“She’s the one with mad eyes, gulping like a fish”

IHAVE an idea for a book! I have to admit it owes an awful lot to Where’s Wally?, the series of children’s books created by British illustrator Martin Handford, but let’s put that aside for a minute, while I flesh my idea out for you.

Handford’s books consist of a series of large but minutely-detailed illustrations depicting hundreds of people doing amusing things in different locations.

The reader’s challenge is to find a time-traveller called Wally, who’s hidden in the crowds. Wally always wears the same distinctive red-and-white striped shirt, bobble hat and glasses, but the deceptive use of red-and-white striped objects in the illustrations — a sort of “red herring” ploy — means that finding Wally is quite a business for a six year old.

Well! Move over Handford! Nice idea and all that but it’s time for a new publishing phenomenon!

My book series will operate on the same “needle in a haystack” principle as Where’s Wally? But here, the similarities end.

My books will be more adult, edgy and darkly atmospheric. No time-travel, no outlandish locations; each individual book will simply be set in a different airport. The first one, for example, is set in Stanstead, where this idea sprung out of my head like a Jack-in-the-box.

The reader will search for two main characters, but instead of Wally, there will be a character called “Husband”, and another called “Youngest Daughter”. Readers can search for her when they’ve given up on ever finding Husband, who is by far and away the most elusive character in the book. There will also be a subsidiary character called “Wife”. (Wife is pretty easy to locate, but more of that later.).In addition, there will be 3 passports, 3 black rucksacks and 3 mobile phones, 1 wallet, 2 purses and 6 boarding cards, for which the reader will have to hunt exhaustively. I warn you, finding these will not be easy. Not at all! They could be absolutely anywhere.

I’ll be drawing heavily on personal experience when designing the illustrations. For instance — without giving too much away — on page 8 of book 1, you’ll find Husband eating an egg sandwich in Pret a Manger, with his back to the Departures Board. On the board, you’ll notice Husband’s flight number and opposite this you’ll see perfectly clearly that it says “GATE CLOSING” in big, red capital letters. As for the passports, all 3 are hidden just behind a pile of attractive men’s shirts in Ted Baker, Departures Lounge. (Good luck, incidentally, with finding the boarding cards on this page.)

Another difference between the Where’s Wally? series and mine, is that Husband and Youngest Daughter will not be wearing anything which might distinguish them from anyone else in the airport at all. No stripy shirts or bobble hats, etc. No such luck! This will make them almost impossible to identify. Because of this — and for the purposes of authenticity — I’ve ensured that the reader will not be able to find them at all on certain pages. This mixes things up a bit, I think, and might just help the reader to empathise deeply with the character of Wife. Wife, by the way, won’t be wearing identifying clothing either; she’ll be instantly recognisable because of her highly distinctive expression: flat-out demented on every page.

Like I said, I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but on the last page in my second book, which incidentally, is set in Heathrow, Wife will be standing all alone at Boarding Gate 25. (She’s the one with mad eyes, gulping like a fish in the bottom of a boat.) On the same page, you’ll find Husband humming away while checking out the zoom-finders on Fuji cameras in Dixons, Departures. If you look very, very carefully, you’ll find Youngest Daughter in Departures too, a few shops along checking out an Accessorize bikini — the one covered in pretty little pineapples. Once again, if you look at the Departures Board, it says “GATE CLOSING”.

These are the only spoilers I’m giving you though.

As with all publishing sensations, it’s so important to choose the right name for the series. The title has to be nice and punchy, but it also has to encapsulate the deep-down essence of the book.

I’ve decided therefore, on: “Where the Fuck is my Family?“

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