I don't remember my dreams as a rule, but one morning, I sat upright, astonished. I had woken up with up with a vivid image in my mind which I couldn't shake.

What a strange dream, I said. Oh? said my husband, who has dreams you don't want to imagine.

Well, I said. It's about a lantern and a world within a world ...

It sounds a bit mad, and it was, but I felt there was a story in it. I set to work and came up with True Haven. It's a Regency-style fantasy adventure, although the categorisation is an afterthought.

It probably came about because I was lucky to live in Bath for a while working on the local newspaper. I read about efforts to revamp the old baths closed due to a nasty water blight. Hotwells was a rival spa town in Bristol which became a victim of its own success. Desperate for a cure, people thronged to take the waters'. The trouble was that they were truly sick. Many died and Hotwells sank – much to the sardonic amusement of Bath’s inhabitants, no doubt. The starting point for True Haven.

Alternative universes are exciting, so I added some strange science. Time for some mind-boggling gadgets: earticles, sizometers, phoggles, clockets, Janus keys ...

I needed a name for my fantasy island. Bath was founded on Roman Aquae Sulis, and so Sulisia was born.

Sulis, the a deity worshipped at the
thermal spring of Bath (known as Aquae Sulis)
The era? Post-Baroque, so Barroquia is the capital. Styles from the period included Rococo ... thus the island of Roquaille. This is intermingled with Baroque architecture inspired by the grand palaces and piazzas of St Petersburg, Rome and Helsinki. There are clockwork gadgets and devices galore, all Regency in flavour.

Ceiling of the Bath Pump Rooms
The plot. Horatio Smalt has to be my favourite villain. The surname derives from the striking blue pigment so popular at the time. The first name is ironically inspired by Admiral Nelson, for Smalt is anything but heroic.

Other character names are borrowed from 18th-century artefacts and customs. ‘Claramina’ is invented, but Dart refers to her seamstress profession, but it's also an architectural term for popular moulding (egg and dart').

Regency language is fun, too. Cut-purse for thief', for example, although I invented some myself, such as mumble-mouth', childmonger', metal-fangler' and scatterwit'.

All good fantasy stories have a moral. The story delves into the themes of independence, adapting to circumstances and using one’s wits to survive. I hope it offers food for thought about how young people perceive adults (and vice versa), by toying with the concepts of size and perspective. Tales featuring the concept of miniature people occupying the same universe as larger beings have always fascinated readers. Who doesn't enjoy Jack and the Beanstalk, Gulliver's Travels or The Borrowers? (This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I am five foot one and three-quarter inches tall.) 

Gulliver discovers Laputa, the flying island
(illustration by J.J. Grandville)
It also looks at adult roles and considers the issues of bullying and authority. The story considers the concepts of truth and fiction, for nothing is quite what it seems, especially True Haven itself. There is also the merest whiff of Austenesque romance and the perils are genuinely life-threatening, but none-too graphic.

They were exciting times, so full of contradiction and conflict. The story sort of wrote itself.

This might sound strange but the characters of Claramina, Max, Otto, Barley and the rest are so familiar to me now, that I can't recall a time when they didn't exist.

So. Off to Sulisia.  

By Pamela Kelt 

PS Claremont the chinchibirincha is named after the area of Bath where I used to live. But I bet you can't guess where I first came across the word. I'll give you a clue. It's not English. The first person to email me the answer can name a character to appear in the sequel. How about that?

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