Idea to Book: The Fossil Door


Welcome to our Idea to Book post for The Fossil Door! I’ve been spending a lot more time with Gabe and Rathna recently, thanks to writing Old As The Hills and Upon A Summer’s Day (coming out in May and June 2023), and getting to spend time with both of them at two different points in their lives has been fantastic. 

The Fossil Door has so much that I love – an amazing location, portal magic, and of course the way Gabe and Rathna get to know and trust each other.

Cover of The Fossil Door displayed on a cell phone, lying on a scattering of tumbled stones in shades of purple and green.

Out in the world

I mentioned in last week’s post about Carry On that that was the book that I was writing when the pandemic hit the United States. It was a little challenging to be writing a book that has such a closed in feeling, with most of the action taking place in a room and bit of garden at the Temple of Healing. And as I said, not surprising that the next book, The Fossil Door, took on the wide open landscape of the Scottish Highlands. 

Why Scotland? For one thing, I hadn’t done a book in Scotland yet, and I felt I should. For another, looking at pictures of Scottish landscape pretty much always makes me happy. And I could have Highland ponies, who both fit the story, and who are delightful beasts, well adapted for their environment.

But as I was doing the research about where to set it, and what sorts of lore I might explore, I hit on two other things. The geology around Glencoe is really fascinating, for one thing. And Rathna has skills there (and Gabe has interests), so that seemed a great option. That area is actually the first place where people figured out some of the geology around ancient volcanoes (with a layer of sedimentary rock on top, hence the fossils…) 

Likewise, the lore of the beithir is quite compelling. Who doesn’t like a terrifying beast with poison in its tail, where you have to run to the water to escape it? In fiction, at least, since I certainly wouldn’t want to bump into one… 

The portals

The Mysterious Powers series is all about the institutions of Albion, and that very much includes the infrastructure. I’ve seen comments about the (relatively) low levels of visible magic in my books. My internal comment is nearly always “It’s all in the infrastructure!” Not just in the portals, but the magic in the journals, in various kitchen devices or ways to heat the home. It’s not flashy or obvious, but it definitely improves life. 

The short story on the portals is that before the Pact in 1484, they were all made by the Fatae. Part of the agreement of the Pact was that the Fatae taught a small group of people how to create new portals (with some limitations) and how to maintain the existing ones. 

There are a couple of big limitations with portals. Up until the 20th century, getting them to go over water that didn’t include a bridge was impossible, so the only portals of that kind that exist were Fatae-created. (The portal at Schola is a good example, as are the portals that allow cross-Channel hops, like the portals in Paris.) 

The other is that they take a long time to create, and they must be fitted to a precise location. Deciding on that location – as discussed in The Fossil Door – is complex. It has to take into account both logistical things like “if we put one here, can we get a cart with materials through?” and the underlying geology and ecology of the space. 

At any rate, I wanted to write more about portals. (And there’s more about them coming in Old As The Hills.)

Not from that sort of family

Another thing I wanted to do in this book was the contrast between Gabe – absolutely a child of every privilege in Albion – and someone who didn’t have those advantages. There was a substantial population of people from what is now modern India in London by the point Rathna was born, many of whom had come over as ayahs or lascars (as her parents did). However, they often had a tenuous space, trying to figure out how to navigate England’s expecations. 

I also wanted to write someone who was competent, but who was still coming to grips with her own sense of identity. Rathna has a child’s understanding of her family’s culture. Though she had some access to other people who were Hindu at Schola, that only went so far, especially when Rathna was nervous about admitting her own lack of knowledge. (Dipti Acharya, the deputy headmistress, is also Hindu, though from a quite different caste and background.

Having her taken in hand by someone who was very embedded in the vibrant and close-knit Spitalfields Jewish community was a way Rathna found a home – but that didn’t solve all of her questions. Navigating that balance has given Rathna a lot of skills, along with her challenges, but it takes time for her to grow into that. 

Most importantly, in some ways, her parents did not have magic that she’s aware of, and did not make the Pact. If they’d lived, she’d likely have been plucked out of their home and gone to Schola (her magic is particularly notable) and that would have been a whole different set of challenges. On the other hand, it means navigating Albion’s society (especially the parts who are adamant about breeding and bloodline) is tricky. Marrying into one of the ancient families is even more so.  

And a bit of wish fufillment

Gabe is my favourite nerd boy. (Also the favourite nerd boy of my editor, Kiya.) And he is absolutely showing his ADHD all over the place, isn’t he? 

He’s bit of wish fufillment from all the folks I know who are ADHD in specific. About what it means to have parents who look at their kid and go “Ok, not entirely sure what to do with this, here, but let’s see what works for him.”

Gabe was absolutely a terror in childhood, but he was lucky enough to have thoughtful parents, and an extended network of adults who could and did mentor him and direct him in useful ways. (Including, if you’ve read the extras for The Fossil Door, explicitly explaining where he’s causing himself problems and talking through alternatives.) 

Getting to write him as an adult in 1940 in the two books coming out in 2023, when he’s grown into himself and got coping mechanisms that work (but where some of them maybe need some adjustment for new circumstances and needs) was also a complete delight. I’m hoping you’ll enjoy him just as much there. 

Until then? If you haven’t read The Fossil Door and this sounds interesting, that’s a great start!

By Celia

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