A day on from a Blog piece about my new novel, Alice’s Adventures in Fantasyland, here is an extract from the first chapter, in which Alice is transported from Britain to a different place.
1 An Enchanted Garden
“An enchanted garden, and a golden afternoon” Alice declared. Alice was sitting in the grounds of Strawberry Fields Forever, a National Trust stately home, with her friend Sadie. The house, situated at Lyndhurst, a quaint village (or was it a town?) in the New Forest, retained the decor of the late 1960s, when it had been owned by a wealthy hippie, Mean Mr Mustard, and his sister, Polythene Pam. Alice and Sadie had just eaten lunch, each having chicken salad followed by strawberries and cream, washed down with quite a bit of wine. Alice checked the incoming texts on her mobile phone, replied to those requiring a reply, updated her Facebook status, and skimmed through the latest happenings, plus thoughts from dozens of people, on Twitter. This brought her up to date, if only for a moment, in the ever-moving world of mobile communication. Putting these things aside, Alice sat in the sun with Sadie, enjoying a rare moment of carefree relaxation. Sadie mentioned the stunning surroundings – the grass and trees were bright green, and the sky was bright blue. Sadie started to read The Diary of a Nobody, by the Grossmith brothers, a delightful Victorian novel, brought to life with lots of hand-drawn illustrations. Sadie was looking for inspiration, as she hoped to become a paperback writer.
Alice plugged herself in to her IPod, and listened to songs by the Beatles – including a lot of tracks from Love, the surreal remix and mashup album. Towards the end of the glorious 80 second edit of Glass Onion, Alice closed her eyes, saying she was “resting” them, and dozed. Entering the place where wakefulness drifts into sleep, when in bed at night, Alice often experienced something she called a “mini-dream,” a dream of just a few seconds, from which she would exit, briefly awaking, before falling properly asleep – her “golden slumbers.” Alice had a “mini-dream” about eating giant strawberries, and told the detail to Sadie, who seemed unsure what this meant.
Alice drifted on to the image of a White Rabbit, seen wandering the grounds of Strawberry Fields Forever. The Rabbit seemed almost human, as it was wearing clothes, and muttering something to itself about the passage of time. The Rabbit even took a watch from a jacket pocket, and announced the time as “fifteen minutes,” without specifying any relationship to an hour of the clock.
Intrigued by this, Alice wandered towards the Rabbit, which hopped through a gap in a hedge. Alice noticed a group of four beetles, as she continued to pursue the Rabbit, which jumped into a narrow tunnel. In a moment of spontaneity, Alice squeezed into the tunnel, and felt herself to be moving at great speed. The strange thing was that she was not falling downwards, instead she was being sent in a roughly horizontal direction, apparently by some unseen wind or other power, through an ever-twisting tunnel. Alice felt a mixture of fear and exhilaration, as if on a rollercoaster ride, and wondered where she might arrive. Perhaps the other side of the world, or was this a route across the universe into another dimension? How long would the ride take? The answer to the latter question came just a couple of minutes after entry to the tunnel. All of a sudden, the helter skelter journey stopped, as the tunnel reached a fork, and the power pushing Alice forward ceased. Alice took the left prong of the fork, having seen the Rabbit do this. Passing a sign advising that this was Penny Lane, Alice walked along a wide, empty, corridor, and found herself to be alone. Where had the Rabbit gone to? Where was Alice? Was this a place far away from the lonely people?
In a dash to follow the Rabbit, Alice had left her handbag, with her mobile phone and money in it, by the chair in the garden of Strawberry Fields Forever. In any case, she did not know where she was, and whether her phone and money would be of any use in this new place. More importantly, how could she get back to where she had been? “Help!” Alice whispered to herself. As she walked what appeared to be a long and winding road, Alice was reduced to tears.
Alice walked further along the corridor. Having seen a table in the distance, Alice walked towards this, and found a small golden key placed on top of the table. There were several doors leading off the corridor, but Alice could not get the key to open any of them. Then she saw a single curtain in the corridor, and moved this to reveal a small door. The key opened this door, leading into a tiny corridor. Alice crouched down low, but the corridor was too small for her to be able to safely enter. Alice wished she could navigate the corridor, as it led to the loveliest garden she had ever seen – or imagined. The garden had tangerine trees, marmalade sky, cellophane flowers of yellow and green. It all seemed splendidly surreal, and reminded Alice of something. Then she realised, and said “It is Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds brought to life.” Alice was experiencing a day in the life of a wonderland. Suddenly, as if moved within a giant kaleidoscope, the scene shifted, and Alice could see a walrus and some eggmen, sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun. “I am the Walrus” reflected Alice, meaning a song, as she did not really think she had turned into a walrus. Actually Alice wished she was a rather naughty girl, the sort who would let her knickers down, just like sexy Sadie, after the fancy dress party, as they shared a brief moment in the park.
Speaking to herself – as there was nobody else here (was it here or there?) to hear her – Alice said “I wish I could shrink down to somebody small enough to get through to the garden.” Alice locked the door, stood up, put the key back on the table, and found that a bottle had mysteriously just appeared on the table. The bottle had the words “Drink me” printed on a label. Alice realised it might not be a good idea to taste the mystery drink, as it might be harmful, even poisonous. On the other hand, with strange things happening, it might be worth trying the drink. There were not any ingredients listed on the bottle – perhaps it was a dubious alcohol mix. Alice tried a quick smell, followed by a small sip, and it seemed okay. Alice drank about half of the contents of the bottle, and suddenly felt herself to be shrinking. Before she knew it, Alice had been reduced to about two foot in height. Alice walked back to the door that led to the garden, but then remembered that she did not have the key. The key was on the table and, trapped by her small stature, Alice could not reach the key.
The small woman resumed talking to herself, saying “Now Alice, you need to concentrate.” Alice repeated similar phrases, as she said (she said) things to herself. As a child, she had been very fond of pretending to be two people, and Alice occasionally reverted to that frame of mind. Alice said “It’s no use now to be pretend to be two people! Why there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person. I cannot recall anything so strange as this happening in my life. At least, not since that piano – or harpsichord – had started playing to me for no real reason”. Alice found that a small cake had appeared on the table, with the words “Eat me” marked in blue icing. Alice thought that eating the cake might return her to her normal height, at which point she could reach the key to the door. Alice started to eat the cake, and was soon growing back to normal height. She grabbed the key. Alice was not now able to fit into the tunnel, but reasoned that by drinking the rest of the drink she could make herself shrink again. This did indeed happen. Looking through the door, Alice hoped to walk into the enchanted garden. Perhaps she might find the White Rabbit, or even a human being, in the garden. Alice wanted company, as it was eerily quiet, and she did not even have her IPod with her.