Mel Foster is an ordinary Victorian orphan who just happens to live with monsters. That was the concept that kicked off the process that has resulted in my new book, out in July: Mel Foster and the Demon Butler. It’s a Victorian fantasy romp through a London peopled by weird and wonderful creatures. I remembered loving James and the Giant Peach and, I suppose, the hobbits among the others peoples of Middle-earth (they are us, aren’t they?). The unequal relationships that result in real friendships across boundaries are such fun to imagine. My story doesn’t begin in the Shire or near a peach tree, but up in the Arctic where Mel finds more than he bargained for when his shipmates dig out a creature trapped in a block of ice. Here’s a little extract:
Mel knelt in the pool of meltwater. The dangling arm disturbed him. Monster or not, the poor creature looked uncomfortable. The dead should have their dignity. He reached out to tuck the limb back against its side.
As his fingers touched the hand, the fist clenched.
Mel yelled, but the creature did not move again.
‘It’s just a reflex,’ he told himself, heart still pounding with shock. Sometimes in the orphanage mortuary, bodies had twitched, groaned or even sat up after death – those were the ones the funeral director double-nailed into their coffins. Mel tugged but his fingers were trapped, woollen glove and all. The parchment-yellow skin was tough like elephant hide and did not give against his frantic attempts to free his fingers. Steeling himself, he removed the glove on his other hand with his teeth and reached out to find a pressure point in the wrist to release the death grip. Static prickled on contact with not-dead flesh, making the hair on the back of Mel’s neck stand to attention.
He could feel the veins pulsing sluggishly under his fingers.
‘Triton’s teeth! You’re alive!’ Mel rocked back on his heels. How it could still be living having been encased in ice, he had no idea. ‘Air! You need to breathe!’ One-handed, he clawed at the ice remaining over the half of the head not yet free of the block. The face he revealed was a strange patchwork of features, but it was definitely female. The girl must have been in some serious accident – it looked as though she had been clumsily sewn back together, scar tissue criss-crossing her face, lips grey, skin palest yellow like plucked poultry. The only beautiful thing about her was the hair that rippled and cascaded to the floor, jet black.
Once her face was clear of ice, Mel set about reviving her. He tapped her cheeks and shouted in her ear. No response. Was he imagining her heartbeat? Perhaps she really was dead and the pulse was a phantom? He grappled for her wrist again. No: it was definitely there.
‘Please wake up!’ Mel had a very bad feeling about what the sailors would do when they realized their corpse was alive. The majority were superstitious and did not respond well to surprises. Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure that he was reacting at all well himself. He felt plain terrified, stomach doing horrible octopus flips and squirms. ‘You’ve got to wake up and let go!’ He rubbed desperately at her arm. ‘Please, miss, open your eyes.’
The lids fluttered. Slowly, in the feeble light of the lanterns suspended from the ceiling, the lashes parted and eyes blinked, trying to focus. One iris was brown, the other dark blue, the whites watery and yellowed. They swivelled in their sockets to come to rest on Mel’s face.
In my book, Mel (full name Melchizedek) pals up with this surprising creature, Eve Frankenstein, daughter of the original monster character. The story is a monster mix of Victorian superheroes (Jekyll and Hyde twins, a vampire, a reanimated mummy, a raven, a ghost butler) who form the Monster Resistance, banding together to fight the demon butler who has taken over Queen Victoria and the empire. But what can Mel do to help? He’s just an ordinary boy…or (in the best traditions of storytelling) is he?
The book should appeal to lovers of superhero tales, Victorian gothic, adventure stories, and quirky characters (I’m hoping that’s about everyone!).
To celebrate the book’s publication, first in a series, I’m running a competition. I would like to hear which is your favourite monster from books or film. Let me know which one and why in no more than 50 words. You can send your entry to me here.
One entry per person. Open worldwide. Closing date 31 August 2015.
The prizes will be signed copies of my book.