Like millions of people the world over, I read C.S. Lewis’s THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE when I was a kid, and afterwards, dreamed of finding Narnia at the back of my own wardrobe, even though it was barely big enough to hold all my clothes, never mind the secret entrance to a whole other world.
It seemed I was doomed to disappointment. But if I’d only stopped to think about it, I’d’ve realised that portals to parallel worlds existed all around me, and that I’d already been through them many times.
The first was a gigantic weeping beech tree which grew at the edge of the grounds of the environmental studies centre where I grew up. In winter, the branches which cascaded from its crown were bare skeletons, the ground beneath them muddy and wet, but in summer, it underwent a transformation. The branches became leafy umbrellas, with a circle of bare, dusty earth beneath each. For my sister and I, this was our ‘house’, with each branch-umbrella forming a separate room – and there were enough of them for a grand mansion. The leaves became walls, the trunk a spiral staircase (although we never tried to climb it), the ground richly-patterned carpets, and the sunlight filtering through the canopy around us the light from glittering chandeliers. We took tea, ordered the maids about (and each other), and generally had a splendid time. At least until we got called in for dinner.
My second Narnia was on the other side of the centre grounds where, just before they gave way to fields, there was a tiny wood of horse chestnut trees. They had grown up around an ice house which dated from the days when the centre was a private home, and the family who lived there needed somewhere to store ice to keep food cold. As well as being my very own conker supply depot, each summer the wood would be transformed into a lush green paradise as a carpet of cow parsley sprung up beneath the trees. I remember my mum helping my sister and I to cook dinner over a campfire there one year, listening to episodes of THE HOBBIT on the radio while we ate, and being surrounded by a frothing sea of scented white flowers. We each had a horse, too (two long branches that grew beside the domed roof of the ice-house, which we’d climb onto to reach them), and would travel many miles to distant and exotic lands.
Finally, next to a little pond in our garden, there was a small box hedge. It was hollow inside, so my sister and I claimed it as a den. There was just room in there to sit upright, using an old plank of wood as a bench, but in my mind it was vast, a giant’s cavern with a ceiling hung with stalagtites and glittering crystals studding the walls. Once, I found a ring in there – silver, with a small blue rabbit on it – that I’d lost several years before. I hadn’t lost it in there, though, so how it ended up there, I was never sure. Perhaps it really was a portal to another world – one where lost things wait to be found…
I left my Narnias behind eventually – like the way in to the real Narnia disappears for the older characters in the series, their doors quietly closed behind me while I was busy getting older – but being a writer means that even as an adult I get to live in other worlds all the time: the worlds I create on the page. Each new story I write is a doorway into another reality, and when the time comes to move on, it’s always a wrench.
But not for long, because there’s always another story forming somewhere. Another world waiting for me to notice it.
All I have to do is start writing…