Today, I have the utter joy of hosting author Peter G Bell on my blog, talking about the story opening in ‘The Train to Impossible Places‘. You’ll also get to hear about his wonderful main character, Suzy, and her rationalist beliefs and how these relate to the action of the story and the reader. Hope you enjoy!
Reason Vs Weird
Most of us would love to discover that magic is real. Imagine if you came downstairs one night to find a trans-dimensional train, crewed by fantastical creatures, waiting to whisk you off to uncharted realms were anything was possible. You’d be thrilled, right?
This is exactly what happens to Suzy, the main character of The Train To Impossible Places. And she is not thrilled at all.
On the contrary, she feels positively offended. Because, as an eleven year old rationalist, she knows full well that magic can’t be real, and that trolls can’t exist. The laws of physics are sacrosanct. In short, the train shatters her understanding of the world. How she chooses to deal with that will determine both her fate, and the fate of everyone she meets on her adventure.
I made Suzy a rationalist because I knew the train and its crew were going to be fairly anarchic and unpredictable, and I wanted a main character who would push back against that. In doing so, Suzy keeps the story grounded, even when she’s out of her depth (which is most of the time) and always asks the questions the reader needs answering.
When it comes to science, the trolls’ rule of thumb is this: the laws of physics are all well and good, but as soon as they become inconvenient, a dash of magic is needed to help grease the wheels. This is fuzzics (like physics, only fuzzier), and it drives Suzy up the wall. Sometimes literally.
I’m no sociologist, but I suspect many of our culture’s current problems stem from the conscious uncoupling of reason from the other human faculties; a nasty habit we picked up during the Enlightenment, and which has been indulged to a greater or lesser extent ever since. On the one hand, this culminates in people choosing to dismiss the valid spiritual, philosophical and emotional foundations of so much human experience. On the other, it leads to a suspicion of empirical knowledge, which opens the door to all manner of charlatans eager to present us with “alternative facts”. Neither condition is good for us.
That’s why, in the midst of all the fantasy elements, I made sure never to undermine Suzy’s belief in science. It is never shown to be untrue – on the contrary, she uses Newton’s Laws of Motion to save herself from danger at one point – but she also discovers that science isn’t the neat and tidy solution to all life’s problems that she thought it was. She is never tempted to reject it, but she does have to expand her thinking beyond it and, to her credit, that’s exactly what she does.
She makes room in herself for a broader perspective. And that’s what sees her through in the end.
You should definitely check out The Train to Impossible Places! It’s such a great story and the cover is JUST EXCEPTIONAL.
Massive thanks to Peter for this blog post! I love getting an insight into authors and their characters – authors really do know their characters inside out!