My new book, Inside Out, published May 12th, is a book about a journey. It wouldn’t be the first, because journeys have always been more than a means of getting from A to B. Hogwart wizards can apparate, transporting instantly to another place, but that hardly counts.
A proper journey is a voyage of discovery and, more especially, a voyage of self-discovery, a chance to discover where you really belong or what you are capable of. It’s the mind that has to travel, as well as the body, which is why it has offered the perfect structure for a story, starting with Gilgamesh and The Odyssey, through Jonathon Swift to Tolkien.
Of course, unless a story is focussed entirely on plot, it will only succeed if the main characters are on a voyage of some sort, mental if not physical, that will change them by the end. Isn’t Pride and Prejudice a perfect example? But an actual journey offers both metaphor and template.
Medieval literature had knights errant riding out on quests for holy grails and fair maidens. They were solitary figures, confronting the unknown and put to the test to prove their worth. The lone traveller is a trope that portrays the ultimate loneliness of the soul, or transformation triggered by the arrival of a stranger – like Shane.
Other journeys bring people together. The Canterbury Tales are stories told by a group of people come together for a pilgrimage. Admittedly, they hadn’t got very far on their journey. They’d barely crossed London Bridge into Southwark. But pilgrimages were a common occurrence in real life, the package tours of the Middle Ages. In an age when people wouldn’t normally venture beyond the nearest market town, many thought nothing of setting off to Canterbury, to St David’s, to Santiago de Compostela, to Rome, even to Jerusalem, alone or in company, to see the world and seek for divine help, healing or forgiveness. Travel broadens the mind – unless it involves a flight like any other flight to a hotel like any other hotel by a beach like any other beach. Anonymous uniformity was not a problem in the Middle Ages, and if people returned from pilgrimage with nothing to show for it but a suntan, they must have been singularly unimaginative.
A Pilgrim’s Progress is a fictional journey during which the soul of Christian is educated and transformed by trials and tribulations, before reaching ultimate salvation, and if I had any model in mind for Inside Out, it was probably that one. Except that I am not a Quaker, or remotely religious, and I suspect I have a slightly stronger sense of humour than John Bunyan. Inside Out is about a group of travellers who need the space afforded by a long voyage of eleven months to confront who they really are, what they are really capable of, and what they really want. The big difference, of course, is that they are not heading for the Celestial City. Quite the opposite. Perhaps there’s a little bit more of Dante‘s Inferno.
A couple of centuries into the future, seven travellers choose to go on a journey to Triton station, Outer Circles headquarters of Ragnox Inc, on the moon of Neptune. It’s a place to make money, lots of money, and they intend to do so.
They have other goals too as they board the space-freighter Heloise, under the control of Commander Foxe. Fussy Maggy Jole wants to belong, as she has never been permitted to before. Silent Peter Selden wants to escape his own past. Spoiled Abigail Dieterman wants to be free of paternal domination. Hapless Merrit Burnand wants to turn his back on the mess he’s made of things so far and start again. Inebriated Christie Steen wants to exterminate everything she has become. No one knows what David Rabiotti wants – he’s an unreadable book. And Smith, well, Smith wants everything.
Whatever it is they want, they are all hiding something. But in the Outer Circles there is no hiding, no pretence – and no turning back. The travellers have eleven months to contemplate the future, come to terms with the small print of their contracts, and wish they’d never signed. But changing their minds is not an option.
Sometimes it really is better to travel… than arrive.
Published on Kindle May 12th.