowing How to Look”, which marked Chris’ first appearance. Making a cameo appearance in this tale was a character called Claire, based on a tall, vibrant young woman who had been serving in a Berwick Street shop earlier that day. Despite the brevity of her contribution to that particular story, there was an obvious chemistry between her and Chris, and Claire returns in a far more pivotal role in “The Smallest of Things”.
I was keen to revisit Chris because that first story had barely scratched the surface. It centred on the dark side, on the shadows, involving infidelity, a succubus, and a curse, but the potentially infinite nature of alternative realities offers a wealth of other possibilities beyond that. The set up enables me to straddle the boundaries between science fiction and fantasy, depicting high-tech societies that boast gadgetry far in advance of our own and low-tech ones where spells and magic prevail. I have great fun drawing on both of these for “The Smallest of Things”, with high and low tech tricks being called upon as Chris and Claire strive to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, while the story’s denouement relies on a scientifically feasible anomaly thrashed out between myself and a friend, who also happens to be a leading MD often consulted by the BBC.
London is somewhere I know reasonably well – I spent seven years attending school in the City and have been a frequent visitor ever since. It’s a place where I feel comfortable, so provides a natural home for Chris and his exploits. London has a beat, a rhythm, a pace of life that can seem bewildering until you acclimatise, and I wanted to reflect that in “The Smallest of Things”, producing a high-paced narrative intended to keep the reader guessing and intrigued, while throwing in a twist or two along the way.
“The Smallest of Things” was a joy to write and – who knows? – Chris may well crop up in further stories. I still have a great deal more to say about him and the worlds he inhabits.