What Inspired the Book? Guest post by Rob Gregson
I could give you at least three different answers to that question, but each would be misleading in its way. I’ll start with the ‘elevator pitch’ version because it’s the simplest.
Like most readers, I love the way that literature can transport the imagination. The idea of books being gateways to other worlds is very well worn but I thought it would be fun to develop it in a completely literal way; to create a place that’s connected to all these fictional universes, and where people can travel between them.
When I first pitched the story to the publishing team at Mirror World, I think I said something along the lines of “it’s like Quantum Leap, but in a library.” That might be too old a reference for some readers, but all sorts of fantasy and sci-fi tales have been based on the same premise. It’s that idea of stepping across a threshold and arriving somewhere new. It doesn’t much matter whether that’s via an enchanted portal, a police box, a stargate or a transporter pad; it all makes for a quick and episodic format. I thought it would be fun, especially if it had an element of a ‘chase’ in it. I liked the idea of having the good and bad guys playing cat-and-mouse across different genres; a pursuit that could go from Wuthering Heights to the Wild West without any pause for breath.
So that’s one take on the inspiration question, but it’s also a kind of ‘publicist’s version’. In reality, the roots of the book go a lot deeper, to the start of a two-book series I wrote some years ago. ‘The Written World’ is a tongue-in-cheek fantasy adventure that pokes a bit of fun at the recurring tropes of the genre. One of those tropes is the notion of there being an ‘ultimate truth’ that our happy little band of adventurers has to unearth. I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say that when you’re a fictional character, learning the ultimate truth might prove to be a little bit unsettling.
The point is, that story ended with a situation from which the setting of Shelf Life could grow; a city connected to all the worlds of fiction. It felt like it could be a springboard into all sorts of new stories, and maybe that’s my Answer Number Two: the inspiration for Shelf Life was a desire to do something entertaining with a world I’d already created. (And yes, you could probably distil that answer down to ‘laziness’.)
Anyway, once I’d decided that I was returning to that same world, it was then a question of deciding what to do with it. One of the themes of The Written World was the role and power of the narrator; with Shelf Life I decided to look at what it means to be a protagonist. What happens when the role is thrust upon someone who’s always been quite contentedly ordinary? I suppose that’s my Answer Number Three – the pseudo-intellectual’s take on the question. Self Life as literary exploration. It’s not my favourite answer, but it explains part of what was driving me.
The truth, though (the ultimate truth, if you like) is that the inspiration for the book just bubbled up from a stew of different ideas and situations. Real-world news and developments informed parts of the plot; characters and conversations were inspired by media personalities, fictional figures and by people I know. And in a tale like this, of course, some of the settings are more than just inspired by other writers… I don’t always name the other books but I hope there are enough clues in there that people can play ‘guess the story’ as they go along.
About the Book:
Young bookseller Cathy Finn is having a bad day. First, there’s the assassin’s bullet. Then comes the realisation that she’s been living in a work of fiction. Worse, she wasn’t even the main character.
Cathy’s quiet, bit-part life may be over, but her troubles are only beginning. Her last day on Earth is also her first as a citizen of New Tybet. For over four hundred years, its people have been rescuing those destined to die in other narratives, but now the system is faltering. A saboteur is at work and Cathy will have to stop him if she’s ever going to find a way home. Failure could maroon her forever and spark a revolution that sets all the worlds of literature ablaze.
Print Length: 338 pages
Publisher: Mirror World Publishing; 1 edition (http://www.mirrorworldpublishing.com)
Publication Date: July 17, 2019
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Genre(s): Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Literary Mashup, Parallel Worlds, Comedy
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Rob Gregson spent much of his youth reading fantasy novels, immersing himself in role playing games and generally doing everything possible to avoid the real world. In his defence, we’re talking about the late 1980s – a time when ridiculous hair, hateful pop music and soaring unemployment were all very popular – so it wasn’t altogether a bad decision. However, had he abandoned the realms of wizardry at an earlier age, he might have developed one or two useful life skills and he would almost certainly have found it easier to get a girlfriend. Rob lives in Lancashire and has two children, although he has absolutely no idea why anyone should find that interesting.
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