So, Coldharbour’s marching relentlessly on.
I’m not even really sure how it happened. First it was a book, then a couple of short stories… Now, it’s a series of short stories, two books and a work-in-progress game. As of today, you can download and read one of those short stories, and I’ll be making more available as time goes on. The IP’s become something of a monster, spanning nearly two hundred years, upwards of fifty characters and, of course, a whole bunch of tube stations, past and present. I don’t know where it ends, not yet.
However, I think I know where it began. And it’s not where I thought. When I embarked upon this project about a year ago, I assumed it was the classic Doctor Who serial ‘Web of Fear’ knocking on my brain. Though I didn’t see the serial until a couple of years ago (BBC penny-pinching saw the original reels consigned to a fiery death, and it’s a miracle a copy finally emerged from foreign climes), I did read the novelisation a lot as a kid (it was one of eight Doctor Who books in the village library).
It’s funny, the things that stay with you. When you’re young, you’re exposed to so many new things, places and experiences. Most, you discard as you get older. Some, you come to despise. Others become a sort of mould, shaping your interests and personality. But a few of those formative experiences hang around, lurking in the background, biding their time before they surface.
I think it’s impossible for anyone to predict exactly what experience falls into which category. Imagination and personality are funny things. They’re the building blocks of genius, madness and eccentricity. They don’t really answer to logic. That said, if you’re lucky, you can see the path after the event. That’s much too late to change it, if you even wanted to, but it’s interesting, all the same.
Case in point, I was sorting through a pile of my old bits and pieces in my parents’ loft, when I happened upon something unexpected amongst the kind of junk I should probably have thrown out years ago. It’s not much, just a piece of card, two inches by three, but it explains a lot. It’s a London Travelcard, valid all zones, dated October 1984. I’d have been six at the time – a half-term trip to see the sights of the capital: the Tower, the Natural History Museum, and so on. This’d be the first time I travelled on the London Underground. This piece of card – dated at least a year before I’d have encountered Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of The Web of Fear – is the root of my interest in the Tube, and it’s why Coldharbour exists.
That’s the ‘what’ and the ‘when’, but I still couldn’t tell you ‘why’. In part, it’s probably because the bus ride down to Turnpike Lane and the plunge into the depths of the Piccadilly Line marked my first real journey on public transport. (I grew up in a village with terrible transport links – you walked, you drove, or you stayed put.) For other kids, a tube train might have been an extension of something long since mundane. Not for me. It wasn’t just a train. It was a train that travelled underground. Pretty exciting stuff, I expect. I can’t discount the possibility that my memories of the peculiar Nottingham landmark of Weekday Cross tunnel (even then out of service, and now sadly obliterated by progress) also played their part. After all, back when that line was in service, trains would have travelled under Nottingham (though it’s a tiny length of string compared to the vast and tangled coils of rope that make up the Tube).
It’s also odd that I’m generally claustrophobic (afraid of confined spaces) and agoraphobic (afraid of heaving crowds) – but not when I’m in the Underground. Weird. Or maybe I just store those feelings up, and turn them into creatures that crawl across the page. It’s hard to say. No, that’s not a flesh-eating troglodyte, it’s the personification of an introvert’s fear of being crammed into a shuddering lift at Tower Hill Station. Maybe it’s best I don’t delve into all that too much.
So yes, the ‘why’ still escapes me. It’s not the end of the world. I have my ticket, and the comforting/humbling feeling that something so mundane has led to… well, to what I’m doing at the moment. It’s too early to tell if there’s any money in it, but you never know. In the meantime, I’ve more horrors to unleash, and you’ve a fantastic short story to go and read.
We’ll meet back here when we’re both done, yes?