Extract: The Night Library

Chapter One

Miranda Edwards preferred to blend into the background. There was nothing better than not being noticed. As far as she was concerned – whether it was the teachers in class, the other children in the corridors, or the rest of the entire world – the more everyone left her alone the better.

To remain amongst the shadows. Hidden. Anonymous.

So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the lights went out, leaving her beneath the emergency lighting’s subtle blue glow. Sitting, book in hand, leaning on the window sill, she had gone unnoticed in the furthest reaches of the library.

Her favourite place in the known world.

It wasn’t the first time this had happened. On several occasions, the library staff had forgotten – or very nearly forgotten – Miranda was still there, lost amongst the books; transported to places not yet mapped, uncharted worlds. Places that could only exist in the imagination.

Concentration broken, she scraped her hair – tangled, dull, raven – from her eyes and glanced through the window at a familiar scene. A seemingly unchanging scene on the street at the back of the library: people making their way home at the end of another day.  If anyone – even that woman waiting at the bus stop, checking her watch, full-length pink coat glowing in the shade of the surrounding office buildings – had bothered to look up from the space just in front of their feet, they wouldn’t have spotted Miranda in a second-floor window staring back at them. It was unlikely they even knew the library was there. Unmapped, unknown.

Here be monsters.

The glimpse through the window confirmed an unremarkable street in an unremarkable part of town. Miranda had learned to pass through such places as if a mist or ghost.

Since this wasn’t the first time the lights had been switched off with her still in the library, she felt no alarm or need to move quickly.

I’m almost at the end of this chapter, she thought, I’ll finish it and then remind them I’m still here.

Miranda turned the page, finishing the chapter – ensuring every word was savoured, the scene fully-formed in her mind, the dawning realisation further dilemmas were to play out when she next resumed her reading – before closing the book, picking up her bag and jacket and making her way to the entrance.

*

Miranda wasn’t her real name. It was the name she had given to herself. It also wasn’t the first name she had used other than the one chosen by her parents.

The idea came from memories of the one person she had truly considered a friend. Alice was Chinese and, two years previously, had spent a couple of terms attending the same primary school as Miranda whilst her father was in the country on business. It was obvious why the teacher had paired them together: Miranda could never be persuaded to work well with any of the other children in the class. In spite of not being able to speak English when she arrived, Alice made it perfectly clear that since she was here, she should only be known by her English name. The English name she had chosen for herself.

Although persuaded to write her own name and address in Mandarin – for Miranda to copy and practice writing in this novel and exciting way – none of the children ever discovered how to say Alice’s Chinese name.

If she can decide to call herself by a different name, then why can’t I?

But Miranda had never found the courage to admit her new name to anyone else.

Initially, in a fit of romantic desperation and having just stumbled, crying and forlorn, through Wuthering Heights, she had resolved to call herself Cathy. That, however, failed to provide an elegant satisfaction, so instead she toyed with Emily, or Charlotte or Anne, or even Agnes after Agnes Grey. But as she hadn’t read that book yet (unsure whether she would ever be ready to plough through another dense tale of Victorian gloom and disaster), Miranda would have considered herself a fraud if she had chosen it as her name.

For several days she was Mary and felt particularly pleased about her choice. Not only could she explain (only to herself – naturally – she couldn’t imagine circumstances ever arising where this knowledge was divulged to another living soul) her new name was a nod to the heroine of Jamaica Inn, but, for the sheer shock value and a certain sinister prestige, it could also honour the Gothic horror of Frankenstein.

In the end, excruciating memories of being a Nativity animal (What had she been, a goat? When had a goat ever featured in the story of the birth of Jesus?) resulted in this holy choice also being discounted.

Within the space of a single weekend she had been – definitely, I’m sure this is the one, she had told herself repeatedly – Meg, or perhaps Amy, or Beth or Josephine, before finally going to bed on Sunday evening as Louisa May.

Waking up the following morning, this was impossible. She could never live up to any of those names. Besides, there were two Amys, one Megan and a Lulu-May in her class already.

She wanted to be further away from the rest of the world, not closer.

 

You have just read the first chapter of The Night Library, the first story in the second strand of the Atlantic Island Realms series. Contemporary to the world in which we live, history has travelled a different path. Rather than a British Isles of five nations, these islands have remained divided between the tribes and kingdoms that formed following the departure of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the people from beyond the seas.

Miranda finds herself locked in the library, the place she comes to avoid going home to her drunken father in a neglected part of the Free City of London. Cut off from the world outside the library, Miranda is forced to confront both her enforced isolation and the problems she faces on a daily basis with the only tools at her disposal: books.