Debut novel The Train to Impossible Places been described by The Bookseller as “An incredibly confident debut, endlessly imaginative with highly inventive world-building and a plot that is every bit as unpredictable as the train itself”. We caught up with author P.G. Bell to find out more.
Where did the inspiration for The Train to Impossible Places come from?
It started life as a bedtime story for my eldest son when he was just three years old. He wanted a new installment every night for a week, so I had to think on my feet! Once I’d told it, it stuck around in my head for about a year until I finally decided to write it down. I wrote a lot of it in the science library where I worked a few evenings each week – when things were quiet I could get my head down and race through a chapter. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had telling a story.
What were your favourite books growing up?
The first story I remember from childhood is Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree, and it set the tone for almost everything since – I love anything with travel, magic and adventure. My other favourites were The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy, the Asterix and Tintin books, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and countless Target novelisations of old Doctor Who stories.
There is something quite magical indeed about the idea of going on an adventure in your pyjamas… Did you have a pair of pyjamas in mind that you could imagine travelling the world in?
I’d need something pretty cosy, to withstand all the various climates I’d encounter. Maybe blue and white flannel, like the boy in Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman. He went all the way to the North Pole in his! I would feel rather guilty though, after I made Suzy go on her big adventure looking like a slice of frilly Battenberg cake.
What’s your favourite place in the Union of Impossible Places?
I’m rather fond of Trollville. I wanted to create a place that felt like an extension of the trolls themselves – industrious, inventive, not always terribly practical, but definitely memorable. I hope I succeeded, as we’ll be seeing more of the place in future adventures.
What’s the most magical train journey you’ve ever been on?
I rode the Jungfrau Railway on a family holiday to the Swiss Alps in my early teens. It’s got to be one of the most spectacular railway journeys anywhere in the world. It starts in Interlaken – a beautiful town built at the meeting point of two lakes in a deep valley – and climbs through a long tunnel in the mountains to the highest station in Europe, which is built above a glacier. Maybe it was a subconscious influence, because it really was like catching a train between two very beautiful, but very different worlds.
If you could take one of your characters on an adventure with you, which one would it be and why?
This is a tough one, as I love all my characters, and they all have different skills that might come in handy in a tight spot. But it would probably have to be Wilmot, because he’s brave and noble and always ready to make the best of the situation. He holds himself to a very high standard, and I think that would make me want to match it myself.
Can you give us a sneak peek of what’s coming next in the series?
The Express is ready to hit the rails again, and Suzy is keen to prove herself as a Postie. It won’t be a straightforward task though, as a sinister plot is afoot that could destroy both Trollville and her job. To save them, she and the crew of the Express will journey to some brand new Impossible Places, meet some new friends (and enemies), and call for help from a very unlikely source.
The Train to Impossible Places is available now on our schools’ website.
Peters’ librarian review: “A magical page-turning adventure rammed with natty characters, dastardly baddies, stalwart friendships and of course a train! Rollicking debut read, ideal for fans of Harry Potter, Railhead or the Polar Express.”